One blogger in the meta recently said:
"The most important issue facing the church today -- the #1 "gotta go get THAT" for any church -- is the reclamation of the sound and rightful role the local church ought to perform as the God-glorifiying, Christ-exalting, disciple-making and -keeping, elder-lead assembly of believers." Though I admire this bloggers passion for the local church and while it is important to understand the role of the local church, it is far from being "the most important issue facing the church today..."
So what would biblically be considered the most important issue facing the church today? It is what it has always been throughout all of redemptive history: the authority, sufficiency, and veracity of God's Word and the gospel of Jesus Christ. As the reformers would say, "sola Scriptura and sola fide."
What Was Important to the Apostle Paul:
All heresies, errant doctrines and/or movements can be traced to a departure from orthodoxy on those two issues. When reading through the epistles of Paul, this was obviously his primary concern as well. Consider these few following statements:
"And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, Eph. 4:12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." (Eph. 4:11-16)The difference today, is the erosion of biblical authority and the gospel is not taking place outside the evangelical camp from a small group of obscure liberal elitists; but within the evangelical camp by those who claim orthodoxy while at the same time selectively diminish the truth of God's Word and distort the gospel of Jesus Christ. (cf, 2 Peter 3:16; Galatians 1:6-9)
"See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;" (Colossians 2:8-10)
"If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment." (1 Timothy 6:3-6)
"Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you." (2 Timothy 1:13-14)
"I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." (2 Timothy 4:1-5)
"holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict." (Titus 1:9)
The Sufficiency of Scripture:
"But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:14-16)
Wycliffe once wrote concerning our duty to the Word of God:
"The true Christian was intended by Christ to prove all things by the Word of God, all churches, all ministers, all teaching, all preaching, all doctrines, all sermons, all writings, all opinions, all practices. These are His marching orders. Prove all by the Word of God; measure all by the measure of the Bible; compare all with the standard of the Bible; weigh all in the balances of the Bible; examine all by the light of the Bible; test all in the crucible of the Bible. That which can abide the fire of the Bible, receive hold, believe, and obey. That which cannot abide the fire of the Bible, reject, refuse, repudiate, and cast away. This is the flag which He nailed to the mast. May it never be lowered!Faithful Stewards of God's Word are to:
A church which does not honor the Bible is as useless as a body without life, or a steam engine without fire. A minister who does not honor the Bible is as useless as a soldier without arms, a builder without tools, a pilot without compass, or a messenger without tidings. Stand fast on old principles. Do not forsake the old paths. Let nothing tempt you to believe that multiplication of forms and ceremonies, constant reading of liturgical services, or frequent communions, will ever do so much good to souls as the powerful, fiery, fervent preaching of God's Word. If men want to do good to the multitude, if they want to reach their hearts and consciences, they must attack them through their ears; they must blow the trumpet of the everlasting Gospel loud and long; they must preach the Word."
1. Crave the Word – 1 Peter 2:2
2. Believe the Word – John 2:22
3. Love the Word – Psalm 119:97, 127-128
4. Long for the Word – Psalm 119:20, 40, 131
5. Delight in the Word – Psalm 1:2, 119:35, 143
6. Rejoice in the Word – Jeremiah 15:16, Psalm 119:111,162
7. Treasure the Word – Job 23:12, Psalm 19:10-11
8. Esteem the Word – Psalm 138:2, 1 Thessalonians 2:13
9. Reverence the Word – Psalm 119:161
10. Honor the Word – 2 Thessalonians 3:1
11. Trust in the Word – Psalm 119:42
12. Sing the Word – Psalm 119:54,172, Colossians 3:16
13. Meditate on the Word – Psalm 1:2; Joshua 1:8
14. Memorize the Word – Psalm 119:11, 16, 61, 128-129, 176
15. Abide in the Word – John 15:7, 1 John 2:23-25
16. Obey the Word – Deuteronomy 17:19-20, Joshua 22:5, Psalm 119:67, Luke 8:21, John 14:15, 17:6, 1 John 2:3-5, 5:2-3
17. Be Conformed by the Word – Psalm 119: 133, 1 Timothy 6:3, Titus 1:1
18. Not to be ashamed of the Word – Romans 1:16, 2 Timothy 1:8
19. Contend for the Word – Jude 3, Titus 1:9
20. Defend the Word – Philippians 1:7
21. Suffer for the Word – 2 Timothy 1:8
22. Do not neglect the Word – 1 Corinthians 9:16
23. Be empowered with the Word – 1 Thessalonians 1:5
24. Hope in the Word – Romans 15:4
25. Live the Word – Ezra 7:10, Philippians 1:27, James 1:22-25
26. Take heed to the Word – 1 Timothy 4:16
27. Rightly divide the Word – 2 Timothy 2:15, Nehemiah 8:8
28. Retain the standard of the Word – 2 Timothy 2:13-14
29. Read the Word – 1 Timothy 4:13; Colossians 4:16
30. Share the Word – 1 Thessalonians 1:8, 2 Thessalonians 3:1
31. Teach the Word – 2 Timothy 4:1-5
32. Exhort with the Word – 1 Timothy 4:13
33. Preach the Word – 2 Timothy 4:2
34. Tremble at His Word – Isaiah 66:2
The Sufficiency of the Gospel:
The church has the most powerful, explosive, life-changing, transforming truth in all of history - the gospel of Jesus Christ! It [the gospel] saves one for eternity (John 6:39, Ephesians 1:3-14); it completely changes someone into a new creation (2 Corinthian 5:17); it forgives sin and cleanses us thoroughly from our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 1:7); translates us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:10-14; 1 Peter 2:9); grants us eternal life (John 3:16); secures heaven as our home forever (John 14:1-6); it overcomes death (1 Corinthians 15:50-58); it defeats sin and brings us into intimacy with God (Romans 5:1); and it is rich in grace and mercy (Ephesians 2:1-10) without which we would all be forever lost with no hope (Galatians 5:2-6). It is completely efficacious for the believer in Christ, past, present and future (Romans 8:20-30). We have been elected, enabled and extolled by the gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, we are saved (Ephesians 2:8-9), kept (John 17:12, Jude 1) and presented (Jude 24) - justified, sanctified and glorified. (Romans 8:29-30). Is it any wonder the Apostle Paul boldly proclaims, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." (Romans 1:16). And again in 1 Corinthians 9:16, "...for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel."
Sadly, not many today are saying that anymore. If the gospel of Jesus Christ is all sufficient and accomplishes all saving grace, then why is the church not about proclaiming its truth with the boldness and conviction it demands? One significant reason is that the true gospel has been replaced by a different gospel (Galatians 1:6-8). One that is watered down, convoluted, a cheap imitation disguising itself as the real thing. Some of these "other gospels" are: pragmatism - just give me what works; entertainment - I want to feel my God not know my God; pop-psychology - God and His word are deficient, man's word and philosophy is sufficient; the self-esteem movement - denying yourself is passé, self-love is priority; mysticism - truth has been replaced with experience; easy-believism - just raise a hand, sign a decision card, walk an isle and presto... you have an instant Christian. The Emergent Church - where postmodern culture, not biblical truth--is dictating how the church should function and be defined; human potentiality movement - coming to Jesus to have a better marriage, more fulfilled job, or to realize your best life now, instead of honoring Him as Lord of your life regardless of personal benefits; and most recently, Evangelical Co-Belligerence (ECB) - political remedies for moral maladies is now the latest trend to try and stop the tide of decay of family values plaguing our nation.
As popular as some of those things might be, none of them is the gospel of Jesus Christ! This kind of Laodicean lackadaisical thinking has produced a Jesus who can elect but cannot save; who can knock at the door, but cannot open it; who can justify, but cannot sanctify; who can make decisions, but cannot make disciples. No wonder J.I. Packer says of American Christianity that it is, "success oriented, manipulative, and self-centered. Three thousand miles wide and one inch deep."
The Heart of a Shepherd:
Rather than spend time giving a polemical counter to each of the current aberrant trends within evangelicalism (which most here will be familiar with them), I would simply turn your hearts and minds to a portion of Scripture that sums up the burden we should all have concerning God's Word, the gospel, and the local church:
Acts 20:18 ¶ And when they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time,This is the heart of a genuine pastor and servant of God... burdened for their souls, encouraging them to sound doctrine and the to the gospel; and warning them of savage wolves that would try to seduce them through a perversion of both. If you want to see your local church have a profound impact on this culture today, the issue is simple: guard the trust by preaching God's Word faithfully, by diligently equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry; and to get the gospel right and then proclaim it.
Acts 20:19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews;
Acts 20:20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house,
Acts 20:21 solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Acts 20:22 “And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there,
Acts 20:23 except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.
Acts 20:24 “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.
Acts 20:25 “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will see my face no more.
Acts 20:26 “Therefore I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men.
Acts 20:27 “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
Acts 20:28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
Acts 20:29 “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
Acts 20:30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
Acts 20:31 “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.
Acts 20:32 “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
Acts 20:33 “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes.
Acts 20:34 “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me.
Acts 20:35 “In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
A local church that is dedicated to the complete sufficiency and authority of God's Word and heralding the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, will clearly understand its role and purpose in our day.
His unworthy servant in His unfailing love,