Recently I was part of a friendly conversation with a group of men. The talk drifted to the subject of local churches: who attended where; which congregations were holding services during the pandemic; what worship is like when you try to participate through a computer screen.
There was general agreement among the men that the nameplate on the church building is less important than the message being proclaimed. Someone said that the main thing is the gospel. To that sentiment I offer an “Amen!”
The apostle Paul would agree. A reading of his letter to the Galatians emphasizes the point that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of grace, not works (1:6-7). The gospel is not of human origin; it was revealed by Christ himself (1:11-12). It was the same message consistently proclaimed by all the apostles (2:2). Paul was especially called to bring the gospel to the Gentiles and Peter especially to the Jews (2:7).
The gospel is the message of the cross of Christ. It was so important to Paul that he said, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (6:14). Paul relied upon and proclaimed the message of the cross because of what it accomplished in his life. Jesus“gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according the will of God” (1:4). This is the gospel.
It is not surprising, then, that Paul warned against departing from the gospel. In Galatians 1:6-7 he wrote to caution the believers against those who pervert the gospel, turning people away from the grace of Christ to “a different gospel.” The word he used in the Greek language means “another of a different kind.” The NIV correctly translates the next phrase: “Which is really no gospel at all” (6:7).
The difference between a church that faithfully proclaims the gospel and one that offers a substitute message, is the difference between a truly Christian congregation and one that is departing from God himself. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ” (1:6).
The New Testament is clear. There is only one gospel. There are not many from which to choose. Paul vehemently and repeatedly denounced in Galatians 1:8-9 those individuals that preached any message as a substitute for the gospel of grace (“no gospel at all”). Any ministers or congregations or denominations calling themselves Christian that omit, dilute, or deny the gospel are not really Christian at all. They are guilty of religious malpractice and are under the judgment of God.
The nameplate on the church building is not the most important thing. The message of the gospel is the most important thing. But choosing a church is a very serious matter. Make sure your church is one that in its worship practices, preaching, studying, and outreach keeps the main thing the main thing: the glorious gospel of grace revealed in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pastor Randy Faulkner