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God Promises that the Church will prevail

In my efforts to define how important it is to define our theology in Gospel centered terms. I have edited 3 articles together that share my conviction on the Gospel and its centrality in our church life today. You can read these articles at The Indispensibility of the Gospel, Gospel is focus of SBC unity…, Gospel will prevail despite churches that hide it.

Christian Churches are doctrinally defined; we base our identity on what we teach. Many would find fault in this, saying that Christianity is more a matter of how we live. I don’t think we can separate what we believe with how we live. How we live is what we believe, and thus we are not ashamed to be defined by our teaching. In fact, we believe that what makes a church is the presence of the gospel – the “good news.” News is information, and information must be imparted. If a church is a church first and foremost because it has been entrusted with news to impart, then it must be defined by what it says about that news.

The Apostles, who were entrusted the great task of conveying the mind of Christ to a fallen and ignorant world, sensed no embarrassment in saying that the communication of gospel truth was the central, defining aspect of the church. They did not falsely set action above words, nor pretend that a faith based on human action would avail anything. Rather, they consistently taught that the church’s main purpose was the communication of information – specifically information about accomplished divine action.

The reason for this was in the gospel itself. The gospel is no mere collection of human words. Rather, it “reveals the righteousness of God.” It is a communication of the righteous actions of the Creator. Its content is not so much about men, but about God. As such, it is a powerful message of great import. “It is,” the Apostle tells us, “the power of God.” It is true that God saves, but we might say with equal truthfulness that the gospel saves. This message is the power of God unto salvation. It is by this message that God translates men from death and to life.

This fact led Paul and the other Apostles to several fairly obvious conclusions. In the first place, there can be no church – no true Christian service – unless the gospel is faithfully proclaimed. Consider Paul’s words again: “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16). Furthermore, the proclamation of any competing message will ruin the church. This is the reason for the militant defense of gospel truth which characterizes the New Testament. Lies are being told, and they must be answered. Here is Paul’s most forceful declaration of war: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9). Finally, the message of the gospel is the bedrock upon which Christians are founded – the source of their salvation and the strength by which they live. It was this reflection which led Paul to conclude his first letter to the Corinthians with a resounding defense of Gospel truth: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” (I Corinthians 15:1-2)

With this understanding about the importance of defining the Gospel, many SBC churches even though conservative have drifted from the gospel and its faithful proclamation. The the past, the SBC drifted toward pragmatism and neo-orthodoxy beginning around 1919 — around the time of the “75 Million Campaign,” an effort to raise $75 million for education, missions and benevolence. The ensuing 50 years, the SBC gradually drifted from orthodox doctrine and a commitment to the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture.

The SBC’s Conservative Resurgence, which commenced in 1979, recovered the crucial doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, a reality for which all Southern Baptists should thank the grace of God.”

With the “formal principle” of inerrancy established, Southern Baptists must now recover the “material principle.”

The Gospel of Christ, and all of the doctrines such as election, effectual call, regeneration, justification by faith, substitutionary atonement and others that are central to it, sit at the heart of the “material principle,” the Gospel. While some in Southern Baptist life might disagree with my perspective on Reformed theology, making Christ and the Gospel central to life are two areas where Calvinists and non-Calvinists can agree.

Too often, sermons are preached without any mention of Christ, and some messages that mention Christ do so only in an artificial way that is disconnected from the main point of the message. The whole Bible — including both the Old and New Testaments — is about Christ.

A fully biblical Gospel, with all its related doctrines, must again be proclaimed in churches and in evangelism, This reassertion of the Gospel has always been the chief purpose of any reformation because the Gospel, in its fullness and purity, is the key to building healthy churches that produce genuine disciples.

We have recovered the inerrancy of Scripture, but there are major pulpits today which are preaching Christ-less sermons. We must come back to understanding that all of Scripture is about Jesus Christ. We must get back to doctrinal preaching and Gospel-driven churches. We must do evangelism that does not leave out the evangel.

This is something that is needed by Calvinists and non-Calvinists. We all need to back up and ask ourselves, ‘Are we focused on Jesus Christ? Do we understand the Gospel? Are we proclaiming that Gospel? Are we setting that Gospel before our people as the way to live?’
We must come to understand that the Gospel has been lost at various times during the history of the church and sometimes is hidden in contemporary churches but it will not be lost forever because Christ has promised to build His church through the proclamation of the Gospel.
The Gospel is a message about God, man and the person and work of Christ and is lost when any part is left out or other messages are substituted for it. When the Gospel is lost, souls are placed in eternal peril. To pervert one part of the message is to pervert it all. This is no small issue. To change the words of the Gospel and the [content] of the Gospel is to change the Gospel. Faith comes a certain way to the human heart as determined by God. If we change the Gospel, our words cannot save the soul. If we have lost the Gospel to the hearer – then the soul is lost”.
Paul considered himself a steward of the Gospel and in numerous places in Scripture such as 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle makes it clear that he is not free to change any portion of the message to make it more palatable for fallen humans. Paul realized that it is the authentic Gospel that saves

The Gospel includes the character and attributes of God, the sinfulness of man as exposed by the law of God, the certainty of God’s judgment and both the person and work of Christ. Gospel proclamation must set forth the incarnation of Christ, His humiliation and death on Calvary and His resurrection. The true Gospel also trumpets the good news that sinners are justified by faith and made righteous through Christ’s righteousness, which is “imputed” — or given — to them. Authentic Gospel proclamation also includes a clear call to repentance and faith in Christ. Preaching is the divinely ordained means for Gospel proclamation. Paul did not substitute pragmatic means such as drama — though he knew the medium would appeal to his audience — to convey the message of Christ, but preached it to his hearers. Paul did not resort to other means because he knew that God ordained the foolishness of preaching as the means by which He saves sinful men.

The Gospel has been lost at various times throughout history, a truth which both the Old and New Testaments demonstrate. We can see this in Jeremiah 14 in which false prophets perverted repentance from sin by telling the Israelites that they had peace with God. In the New Testament the Gospel was tainted in Galatia, to whose churches Paul wrote a letter exposing false teachers who demanded the Jewish rite of circumcision be added to faith in Christ for salvation. All of the false teachers who appear in the New Testament were operating inside the church and viewed themselves as Christians. Scripture also warns believers that false teachers will operate within the church until Christ returns; a fact should awaken modern Christians and motivate them to examine carefully the things that are taught in their churches, because the Bible clearly distinguishes between the authentic Gospel and erroneous versions.
False teachers spoken of in Scripture all professed to be Christians and teachers of Christ. It is part of God’s will to sift the church until the end of time.” The pages of church history show that the Gospel has been lost at various times following Christ’s establishing of His church in the first century. In the second century, for example, Marcion taught that the Old Testament was inspired by a vengeful god who is not the God of the New Testament. Similarly, the heretic Arius in the third and fourth centuries denied the doctrine of the Trinity, leading the Council of Nicea to formulate the orthodox view of God in three persons. The Roman Catholic Church also perverted the Gospel by positing a salvation by works until the Reformers recovered the biblical Gospel of grace.

We might identify three places in American churches today where the Gospel has, in recent years, fallen prey to dangerous revision. One should argue that the Gospel has been lost among:

— Adherents of so-called “carnal Christian” teaching. This doctrine has been taught by various evangelicals over the past century and postulates that one is saved by believing in Christ merely by intellectual assent. Those who teach this doctrine say Christians may trust in Christ as Savior at one point in time and then choose to submit to Him as Lord at some point later; thus one may live an utterly “carnal” lifestyle for many years and still be considered a believer.

Those who hold to carnal Christian doctrine often argue that to preach a Gospel that demands one to submit to Christ’s lordship is to proclaim salvation by works instead of grace. But authentic conversion makes one a disciple and necessarily leads to godly living. This non-Lordship teaching is a perversion of the Gospel. We must preach a Gospel not of salvation by works, but a salvation that works.

— Proponents of the “seeker-friendly” movement, which attempts to make the Gospel less offensive to lost people. This approach typically offers Christ as a means to fulfillment, contentment or prosperity and deals neither with sin nor the cost of discipleship.

— Some conservative, Bible believing preachers. The failure of some conservative evangelical ministers to proclaim the Scriptures in a Christ-centered manner leads to a setting aside of the Gospel. Every verse in the Bible must be interpreted in terms of the whole of Scripture, and all of Scripture is centered on the person and work of Christ in redeeming sinners to the glory of God.

Preachers should be admonished to set before their hearers the fully biblical message of Christ and Him crucified and salvation by grace through faith because Christ is still building His church through the proclamation of the Gospel. Yes, the Gospel is lost in certain times and in certain places today, but it will not be lost forever. The Scriptures tell us that the Gospel will be victorious.”

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