Monday, October 26, 2009

The Central Message of the Church

Reflections on Mark 1:1, 14-15.

"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God...Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'"

As I reflect on yesterday's corporate worship, one thing that has stuck with me is a song we sang. "My Soul Finds Rest in God Alone" has been in my head since the service, and being based on Psalm 62, it truly expresses the joy and security of one who has embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (in fact, I have it playing on my computer as I am typing this entry).

Moving forward to the sermon from yesterday's service, the focus to which we came was that the gospel was at the heart of what Mark wrote and why Mark wrote. As I continue to meditate on this truth, it must be re-emphasized that Mark's focus must be the church's focus. I want to quote several portions of Millard Erikson's Systematic Theology on this point. He has a wonderful section that talks about the gospel being the heart of the church's mission.

Erikson writes:
"It is important for us to look closely at the one factor that gives basic shape to everything the church does, the element that lies at the heart of all its functions, namely, the gospel, the good news. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus announced that he had been anointed specially to preach the gospel; later he charged the apostles to continue his ministry by spreading the gospel...

"Paul viewed the gospel as centering on Jesus Christ and what God has done through him. The essential points of the gospel are Jesus Christ's status as the Son of God, his genuine humanity, his death for our sins, his burial, his resurrection, subsequent appearances, and future coming in judgment. It may well be said that, in Paul's view, Jesus Christ is the gospel...To Paul, the gospel is all-important...Convinced that only the gospel can bring salvation along with all its attendant blessings, Paul insists that the gospel is absolute and exclusive. Nothing is to be added to or taken from it, nor is there any alternate route to salvation...

"This gospel not only cuts across all racial, social, economic, and educational barriers (Rom. 1:16; Gal. 3:28), but also spans the centuries of time. A message that does not become obsolete (Jude 3), it is the church's sacred trust today. In an age in which most ideas and systems of thought, as well as techniques and commodities, are of a throwaway variety, the church has an infallible and enduring resource - a message that is the only means of salvation. The church can display the same confidence in the gospel that Paul had, for it is still the same gospel; time has not eroded its effectiveness...

"Because the gospel has been, is, and will always be the way of salvation, the only way, the church must preserve the gospel at all costs. When the gospel is modified, the vitality of the church is lost. The church dies."

This sums it up, doesn't it? The gospel must remain the central message of the church. Maybe you have heard the word 'evangelical' thrown around when surveys or talk show hosts speak about a certain type of Christian. Whatever the survey or talk show host may mean, the word 'evangelical' pertains to those who are people of the gospel. It is not a demarcation of a particular political is a view of all of life that centers on the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Our challenge as a church is to be a people of the gospel. To use language based in the Reformation, we must hold tightly to salvation by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), in Christ alone (solus Christus), according to the Scripture alone (sola scriptura), for the glory of God alone (soli Deo gloria)! By the way, these five phrases are known as the "5 solas". "Sola" means alone or only in the Latin language.

In thinking about how being a "gospel people", one of the most obvious applications would be in the realm of personal evangelism. When we think of those in our family or among our circle of friends who do not believe in Christ, what is it that they need. Often, I hear people say "So and so needs to get in church." Now, I hope that what we mean by something like this is that "so and so" needs to hear the gospel, and a church would be a great place to allow them to do so. However, not all people may believe that...some actually believe that church attendance can contribute to their acceptance by God. If that is the case, then 'getting in church' helps bring justification...the divine declaration that we are righteous in God's sight.

How does that sit with you? I hope it disturbs you a little. People of the gospel (evangelicals) must be clear about what does and does not bring salvation. So, when we think of those lost friends and family members, let's begin to think of 'getting them the gospel' rather than just 'getting them in church'. This focuses our mind and heart on the real issue...salvation.

I know that this seems like a small thing and an insignificant application, but all these little things will add up. As God's people, we have been entrusted with the gospel, and we have been charged to hold fast to it and to spread its message to the world. This message is not just for the evangelizing of the lost but for the comfort, hope, and help of those who belong to Christ.

Clinging to this gospel and its importance is a battle. The enemy of our souls is diametrically opposed to the commission Jesus has given us. However, the battle for the centrality of the gospel will not begin with a sudden temptation to stop believing the gospel is important or suddenly stop embracing the truth that Jesus is the only way of salvation. It will begin in small areas of our minds and hearts...maybe even as small as thinking that what the unbelieving world really needs is not so much a message...but just to 'get in church'.

May we continue to be a people of the gospel, and even when some may come to Gray Road because they feel the need 'to get in church,' may they not find just a gathering of people...but rather a gathering of gospel people, of evangelical people. And may the God of this gospel grant new life by His Spirit!