Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My Own Op-ED--He Works Through It

One of the last times I saw Ed Lewis face-to-face, he said something interesting to me. He told me there was someone I needed to meet, because that guy "had the same evangelistic passion" that I had. This caught me a bit by surprise, for many guys think my love of doctrine means I must not be evangelistic enough. (I've been chided many times that I must get more seeker-sensitive.) Yet, Ed seemed to get it. He knows I am doctrinally oriented, but he also knows I love the gospel dearly and am thrilled to see God create new life!

I've always liked Ed (and even more so that day)! Therefore, I felt it safe to point out that his editorial could have used more gospel centrality. It would have influenced his diagnosis and his solutions. But this really isn't meant as a piece to try to call him out. This is meant as a wake-up call for all of us pastors. Are people bored or leaving our churches because we've neglected the gospel?

You see, the gospel is truly the only thing that saves the person. Attending your church for life won't save them. Joining the praise band won't get them justified before God. Liking the church and even getting other friends and family members to join them will not get them into heaven. No, it is only by faith placed deeply into this gospel message by which one becomes saved. And to believe, they have to hear it (Romans 10:14-17). All who hear the gospel will not be saved. But all who are saved will have heard the gospel and believed in it! Therefore, they are won forever by the gospel. They are kept, not by you, but by the Father who holds them in His hand.

But they are also transformed by this gospel. God sanctifies those whom He justifies. Therefore, His children will one day stand before Jesus as He is, but until that day, God will be working the process of making them more and more like His Son. This process will have ups and downs, progress and regression. However, the whole of the process will be marked by transformation. In many ways, this can be the most difficult part.

Bottom line: The pastor does not move his congregation beyond the gospel, but is called to perpetually send his people into the depths of the gospel.

Many people hear me state that the gospel must be preached weekly and assume the weekly theme is simply, "Ask Jesus into your heart. Walk the aisle. Raise your hand." However, I can't remember the last time I employed these strategies. Other pastors will label me a "doctrine guy," yet will assume I turn every Sunday into a revival meetings? Either they think I'm schizophrenic, or they aren't really considering the depths of the gospel. We've already addressed that understanding Christ's sanctifying work helps us assess the statistics differently, but let's look at how it effects proposed solutions as well.

1. Pray together. What many people consider their prayer life is simply their supplication life. They don't first focus on the grace of God in their lives and the worship He is due. Sure, it's great to get young and old together to pray, but make sure their prayers are gospel oriented. An older person will be much more passionate about the young person they've met if their prayer is about the mutual grace of God they have received, than simply praying they find a prom date or get into a good school. Get two people sitting across each other to pray, not focused on the other person, but focused on their mutual Savior.

2. Make the church a "family." This will only work with a gospel centrality. Quite frankly, the niche church plant strategy model has done a great disservice to the truth of the gospel. We have been made a "holy nation." Once we were not a people, but now we are a people of God. Like the church in Antioch, the church should seek to bond people of different ages, races, economic status and educations together. If you simply place generations around each other for the case of exposure, it may be fascinating for a time (What, you mean phones used to have cords on them that went into the walls? Crazy!), but this will eventually wear off. However, when you remind a person that they were alienated completely from God and fellowship is impossible until one comes to God through Christ, this causes the person to appreciate more deeply their fellowship with God, and thus seek out fellowship with others.

3. While "Scum of the Earth" is a cute concept for the name of a church (an idea from MacDonald's book), it is an incomplete message. Yes, we were objects of wrath, but now we have been purchased with the priceless blood of Jesus Christ! Really, are we going to claim that someone purchased with the blood of Christ is scum? Furthermore, we realize we have been reconciled to God in Christ so that we can do the ministry of reconciliation. But this call for reconciliation is not to us, but to God primarily, and then we will see it effect us.

4. Follow up with students. If our students are trained to listen for a truly cross-centered message, then we can more freely set them out knowing what to look for in a church. As far as I know, there are no Grace Brethren Churches in the regions I specifically mentioned. And frankly, that issue just doesn't matter that much to me. Too many of our churches don't understand this gospel centrality and therefore wouldn't share this thread. Our twelve points of the Statement of Faith simply do not narrow things down enough to really get a feel for the passions of the congregation. Therefore, you are left to assess the church based on superficial descriptions (seeker, Willow, Saddleback, Emerging, etc.). But these descriptions don't get to the heart of things, they simply deal with methodology. When Jesus said, "upon this rock," He was not referencing a method of Peter's, but the message that fell from his lips.

5. Real fellowship. Read 1 John 1. There is no fellowship imaginable like the Fellowship between the members of the Trinity! Then, through the work of Jesus Christ, God invites us into this kind of fellowship. Then, once we enter into fellowship with God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we naturally find ourselves having fellowship with others who also abide in Christ. As the passage continues, it explains to us that this fellowship is built upon the confession of sin and the work of Christ. As we abide deeply in the gospel, we abide deeply in Christ. And if we love the Groom, we will love the Bride.

Ultimately, the problem of the young leaving and the "Boomers" distancing becomes one of humility. The "Boomers" are bored with what they have and frustrated with what they do not. The youth, who once attended but have been leaving, are frustrated that changes aren't happening quick enough and they are not receiving enough influence. But both parties are wrong. The church is not about them, she is about Him! A gospel centered message will instill the necessary humility to cause both groups to seek Christ's glory and the other's interest.

The gospel has been assumed and treated lightly in too many contexts. This creates the problem. But their is hope. It is not complicated. It is not a struggle. It is not a message which contradicts. Preach the gospel to all men! The lost need to hear it for their justification and the believer (regardless of generation) needs to hear it for their sanctification!


Brad said...

I have a feeling that there are some of us out here, myself included to some extent, who are still not entirely certain we understand what you mean when you speak of gospel-centered preaching or gospel-centered prayer.

I know you've been explaining and illustrating this concept for some time now, but maybe it would be helpful if you could lay out your specific criteria for determining whether preaching or prayer is, in fact, gospel-centered.

Darby Livingston said...


In addition to anything Danny writes in response to your question, I'd highly recommend a book entitled "Prayer and the Knowledge of God" by Graeme Goldsworthy, which is a whole book expositing gospel-centered prayer. Just one more to add to your biblical-theological library. :)

Brad said...

Thanks, Darby.

Hopefully, Danny will just do all the work for me. After all, that's why you guys get paid the big bucks, right? :)

Anonymous said...

I have a question for you. What makes you so right? I'm just curious because I used to be very opinionated and judgemental until I realized... why am I always right?
You put down altar calls and raising hands, but what's wrong with those if they save one person? You say that they lose the tally when one of the five walk away, but what if the four are still going there faithfully? Why would we just look at the 1 that left? Also, if one soul gets saved from one of those events didn't it serve it's purpose?
I was raised with altar calls and I think they are awesome. When you are just overwhelmed w/ craziness in your life there is nothing like going up there to kneel in front of you's an awesome gift he's enabled us to do. So, just because there's an altar call it's not to get saved over and over again, it might be to just get prayer, or poor your heart out to God, or get prayer from you fellowship.
Also, we are all different people. We all like to worship in different ways. I'm more of an upbeat while my in laws are more of a traditional. What's wrong with either one? NOTHING. It's personal preference. The way we see fit to honor God. I don't think we got a handbook on how to worship God correctly vs. incorrectly.
I go to this website that I really enjoy, don't agree with everything, but a lot of it I do. I typed in denominations. I loved what the bottom said, "It's not disunity, it's diversty." Wow.

Anonymous said...

Please don't take my comment incorrectly. I just really am curious. You just speak so strongly against stuff, and I wonder if you know the full story. I've heard your preaching and I feel you are a very good pastor desiring God's words, but these are just questions going through my head. I guess I'm missing the grace and compassion from you.

danny2 said...


i'm going to try to draw that out more a few posts from now. all i could say for now is that my preaching AIMS at this goal (though i do not perfectly hit) and that may provide some insight. also, this video clip illustrates what i am talking about. and this sermon is also a brilliant example from a difficult passage.

danny2 said...


nothing makes me right. i'm not smart, i'm not experienced, i don't have a great resume.

i think everyone of us is inclined to believe we are always right. however, the call to correcting this is not to see that others may be right, but to establish that God is always right. our job is to humbly seek the Truth and repent and trust it when God reveals it in His Word.

i know i get some things wrong, i just don't know what it is. i pray that as God continues to reveal wrong thinking to me, that i will have the humility to repent and cling to truth.

as for the topic of this post. it has been long and dragged out because i am trying to establish that God's Word clearly states that our ministries are to be gospel centered regardless of whether the message is to the believer or non-believer. if i am wrong in this, i pray that people would help me see that God's Word does not establish such a thing.

as far as altar calls. i assume you are referring to this post? (and the nine corresponding links).

i'll make a couple brief comments toward altar calls (it's part of the topic of my next sermoneutics class, anyway, so this is a good exercise for me):

1. they aren't evil. because they are so prevalent in our culture, many people have a response to an altar call in their testimony. this does not mean their gospel faith was synergized with voodoo paganism and they must question whether they were really saved. people do get saved during them.

2. however, they also save no one. so we must be careful not to establish a person's security in salvation based upon actions that are not found in Scripture. (raising hands, going forward, saying prayer, etc.) i've met far too many people who do not have current faith in Jesus who believe they are saved because they emotionally/physically responded to a sermon at one given point in life.

3. i would never discourage someone from coming forward to pray at the front if they want to. this happens from time to time. people also gather around others they know after the service and pray together or discuss the message and application further. those are GREAT things.

4. as for the four coming forward and one not, here's why i share that perspective.

a) baptism seems to be the Biblical expression/celebration of conversion. again, since hand raising, coming forward or repeating words are not found in Scripture, baptism seems to be the moment a congregation would corporately confirm a person's salvation. (this does not mean the person got saved at baptism....not at all! but it does mean baptism seems to be the biblical model for when to celebrate their conversion.)

b) the four who came forward are saved, not because they came forward, but because they trusted Christ as their Savior and repented of sin. this means that if the message of the gospel convicted them during the sermon and they repented and trusted, then they were saved before they came down an aisle. the action of the altar call was not an essential element toward their salvation.

(this applies to an altar call response for specific or general rededication as well. if the person heard an issue addressed in the message to which they felt called to repentance, the repentance took place before any altar call response did).

therefore, we can't argue that the altar call was necessary.

c) but for the one who came forward and did not have genuine faith. i have met far too many of these poor people. they remain under the wrath of God yet are convinced they are reconciled because of a momentary action on their part. often, it hard to convince them otherwise, and many times people in the church are even working against this. though the person evidences no fruit and doubts/rejects/distorts the gospel message, someone in the congregation will state they know the person is saved because they walked an aisle. now we have a problem.

i think this video illustrates this issue well. the unsaved person can misunderstand what is happening and find himself/herself deceived into thinking they have salvation when they do not. i cannot imagine any more damnable position than for a person to be destined for hell but convinced they are not.

i simply don't want to do a thing that could contribute to this.

the four are saved, regardless of their participation in an altar call. the one is deceived partly due to the fact that he/she participated in an altar call.

it kind of comes down to a risks/rewards issue to me. i believe the risks far outweigh the reward and don't believe many people have thought through this but merely practice it because that's what they've always seen. but if a pastor disagrees with me and thinks the rewards outweigh the risks, i don't think he is evil for it.

(just as a side, i'd also point out the links on this comment thread show that i have rarely ever just shared my opinion about altar calls, but have shared the opinion of d. martyn-loyd jones and paul washer. therefore, i'm saying, i think they are right, and not just "i think i am right.")

Anonymous said...

Thank you for clarifying. I feel I must clarify mine also. I do not feel the altar calls or hand raising saves a person. I believe it might be their first act down the right path, but not always. Isn't that true about everything though? I mean I've known Christians who I thought were full devote Christians and then they go off the deep end. So, can't someone who's read the Bible and felt that they were Biblically correct and gospel oriented go off the deep end? It happens. So, I think that is why we will never know if someone is truely saved, so I guess I feel like whatever leads the person the right way is okay. Some of us are more emotional, I don't feel it's wrong to be emotional w/ God. (Maybe I'm not quite getting what you said either.) I mean he's my Father, my friend, and my advisor. I cry with him just as I do w/ my dad or husband. I think being Biblically correct and gospel following is great, but I feel a relationship is very vital also. You can only follow a set of rules to a point and then you are going to yearn for more.
I also would love to just be filled with the truth. I know that w/ our "religious conditioning" (okay, I borrowed that one from The Shack(from your posts I'm assuming you might not like this book..did you?)) it's hard to find out the truth for ourselves and we might have been taught a lie our whole life. So, I really do appreciate what you are searching for and I hope God is giving you what you desire. Your blog just always interests me because you are how I wanted to be. I wanted to just let them know what was up. Ha, but it doesn't work so well for me. I usually end up pushing people away, so I've found compassion works better for me. They tend to value my opinion then even when it doesn't agree with their's. I just find it hard where to draw the line. Where are we too compassionate and where are we not compassionate enough. It's a hard balance. I do appreciate your response, thanks!

danny2 said...


the Bible's language for conversion is not progressive. you were dead, now you are alive. you were blind, now you see. you were a slave, now you see. a dead person doesn't progress to life but is resurrected. therefore, i think it is a bit confusing when we speak of progressions toward faith.

however, i understand what you are saying. there is a point we can look back (after conversion) and see God's gracious calling of us to salvation. we can see this in gospel presentations we received, conviction we began to fall under...all sorts of things. but again, these are evidenced as God's working, not our own.

so i would suggest that a person who genuinely comes forward at an altar call for salvation is already saved before they stepped into the aisle. they came forward because they are repentant of their sin and trust that Jesus is their only means of salvation. could a person come forward, not be saved and later place their trust in Christ? sure. but from the time they came forward to the time they trust Christ, they are no less dead in their sins than before they came forward.

therefore, it does not seem the altar call can be step one in a process.

i think you are making a false dichotomy between truth and relationships. relationships are based on truth. conduct and experiment. try calling your husband louise and treating him like he is a woman. see if the abandonment of truth effects your relationship. of course it will. we pursue a deeper understanding of the gospel through Biblical truth because it ENHANCES our relationship.

and for that reason, yes, because "the shack" is so devoid of truth, i think it is damaging to relationships with Christ. (this is a great review to humbly consider.)

our quest for truth is not dependent on my ability to find it, but upon His ability to reveal it. God has spoken in His Word--and as a preach i like says--He does not mumble.

i pray that i have been compassionate. any lack of compassion is not due to the truth, but due to my flesh.

Anonymous said...

I look at things in a different perspective than you. I have long come from limiting God. He can use whoever, where ever, and whenever he wants. I'm not going to be the one to tell him he can't. While I feel you have the right goal in your head, I hope your flesh doesn't ruin the truth. I also feel you took my truth and relationship out of content, I guess I thought common sense would cover my middle ground. Truth can take you to the door step, but the relationship takes you into the kingdom of heaven. You can know the Bible from front to back and not have Jesus as your savior. You cannot have one w/o the other. Truth w/o relationship is just that.. truth. Relationship w/o truth is just a relationship, false or not. So, I do feel they go hand in hand, but on cannot coexist w/o the other. Memorizing the books of the Bible or listing the ten commandments will get you no further than going up for an altar call w/o the right heart:)
Well, with that said, one great thing that I have learned to accept is agree to disagree:)

Darby Livingston said...

"I have a question for you. What makes you so right? I'm just curious because I used to be very opinionated and judgemental until I realized... why am I always right?"

"Well, with that said, one great thing that I have learned to accept is agree to disagree:)"

These seem like appropriate bookends.

Anonymous said...

hmm.. not follwing? lol..

Anonymous said...

this won't follow the thread of conversation you have going here, but i do want to say that your comments on prayer (with and for young people) challenged me to think a little harder about the way i pray for my own children. and for my students. thanks.

danny2 said...

challenged me as i typed them.

thanks dee

Brad said...

This thought just occurred to me, Danny; let's see where it leads.

What if I were to claim that anyone who denies--or even just fails to emphasize--the present reign of Christ over the nations, or the Gentiles' inheritance of the promises to Israel, is not really preaching the gospel?

David Mohler said...


danny2 said...

i'd say there is a difference between not preaching the gospel at all, and preaching an incomplete gospel. i have tried to be clear that i am not accusing ed lewis (or anyone else in the fellowship) of not preaching the gospel, i just think that at times we don't dive deeply enough into the gospel. if the gospel was completely abandoned, i wouldn't bother with the posts (in the same way you don't see me interacting with john shelby-spong's writings).

we also have a difference between neglect and denial. neglect we can work with...and hopefully any humble pastor who had revealed to him he was neglecting portions of the fuller story would adjust. (preaching leviticus 16-17 caused me to see i have not spoken of expiation nearly as much as propitiation. i needed to work on that.) however, i would say that denial becomes a more concerning issue. if you show a man that he is not preaching that Christ has ascended and is ruling and reigning right now over the course of his preaching now we have a problem.

danny2 said...

final sentence could be clearer (as with all my writing)

if you show a man his neglect and his response reveals that the neglect is due to the fact that he doesn't believe that you have a problem.

with you example (inheritance and reign), i think you have some very serious problems if a person denies those two things.

Brad said...

Thou hast well said.