OWASSO, Okla. (BP)–The Gospel has been lost at various times during the history of the church and sometimes is hidden in contemporary churches but it will not be lost forever because Christ has promised to build His church through the proclamation of the Gospel, Fred Malone told attendees of the 24th Annual Southern Baptist Founders Conference July 11-14.
The Gospel is a message about God, man and the person and work of Christ and is lost when any part is left out or other messages are substituted for it, Malone, pastor of First Baptist Church of Clinton, La., said. When the Gospel is lost, souls are placed in eternal peril, said Malone, who is a member of the board of directors for Founders Ministries and the author of several books including “The Baptism of Disciples Alone.”
Founders Ministries formed in 1982 and seeks to recover the Gospel of Christ in the reformation of local churches through the experiential application of the doctrines of grace, also known as historic Calvinism. This year’s conference was at Bethel Baptist Church in Owasso, Okla., with the theme “The Gospel of the Grace of God.”
“To pervert one part of the message is to pervert it all,” Malone said. “This is no small issue. To change the words of the Gospel and the [content] of the Gospel is to change the Gospel. Faith comes a certain way to the human heart as determined by God.
“If we change the Gospel, our words cannot save the soul. If we have lost the Gospel to the hearer … then the soul is lost,” he said.
Malone pointed out that Paul considered himself a steward of the Gospel and in numerous places in Scripture such as 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle makes it clear that he is not free to change any portion of the message to make it more palatable for fallen humans. Paul realized that it is the authentic Gospel that saves, Malone said.
The Gospel includes the character and attributes of God, the sinfulness of man as exposed by the law of God, the certainty of God’s judgment and both the person and work of Christ, Malone said. Gospel proclamation must set forth the incarnation of Christ, His humiliation and death on Calvary and His resurrection, he said.
The true Gospel also trumpets the good news that sinners are justified by faith and made righteous through Christ’s righteousness, which is “imputed” — or given — to them, Malone said. Authentic Gospel proclamation also includes a clear call to repentance and faith in Christ, he said.
Malone pointed out that preaching is the divinely ordained means for Gospel proclamation. Paul did not substitute pragmatic means such as drama — though he knew the medium would appeal to his audience — to convey the message of Christ, but preached it to his hearers, Malone said.
“Paul did not resort to other means because he knew that God ordained the foolishness of preaching as the means by which He saves sinful men,” Malone said.
The Gospel has been lost at various times throughout history, a truth which both the Old and New Testaments demonstrate, he said.
Malone gave several examples of how the Gospel was lost in Old Testament times, including Jeremiah 14 in which false prophets perverted repentance from sin by telling the Israelites that they had peace with God.
In the New Testament the Gospel was tainted in Galatia, to whose churches Paul wrote a letter exposing false teachers who demanded the Jewish rite of circumcision be added to faith in Christ for salvation. All of the false teachers who appear in the New Testament were operating inside the church and viewed themselves as Christians, Malone said.
Scripture also warns believers that false teachers will operate within the church until Christ returns, a fact should awaken modern Christians and motivate them to examine carefully the things that are taught in their churches, Malone said, because the Bible clearly distinguishes between the authentic Gospel and erroneous versions.
“[False teachers spoken of in Scripture] all professed to be Christians and teachers of Christ,” Malone said. “… It is part of God’s will to sift the church until the end of time.”
The pages of church history show that the Gospel has been lost at various times following Christ’s establishing of His church in the first century, Malone noted. In the second century, for example, Marcion taught that the Old Testament was inspired by a vengeful god who is not the God of the New Testament.
Similarly, the heretic Arius in the third and fourth centuries denied the doctrine of the Trinity, leading the Council of Nicea to formulate the orthodox view of God in three persons, Malone said. The Roman Catholic Church also perverted the Gospel by positing a salvation by works until the Reformers recovered the biblical Gospel of grace.
Malone identified three places in American churches today where the Gospel has, in recent years, fallen prey to dangerous revision. He argued that the Gospel has been lost among:
— Adherents of so-called “carnal Christian” teaching. This doctrine has been taught by various evangelicals over the past century and postulates that one is saved by believing in Christ merely by intellectual assent. Those who teach this doctrine say Christians may trust in Christ as Savior at one point in time and then choose to submit to Him as Lord at some point later; thus one may live an utterly “carnal” lifestyle for many years and still be considered a believer.
Those who hold to carnal Christian doctrine often argue that to preach a Gospel that demands one to submit to Christ’s lordship is to proclaim salvation by works instead of grace. But authentic conversion makes one a disciple and necessarily leads to godly living, Malone said.
“This [non-Lordship teaching] is a perversion of the Gospel,” he said. “We must preach a Gospel not of salvation by works, but a salvation that works.”
— Proponents of the “seeker-friendly” movement, which attempts to make the Gospel less offensive to lost people. Malone pointed out that this approach typically offers Christ as a means to fulfillment, contentment or prosperity and deals neither with sin nor the cost of discipleship.
— Some conservative, Bible believing preachers. The failure of some conservative evangelical ministers to proclaim the Scriptures in a Christ-centered manner leads to a setting aside of the Gospel, Malone said. Every verse in the Bible must be interpreted in terms of the whole of Scripture, and all of Scripture is centered on the person and work of Christ in redeeming sinners to the glory of God, he said.
Malone admonished preachers to set before their hearers the fully biblical message of Christ and Him crucified and salvation by grace through faith because Christ is still building His church through the proclamation of the Gospel.
“Yes, the Gospel is lost in certain times and in certain places today, but it will not be lost forever,” Malone said. “The Scriptures tell us that the Gospel will be victorious.”