The Wrong Gospel Kills the Church
As I was watching a lecture on the history of missions today, Zane Pratt told the story of how Christianity died in Asia around the year 1400. Spiritually speaking, he attributed this to the loss of the gospel. Pratt tells the story of a Turkick Chieftain writing a letter to a bishop about becoming a Christian. The bishop’s response shared nothing about the gospel, but instead presented a number of rituals and ascetic practices he should keep. Pratt says that apparently “God was pleased to allow it [Christianity in Asia] to be taken out, because the gospel itself was no longer being proclaimed,” (Pratt, Zane, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Alumni Academy). This is just one, historical example of a church, or the whole of Christianity dying in an area, due to a compromise on the gospel message.
Are We Making History?
As we look at our modern situation, do we see the marks of post-Christian society? What about inside our churches? Do we see people who claim to follow Christ, yet have no power over their own desires (2 Tim. 3:5). Do we see people who could care less about listening to the gospel, because they have seen so many people who profess to know Christ, yet their lives deny it? What could cause such a lack of respect for biblical convictions and this even from inside our churches? Could this be the result of a powerless gospel? Have we ushered people into the church by telling them something they wanted to hear? Have we presented a false gospel that has no power to change a person’s heart, yet serves to pacify their conscience? These people must have received this misinformation from some place. Was it your fault? Was it mine?
The Power of the Gospel:
The Bible clearly describes the preaching of the cross (the true gospel) is going to be perceived as foolishness, or the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18). What is the preaching of the cross? That the Perfect God/Man was crushed by God the Father to effectively redeem His people.
In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), we see God’s promise to completely provide salvation for His people (Ezekiel 36:24-27). God told His people that the way He was going to save is that He was going to do it all! He was going to make them clean, He was going to put a new heart and spirit in them. Then, He would cause them to live in a way that was pleasing to Him. In other words, then, and only then, would they bear the fruit of righteousness (Matt. 7:17-19; Luke 3:8; John 6:27-29)! Even Jesus’ gospel presentations made clear the sovereignty of God in salvation (John 6:37, 44).
The First Step in Reviving the Church:
This problem of dying churches has not caught God by surprise. Jesus warned the church at Ephesus in the Revelation (Rev. 2:1-7). He tells the church at Ephesus that He will “remove the “lampstand,” if they do not repent. (Rev. 2:5). The lampstand is the church, (Rev. 1:20)! This sounds like what happened in Asia in the 1400’s. It sounds like what has happened in modern Europe and possibly the United States. How do we stop it? Jesus says he will remove the church at Ephesus, if they do not repent. Repent from what? Leaving their first love. They were great at godly living and judging false doctrine; however, they left their first love. What does a Christian first love? I think this is referring to Jesus Christ as revealed in the gospel. It is the true gospel of an Awesome God, our desperate need of and a faith in the Perfect Christ that filled our hearts with joy and love which led to our first act of obedience!
The church in Ephesus was doing good things; however, they were not doing it in a way that showed that they really loved the true Jesus as Scripture presents Him. Are we presenting the gospel in a way that shows we love God as presented in Scriptures? If not, here are a few recommendations I have made to myself:
1) Repent of the sin of deception.
In order to restore holiness and passion in our churches we must start with how we present the gospel. David Platt preached a message a few years ago that dealt with this very topic.
Platt said that phrases like, “pray this prayer, accept Jesus into your heart, ask Jesus into your life,” are “superstitious” and un-biblical. Like the bishop to the Turkick chieftain, instead of presenting the true gospel, have we given them rituals and ascetic practices as a way to Christ, instead of the gospel? Is it no wonder that people say that America is heading the way of Europe in regards to Christianity? Will we follow suit with what happened to Asia in the 1400’s? Or, will we ask the tough questions of ourselves and our churches. Are we a part of the problem. In our quest to grow in numbers, have we removed the power of the gospel? If so, we must repent of this.
2) Study and know the gospel.
Speaking from my own experience, for years I just repeated what others told me was the gospel. It wasn’t until I started going on short-term mission trips in 2010 and speaking through interpreters that I began thinking about what I was going to say. You have to be succinct. If you use too many words, they may get lost in the interpretation; therefore, I started examining and planning everything I would say. I wanted my words to have the most impact. Remembering that I believe God saves people by His Word, not mine, I started throwing out everything for which I could not find a biblical model. I was surprised by how many presentations of the gospel there are in the Bible, both Old and New Testament. Every one of them follows the same model of presentation. It dawned on me that if the Bible repeatedly shares the gospel in a certain way and never says many of the things I have said in my presentations, then maybe I need to change. Faithful members in our churches need to study and know the true gospel.
3) Faithfully share God’s gospel.
Once we know the gospel, we should faithfully share the gospel. I know that sounds simple, but we need to avoid the temptation to add in the false, misleading statements we have used in the past. This is a very difficult habit to break. I think part of the difficulty is that we feel like we should always be talking. We hate silence, so we fill the space with these common, comfortable phrases we have used all of our lives. We need to stop doing that and be faithful to share the gospel as God has presented it.
4) Be content to trust God to give the increase.
This point ties in closely with being faithful to share God’s gospel, but has more to do with our attitude. It’s true that sometimes we just need to be quiet. Once we have presented the gospel the way God presents it, we should just stop. I don’t mean we should not continue to entertain questions and converse with the person who is genuinely interested. I mean in the gospel presentation itself, avoid the temptation to add on to it and make it end on a happier note. The last part of a gospel presentation is that the person would obey, as a result of believing that Jesus is the Christ. We can tell them how that looks, but we cannot water down that point to make it easier. Regarding our attitude, by being quiet, we are demonstrating to God that we trust Him. We trust Him to do what He desires to do with our faithful presentation of the gospel.
The wrong gospel kills the church. We have seen historical and biblical examples. Before that, the wrong gospel does a great deal of damage, before the church disappears. It breaks my heart to see relatives and friends who have grown up hearing what they think is the gospel only to be misled and deceived about what it really means to believe in Christ. May we as the church be humble enough to repent of our sins. May we see the need to deepen and strengthen our knowledge of the gospel. May we see the urgency with sharing the truth of the gospel. May we live with holiness, so that we do not tarnish the gospel.
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