Time was, I would have said an emphatic "Yes!" Now I say an emphatic, "Yes — and no!"
As I prepared for and entered pastoral ministry, I saw a scene filled with churches who preached how-to-get-saved sermons every Sunday. The sheep were told how to become sheep, Sunday after Sunday. It produced perennially immature, ignorant Christians who thought their great and sole goal in life as Christians was to tell other people how to become Christians.
It reminded me of the Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown had told Lucy that we were put here to make others happy.
The Bible says a whole lot more than that Christians should tell people how to become Christians, so that they could tell people how to become Christians, so that they could tell people how to become Christians, and so on ad infinitum.
I visited the major Southern Baptist church in a small desert town. The morning "worship" service was devoted to a chart and figures. It was like a sales-strategy meeting. They "did the math" on what would happen if one person "won" one person, then they each "won" two more people, and so forth. Soon, the whole community would be "won."
I thought, "'Won'? To what? To the art of winning more people? What are the other people there for?"
Evangelism is essential, but it isn't everything. Some of this mindset springs, I think, from a fundamental misunderstanding of the "Great Commission," Matthew 28:18-20.
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."Many read these words as a charge to the church to evangelize. That thought is included, of course; but it's a bit like saying that God's will for married couples is that they have a wedding ceremony. Well, there is that; but there is a whole lot to the before, during, and... well... during of marriage than the ceremony.
To make disciples is to make pupils, to make students. What's the text? What's the subject? "How to Become a Christian"? Yes, of course; but not just that. Our Lord goes on to mention immersion of those who are disciples, and "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." That just blows out the walls, doesn't it? "All that I have commanded you" takes in a lot more than how to get saved.
If our sole goal were telling people how to become Christians, one is left to wonder why God wrote such a large book that deals with so many other issues as well (marriage, children, relationships, work, wealth, creation, etc.).
However, having said all of that, I have come deeply to see that indeed the Gospel is not just beginner's material. Not the wholesome, fulsome Gospel of the Bible.
One must teach what the Bible says about marriage, family, relationships and all that. But as one does, one must preach the Gospel — because the Gospel is fundamental (1 Corinthians 15:1), and if we get the Gospel wrong, we get everything else wrong. The Gospel is how I came to know God, but the Gospel is also how I continue to know God. There is a constant need for the Gospel in Christian life.
This is part of the premise of my upcoming book, The World-Tilting Gospel. The Gospel certainly does tell us how to get saved (1 Corinthians 15:2), but it tells us more besides. Our entire view of the Christian life depends on whether we got the Gospel right or not. Lloyd-Jones illustrates this ongoing need well in his book Spiritual Depression, where he highlights and illustrates our ongoing need to preach the gospel to ourselves.
Another illustration comes with R. W. Glenn's post addressed to Christians (Christians) who struggle to believe that God loves them (h-t Challies). This topic resonates with me. What solution does pastor Glenn propose? "Repent and believe the gospel." That's right: if I understand him correctly, Glenn is telling people who believed the Gospel perhaps decades ago, who are saved and Biblically-faithful Christians that they (you? I?) need to repent and believe the Gospel. Because what will assure us of God's love is not something other, greater, deeper, or more advanced than the Gospel. It is the Gospel.
So I think that was the problem I noted at the outset.
It was that churches' preaching of the Gospel was too limited.
And it was that my understanding of the Gospel was too limited.