Here at Capitol City we talk often about our longing to be an increasingly gospel-centered church. What does that mean, exactly?
When I think about that question, I am helped by comparing the role the gospel plays in a gospel-centered church to the role in plays in other churches. Here are some examples of ways different churches view and express the gospel1:
- A gospel-denying church. Some churches reject the general premise that God saves sinners, because they reject the general premise that man is sinful and therefore in need of a savior. Other churches reject core doctrines of the gospel – like substitutionary atonement (“that’s divine child abuse!”) or the bodily resurrection of Christ (“that’s superstitious myth!”). In these churches, the emphasis is often on human potential, not human depravity. But the gospel – the news that through Jesus God has reconciled his sinful people to himself – is not good news unless we understand and embrace the bad news of our sin. As the famous Puritan pastor Thomas Watson said, “‘Til sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.”
- A gospel-redefining church. Jesus did not die to give you your best life now. Jesus did not die to ensure your material wealth and financial prosperity in this life. Jesus did not die to accomplish your complete physical healing in this life. Yet there are many churches today who make such claims. These churches have redefined the gospel, usually by taking biblical promises to be fulfilled in the new heavens and the new earth and claiming that they are fulfilled now. (Or, at least, they will be fulfilled now if you just have enough faith.)
- A gospel-assuming church. Though this misstep is inadvertant, it is deadly. Some churches – more than you’d imagine – simply assume that “everyone here already knows that Jesus died for their sins.” Because everyone already knows it (presumably), they don’t preach it. But, even if everybody already knows it, only the gospel is the power of God for those who believe (Rom 1:16). Therefore, when you assume it – and don’t preach it – your church has been robbed of God’s power.
- A gospel-proclaiming church. Many churches proclaim the gospel faithfully and fruitfully. Many churches point lost people to the perfect, finished work of Christ and call them to repentance and faith in light of their sinfulness and need for a savior. I love these churches. One thing lacks, however: in these churches the proclamation of the gospel is aimed only at non-believers. They fail to apply the benefits of the gospel to believers as well. They stop short of showing how all Christian obedience is rooted in the gospel. They don’t unpack the many ways the gospel ongoingly deconstructs the idols of our sinful hearts.
- A gospel-centered church. This is the target. In a gospel-centered church, the gospel is faithfully proclaimed to unbelievers – and applied to believers. The preaching regularly highlights the seriousness of sin and our hopelessness apart from Christ, as well as the spectacular riches of God’s grace. Obedience and sanctification are always grounded in the gospel: people aren’t called to obey so that God will favor them, they are called to obey because God already has favored them in Christ. Over time in such churches, relationships within the Body come to be flavored by the gospel. Grace is more freely shared when people sin against each other. People pray for one another – for physical needs, but primarily for spiritual needs such as growth in godliness. Worship is vibrant as the church responds together to the greatness of God’s love for his people. People live on mission, giving generously and sharing the gospel faithfully and boldly as they recognize that the good news of Christ must be shared with others. In these churches, the gospel is not merely the ticket into the door of Christianity…it is the whole house. The gospel fuels and flows through everything, like a great river flowing through a river delta. In these churches, the gospel is always growing deeper in people’s hearts even as it grows wider in the world (see Col 1:6).
Would you join me in praying that our church would become increasingly gospel-centered?