Don't confuse the door with the house
It is my conviction that the gospel, properly understood, will naturally grow. A people who really understand the gospel will tell. The problem is not one of methodology; it is one of theology. And, it is theology at the deepest level. It is theology around this question: what is the gospel?
I work full time promoting church growth in a world where church growth is a huge industry and the church is not growing.
In the early church there was no church growth industry, yet the church was growing rapidly. What's wrong here?
It might just be our understanding of the gospel is off. It might just be MY understanding of the gospel is off. Repeat after me: it might just be that MY understanding of the gospel is off.
I wrote about this recently, quoting heavily from one of my heroes and, I think, one of the best thinkers about such things in our day: John Piper.
I started reading his book God is the Gospel and had one of the eureka moments where I just wanted to scream: this is it!
This article is my way of screaming.
Don't confuse the door with the house
Imagine my wife and I are house shopping. Suppose I am busy and she is not and she volunteers to do some initial looking. She finds a house she likes and calls me, inviting me to take a look. When I arrive, she is gawking at the door; going on and on about the door. She just can't say enough about the door. She just can't get over the door.
"Look at this door, sweetie, it's thick, all wood, mahogany. It has this great handle. Look at the carving. Look at this door jam, and the hinges, take a look at those." On and on she goes about the door. You would agree that this is a bit odd, right?
What we are interested in is a house, not a door. The door is just the means to get into the house. Sure, it helps protect us and is the first thing people see and and nice door is nice, but ultimately, the real question is, "What about the house?"
What is the gospel?
I think this is a pretty good metaphor for what John Piper is saying in God is the Gospel. He makes a big point of the fact that the gospel is not:
- The forgiveness of sins
- Being saved
- The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ
- The propitiation of God's wrath
Or any of a number of things that often get confused with the gospel. These are not the gospel. They are, perhaps, part of the gospel, but they are not the essential message of the gospel.
John Ortberg talks about this. In a sermon he asks people to turn to the person next to them and summarize: what is the essential message of the gospel? He says he has asked a number of people this, and the answer comes down to something like this: What is the minimum requirement for getting into heaven when I die? It is like we are asking, "What is the best price I can get? Can I get salvation on sale?" That is not the gospel.
What is the gospel? God is the gospel. We need the forgiveness of sins so we can have a relationship with God. We need to be saved so we can enter into the Oval Office of the God of the universe. Reconciliation is just the door. Don't confuse the door with the house. In this metaphor, God is the house. We spend too much time worshiping the door. We need to come into the house. God is the gospel.
I hear too many sermons and too many lessons on:
- Understanding our salvation
- What it means to be justified
- Reconciled with God
Not that we should not talk about those things. But we need to talk about them and get past them. We need to get into the house. We need to talk more about God and our walk with Him.
One more metaphor
Imagine I am a newlywed. I come home after work and my wife says to me, "What plans do you have for the evening?" "Oh, I have the videos from our wedding, and I am going to work on editing them." "OK" she says, "I will just be in the bedroom watching TV by myself."
The next night she asks me, "What do you want to do tonight, honey?" I say, "Well, I think I will take a look at the photos from our wedding and Photoshop them a bit--I want to see if I can really make them pop!" "OK" she says, "I will just watch TV by myself."
Next night. "What are you doing tonight, honey?" "I am going through and printing all the emails we wrote to each other while we were dating." I plan to print them up and put them in a notebook so we can look back on them any time we want." "I will be in the bedroom watching TV by myself.
Night after night I am creating a blog of our wedding, editing video, editing audio, reworking memorabilia, but I never spend any time with my wife. What is wrong with this picture? All the while I might think myself a great husband because I am spending so much time celebrating our wedding.
But, at the end of the day, she doesn't want me spending time creating memorabilia of our wedding; she wants a marriage. She wants me and she wants me to want her.
The death, burial and resurrection of Christ was necessary so we could have a relationship with God.
Forgiveness is necessary so we can have a conversation with God.
Salvation is necessary so we can be with God.
But, don't confuse the house with the door. Forgiveness is not the gospel; God is the gospel.
What do we find when we find God?
We find a life marked by love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness and self-control.
We find a God who is up to something. A God who has an agenda and a to-do list. A God on mission. That is why Christian living is described as a race to run, a fight to fight, a mountain to climb. The promise, "I will be with you always" was given in the context of the great commission. The implication is that if we don't pursue the great commission, there is a closeness to God we will never know.
This is what we ought to be talking about 85% of the time in our lessons and sermons: how to run the race. How to take on love, joy, peace. How to join God in what God is doing.
And if someone doesn't know about it, show them the door!