In Marks of the Messenger: Knowing, Living, and Speaking the Gospel (IVP, 2010), J. Mack Stiles sets out something I’ve heard Don Carson say a number of times: “Losing the gospel doesn’t happen all at once, it’s much more like a four generation process too:
The gospel is accepted —>
The gospel is assumed —>
The gospel is confused —>
The gospel is lost.”
How do you know if your church is beginning to assume the gospel? The answer, Stiles says, is when you no longer hear the gospel. He asks a series of diagnostic questions:
Was the gospel in the sermon Sunday morning?
Could the uninitiated hear that sermon and come to real faith in Christ?
Are gospel principles governing organizational decisions?
Do you hear the gospel in people’s prayers?
Does your fellowship encourage you to say the gospel? And then is it more than just a memorized sketch? Sure, it may follow the form of “God, Man, Christ, Response,” but is it in people’s own words?
Furthermore, do you see it in their actions? Is the gospel lived out?
Is membership based on a true commitment to the gospel or just because someone wants to join an organization—or maybe write an expose?
The healthy evangelist is asking these questions and looking for answers so as to guard the gospel. Here is the critical test.
Could you have preached that sermon if Christ had not died on the cross?
Could you have developed that leadership principle had Christ not been crucified?
I’m not saying be impractical—the Bible has much to say about being practical—but make sure that the practical is tied to the message of Jesus. Otherwise we are on the road to an assumption that will lose the gospel.
(p. 41, my emphasis)
May God give us grace to be men, women, and children of, by, and for the gospel!