Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Together For The Gospel 2008: Session #4

Mark Dever

Improving the Gospel: Exercises in Unbiblical Theology

People try to improve the gospel. But in improving the gospel they end up losing it. Some Corinthians wanted to add human wisdom and eloquence. Some Galatians wanted to add observance of the ceremonial laws of Moses. Some Colossians were adding everything from worldly philosophy to the worship of angels.

Before we can know what is being added to the gospel, we need to know what the gospel is. Study the New Testament to learn what the gospel truly is, what it consists of.

God is fundamental to the gospel. Our creation in His image and our fall are fundamental. Christ’s incarnation, perfect life, death, and resurrection are fundamental. And this instruction is not merely an application but part of the gospel message itself. We must clearly define the gospel.

What attempted improvements can we see today? What are the threats that we face as we defend the gospel as it is revealed in the New Testament?

5 cries that try to improve the gospel:

1) Make the gospel public
Jesus came to save the structures of society. This cry believes that we will see more of the fullness of the kingdom of God here in this life than Scripture would seem to imply. Seeing societies, politics, government and such reformed is the purpose of the gospel proclamation and saving work and not just an effect.

The gospel is a uniquely Christian message and has been uniquely entrusted to the Church. Non-Christians will join us in the pursuit of reforming society but they will NOT join us in the propagation of the gospel and the exaltation of Jesus Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords.

  • Acts 8:12, 14 - The message of the kingdom of God is associated with baptism in Christ’s name and the reception of the Word of God.

Non-Christianss, therefore, are not doing kingdom work though they may be doing things that Christians ought to be doing.

Never substitute good works for the preaching of the gospel.

2) Make the gospel larger
Did Jesus come really only to save our souls? This cry thinks through a Christian worldview, which we should be doing. But implications of the gospel are sometimes referred to as part of the gospel.

Is the gospel more than believing that our faith in Jesus Christ saves us from the wrath of God?

The gospel is not a collection of moral positions or actions. This is fruit that grows from a life that has been transformed by the gospel.We must distinguish between the core of the gospel and its implications. We must clearly define what a person must fundamentally believe in order to be rightly called a Christian.

  • 1 Thessalonians 2:8 - Sharing the gospel is more than just sharing our lives with others.

Does the gospel include opposition to abortion or working to end unjust laws? If so, then it must include ending the war in Iraq and nationalized health care and much, much more.

The unavoidable path we end up going down is that when we make the gospel larger than what it really is, it will be hard to see those who don’t agree with us to truly be Christians because they surely have gotten the gospel wrong since they’ve gotten abortion wrong (or whatever other issue we claim to be an indispensable part of our Christian worldview).

Don’t confuse the gospel with a Christian worldview.

3) Make the gospel relevant
How will people be saved? This cry says we must contextualize. The gospel appears irrelevant to people today so we must change our message by becoming all things to all men. We must figure out what keeps non-Christians from coming to hear the gospel and then adapting so that they will want to come.

A concern for evangelism, sadly, has often been the path to theological liberalism. In order to reach the lost, we do whatever works and end up abandoning, whether knowingly or not, core truths about God and His ways with man.

We must do away with the idea that we should adapt our methods to “studies have shown…”

If this is true, then what happens when the atheists, and Mormons, and Muslims, figure out how to be more relevant than we are? Then what do we do?

Embracing relevance attracts a certain kind of people. This leads to a homogeneous congregation when our goal is a heterogeneous congregation.

Yes, we should contextualize in the sense that we take the gospel into different places by going physically and being willing to lay aside our own comforts and conveniences. Contextualization should never make the gospel more acceptable or less offensive. If we have communicated the gospel faithfully, it should only make the offense more clearly. We must always have a distinction that bears witness to the reality of the gospel. The gospel’s relevance appears precisely in our being distinct.

4) Make the gospel personal
Are we saved alone as individuals apart from the local church? What is God about in Jesus Christ?

  • Ephesians 3:10 -The manifold wisdom of God is to be made known through the church.

Our participation in the local church validates or falsifies our witness for the gospel. The reason we have gifts is not just for ourselves and our own purposes but to serve a local congregation. Many Christians see the gospel as that which saves them individually and not that which brings them into a body of fellowship, except when it is convenient. The idea of being committed to one congregation and serving primarily in that context is utterly alien. Many assume that the church is just a plural word for Christian.

A wrongly personalized gospel ends up with a wrongly personalized church. Being vague about our understanding of the church can hurt our understanding and communication of the gospel. Two or three gathered in Jesus’ name are not necessarily a church.

Wrong ideas of the church encourage wrong ideas about the gospel. The audible gospel is intended to be displayed by the visible church comprised of individual people who may have very little in common apart from this gospel that brings them together. The church isn’t just a collection of individual lights. The church is a furnace that is meant to burn brightly and makes other lights.

Don’t decouple the gospel by decoupling it from the local church.

5) Make the gospel kinder
Why does God save us? This cry says that the ultimate purpose of the gospel is the greatest good for the greatest number of people. God’s highest desire is to rescue the greatest number of people from hell that we can. The ultimate purpose of the gospel is the salvation of sinners.

God’s ultimate purpose is not seeing the most sinners saved but about getting the most glory for Himself.

  • 1 Thess. 1:2, 3 - God gets the thanks and the glory in our salvation. This is the goal.

All that exists is for God’s own pleasure in the display of His manifold perfections.

  • Romans 9:22, 23 - Our churches are a demonstration of God’s character and His mercy.

Look at Ezekiel. God does all that He does so that His people will know that He is the LORD. Look at Exodus. God does all that He does to demonstrate His great power.

We should want to see people saved and for their own good, but even more for God’s great glory so that the truth of our Creator will be known, so that He will be loved and worshiped.

To add to the gospel is always to remove from it and to detract from God’s glory.

So the message is simply this: keep the message clear and don’t add anything to the gospel.

Download the audio here.

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