“Does it matter what you believe as long as you are sincere?” I still remember, as a boy, posing that question to my mother. It may well have been my first theological inquiry, and it was prompted by an awareness that our neighbors went to a different church.
That question I first pondered as a child reverberates through churches, homes and lecture halls today. And, as demonstrated in “No Other Name: Recovering the Exclusivity of the Gospel (I),” many evangelical church members answer that question with a resounding “no.”
In an age of doctrinal minimization, one can point to any number of theological challenges facing the church. Yet, neglecting the exclusivity of the gospel comes with tragic ramifications.
No Need to Evangelize
Without a Great Commission imperative established in the exclusivity of the gospel, the logic of evangelism collapses under its own weight. If one need not believe in Christ for salvation, then one need not tell others to believe in Christ.
Dean Kelly, in his Why Conservative Churches Are Growing, famously chronicled this very dynamic. Kelly juxtaposed the belief system of the mainline Protestant denominations with more conservative, evangelical ones and tracked how a church’s convictions regarding the Word of God and the gospel impacts one’s urgency in evangelism. To reject or minimize the former always adversely affects the latter.
Perhaps the tepidness of our witness is not due to out-of-date methodologies or insufficient training. Perhaps the problem—at its core—is convictional; is theological. Do we really believe that persons must believe in Jesus Christ to be saved?
No Need to Send Missionaries
Paul, in Romans 10, sets forth one of the New Testament’s great evangelistic manifestos: “How will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him in whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?”
The Great Commission itself rests on this Romans 10 logic: all must believe in Jesus to be saved, but they cannot believe in whom they have not heard, and will never hear unless gospel servants are sent.
The church that equivocates on the exclusivity of the gospel will not likely send forth a generation of William Careys, Lottie Moons, Adonirum Judsons or Jim Elliotts. Young adults not convinced of the necessity Great Commission will not feel the allure and romance of the Great Commission, the urgency of the gospel, and the unremitting passion to eradicate the moniker “unreached people group.”
No Need to Give Sacrificially
In my own denominational context, the Southern Baptist Convention, collective funding for missions and ministry as channeled through the Cooperative Program has been plateaued or declining for approximately three decades. Similar trends are reflected in general offering plate contributions throughout the evangelical movement.
The church member that does not understand and embrace the exclusivity of the gospel will never be moved to sacrificial giving. The church that is not consciously convinced of the exclusivity of the gospel will be more concerned with their meeting their own immediate needs than sacrificially forwarding money to reach the nations with the gospel. And the denomination that equivocates on the exclusivity of the gospel, collectively, will not mobilize itself toward Great Commission ends.
Recovering the Exclusivity of the Gospel
Losing the exclusivity of the gospel is a theological problem, not a methodological or practical one. Its recovery will be theological as well. Regaining the exclusivity of the gospel will only take place in the midst of a broader theological recovery, rooted in the full truthfulness and authority of Scripture.
Those who preach bear a special burden in this regard. We must be intentional about transmitting the full spectrum of sound doctrine in our churches, especially to our lay leaders and Sunday School teachers. A conscious awareness of the exclusivity of the gospel must also shape how we preach.
Preachers must give themselves to specific, Christ-centered sermons, wherein we iterate and reiterate the exclusivity of the gospel and the necessity of believing in Christ. Preachers, be done with vague, generic “God-talk.” Point your people specifically to Jesus Christ, and compel them to believe in him.
In my home study I have displayed artifacts from the modern missions movement, including William Carey’s shoe form and Samuel Pearce’s Geneva Bible. These mementos are visible reminders of the urgency of the Great Commission and our call, in this generation, to take the gospel to the nations.
But, if the gospel does not exclusively save, William Carey and Samuel Pierce were on fools’ errands. Adoniram Judson and Lottie Moon should be pitied, not revered. And Jim Elliott and Nate Saint died in vain. On the contrary, these great saints believed and ministered in light of what we must recover—an unreserved conviction of the exclusivity of the gospel.
*This article was originally posted on 12/15/2014*topicsExclusivity of the Gospel, Pluralism