The church’s gravest threat is not persecution or the loss of civil liberties or being surrounded by a culture that endorses sinful behavior. No, the gravest threat to the church’s vitality is that she will lose the gospel, the news 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” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). This news is the apex of the biblical story in which God created a good earth, humans brought death and judgment into the world through rebellion against God, and in his mercy, God became flesh to redeem and make new not only his fallen image-bearers but the whole creation.
Until that new creation is completed, the church exists in a context in which we must hold fast to this news about God’s redemption in Christ. We see this not only in the commands of the New Testament but in the contours of church history. Over the millennia the challenges to the church’s gospel faithfulness have run the gamut when it comes to money (from poverty to extravagance), sex (from prohibition to indulgence), power (from being persecuted to ruling ruthlessly), and her relationship with the surrounding culture (from total removal to compromising acceptance). In all of these the temptation is for the church to forget that God the Father loves her, God the Son died and rose again for her, and God the Spirit indwells and empowers her for communion with God, spiritual transformation, and mission to the world.
Each generation of believers needs a fresh call to hold fast to the gospel. A recent effort toward this end is the formation of The Gospel Coalition. This national movement was initiated by many of my living heroes, pastors who are committed to keeping the gospel of Christ at the center of the church through faithful preaching of God’s word, God-centered worship, and obedience to Jesus’ commission to make disciples of all nations. This is not a denomination but a network of local churches intent on holding fast to the gospel.
Recently a group of Valley pastors I have met with monthly for more than 3 years has created the Arizona chapter of The Gospel Coalition. These include my dear friend and mentor, Tim Savage of Camelback Bible Church, as well as brothers who have preached at Whitton Avenue: Vermon Pierre of Roosevelt Community Church, Aaron Dailey of Redemption Church Alhambra, and Chris Daukas of Grace Church. These and many other friends in the ministry who make up the Arizona chapter of The Gospel Coalition are committed to facilitating small groups for pastors (like the one I have benefited from) and bringing quality, gospel-centered instruction to the Valley (such as the January “What Did You Expect?” marriage conference with Paul David Tripp).
At the annual vision and business meeting I introduced the opportunity our church has to join the Arizona chapter of The Gospel Coalition. This is not a denomination and would have no bearing on us legally. At the same time, it is an excellent opportunity to identify ourselves with a local and national movement that shares our core values. My suggestion was that we take a year to prayerfully consider it, but the input from the meeting was that we move more quickly that that. Thus we plan to meet in mid-April to vote about whether to join this group of churches, which includes a $500 annual membership fee that helps fund the conferences.
In view of this vote, please spend some time looking at the national website and the website of the Arizona chapter. Some of the documents may have an academic tone, owing to the theological threats to the gospel in the academy. Please read through the Confessional Statement and the Theological Vision for Ministry. Look at the list of churches in Arizona that are part of the local chapter. Write down any questions and concerns you may have and contact me so we can talk between now and the meeting. More than anything, pray that God would grant us the wisdom to know whether this is a good step for our church family.
However God leads with this particular decision, may he grant us strength, courage, and endurance to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard” (Hebrews 2:1), “consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Hebrews 3:1), and “hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:14).