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  • Writer's picturePastor Jared

Lest We Forget

We have reached the end of the book of Hebrews which has caused me to become a bit reflective on what I’ve learned in our 10 months in this book. For reasons that are still not entirely clear to me the message of Hebrews got me thinking about Nineveh. Yes, the Nineveh from the Old Testament book of Jonah. I think it went something like this. I started to reflect on the dangers of apostasy, and that got me thinking about assumed evangelicalism. Since this August is the 8th anniversary of our church, I was simultaneously reflecting on what have been without doubt the 8 best years of my ministry life. Reflecting in these two seemingly disconnected ways is what, I think, led me to Nineveh. It's strange, I know. But let me try to explain.

The church in every age, regardless of its age, is always in danger of apostasy through assumption; of assuming, rather than believing and living, the important elements of our faith which, at one point, we clearly and explicitly believed, stated, and lived. As is typical of any organization, when things become assumed rather than explicitly stated and taught, they are often forgotten. Ironically in the church it is often the gospel, our very foundation, that disappears first, becoming an unstated and thus assumed part of what we do and then it is soon forgotten entirely. What usually replaces this lost gospel are discussions of a less important and often divisive nature such as what songs we should sing, how we should be governed, how we should be active in our community, what growth strategy we should employ to attract new people, what programs do we need to stay relevant, etc. -- things that pale in comparison to the importance and centrality of the gospel. If we are students of church history, even if it is only the history of the evangelical church in North America over the last 100 years, we can identify a legion of Christian organizations and churches who have done exactly what I have just described. They began as a gospel-centered group with the desire to live the gospel and minister the gospel. But gradually this message became an assumption rather than a continued declaration and other things began to take pride of place in what they taught and did as a church. Until finally the gospel was all but forgotten as it was overwhelmed by other ‘Christian’ concerns. The sad part of all of this is that since no one remembered the gospel along the way, no one cared that the gospel was ultimately lost.

This is pretty much what we see happen to the city of Nineveh post Jonah. Here is how the story goes -- Jonah preached to Nineveh roughly between the years 782-753 BCE, and they wholly and truly (from all biblical indications) repented of their sins and were brought to faith in God. A few short years later, the political landscape of Nineveh changed dramatically as it moved from being a relatively small, independent city-state to being under the control of the great Assyria. Nineveh would soon become the main center from which Tiglath-Pileser (reigned 745-726 BCE) and then Shalmaneser V (reigned 727-722 BCE) would lead attacks against the northern kingdom of Israel and Samaria its capital, until Israel would fall under the assaults of Shalmaneser in 722 BCE.

Why is this information important? Because in the book of Jonah we encounter a people who repented of their wickedness and sin, turned from it and then threw themselves at the mercy of God in faith for salvation. Yet within at most 60 years and at least 27 years this city went right back to being the sinful city it was before, and probably even worse! The faith and repentance we read about in Jonah 3, faded into a distant memory as the Ninevites became the oppressors, and ultimately the destroyers, of a great many of God’s people.

The lesson, for us as individuals and for us as a church, is clear – if we stop living a life of faith and repentance, if we stop embracing and loving and living the gospel, we will become that which we never thought we could become: a church who has lost its first love and who deserves and will receive God’s punishment. (cf Revelation 2:1-7) 

In any church, regardless of how long it has been around, this danger is ever present, and here is that I want to make an application to CRC. There is always the danger that we forget about the gospel within our midst. The operative word here is 'forget.' Forgetting is not denying, not running from, not abandoning, the gospel as those in the church to whom Hebrews was written were thinking about doing. But apostasy through assumption is just as much apostasy as outright rebellious rejection of Christ, and its consequences are just as terrible. When we forget about the center of our faith - the gospel - and of the central necessity of living a life of faith and repentance there is always the danger that we will lose the gospel. The danger for us as a church is that we will do many things that look very religious, yet they are only that, religious, all the while abandoning true gospel-centered Christianity. It happens in ways that are subtle and in ways that take some time to work themselves out which makes it all the more insidious. This disease of the church has been called – assumed evangelicalism. David Gibson says it this way, “Assumed Evangelicalism believes and signs up to the gospel. It certainly does not deny the gospel. But in terms of priorities, focus, and direction, assumed Evangelicalism begins to give gradually increasing energy to concerns other than the gospel and key evangelical distinctives, to gradually elevate secondary issues to a primary level, to be increasingly worried about how it is perceived by others, and to allow itself to be increasingly influenced both in content and method by the prevailing culture of the day.”

In other words, the church begins to forget about the necessity of being gospel-centered, which entails constant repentance and faith, and begins to slip ever so slowly into being an organization, or focuses on being 'seeker sensitive,' or it begins to suffer mission drift, or it devolves into mere networks of friendships or familial relations and nothing more. The result is an ineffective, stagnant, and eventually dead group of people with nothing to offer the world. Yes, there will still be people mulling about on a Sunday morning, but there is no life to speak of. We must remember that “the only thing that the church can provide to the world that is truly unique is the gospel.” (Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life).

May we never forget the gospel! May we never lose our center! (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 15:1-11) May we never forget the only thing that we have to offer our lost world! Let us be gospel-centered people who are characterized by repentance and faith.

Soli Deo Gloria


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