Gospel-centrality: what it is and what it isn't...

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(Tim) Our country is filled with non-profit religious organizations

that call themselves a church and identify as “missional" or “Gospel-centered.” Such churches say they’re all about the Gospel, yet rarely do they speak of “good works,”

“righteous acts,” “proving to be Christ’s disciples,” or the holiness or

“sanctification without which no one will see God.” [1]

Usually, these churches claim this label in order to communicate that their leadership has made a conscious choice to focus on the entry point to the

Christian life. They’re more than happy to leave it to others to deal

with the deeper things of God—particularly those things they dismissively refer

to as “piety” or “doctrine. This is an old technique with deep ruts

across the prairie of twentieth century church history. For many decades, now,

men have been using the fruit of evangelism as justification for their neglect

of discipleship.

Fifty years ago, a poem by Sam Shoemaker called “I Stand by

the Door” made the rounds of evangelical churches, and it remains a helpful

summary of this keep-it-simple philosophy of ministry...

Here’s an

excerpt:

I stand by the door.

I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out,

The door is the most important door in the world-

It is the door through which people walk when they find God.

There's no use my going way inside, and staying there,

When so many are still outside and they, as much as I,

Crave to know where the door is.

And all that so many ever find

Is only the wall where a door ought to be.

They creep along the wall like blind people,

With outstretched, groping hands.

Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,

Yet they never find it…

So I stand by the door.


…Go in, great saints, go all the way in—

Go way down into the cavernous cellars,

And way up into the spacious attics—

It is a vast roomy house, this house where God is.

Go into the deepest of hidden casements,

Of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood.

Some must inhabit those inner rooms.

And know the depths and heights of God,

And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.

Sometimes I take a deeper look in,

Sometimes venture in a little farther;

But my place seems closer to the opening…

So I stand by the door.

Note the subtle patronization of those who have gone further

into the House of Faith than the entryway, the “great saints” whose “sainthood”

keeps them from being able to relate to the lost and to lead souls to Heaven.

Yet the truth about the church is that sanctification in the

knowledge of God—His truth and His holiness—always makes the redeemed sinner

more sensitive to the lost, more willing to lay down his life in order to save even a single sheep. The souls here dismissively referred to as “Great

saints” are not off in their own pious world peering in their navels. They

also follow their Master in loving sinners. So this poem actually bears false witness

against them by setting up a false dichotomy between the entry point of

evangelism and the deep point of sanctification in the Church.

We must pursue skill in recognizing this false dichotomy. It’s no commendation for

a church to keep the souls under her care on milk when they should have moved

on to the meat of spiritual maturity. Thus the Holy Spirit

condemns the Hebrew Christians:

…you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you

ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the

elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and

not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the

word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature,

who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

(Hebrews 5:11-14)

Those standing by the door speak as if “sainthood” necessarily

requires “withdrawal” from the world’s needy and lost. They accuse those who

know the “depths and heights of God” of being braggarts who “call outside to

the rest of us how wonderful it is” while being completely unconcerned for the

lost. But no true

Christian, no true church needs to choose between these two alternatives. God

is glorified by our commitment both to the salvation of the lost and to growth

in truth and holiness. And it is such believers, such churches, only, who bear

the good fruit that will last.


[1] Hebrews

12:14