"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you - unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures." I Cor. 15:1-4 (ESV)
"For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience — by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God — so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, 'Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.' " Rom. 15:18-21
On this blog I write quite a bit about the church and various issues related to it. I suppose this is because of the path my life has taken over the past decade or so. Church issues are both important and worth writing about. We need to ask hard questions and be willing to seek out answers - even if they are uncomfortable.
That said, as Christ-followers we must always keep in mind what matters most. Simply put, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ that matters most. Paul makes this clear in the above I Cor. 15 passage. The apostle uses the phrase, "of first importance" to describe the profound basics of the gospel.
In Romans 15 Paul tells us that his desire and goal is to see the gospel spread around the world. He wants to take it where it isn't so that those who have never heard will see and understand. Paul's primary concern is that the lost hear and comprehend the good news of Christ crucified.
When we lived in India in 2006-2007 it was easy to see what matters most. Each morning when we woke we were immediately confronted with a society with little Christian influence. Hinduism dominated daily life. Islam ran a distant but significant second. We were constantly reminded that about 99% of the people in our city not only needed the gospel but had probably never heard it. We were not distracted by what we might refer to as secondary doctrines. It was the gospel and the gospel alone that mattered most.
Back here in the USA it is somewhat easy to lose sight of this. We have church buildings all over the place. We have Christian schools, colleges, radio stations, and TV stations. Christianity remains, at least according to unscientific polls, the dominant belief-system in our culture. Because of this, we within Christian circles can get caught up in discussions and activities of lesser importance than the gospel.
Paul helps redirect our focus. Because of the gospel, we who are in Christ are united in one big family: the church. Although we should heartily discuss important church issues (such as definition, form, function, leadership, gatherings, etc.), we must remember that we can only have these discussions because of something much more significant - the gospel itself.
We all, myself certainly included, must remember that the gospel is a divider. It separates those who are Christ's from those who are not. However, the wonderful thing is that this gospel is powerful enough to save any and all who repent and believe. And stunningly, our Savior has decided to use sinful us to be the heralds of this wonderful news.
Some of us will have the privilege of being heralds overseas in today's Illyricums. However, most of us will stay relatively close to where we are. That's fine. Fewer and fewer Americans have any substantive clue about what the gospel really means. There are enough lost folks for all of us. Even if we are busy preaching forgiveness in Christ we will never run out of people who need to hear.
This blog post is a little selfish and personal. I need to remind myself of these things more frequently than I do. You likely need to be reminded as well (maybe not as much as me). While church issues are worthy of discussion, the church would not exist without the gospel. No atonement = no forgiveness = no salvation = no church.
Since the gospel is of most significance, it should also be what we talk about the most. Apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ, we have nothing.
Jesus Christ and his gospel matter most.