I once heard a story of a husband who had forgotten his wife’s birthday. At the end of the evening, as they were getting into bed, the wife’s phone rang. The husband was a little surprised to hear the phone ring so late at night. But he was even more ashamed of himself when he heard of the reason for the call: a birthday wish; which he had forgotten. Can you imagine the embarrassment? Hopefully the hurt was not felt too deeply.
But let’s be honest: we all can relate to being forgetful. Some more than others, but we all suffer from some form of amnesia.
I wonder if this explains why many Christian churches fail to be gospel centred. They speak of His love. They mention His name in their services. Often. But many churches, I fear, seem to have forgotten what it means to really be gospel centred.
What about your church? Has your church forgotten what means to focus on what is most important in the Christian life?
The Spirit of God tells us that the work of Christ is of first importance:
I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:2-4).
The big question is this: Is your church really centred on the saving message of Christ? Or have you forgotten?
Here are 6 further questions to ask of your church, as you think about this:
- Are the uncomfortable truths of the Gospel regular themes in your church’s teaching? Do you regularly hear about sin, judgment, and repentance? Will the abusive husband, the rebellious teenager, and the arrogant CEO who sit in your church — will they be regularly challenged to repent of their evil? Does your church remind people often to say no to temptation, and to live in light of the coming Judgment? (Mark 1:15, John 3:16, Hebrews 12:14)
- When the preacher speaks of the gains of the Gospel – are they mainly framed as eternal blessings or temporal blessings? It is true – the Christian receives many blessings from God during this earthly life. God provides for our earthly needs. We have received the gift of the indwelling Spirit, and so God has made his home in our hearts. We can enjoy deep, soul-thrilling relationships with other believers. But the fullness of our inheritance will be received only on the last day. The lion-share of the Gospel gains will only be enjoyed in the world to come. We still look forward to receiving resurrected bodies. We still wrestle with indwelling sin; we are not yet sinless people. We have not yet seen God in his unveiled glory. These great gains of the Gospel are future blessings, not present realities. Is that what you hear from your preachers? Or is this earthly life described as the place of your best life? (Mark 8:36, 1 Peter 1:3-7, Ephesians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
- What do you mainly sing about, in your church? Do you mainly sing of your commitment to work for God? Or do you chiefly sing of God’s great works for you? I don’t mean to ignore the importance of living wholeheartedly for Christ and his kingdom. Neither do I wish to minimize the call to be holy (see point 1 above). But salvation is primarily the work of God. It is God who planned redemption long ago. It was God the Father who sent his Son. It is Christ alone who lived the life of perfect righteousness, even to the point of becoming our sin-bearing substitute. And when we are found faithful on the last day, it will be ultimately because God the Holy Spirit has sustained and preserved us. Does that emphasis come through in your church’s singing? (Jonah 2:9, Matthew 19:26, 2 Timothy 4:18, Jude 1:24)
- Does your church see the world’s needs as primarily a spiritual poverty? Or does it focus chiefly of temporal, physical suffering? It is increasingly popular for churches to approach outreach and mission as seeking to alleviate temporal, physical suffering. Of course, Christians must be marked by compassion and mercy, and as individual neighbours we should look for practical ways to meet the needs of our neighbours. But, unlike the secular non-profit down the road, the church knows where real suffering lies. Our greatest trouble, by every measure, is the coming Judgment of God and the threat of losing our souls for eternity. Let’s remember that it was Jesus himself who said: For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Does your church see the world’s needs as Jesus did? (Matt 10:28, Mark 8:36, Acts 3:6, 1 Timothy 4:8)
- How is the Christian life described in your church? Is it a narrow road, marked by suffering? Or is the Christian life described as an easy path, marked only by happiness and sunshine? Suffering carries with it no inherent goodness. We suffer because of the Fall and God’s curse against it. And yet God has called us to follow in the footsteps of a Suffering Saviour. The apostle Paul suffered much for Christ. He even went out of his way to teach Christians of the inevitability of suffering for Christ: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom to God” (Acts 14:22). Is that how the average member of your church will speak of Christian life? (Matthew 7:13-14, 16:24; 2 Corinthians 11: 21-27; James 1:2)
- Are the occasions for baptism and the Lord’s Table joyful times in your church – mainly because they remind you of the Gospel gifts of forgiveness and new life? Both these ordinances embody and picture the great gifts of salvation. Baptism is a picture of being united with Christ through faith, sharing in both his death for sin and his resurrection to new life. The Lord’s Supper is meant to remind us again and again of that full forgiveness that Christ has purchased through his body broken and his blood poured out. Both these acts are meant to stir up our joy as forgiven sinners, who have received new life with God. Is that the main source of your joy when you observe and participate in these ordinances? (Matthew 26:26-29; Romans 6:1-11)
Pastors are inclined to forget what is most important, just like the next person. We pastors are also weak, and forgetful. Unfortunately, forgetting the birthday of your wife is not nearly as tragic as forgetting to keep our eyes on Christ and his death for sin.
The Scripture warns us of not forsaking the Gospel, both as individuals and as entire churches (Hebrews 2:1, Revelation 2-3). Therefore, I would encourage you to prayerfully evaluate how your church is doing, in this area. The costs to forget the Gospel are too large to take our faithfulness for granted.
The apostles felt no shame when they reminded people in their letters of what they already knew. After calling Christians “to make every effort to confirm [their] calling and election,” Peter writes these words: “Therefore I will always remind you about these things, even though you know them and are established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right, as long as I am in this bodily tent, to wake you up with a reminder…” (2 Peter 1:12-13).