We are continuing along in our Sunday study of the biblical marks of a healthy church. I am specifically preparing this week to teach on the importance of the true gospel in the life of a local church. In a day when a consumer mentality prevails among Christians and impatience with doctrinal precision appears on every side, I am reminded of this quote by B. B. Warfield.
“The chief dangers to Christianity do not come from the anti-Christian systems. Mohammedanism has never made inroads upon Christianity save by the sword. Nobody fears that Christianity will be swallowed up by Buddhism. It is corrupt forms of Christianity itself which menace from time to time the life of Christianity. Why make much of minor points of difference between those who serve the one Christ? Because a pure gospel is worth preserving; and is not only worth preserving, but is logically (and logic will always work itself out in history) the only saving gospel.” B. B. Warfield, 1894; quoted by Iain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of the Crucial Change In the Years 1950 to 2000, p. x.
My concern over the gospel in the churches of our day is not that churches might turn from embracing the gospel one minute to rejecting the gospel the next. Rather, my concern is over something much more subtle and much more insidious. The trend in our day is that the church invariably distances itself from the gospel for a period of time before it denies the gospel altogether. This happens in different ways. Sometimes the church takes a reductionistic view of the gospel in the name of evangelism. Sometimes the church grows apathetic to the gospel while it is being enamored with entertainment. Sometimes the church sidelines the gospel in a desire to focus on other perceived needs.
The point is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is usually relativized, minimized or ignored in the church before it is outright denied in the church. When things more appealing than the integrity of the gospel are casting a shadow over the church, it is very easy to become fed up with what appears to be an irksome insistence to get the gospel right. But this kind of persevering commitment to truth is our biblical mandate as Christians. Faithfulness to Christ can tolerate no less.
“But aren’t we being too nit-picky? After all, the devil is in the details,” some would argue. The only reason the devil is in the details is because he followed God there. God was there first. What God creates and manifests, Satan follows behind to corrupt and mimic. The most destructive errors have a lot of truth in them. This is the reason that we must exercise discernment in the details. This is the reason that Paul urged Timothy:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15)
Admittedly, the Bible urges us to count the cost and this kind of a commitment to the gospel may be costly. It may result in scorn or slander. For a pastor, it may even mean the end of your ministry. Come what may, the call for Christian pastors is to preach the gospel and let the bodies fall where they may, even if the pastor must be counted among the slain. The call for Christian churches is to trumpet the saving gospel that Almighty God himself has said is his power for salvation. Take courage Christian! Remember that as preachers of the gospel we might be shackled but the gospel never can be:
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” (2 Tim. 2:8-10)