Is it always right to preach the Gospel? I use very particular wording to phrase this question, so pay close attention to what I am asking. Is it always right to preach the Gospel? Now that question can be answered general by any Christian with a “Yes” without much thought. But the actual answer is not so simple, because the core the Gospel (i.e. salvation from sins, the judgment of God, the resurrection from the dead, etc.) is not always something we should be hearing. Specifically, in church. Allow me to explain what I mean…
What is a basic summary of the Gospel? “How I am saved from sin” could be one way to put it, or to be more theologically sound, “How I am made righteous before God.” And indeed, this is a part of the Gospel, being that it is the grace of God which leads us to repentance and salvation to be in Christ, thus freed from sin. But there is so much more to it, and this is where it begins to get a bit tricky in the church of our era. The individual church that many attend has apparently become larger and larger, to the point where there are so many people cycling in and out of the audience that the preacher must narrow down, and yet at the same time generalize his sermon to be something palatable to each of the hearers, becoming a broken record player to the saved and an evangelist to the lost. Why do I sound like this is a bad thing? Because it is.
It has become evident that many Christians are content with the wrong things. When it comes to material belongings, they cannot find enough of them, gathering together various electronics, furniture, investments in an ever-changing market, all while failing to find any true joy in any of them. To counter this reality of futility, they gather together family, declaring them to be the most important, while at the same time proclaiming their need for friends outside of family, so as to maintain their sanity. They gather these for the principle purpose of calming their hearts down, telling their soul “Don’t worry, my life doesn’t consist of ‘things’ alone, but also a loving family and good friends!” as though these are moral in and of themselves. Having justified their lifestyle in their minds, they continue on with life, building their earthly homes, investing in a doomed economy, and advancing their careers, so as to make sure they are not lacking in any of the material things that make up the basics of their happiness. But in the midst of all these things they discover another thing- their conscience- and thus they are pricked to the heart, unable to calm with things, or even family or friends. Because they see the need as spiritual. So what do they do? They give to the poor, they volunteer, and they say nice things. They are tolerant, acceptable by most standards, and set aside specific times to meet these things. But in order to silence their conscience further, they go to church. It is at this point in their week that they need to deal the final blow to the conscience, so as to restart the week with the proper focus on their earthly tasks. So they come to church, and what do they find? Exactly what they expect. They hear inspiring music that plays to the tune of their conscience, and raise their hands so everyone knows the outpouring of their convictions. After this, they sit down and hear what they want to hear- that Jesus has taken all their faults, sins and other issues in their lives, and took care of them, so now they are free to go to Heaven. Thanks to such a works-based salvation, they are able to verify their Christian status in one of two ways: firstly, they can say “Look, I did this and that, so I am saved!” They justify themselves by their works, excusing any bad behavior and making clear to those who see that they too are saved through the blood of Jesus. The other way to verify their status before God and men has become increasingly popular, and substantially more hypercritical, and that “way” is something along these lines: “I am Reformed, I believe God is sovereign, I debate Armenians and have a lot of good books.” Therefore, they have not only calmed their conscience, they have legitimized their self-perceived theological depth, so as to cover any further issues they may come across. And this has become another area of defense, in that they can point to others (Catholics, Mormons, Pentecostals, etc.) and compare their damnable doctrines with their clearly Biblical theology. Now their weeks is complete. They can go on and do the things they love, whether it be advancing their careers or drinking with their friends (because Martin Luther, that’s why).
But their remains an ever present issue in all of these things. Although this may sound terrible, it is nevertheless true, and that is the fact that when these go to church, it is not the Gospel they should be hearing. At least, not such basic things about the Gospel. When they go to their perspective church, and hear the same Gospel (applied in many different circumstances) week in and week out, they grow to expect what they do, and advance no further in their Christian lives. And to the extent that their church fails to preach the Doctrine of God, they are likewise able to go on in their earthly lives without any hindrance. Because they are saved from sin, so what else is there? Some may be “restless,” and eager to debate the abject heathens of the world, so they dip their finger in “Reformed Theology” so as to be better equipped to debate those who are no more ignorant than these, but even then, they do not gather deeper theology for the purpose of knowing God more, so as to be a better vessel for His purpose.
And I think these issues arise from another issue that few consider. To put it bluntly, no, you are not a trophy. God does not polish you up and put you on a shelf for others to admire. You are a vessel, you are a tool for God to use, and the more Christian you are, the more used you will appear, because you are being used in a manner like Christian Himself, who subjected Himself to the will of the Father to the point of a bloody beating and vicious death. But if we maintain the idea that we are trophies for God, then we have the tendency to polish ourselves with good works and deep theology, so as to frame ourselves in such a way so as impress others and appease conscience. And a continuous preaching of the Gospel does nothing to aid this issue, but instead it verifies it, reminding them “No matter who you are, you are saved from sin!” So why bother with the rest of the Bible?
And what might this issue look like in real life? Take food, for example. You have either end of the spectrum, as I see it. On the one hand you have the healthy folks, who see someone such as myself drinking a sugary, carbonated drink, and condemn me for being so inconsiderate of my health. On the other hand, you have those who are approached by the healthy folks. “Why are you eating that?” they are asked, to which they reply “Why does it matter to you?” Both become offended. And neither regard the teachings of Scripture, which deal with this exact issue, and that in detail. For to the healthy Paul says “Let him who eats meat do so for the Lord,” (Rom. 14:6) and to the one who is not so concerned about their health, Paul says “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble” (1 Cor. 8:13), and to both he says “The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Rom. 14:3-4) And yet the first would say that they are destroying the Temple of the Holy Spirit (the body), while the other would jump back and say “I can eat meat whenever I want!” Because neither understand the Scripture, nor is the whole point of the Gospel clear in their minds. They are so attached to their earthly lives, that they are unwilling to give them up for the priorities of God. Oh, they are willing to accept certain things God says, especially if it means they’re going to Heaven. But they are unwilling to subject themselves to God in every regard, and it is in that regard that they prove their lack of faith in Christ, and thus their lack of any salvation from sin, because they are unwilling to believe God and take Him at His Word. They love to lay a good foundation of salvation from sins, so as to excuse themselves from obeying other parts of Scripture. But when they are in the Scripture long enough, the reality of their love for God will become abundant clear, in that if they love God they will not stop wanting more, and if they hate God they will not bear these things any longer, and will go to another church that maintains their earthly lives more efficiently.
This is why it is important to understand that the church is not a place designed for the unbeliever, but rather is meant for those who are already in Christ, so that they may learn more of God, and may know Him more specifically and more eternally. For this is eternal life.