Not everyone among us understands the gospel. It’s our responsibility to make it clear.
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In this issue we talk about the gospel and our part in clarifying and calling.
What Did He Say?
I sat in a physics lecture where I was not very sure at all what was being said or what I could do with it.
I once tried to stay awake in a theological seminar led by Dr. Carl F. H. Henry—some of you have textbooks or memories—and tried to look like I agreed because of his evangelical scholarship, but realized it was a leap of faith because of the long unfamiliar words he was using and the French theologians he was quoting.
And here I suggest there are some sitting in church with a glaze over their minds when we use words about the cross of Christ. We cannot assume they really get it, like it or embrace it—or him.
This month we argue for clarifying the issue of salvation and not assuming everyone in the service or small group is already attached. See if you agree as you think it through.
With assurance and appreciation,
Knute, with Jeff and Jim
Read the conversation here or download the PDF »
How and how often should we define the gospel of salvation? Why?
• I would define the gospel nearly weekly in one way or another. All roads are going to lead back to the gospel.
• How would I define the gospel of salvation? That’s going to depend on the context of what we’re talking about. If it’s the Christmas season I’m going to define it through the Christmas story, etc.
• As a general premise I’m going to walk through the idea of the gospel of salvation:
– Start with a God that loves us, a God that rescued us, with the understanding that we needed to be rescued.
– Are you a sinner? Maybe take them through a quick quiz on the Ten Commandments and people will self-admit … it’s kind of funny.
– I’m going to let you know that God’s standard is perfection, not good, and that’s why we need a Savior—and that Savior is Christ.
• In one way or another I’m going to come back to that narrative again and again.
• Why? We don’t have a choice. It’s the purpose of the church and the essence of what the church is all about.
• It should be central to every decision and message that is preached.
• Keep in mind, the gospel does not stop at salvation; the effects of faith continue all of our lives.
• Our view on the gospel and the sovereignty of God shapes how we view eternal security.
• Jesus’ mission was to seek and save the lost. If more churches had a burden for the lost and were willing to do whatever it took to reach them, we would see the moral compass in our world moved dramatically.
• Jesus is the hope of the world and each attendee must run to Jesus to find eternal hope for this world and our eternity in heaven.
• If we aren’t clear on the gospel this poisons every other area of teaching.
• Every time we preach. Any questions? This may bring frowns, but I am convinced that any pastor who could survey the church on, “How does one become a Christian?” or “How do you know you are a Christian?” would read the answers and decide never to preach a sermon again without at least a brief word of what we are asked to believe about Christ and his cross. In one that I did, so many said that they were baptized or, “I was raised in a Christian home,” or “I have always believed in God.” If I have missed any Sundays since that survey at The Chapel in the ’90s, it was not intentional.
• Because there are so many who cannot express their gospel assurance well; and perhaps they barely, if ever, try to explain the gospel to someone else, I propose the brief explanation is good. Every couple of months or whenever the text comes close, a clearly salvific message should be given. (I will admit I cannot convince many pastors to adopt this habit. Otherwise I have no strong feelings.)
• We all know union with Christ (the essence of salvation) is not because of a quick prayer, a raised hand or a “going forward.” How do we help our people to be able to be sure and to want to explain or share the gospel?
• And then there is the personal or one-on-one part. One of our great goals might be to help ourselves and everyone become natural at asking the right questions and giving the right thoughts about the gospel.
Should we give opportunities to receive Christ in public services? What kind?
• I would highly recommend you give opportunity to receive Christ in your public services.
• What kind of invitation? It depends on the culture of your church.
• Jim does some very creative, very dynamic invitations and he should tell about that.
• Our church tends to give private invitations in which we follow-up. We use commitment cards, letting you make the first move, then we are very disciplined about following up on those.
• Throughout our children, youth, college and different sub-ministries we make sure that there are one-on-one conversations about your salvation in the rhythm of those ministries.
• Yes, absolutely! What better place than the local church to trust in Jesus as your personal Savior?
• We always do on “Big Sundays”: Father’s Day, Easter and Christmas. Depending on the message we will extend an invitation to come trust in Jesus.
• We believe it’s important to make that decision public, so we will have them come forward and receive a token as a reminder of their decision. This token is a monument for them to keep.
• We go all out on our Big Sundays and build props that drive the decision home. We have had people cross bridges, sign walls, leave handprints on paintings, grab ropes, carry torches, and other things to help them remember this commitment.
• Public decisions encourage the whole congregation. There is nothing more important in life than to trust in Jesus. It should be celebrated!
• We can talk about the purpose of the church service—is it worship only, edification alone, or gospel evangelism? Years ago many leaders of evangelical churches thought every worship service was to conclude with finding out who would be saved today. Sometimes it hurt any purpose of the text or service related to worship or the Scriptures and personal growth.
• Wherever you land on that, church has got to be a place where the gospel is understood and embraced.
• Surely there should be at least a regular urging of people to be sure of their union with Christ, or an opportunity for a quiet prayer to ask God to help them with the issue of the sermon and also to know if the aforementioned explanation of the cross is true and can be personal and assured.
• There are other good ways to check interest, get a name, or have someone meet with someone who can explain and point to truth—cards, a place to pray with a church leader, Q&A times, texting and more. The best is still the oldest: one-on-one witness.
What are your fears about extremes in this area? How have you evolved?
• Most of the extremes are tied to methods.
• It’s the voice, it’s failing to be gentle and respectful, it’s screaming at people, it’s not making your language clear or the story of the gospel clear.
• How can you resolve that? Watch your tone, work to be persuasive not condemning, let the Holy Spirit do his work. We call that the no-brainer moment.
• Equip and empower the people for evangelism, which starts with prayer, so pray for your three (those you have designated for prayer and conversation.) I’ve evolved the most deeply in simply learning to wait upon the Lord, realizing that I don’t have to “close the deal” but I can plant the seed and the Lord will reap the harvest in his timing. When I was younger, I felt a pressure to display “results.” As I’ve grown older, I realize this is not always my gifting. I need to be faithful in doing the work of an evangelist, even from the pulpit, without needing to have the response that someone with the gift of evangelism might have.
• I’ve also evolved greatly in realizing that the greatest tool for doing the work of an evangelist is to equip the saints to do it.
• We never want people to be manipulated into this decision.
• We don’t want the moment or the person to get greater glory than Jesus.
• We work hard at making sure to not pressure someone but to have them respond as the Spirit is leading them.
• We want the message and not the messenger to be elevated.
• We don’t want an emotional response all by itself but truthfully a heartfelt, genuine decision will spring forth some powerful emotion.
• We also work to do some type of follow-up so that the individual can grow in his or her faith.
• Extremes indeed, from never-a-mention-because-you-are-in-church to this-could-be-your-last-chance-to-come-forward-now. Some older people have ditched the church forever because of this question.
• Surely I wish we could all settle for the church being as it once was, when it witnessed and cared for people because evangelism was the heart of the church.
• My evolution: From having a “come forward” at almost every service (to receive Christ or make public your personal faith and desire for membership) to always explaining the gospel and always having a response prayer that included a chance to seek to know more or even trust Christ right there.
In the culture I was in, the come forward became, to some people, a link only to a certain style of church or television program and brought up memories of forced emotions. The danger is it can cause a church to adopt a “decisional regeneration” viewpoint (that going forward or indicating a personal move or decision) was all that was the essence of a heartfelt faith in Christ and what he did on the cross and in his resurrection.
The opposite, of course, is just as bad—that because someone is in church we can assume he or she is also in Christ.
• Part of this evolution: We must say more than our own clichés or “accept Jesus” or “trust.” What is it we are asked to believe? To quote Acts 16:33 is indeed to pull a verse out of a context where to “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” was to put your life on the line. It was not a Gallop Poll question in those days. Just ask Paul when he said it—on his way out of jail because of that faith and his preaching it. I do believe—may I plead for a moment?—that we must explain what happened on the cross and what it is that we are to place faith in: this Person who is the eternal and full member of the triune Godhead, who took every one of our sins on his own body and spirit, bore the judgment for them, and totally and eternally paid the judgment for them to God’s justice system; and that when we place our trust in him and take that for our own judgment, his death counts for ours, his judgment is the substitute judgment for ours; and, more, when we place our faith in this person our faith is “counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:1)—we are given the gift of his perfection covering our name and person in God’s sight. (That is not a slight move. And it is not often the understanding of a person on the street or in the pew or nice chair.)
• There are national media programs—even that of America’s most popular preacher—that have a time to pray to “accept Christ” at the end of the program after having said nothing about sin or repentance or the cross or judgment or what it really means to receive Christ. Can praying a prayer or raising a hand to say you want to go to heaven save you? Or can it inoculate you against further contemplation and discussion?
• End of plea. You decide.
Jeff Bogue, of Grace Church, in several locations in the Bath-Norton-Medina areas of Ohio; Jim Brown, of Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana, a church known for its strong growth, family and men’s ministries, and community response teams; and Knute Larson, a coach of pastors, who previously led The Chapel in Akron for 26 years.
Vol. 6, Issue 6 | June 2019
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