Being A Gospel Church

by Jul 30, 2014

When you visit a church in America, you can usually tell within a few minutes what really drives the congregation.

  • The activity-driven church has a list of all its upcoming events in the bulletin, and you need a microscope to read it, because there are ten to twenty activities every day of the week.
  • The experience-driven church sings every song eight or ten times, and when you talk to people during greeting time, they start every other sentence with “God told me . . .”
  • The social/political- action-driven church has a table in the lobby with, depending on its political persuasion, either (A) family-values-voter infor- mation guides or (B) fair-trade coffee that was hand-roasted by one-legged widows in a remote village in South America.
  • The counseling- driven church has a rack on the wall advertising recovery groups for caffeine addiction and every other dependency under the sun.
  • The family-driven church has entire rows taken up by families with five or six kids since there are no children’s programs that might split families apart.
  • The Bible-driven church hands you a bulletin as thick as your thumb, containing the pastor’s seven- page sermon outline (plus fourteen pages of footnotes).

Few of these things are necessarily wrong, and speaking personally, many of them are attractive to me because they emphasize an implication of the gospel. God calls us to study his Word, to experience him through worship and prayer, to shepherd our families, and to influence our culture. The problem comes when you reduce the gospel to any of these things. Then your church becomes the family worship church down the street from the social justice church, rather than simply being a gospel church. We want Harbor to simply be a gospel church. We don’t always succeed, but we want to bleed the gospel in everything we do.

The gospel is the good news of God’s victory over sin through the perfect life, substitutionary death, and resurrected reign of Jesus Christ.

  • The gospel was proclaimed to the Serpent in the garden: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).
  • It was foreshadowed by the sacrifices of Moses: “He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him” (Lev. 1:4).
  • The gospel was experienced by Isaiah in the temple (after he had already delivered five chapters of Spirit-inspired sermons): “He touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for’” (Isa. 6:7).
  • It was preached by Paul above all else: “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3–4).
  • The gospel will be fulfilled by Jesus at the end of the age when he comes to reign: “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

As Bryan Chapell summarizes the epic story of the gospel, “God has fulfilled his promise to send a Savior to rescue broken people, restore creation’s glory, and rule over all with compassion and justice.” This means the gospel isn’t just a visa stamp on your passport to show the immigration officer when you get to heaven. It should shape every facet of life and ministry now: “The gospel . . . has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth” (Col. 1:5b–6).

Unfortunately, the gospel just isn’t enough for many people. We’re always trying to add something to God’s grace. Soon, the issues that drive our churches (such as strengthening families, pursuing social justice, or even studying the Bible) can start to take on gospel-level importance in our minds. Don Carson reminds us, “If the gospel is merely assumed, while relatively peripheral issues ignite our passion, we will train a new generation to downplay the gospel and focus zeal on the periphery.”

We never want that to happen. There are many different things our church emphasizes and pursues, but none of them captivate us so much as the simple fact that God is infinitely glorious while we are painfully sinful and fallen, so Jesus came to bridge that gap through his perfect life, substitutionary death on the cross, and victorious triumph over death to reign over us as king. That’s the gospel, and it drives everything.