Recently I was having a conversation with a seasoned pastor about the need for Christ-centered churches. This pastor is well-educated (holding a doctorate level degree in ministry) and successful (he was used to save a dying church close to a decade ago that is vibrant and growing). It was great to hear his story and the churches and experiences God has taken him through. But what stuck with me was his account of a gospel awakening some five years ago.
The pastor was at a conference and was challenged when the speaker declare that the gospel was not being preaching in the Northwest. Sure, there was the occasional call to salvation where the gospel of Christ’s cross was used as a tool to make converts but the depth of the truth of Christ and his grace was only rolled out evangelistically rather than foundationally and functionally for the church.
My pastor friend searched the scriptures. At first to evaluate if this “gospel-centered” movement was a fad or true to God’s design for the church. Then he saw Jesus on every page of the Bible and he was astonished that he had been so educated, that he had been so faithful in spiritual disciplines and so diligent in his preaching, yet he had been missing Jesus. It is safe to say that from that point his life and ministry have changed. He is still vulnerable to shift off of the gospel and he is careful to stick to it but he is being used to build a gospel-centered church.
Ray Ortlund has a post on what a gospel-centered church looks like and this is what we can expect: “A gospel-centered church holds together two things. One, a gospel-centered church preaches a bold message of divine grace for the undeserving — so bold that it becomes the end of the law for all who believe. Not our performance but Christ’s performance for us. Not our sacrifices but his sacrifice for us. Not our superiority but only his worth and prestige. The good news of substitution. The good news that our okayness is not in us but exterior to us in Christ alone. Climbing down from the high moral ground, because only Christ belongs up there. That message, that awareness, that clarity. Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.”
“Two, a gospel-centered church translates that theology into its sociology. The good news of God’s grace beautifies how we treat one another. In fact, the horizontal reveals the vertical. How we treat one another reveals what we really believe as opposed to what wethink we believe. It is possible to say, “We are a gospel-centered church,” and sincerely mean it, while we make our church into a law-centered social environment. We see God above lowering his gun, and we breathe a sigh of relief. But if we are trigger-happy toward one another, we don’t get it yet.”
He has more on his blog and a call to ministers to not only preach grace but cultivate a culture of grace. I believe this is the life and death of the church. Our center (and our whole) will define our existence. Let it be nothing other than Christ.