We’ve talked a lot these past few weeks about the centrality of the gospel in discipling, teaching and preaching.
One of our conclusions was that we mustn’t just assume the gospel in our speaking, we must be spelling it out constantly. We must be reminding ourselves and others who Jesus is, why he came, and the ways in which these realities radically change us. Why? Because, to borrow from C. S. Lewis, “Men do not long continue to think what they have forgotten how to say.”
I believe another reason for our failure in discipleship is that “the gospel” we’ve been preaching (if we’ve been preaching it at all) is a poor facsimile of the actual gospel proclaimed in Scripture. We have been very injudicious gardeners, stripping out whatever seems to us at the time to be unattractive in the gospel garden; not trusting that when allowed to grow, these plants produce the brightest and most beautiful blooms.
To help us distinguish the flowers from the weeds, here’s a definition of “preaching Christ” from one of the most fruitful preachers who ever lived, Charles Spurgeon:
Before I enter upon our text, let me very briefly tell you what I believe preaching Christ and him crucified is.
My friends, I do not believe it is preaching Christ and him crucified, to give people a batch of philosophy every Sunday morning and evening, and neglect the truths of this Holy Book.
I do not believe it is preaching Christ and him crucified, to leave out the main cardinal doctrines of the Word of God, and preach a religion which is all a mist and a haze, without any definite truths whatever.
I take it that man does not preach Christ and him crucified, who can get through a sermon without mentioning Christ’s name once; nor does that man preach Christ and him crucified, who leaves out the Holy Spirit’s work, who never says a word about the Holy Ghost, so that indeed the hearers might say, “We do not so much as know whether there be a Holy Ghost.”
And I have my own private opinion, that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless you preach what now-a-days is called Calvinism.
I have my own ideas, and those I always state boldly. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism. Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.
I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith without works; not unless we preach the sovereignty of God in his dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor, I think, can we preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the peculiar redemption which Christ made for his elect and chosen people; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation, after having believed.
Such a gospel I abhor. The gospel of the Bible is not such a gospel as that. We preach Christ and him crucified in a different fashion, and to all gainsayers we reply, “We have not so learned Christ.”
(Sermon Number 98, New Park Street Pulpit)
I haven’t seriously studied this and so have no evidence to back this up but I wonder if there has ever been a significant revival anywhere in the world where hard teachings and/or experiences of persecution haven’t played a fundamental role. I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head… and I find it so strange that so many pastors and church leaders have somehow convinced themselves that Jesus-lite is actually going to lead to sustained church growth and the development of strong, healthy bodies of faith.