What are the gospels for? Have you wondered that?
In some churches, they’re mainly for Sunday school. The gospels are full of great stories for the kids to do crafts with. The little ones can cut out tiny loaves and fishes, lower paralyzed pipe-cleaner figures through cardboard roofs, sing songs about the twelve apostles. The ever-smiling, white-robed Jesus is a comforting, happy figure for our children to grow up with.
For others, the gospels are mainly rule books for a time gone by, teachings Jesus gave to the Jews that applied only to them. These people consider that Christians need to focus on the Book of Acts and the epistles, only reading the gospels once in a while to understand the references. Their relevance to today is minimal.
Many people assume the gospels are history books, providing validation for the fact that there really was a Jesus. Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection are the primary interest, as well as the Last Supper, since these events provide the theological underpinnings of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Because Jesus was the Son of God, he could do things we’ll never be able to do; therefore the teachings of the gospel reflect an idealistic standard appropriate only for the divine among us.
Personally, I think it’s important that we remember that the gospels are documents of the church, written by Christians for the teaching of other Christians. The stories and teaching contained within the pages of the first four books of the New Testament provide vital instructions for believers. We need to know what Jesus taught. We need to know how Jesus lived. And yes, we need to know that he died for us and was the first to experience the resurrection promised to all believers.
The early church was dedicated to growing in the image of Jesus (see Ephesians 4:11-16, for example). The measure of a church was its faithful pursuit of being like Christ; we see that in Revelation 2, where the sound-teaching, hardworking Ephesian church was about to be disowned by Christ because of their lack of love. They taught correct doctrine, labored tirelessly, yet didn’t live like Jesus. Because of that, they weren’t living as a church of Jesus.
We need to remember that we’re provided a record of the things that Jesus said and did so that we can know how we should speak and act. The gospel writers recorded the teachings of Jesus not out of a sense of historical curiosity but as a means of communicating the basic principles of our faith.
For those of us who strive to restore New Testament Christianity, restoring the gospels to their prominent place in the church’s curriculum must be a top priority. If not, we may discover that our people worship the church more than they worship the Savior. We’ll come to focus on doctrine and practice more than following the footsteps of Jesus.
What are the gospels for? They are teaching documents of the church designed to help Christians know how to live like Jesus. As such, they deserve a place of prominence in our teaching and preaching.