What is the one determining factor today in deciding whether a particular church is Bible-based (that is, in line with the teaching of the scriptures)? There are many differing views on various theologies, but among those who are genuinely concerned that the Scriptures are taught well in a church, it seems that the one crucial point that must be taught in churches is the Gospel.
If one were to say, “All that ultimately matters is that the Gospel is preached”, this is automatically met with heartfelt approval. After all, how could it be wrong? Is not the Gospel the center-point of the entire Bible, indeed even all of history? It’s in the Bible, and it’s the necessary knowledge for salvation. It just sounds so right. Not only that, but we have moved beyond this. Now, everything we do or understand in life is seen through the grid of the Gospel: marriage, money, work, life. All are to be understood through the Gospel story.
You might be wondering why I am bringing this up, why I think this shouldn’t be the case. As I have said, it seems so right, and it resounds in our hearts. But it is missing a beat, and this for three primary reasons.
Reason #1: Jesus = The Gospel
The Gospel has almost become Jesus himself. And what I mean by that is, all that Jesus is and means is the Gospel. For any struggle you are facing in your life, whether it be temptation or guilt for giving in to temptation, these can be forgotten by simply remembering the cross. We simply need to run through “For it is by grace you have been saved” one more time to remember that our sins are atoned for. Far too often, the joke is made in small group Bible studies when someone is asked a theological question they don’t know, “Jesus! Of course, the answer is Jesus!”. And by “Jesus” here, they mean the cross and what he did.
Our sins are atoned for, thank God! But let us not forget this one thing: even if Jesus had not died for our sins he would still be worthy of our adoration and praise, and he desires for us to be his people. But Jesus is more than the work he did. He is a person! We can be in relationship with him! Verses such as this one…
I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. (Psalm 16:18, NIV)
…are subconsciously read as “I keep my eyes always on the Gospel”.
Reason #2: The Holy Spirit Nonexistent
Unfortunately, a total focus on only the Gospel of Jesus Christ leads to an emphasis on the theology and presence of Jesus over the other two persons of the Trinity (though all three were involved in the process). The Father is still mentioned significantly, though not as much. But what about the Holy Spirit?
I am contending here that the Holy Spirit is all but forgotten. Beyond a prayer for his help in devotions or preaching, we know little more about him. Granted, this depends on our beliefs in the works and gifts of the Holy Spirit, for sure. But even if we do not believe in these gifts today (we’ll save that matter for later), the Holy Spirit is still so rarely mentioned and is not relied upon in real, tangible ways. If the Holy Spirit is taught in church he is almost always mentioned in the past tense (e.g., how he was present in Jesus’ life, how he came to live in us the moment we believed, etc.).
This is connected with the first reason above. If a re-reading of the Gospel is our answer to daily troubles, then it is knowledge of and reliance on the Holy Spirit that has suffered. Our faith and lives then become only a process of mental reassurance. We simply need to remember what has been done for us to get the boost we need to overcome a problem. It may or may not work, but it lacks the real power of God for which he is known.
Reason #3: It is strongly opposed in scripture
What? The Bible is against the Gospel? Not at all. It is against an understanding of God that merely stays on the Gospel and never moves on:
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death,and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites,the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so. (Heb 6:1-3, NIV)
It is these “elementary teachings” that I am talking about. What could be more clear than this scripture? It is not saying that the Gospel is useless, that it is of no value. Not at all, for it is compared to the “foundation”. Moving beyond the foundation does not mean forgetting it but it means building on it. For every aspect of our faith and our growing relationship with God is dependent on the fact that Christ has died for us. But when we fail to move on, we are forever building layer upon layer of foundation, so that we have a solid concrete house unsuitable for living in. It puts us at a risk of never progressing spiritually, a problem which has its own dangers. We start to care less and less about becoming holy but only remember how we were made righteous and saved whenever we encounter sin.
Might it be that there is more to the doctrines of God then how they relate to the Gospel? And is our study of the Bible not more than simply trying to find out how a particular passage is teaching the Gospel message yet again?
This is a controversial issue. The problem is that it is attached to other theologies of importance, such as the work of the Holy Spirit, so that a belief in one can profoundly affect one’s belief in another.
The Gospel is clearly the center point of the Bible, and you must have it to have a church. But the entire Bible points beyond itself to God, and by “God” I mean all three persons of the Trinity.