Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What Happens When the Church Loses its Gospel-Centered Focus

Several years ago I had the pleasure of attending arguably Evangelicalism’s premiere seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, for two years. One of my professors there, who would dramatically impact my life, was Old Testament scholar Willem Van Gemeren, author of the book The Progress of Redemption. It was in that class that God would reveal to me the hermeneutical key that would unlock my understanding of the Bible and the mission that it outlines. As a result of this newfound revelation, I began to read the Bible in light of God’s unfolding, overarching drama of redemption. I discovered that there was a thread that was woven throughout Scripture, an overarching story, as it were, that unfolded beginning with God’s perfect creation, then the Fall, and finally God’s plan for redemption. Everything written after Genesis 3 would outline God’s great plan of redemption, and central to this plan, of course, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Since the Gospel is the central theme in God’s redemption plan, the Gospel must then be properly defined. According the Graeme Goldsworthy,

“The gospel is the event (or the proclamation of that event) of Jesus Christ that begins with his incarnation and earthy life, and concludes with his death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. This historical event is interpreted by God as his preordained program for the salvation of the world. The gospel centers on what God did for us in the incarnate Christ in order to save us from sin, the devil and death. Its goal is the new creation where the people of God redeemed by Christ will enjoy the presence of God for eternity. The gospel is what we must believe in order to be saved. To believe the gospel is to put one’s trust and confidence in the person and work of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. To preach the gospel is faithfully to proclaim that historical event, along with the God-given interpretation of that event."

Thus, in the climax of God’s redemption plan, Jesus atones for sin, satisfies God’s wrath, and provides victory over sin and death. It is the gospel, or good news, that redeems fallen man. This idea should be central to forming the Church’s overall mission. What happens then, when the church loses its Gospel-centeredness? When the church fails do read the Bible and define its mission using a gospel-centered hermeneutic, failing to make the gospel its central focus, many defects begin to emerge. Below are five defects, but many more could be added.

1. Transfer Growth Defines Success- Transfer growth becomes the defacto ultimate goal, where success is determined simply by numerical growth. If a church is continually adding new people and the finances roll in, a church is deemed to be successful. Yet, when this happens, there is an important measurement for growth that is absent – conversion growth. Every church must ask itself this question: Is the church participating in God’s plan of redeeming lost people to a holy God? If the answer is no, how in light of God’s plan can that church be seen as being successful? Perhaps most troubling is that many times that church intentionally draws saved people by appealing to that segment of the population, but fails to reach out to the lost. If no one is in heaven at the end of the day because of that church, I am afraid that their success is only a mirage.

This is the first installment in a series of blogs that deals with the ramifications of failing to be gospel centered. Other pitfalls that I will address include the gospel of moralism, a distortion of missions, pragmatic preaching, and the justification of divorce.