14 February 2006

The Gospel and its stepchildren

by Frank Turk


I know many of you will be horrified by this, but at my home church they let me teach the teens once a year for about 8 weeks. How any Christian in good conscience would let someone like me be responsible for the formation of young minds is probably worth a blog in its own right, but it's always 8 weeks in which I enjoy seeing how much smarter kids are than common knowledge would let on.

Last year I taught on the Bible -- where it came from, how we receive it, can we trust it, etc. We started that class as a small group of 4 or 5 and ended with almost 20 kids in the class. This year they let me have all 40 of our Sunday attenders because I'm teaching about the Gospel.

"What?" exclaims the critic in the back row. "'The Gospel?' In Sunday School? You're an innovator, cent." Yes, well, given that most adults couldn't define the Gospel for you in spite of years of AWANA and Sunday School and stacks of Max Lucado books and Nooma videos, I believe it is quite innovative, but thank you for your concern.

The readers of my blog, I am sure, will recognize our text for this class as 1Cor 15:1-4, and since I have a multi-part series at the blog already and I have this allergy against recycling material, if you're interested in the skeleton of that class you can find it starting here. There is also a powerpoint for those of you audacious enough to use overheads as your outline, and I can send it to you if you ask nice.

What I wanted to blog about today at TeamPyro is not the whole 8-week series: I wanted to blog about the inviolable essentials of the Gospel. I have been arguing with Kent in the meta about some of this, but I wanted to drag some of this into the daylight of the front page for the rest of you to have a stab at. Here's what I'm thinking:

In 1Cor 15:1-4, Paul defines the essential Gospel -- he overtly says that he delivered to the Corinthians what was of "first importance". In that, his definition of the Gospel includes 3 specific things: the identity and work of Christ, the identity of the church, and the ultimacy of Scripture. I would be willing to say it says other things, too, but I think those are the keys to the Gospel right there.

Well, so what? Seriously now: if those are the essentials of the Gospel, what's the breakthrough moment? Why should the astute readers of teamPyro (as opposed to the toadies and lackeys who frequent my blog) care about what constitutes the essential Gospel?

We should care because this is where we either advocate the faith or drop the ball. And here's why I bring it up: most of us, on a knee-jerk basis, would never forget that the work of Christ is essential to the Gospel, and many of us would never forget that the Scripture is God's encyclopedia on the work of Christ, right? But many of us -- and I would be bold enough to say that "many" should be "most", and "most" doesn't just mean 51% but more like 85% or worse -- do not take it seriously that the church is an essential part of the Gospel.

It's because we are intransigent baptists, really: we are afraid of saying something that superficially sounds like Roman Catholicism (or worse: Presbyterianism -- SHEESH!) and we are afraid that we might accidentally say something that means we ought to gather together in a more substantial way than just for a nice bit of worship (3-4 hymns) and a rousing 25-minute batch of Calvinistic pep talk from the preacher.

Listen: if Paul says that the Gospel is that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, the matter of who "us" is is more than just an affirmation of election, because Paul is quite clear in writing 1Cor that he's not writing a letter and floating it out on a butterfly to whosoever will: the "us" to whom the sin for which Christ died belongs to is "the church of God that is in Corinth" (1Cor 1:2). In that, we better know what the church is and how it is identified apart from the world.

If we can't do that, we don't know what the Gospel it: we have no idea who it is for or what it is doing in this world.


17 comments:

marc said...

The essentail?

God <-> Christ <-> Man

Dan B. said...

I would agree that the church is essential to the Gospel, since the apostles found it important enough to travel to different areas and start churches. These gathered believers together in Christian community. The church is also important in that it makes (or should make) its members accountable--this is especially important in the spread of the Gospel and preventing the spread of heresy.

Kaffinator said...

Hi Marc, how about this chartlet instead:

God <-> Christ <-> The Church <-> The World

Our experience of the gospel doesn't end with a personal get-out-of-hell-free card; that in fact is merely where it begins. We are saved for two purposes: to worship God and to invite the world to do the same, to the praise of His glory.

I agree with the OP that we need to stop being freaked about whether we sound Roman Catholic when we refer to "Church". In Holy Scripture, church is not an ossified, monolithic hierarchy; it not a sort of museum where saved people wait to die. The Church is dynamic, living, interactive organism, in which all believers have an important part to play. So let's reclaim the word and use it in its full scriptural flavor.

Jeff Wright said...

I'm going to perma-link to this on my site.

I really wish there was more discussion about the essentials of the Gospel on the blogosphere.

If anyone sees this reply and knows of other bloggers discussing the issue I would greatly appreciate an email. You can find it on my blog, linked to in my profile.

Thanks for the discussion Cent.

James Spurgeon said...

Hey Cent, as I read this I thought of a Yancey quote that says almost exactly the same thing. No kidding.

Okay, yeah I am kidding. But I just couldn't resist. LOL

Good stuff.

Gordon Cloud said...

One cannot be saved without becoming a part of the body of Christ. Therefore, the church is an essential part of the gospel. Good post.

Rick Potter said...

Frank,
I like the literary device in your title in its use of stepchildren. Unbelievers don't want to think of themselves that way. They are wlling to accept parts of the gosple but not the entire consel of God. Jesus makes it very plain who their father is.

42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, because I came from God and I am here. For I didn’t come on My own, but He sent Me. 43 Why don’t you understand what I say? Because you cannot listen to My word. 44 You are of your father the Devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and has not stood in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks from his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of liars.  45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.
Holman Christian standard version. 2003 (Jn 8:42-45).

Rick

Kent Brandenburg said...

I have no problem melding the Gospel down to a few terms, even as the Lord melds down the whole law to two commandments, or even one. It's obvious Paul is doing that here. However, when I expand it, foremost we must understand Who Jesus Christ (v. 3) is. For instance, He isn't the goodymeister of the church "growth" movement. He's not the rockin or honky tonk or new age Jesus of most churches today regardless of church growth. We also must define what "believed" (v. 2) is. Those are just two.

maranatha man said...

Great post!

Is the church essensial to the gospel? If so, why? The church is the body of Christ and Christ is the Head of this body (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18). Furthermore, He is the Savior of this Body (Eph. 5:23) because He died for the church (Eph.5:25).

Herein lies the problem. The average person in the local church believes the church is a work of man or born of human merit. Wrong! The church is not the body of man, the church is the living body of our Lord.

Therefore, since the church is THE body of Christ, the church is an essenial of the gospel.

centuri0n said...

Kent:

You can see why this passage is such a gold mine. I have been mulling it over for about a year now, and I just this week felt like I knew enough about it that I could move on the the rest of the passage which talks about the resurrection as the cornerstone of Christian hope.

I welcome your comments on the issues you have raised. They are absolutely in the dead center of this discussion.

Even So... said...

We cannot become a part of a Body and then separate ourselves from the rest of it, and expect to live.

You may think that all you need to do is stay connected to the Head and you are all right, but when you are separating from the rest of the Body, you are also separating from the Head.

You cannot be nourished by the Head while at the same time un-sewing yourself from that which you are knit together (Colossians 2:19). We only increase with the increase of God as we are holding the Head and we stay knit together with all the joints and ligaments.

You may think that you can continue to be a part of the invisible body while at the same time declining to participate in the visible body, but you are only fooling yourself.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Sure Frank. I agree. Because he raised from the dead, we raise from the dead, enabling our willingness to give up the temporal stuff this world offers, and so that our labor is not in vain in Him (v. 58), although it might seem so in the eyes of a success driven society. Thanks Frank.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I think it might be "since he rose" and we will "rise," or risen or razed or rozed.

DJP said...

Kent -- you sayin' we're all God's li'l raisins?

Dan

Kent Brandenburg said...

Smiles. The California raisin industry, actually preaching the gospel.

marc said...

Kaffinator,

We have run up against the limitations of being reductionist ie. essential in our diagrams of the gospel

I'd say mine was Justification and Yours is Missional (for lack of a better term), both are there in scripture and to focus on one and neglect the other is, as you pointed out, not reflective of God's glory in Salvation. We could even go forward all the way to Glorification if we wanted to really get excited about the happy result of the Gospel.

Its all worth meditating on and reveling in, is it not?

donsands said...

"... Christ died for OUR sins according to the Scriptures.." ver.3

" .. and the LORD laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
.. for the transgression of My people was He stricken." Isaiah 53: 6,8

What a powerful portion of Scripture, that Jesus the Christ, the Holy One, died for the sins of His people, The Church. Matt 1:21

What a great post to exaimne and meditate on.

I am debating this whole subject with the other elders in my church.
Please pray that I don't become a hinderance to the gospel, as I share my heart with my Arminian brothers. Thanks.