Gospel-based or gospel-centred?

10 April 2013

On Sunday, we looked at the difference between a gospel-based church and a gospel-centred church.

In a gospel-based church, the gospel is foundational, or even explicitly very important; but it is not the defining centre. In a gospel-centred church, the gospel is the very defining centre of everything; the gospel is not only the core content, it’s also the core competency. Like the fuel in a car, it’s not only the way in but the way on too.

In our house, the foundations are important, but we never think about them; they were laid once, and then covered over with more interesting features. In the same way, some churches and denominations were ‘founded’ upon the gospel, only to move on to other things; signs & wonders, social justice, etc.

My passport is important, and I know that. Every now and then I get it out and check it’s still there and hasn’t been damaged or stolen. The rest of the time it stays nice and safe. In the same way, many churches are explicitly aware that the gospel is of crucial importance; and they’ll repeat it regularly. But it still remains in a gospel ‘compartment’; it belongs in an evangelistic talk, or course, or creed.

But we must remember that in the NT, it is all about the gospel, all the time. All the NT letters were written to Christians, and all the NT letters – with differing emphases – preach to gospel. In other words, the way in is the way on (Col 2.6-7). The gospel is not only foundational, not only important, but is actually the very shape of all of Christian life, community, and mission. This means that every issue is a gospel issue.

A couple of examples: In a gospel-based church, leaders are selected because they are ‘safe hands’ who can articulate the gospel and promise not to change it. In a gospel-centred church, the same is called for, alongside a scrutiny of the gospel-shape of the man’s life: does he shepherd his family? Does he serve like a servant? Does he repent of sin? Or, in a gospel-based church, people are called to serve in ministry areas because of the need for more helpers, and the expectation that people show their commitment by serving. In a gospel-centred church, people are not motivated any longer through guilt or shame, but through thankfulness. In a gospel-centred church, the generosity of the God in the gospel is continually brought to bear so that our hearts do not move on, or harden, but keep putting down deep roots into the Lord Jesus (Col 2.6-7).

This blog post was written by Dan Martin.