By: Thomas F. Booher
Without the gospel, we are lost. Without the gospel, we have nothing. I can think of no greater truth than the truth of the cross. I can think of no greater need than a recovery of the truth of the cross in our churches. As American culture continues to slip and slide into secularism, as unbelievers increasingly overthrow their consciences, the Christian church will be seen as the most peculiar institution in existence. This means you and I will be seen as the most peculiar people in our land.
This is a scary thing, perhaps, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. When persecution comes, and Christ promises that it will come, we have opportunity to stand firm and faithfully. We have the privilege and duty to speak the truth, to shine light into the darkness.
But our own light has been partially eclipsed by the darkness of the world. Obviously, light cannot be dimmed by darkness, for darkness is the absence of light. Yet we Christians too often fear the darkness, and our fear of man outweighing our fear of God leads us to dimness. We want to be more culturally relevant, we want to blunt the sharp edges of doctrines like predestination, election, and free will in order to softly "woo" unbelievers into the kingdom. Sometimes we even try to soothe our consciences by saying we are being "pastoral." But all this does is appeal to the carnality of man. Games and tricks and entertainment will only tickle ears or enamor eyes, and but for a season. In the church we have bought the lie that pure gospel truth can be wed with the carnival tricks of the world. We have tried to mix this cocktail for too long. It is no good. What fellowship has light with darkness?
Our churches are often full of unbelievers because our church officers either fear to practice church discipline, or do not know how to do it properly. This is not true of every church, but it is of far too many churches. We will still draw lines in the church, but they are often after giving up ground, or, if they are drawn in the right place, they are drawn altogether too lightly so that many do not recognize that crossing this line is unacceptable.
Without gospel clarity we are a church in eclipse. Without the gospel we are no church. The cross is where justice and mercy meet, where God's glory and sovereignty is exhibited, where we look for hope and joy. There we see our sin, and there we see His love. There we see our inability, and there we see His provision to our self-inflicted slavery. When we see justification by faith alone, on account of God's grace alone, for God's glory alone, through the atoning work of Christ alone, apart from works, then the church has some foundation to build on, real cement by which we can be united.
My understanding of love comes from the cross. My understanding of human dignity comes from the cross. My doctrine of sin and mercy and grace is seen most clearly on the cross. God's sovereign purpose, plan, and glory, is pictured most powerfully through the cross.
Charles Spurgeon once said that free will carried many a soul to hell, but never a soul to heaven. Well, free will is carrying many a church into apostasy, and it will never lead the church closer to the truth. In fact, it will always prevent the foundation of our faith from being firm. Because the church's one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord. But do we really know Christ? Did He die because He felt bad for us, because He shudders at the thought of hell more than we do, or because He would not be good if He didn't give every one a second chance? Or did He save us for His own name's sake, to get glory out of us, not because we deserved it or could earn it, but simply because He willed to glorify Himself through graciously saving us? Did he save us with only a little concern for how we live our lives, or did He save us so that He could control our lives, making us His willing slave? Where you fall in your answers regarding this spectrum of questions is largely indicative of how much of the gospel you have truly understood, or how much you have allowed American culture to obscure the truth of the gospel to you.
The answers to these kinds of questions are of paramount importance. We are dealing with the foundation of our faith, the foundation of the church. Pastors must preach the gospel without compromise, without obscurity and without blunting the edges of truth. The edges are there for a reason. They are meant to prick the conscience. If we remove the prick, we remove the offense of the cross. And if we do that, we have lost the gospel. And if we have lost the gospel, then whatever we are gathering for on Sunday mornings, it isn't church, and it isn't to worship Jesus. It's to worship a man-made image, conceived in our minds and birthed in our false praises.
May God have mercy on us. May we recover the gospel, and have the courage to proclaim it. May ministers and elders and deacons and lay people have the courage to correct those in error regarding the gospel, with all patience and long-suffering, from a loving heart and genuine care for the brethren, for God's glory alone. Only when we boldly stand for the true gospel will revival come. Only when we have those hard conversations with friends and family members in our churches who are confused about the gospel or are outright getting the gospel wrong will the church solidify its foundation.