What is the Gospel?

The Apostle Paul summarizes the Gospel in this way: "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve" (I Corinthians 15:1-5).

All religions purport to offer some message of "good news"! There are those who would tell you the "good news" comes through penance and confession. For others, the "good news" comes through trying to be a good person, keeping certain commandments, and/or following the 'golden rule'. Still others think of the "good news" as a message of socio-economic freedom from political oppression. Unfortunately, all of these attempts to offer "good news" turn out to be "bad news", precisely because these 'gospels' are all offered on the basis of our good works.

But the truly "good news" of the Gospel that we find presented in the Bible is different. The Apostle Paul highlights a number of in these few short verses that set this 'Gospel' message apart.

(1) The Gospel is not an 'abstract philosophy' but rooted in history.

All religions at some level have elements of 'faith'; hence the reason why even secular society can speak about a "plurality of religions and faiths"! Even the person who claims to not believe in anything or claims to have 'faith' in nothing inconsistently ends up putting 'faith' in his or her agnosticism or atheism.

What sets Christianity apart? It's that our faith is directed to a Jesus that "died...was buried...and raised on the third day." That is to say, our claims about the Gospel message are historically verifiable This is why the first four books of the New Testament are often called 'the 4 Gospels' -- that is, they bear historical testimony to the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

(2) The Gospel speaks to many issues, but at the center of them all is our sin.

People in all walks of life experience pain and anguish. Individuals lose their jobs; marriages come to an end and families get ripped apart through adultery; children are abused by their parents; genocide takes places in countries with political instability; and on the list could go. Christianity recognizes that all of these things happen because of sin, and most people have no problem speaking about 'sin' in this way because it provides a category for them to explain the truly wicked things that happen in the world. As long as the problem of sin is seen as external ("out there in the world") then it's not a particularly hard concept to grasp.

But Christianity doesn't simply believe that doing bad things makes one wicked. Christianity teaches that we do bad things because we ourselves are wicked. Our personal deeds (good or bad) don't just randomly happen in a vacuum; they flow out of a predisposition to do one thing and not another thing. And this is not true for just certain class of really wicked people -- the Bible makes clear that it applies to us all. God's verdict of the world's status is that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

This is what Paul means here by "our sin". It's one thing to blame others or the world for 'their sin'; it's quite another thing to confess your own sin! But it was for this very reason that Jesus came to die. He was not merely giving us a good example for how to live; if that was all Jesus was trying to do, then his 'dying' is not a very good example. The reason Jesus had to die is because "our sin" doesn't simply alienate ourselves from each other but ultimately alienates us from God.

(3) There are many things in life that are important, but believing the Gospel is of "first importance".

People often come to the Bible and/or Church looking for answers to life's difficulties and troubles but sometimes with our own idea of what we think are important. The wonderfully refreshing and yet at the same time challenging thing about Christianity is that it does not skirt away from addressing such difficulties but rather that it addresses them with a seriousness and directness that we often underestimate. Our problem is not simply that we are in need of a moral boost to live better or that we simply need a 'yearly tune up' to get our life priorities back in line. Our problem is infinitely greater because we are infinitely guilty.

But the 'good news' (the Gospel) of Christianity is summed up in the resurrection of Jesus. And this message is so important that the apostle Paul can go on to say that "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (I Cor. 15:17)! Someone has said this is Christianity's 'line in the sand' -- the one event on which the entirety of the Christian message (and even the Bible itself) comes down to. Jesus had to do something radical to rescue a world plunged in sin and darkness. For this reason, the resurrection gets to the heart of the "importance" of the Bible's message. The resurrection is more than simply an event the Church celebrates once a year at Easter time; rather, the resurrection is God's direct answer to the core problem of our personal sin and guilt.

What is the Church?

Church is a community of believers and their children, where Christ is the Head and King.

The church community is founded upon and united by the common confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16).

This community is not just a random gathering of believers. God takes care of His church through Christ's under-shepherds (pastors and elders along with deacons) to provide protection, oversight and discipline.

Those, who belong to this community, submit themselves to the biblical oversight of Christ's under-shepherds.

The under-shepherds are accountable to God and His word and are not free from oversight and church discipline themselves.

A succinct way for us to remember what the Bible teaches about the Church comes from Dr. Derke Bergsma, who summarized the Church as the Christ Confessing Covenant Community.

 

Christ

"For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (I Cor. 3:11)
"...You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself." (Eph. 2:19-20)

Confessing

"Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses." (I Tim. 6:12)
"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession." (Heb. 4:14)
"Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2:9-11)

Covenant

"And this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (Rom 11:27)
"Our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (II Cor. 3:5-6)
"And likewise (he took) the cup after they had eaten, saying, 'This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'" (Luke 22:20)

Community

"And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." (Acts 2:44-47)
"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Heb. 10:24-25)

Doctrinal Belief

New Life Presbyterian Church of La Jolla is a catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, and Reformed church of the Lord Jesus Christ

....'catholic' in that we identify with the whole of Christ's church as summarized in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds.

....'Protestant' in that we stand with Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others of the Reformation era in their recovery of the Gospel.

....'Evangelical' in that we believe the Gospel (Greek: 'evangel') is the message we proclaim in the Church, to the world.

....'Reformed' in that we subscribe as a church to the Reformed doctrinal standards of the Westminster Confession of Faith (with its Larger and Shorter Catechisms).

We also believe that the Bible is not a doctrinal textbook, but an unfolding history of God's redemption and kingdom. Therefore, our teaching and preaching aims to demonstrate how the Bible, from beginning to end, points us to Jesus Christ and the heavenly kingdom of God inaugurated through His death and resurrection.
A summary of what we believe can be summarized using the '5 Solas' of the Reformation:

Sola Scriptura ('Scripture Alone') - We believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of the true and living God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. We affirm the completeness, finality, and sufficiency of revelation given to us in the Bible alone. While we make use of creeds or councils, common sense and logic, and science, all of these disciplines must be done in manner subservient to the Scriptures.
Solus Christus ('Christ Alone') - We believe that Christ is the only incarnate self-revelation of God and redeemer of humanity. We confess that Jesus is the only way of knowing God, the only way of entering into a relationship with God, the only way of finding true peace, and the only way of being saved from His eternal wrath. We preach Christ and not moralism, legalism, or politics.
Sola Gratia ('Grace alone') - We believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation and all things. We affirm the Calvinist doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election, definite atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.
Sola Fide ('Faith alone') - We believe that the only way sinners can draw near to a holy God is to have their sins pardoned and receive the imputed righteousness of Christ. We affirm that justification is by faith alone, a once-for-all act, and that even our best works cannot in any way earn our salvation.
Soli Deo Gloria ('To God's glory alone') - We believe that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We believe that because all of our salvation is accomplished by God in Christ, the Gospel now compels us to live our lives before the face of God, for his glory alone, as we seek to love God and love our neighbors.

Why Presbyterian?

Many people have questions about denominational affiliations. If the church is suppose to be one (Ephesians 4), then why are there so many different divisions? If the church truly is Christ's church (and not simply our church), then why do we insist on using labels like 'Presbyterian' to describe our church?

On the question of who governs the church, there can be only one answer -- Jesus Christ. It was Jesus that said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matt. 28:18). "Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior" (Eph. 5:23). "And he is the head of the body, the church." (Col. 1:18). The New Testament is crystal clear that ultimately Christ is the one who runs things -- it is His church, not our church. Individuals church members are ultimately subject to Him, to His Word, and to the Holy Spirit.

But that still leaves a lingering question -- how is it that Christ leads and governs His Church?

All evangelical churches agree that Jesus Christ is the King and Head of the Church, but Presbyterians specifically believe that Christ as Head has also appointed 'elders' to preside over and govern matters in His church. In fact, the word "Presbyterian" is derived from the Greek work, presbuteros, which is often translated as 'elder' in our English New Testaments.

So while we are absolutely resolute in commitment to Christ's rule through his Word and Spirit, we also believe that "he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:11-12). Paul is not distinguishing between "saints" and "super-saints" but rather he's outlining two different offices at work in Christ's body: a general office of all believers and a special office of those called to govern the church.

All believers have been given the Spirit (Rom. 8:15-16) and have been made an heirs with God and with Christ (Rom. 8:17). And yet we still read that Paul and Barnabas "appointed elders for them in every church" (Acts 14:23). We also witness Paul pleading with the elders at Ephesus, "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood" (Acts 20:28).

So the list of the so-called 'elder qualifications' that we find in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are there for the purpose of helping each Church body evaluate the qualifications of men to govern her as servants of Christ. This is precisely the kind of thing we see at work in Acts 6:1-7, when seven men were recognized and chose by the church to serve as elders over the church. The New Testament makes clear that the ministerial offices are not man-made structures but were designed by God to help.

In short, Church authority can be summarized in 3 ways:

(a) Delegated, not original -- that is, there is a difference between the King (Jesus) and the ambassadors of the King (elders). Elders only have authority granted to them by Christ through his Word. Thus, we do not adapt Jesus to establish our own authority; rather, we humbly submit and adapt ourselves to His authority.

(b) Ministerial, not magisterial -- that is, the leaders in Christ's church are not there to serve themselves but to serve Christ and his church. Christ's authority alone is sovereign; elders have no such authority.

(c) Declarative, not legislative -- that is, elders are permitted to declare and apply only what God's Word demands. Because we believe God's Word is sufficient for life and godliness, nothing should be added to it. The Bible is our only infallible rule of faith and practice.

We realize that many people with a strongly-'individualist' mindset have difficulty with such authority or hierarchical structures. We are sensitive to the fact that many come from church backgrounds where the church leadership and elders acted more like ecclesiastical bullies than servants of Christ. We deeply regret that some people calling themselves 'elders' treat the flock of God in such an unChrist-like manner; this is clearly not the picture that the New Testament presents for the reason and rationale of ordaining elders.

Because of these Scriptural reasons, we consider ourselves a Presbyterian church and have chosen to join with like-minded churches in the Presbyterian Church in America.

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