|What is of First Importance?
What is the most important thing you believe about the church?
If you were asked to list everything you believe about the church, it would probably be a very ling list. But if you were asked what was the most important thing you believe about the church, how would you answer? Evangelism? Fellowship?Music? Lord's Supper? All of these are important, but they are all built on a foundation which is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11). The most important thing about the church is Jesus Christ who died for our sins and was raised from the dead for our justification. The gospel, the good news, is the most important thing we believe.
When Paul came to Corinth preaching the good news, he was determined to proclaim nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified(1 Corinthians 2:2). This is the good news: what God has done in Jesus Christ to redeem his people from their sins and save them from death. It is this message (1 Corinthians 15:3-4): "For what I preached I passed on to you as of first importance: That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter and then the Twelve."
This is Paul's narrow definition of the gospel, and his description of what is the most important thing he preaches. He preaches Jesus Christ as the one who died for our sins and was raised from the dead. Or, as he summarizes in Romans 4:25, Jesus Christ was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. The death and resurrection of Jesus are the saving acts of God. They are the work of God to redeem us from our sins and to deliver us from the sting of death (1 Corinthians 15:56-57). The good news is that God has restored fellowship with his rebellious creatures and has destroyed death through the resurrection of Jesus. That is the essence of the gospel, and that is what is of first importance.
Sometimes we use the term gospel to mean everything the New testament teaches so that anything found in the New Testament is gospel. Since we believe that the New testament teaches that the church should have a plurality of elders, we can sometimes be heard to say that how the church is organized is a gospel issue. Now those questions are important, and we will address them, but re they the most important thing? Are they gospel? Is that what Paul says he preached in Corinth when he preached the gospel?
There are some things the New Testament teaches, which are not gospelall fools are clean (Mark 7:19), but that is not a gospel issue. Paul permitted diversity on that topic as long as it was not pressed divisively. Paul himself taught that nothing is unclean in itself (Romans 14:14) as a doctrinal truth. But it is not a foundational truth (Romans 14:17). It is not a truth about Jesus Christ. That all food is unclean is a New Testament truth, but it is not a gospel issue. Paul clearly allows someone to believe that all foods are not clean, and practice that false belief, while at the same time he still considers them faithful Christians. Therefore, the New Testament teaches some things which are not gospel. The only thing that merits first importance is the gospel.
But if gospel does not refer to everything the New testament teaches, then to what does it refer? If refers to what God has done in Jesus Christ. It is the good news about God's saving act in Jesus Christ. The gospel is God's work; it is about his saving power which he worked in the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. We proclaim the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-2), we believe the gospel (Mark 1:15), and we obey the gospel (Romans 10:16), but the gospel itself is something God did.
The gospel is about Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1), that came as the servant of God to ransom his life for many and to rise from the dead on the third day as a testimony of God's intention to redeem his people from their sins and to deliver them from death (Mark 10:32-45). The gospel is what we proclaim when we preach Jesus Christ crucified for our sins and raised from the dead for our justification. The gospel is what we obey when we are immersed into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3-5). It is what we proclaim every first day of the week in the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:26). The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important and central message of the church.
We may believe many things about the church, but the most important thing we confess is that Jesus is Lord and that God has acted to save his people from their sins through his death and resurrection. This is the foundation of the church, and it is all that is necessary to believe to become a member of the church. When anyone comes to us for baptism in order to obey the pattern of Christ's death and resurrection (Romans 6:17), we do not ask them a list of questions about the church. We do not ask them whether they believe in a pastor system, or what they think about instrumental music, or what the rapture is. Rather, we ask them what they believe about Jesus Christ. Do they believe he is Lord, and will they submit to him as Lord? Jesus is Lord is our most basic confession of faith and repentance (submission), and it is all that is necessary to receive baptism. When we add further conditions, we add to the gospel.
When we're asked, What's the most important thing you believe about the church? that is not a question about what makes us different from others. Rather it is a question about our relationship to Jesus Christ. The most important thing we believe about the church is that it was founded on Jesus Christ who died for sins and was raised for our justification. The church belongs to Jesus; and the confession that Jesus is Lord is the basic commitment of the church (Romans 10:8-13).
I am a member of the Ross Road Church of Christ because it preaches Jesus as of first importance, and calls people to submit to his Lordship.