As important as understanding the gospel is, it is not sufficient. Churches must be committed to the gospel. That is, churches must be devoted to the application of the gospel throughout church life.
We have already spoken of how the meaning of the gospel must be taught, and reiterated. Beyond this, the believer’s position in Christ, and Christ’s position in the believer must become a constant refrain in our churches. The human heart is not only naturally idolatrous, it is also naturally legalistic. Even to those who teach the gospel of grace, the message of the gospel for Christian sanctification must be kept central. The secret of abiding – ongoing communion with God – is that Christ is in us and we are in Him (John 15:4). As a church disciples its own, it must teach the principle that the gospel’s effects continue throughout a Christian’s life (Col 2:6).
A church also displays commitment to the gospel when it pursues clearly defined membership. Far from being a mere administrative detail, membership provides a physical boundary of professing Christians within a local church. It is an incarnation of the idea of a regenerate church membership: those who profess Christ and have publicly followed Him in believer’s baptism are included within a local assembly as those the church can give an account for.
Apart from teaching on the nature of the church, fairly detailed membership classes can help people understand that the church is comprised of professing, baptized believers only. Our church reads the prospective member a summary of the church covenant, and observes as he or she makes a covenant with the church publicly. In an era of trucebreakers, this helps us appreciate the enormous significance of being included in a church – the fellowship of the regenerate.
The flip side of this is a wise use of church discipline. Church discipline is Christ’s method for loosing from the church (Mt 18:18) those whose profession of faith has been denied by their lives (Tis 1:6). The initial aims of the actions preceding church discipline are all restorative; the final action is one of changing the nature of the relationship between church and member. At some point, a church is authorized to say that an individual’s life clearly compromises the meaning of the gospel, and can no longer be recognized as a believer. In changing the nature of the relationship between gospel-professors and one whose life denies the gospel, the gospel’s meaning and effects are both taught and protected.
A church is committed to the gospel when it is committed to ‘gospelizing’, that is, evangelism. If the message is as exclusive as it says it is, if the command to evangelize is as clear as any other command, and if our Savior is as excellent as we say He is, we must spread the gospel. We must spread it by preaching, and we must spread it without a word. We must spread it at home, and spread it abroad. We must reason with people, and we must appeal to their consciences. We must show the rational basis for Christianity, and we must show the guilt of sin. We must give people books, and meet them for coffee, and host Bible studies, and pray, and live winsome lives. Different contexts call for different approaches, but for Christians, the command is, as you are going, make disciples. Evangelism is one citizenry encountering another, and the ambassadors of Christ rightly declaring God’s promises and living like citizens of another culture.
My goal is not to provide techniques for evangelism; Scripture is strangely silent on that. Again, if church members are saturated with the meaning of the gospel, and filled with compassion for their neighbours, some kind of evangelism is inevitable.
One more practical aspect remains regarding a church’s relationship to the gospel: its defense of it.