by Dr. Darryl G. Klassen
EMC Convention 2016
For the past half-century or more the North American Church has promoted a gospel that emphasizes getting saved.
While salvation is certainly important, the focus on getting a ticket to heaven has left many wondering what value the gospel has for this present life. Do we give the impression that believing in Jesus is only about eternal life?
Somewhere in the history of our church-culture a shift has taken place that convinced us that we need to get people to make decisions for Jesus. But did Jesus say we should go and make converts—or make disciples?
The new Vision Statement for the EMC says in part, “We envision teaching the gospel with a Christ-centred approach to Scripture, affirming Anabaptist convictions.” If we are to take this vision to heart, we need to consider how we truly define “gospel.”
An Apostolic Pattern
To teach the Christ-centred Gospel we must follow the Apostolic Pattern handed down to us. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy we read about Paul’s intense concern that Timothy hold on to the gospel.
Paul knew that Timothy was struggling to preach the gospel of Christ according to the apostles’ teaching. Certain parties wanted to add to the gospel and to make it more relevant. Timothy felt this pressure and grew ashamed of the gospel.
It is no wonder then that Paul was quite blunt with Timothy and his timidity about the gospel. If the gospel appeared weak because Paul was in prison, Paul responded, “I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).
So Paul writes to encourage Timothy, to bolster what is in danger of growing weak. He reminds him of the source of the gospel: “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13).
What the Gospel is Not
We struggle with similar temptations, and you would think that we would all agree on how we define the gospel. But I have come to discover that there is quite a broad spectrum when people speak of the gospel. We do not all agree.
What are some wrong conceptions of the gospel?
First, most of us have grown up with the conception that the gospel is about personal salvation. Second, our predominant understanding of the gospel comes from Paul’s letters where he presented the essence of the gospel as “justification by faith.”Third, if the gospel means justification by faith, why didn’t Jesus preach in those terms?
The end result is that the word “gospel” has been hijacked to mean “personal salvation.” This is why we focus on making a decision, why conversion experiences trump the process of discipleship, and why gospel as we know it is different than what it meant to Jesus and the apostles.
What is the Gospel?
If you want a nutshell of the gospel, Paul told Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel” (2 Tim. 2:8). The gospel Paul refers to can be found more fully represented in 1 Cor. 15:1-5. These are perhaps the oldest known lines of the gospel. Before there was a New Testament, this was the gospel. For Paul, the gospel did not begin at Matthew 1:1, but in Genesis.
It was in this manner that Paul preached the gospel of Jesus. Every sermon in Acts and every New Testament writer saw this gospel as part of a larger narrative. What was that gospel?
The Story of Israel
The Story of Israel, or the Story of the Bible, begins this odyssey that is the Gospel. We know the essential parts of this story: Adam and Eve sinning, the calling of Abraham and the choosing of a people, Israel’s failure to be a missional people and testify to God’s purposes. The important thing is to note how this not only sets up the gospel, but is, in reality, “the good news of God” in that He kept speaking into our world despite the failure of humankind to obey His commandments.
The Story of Jesus
The story of Jesus is the story of God sending His Son to establish His Messiah or Christ, and to finally establish His kingdom. Now, we cannot understand this part of the story without understanding the Story of Israel. The Story of Jesus is first and foremost a resolution of Israel’s story, and because the Story of Jesus completes the Story of Israel, it saves.
The Plan of Salvation
Then we can talk about the Plan of Salvation for it flows out of the Story of Israel as completed in the Story of Jesus. The Plan of Salvation is not the gospel. The Gospel cannot be reduced to four spiritual laws or five points. If we do, we will find that men and women will get “saved,” but they won’t have a clue about discipleship, or justice, or obedience.
Anabaptists believe that Christ is the centre of Scripture. If you believe that, then you will read Scripture with Christ as your lens. You will see that all Scripture speaks to the centrality of Jesus Christ and His Gospel.
Guard the Content
To teach the Christ-centred Gospel we must guard the content of this teaching. “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:14).
How do we guard the gospel?
Entrust The Gospel
Entrust the gospel to faithful people who will carefully handle its truths. Paul tells Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). You are Christ’s representatives when you live your life with Jesus as Lord. In short, the Story of the Gospel continues with you.
Endure the Suffering
Endure the suffering that will surely come from holding to this gospel. The time that Paul predicted when people will not put up with sound doctrine seems constant in every generation. Sound doctrine, the true Gospel, does not resonate with those who have a different agenda. To suit their own desires they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn away from the truth and hold on to myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4). This is happening even within the Church.
The Gospel Story, that Jesus Christ is Lord, the fulfillment of all that God purposed for our lives, will be rejected by those who think it is too judgmental, too exclusive, too simplistic or too theological. Are you ready to suffer as Paul did for the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Proclaim the Gospel
Faithfully proclaim the gospel story. Guarding the gospel is not achieved by burying it or keeping quiet about it. Proclaiming the Gospel preserves it as well as declares it. This is critical; in the face of a hostile world that cannot grasp its own lostness and a God who has entrusted us with this incredible message, we cannot be quiet.
Into every facet of life, the messy and rough situations of marital breakdown, and personally self-destructive tendencies, speak Jesus as Lord into those places. “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word!” (2 Tim. 4:1-2).
Dr. Darryl G. Klassen is the senior pastor of Kleefeld EMC. This article is based on his message of Saturday, July 2, at the EMC’s 2016 national convention.