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.

4 Responses

  1. Great article, Tim! More than 30 years ago, I heard Jerry Jones say one of the professors in his doctoral program observed that most Protestant reformation/restoration movements began with Romans, but that the Church of Christ began with emphasis on Acts. He himself was advocating for more attention on the gospels. More than a decade before that, I remember Jim Woodroof making a similar plea for more focus on the gospels. Today, a number of theologians, such as Scott McKnight and N. T. Wright are paying serious attention to Jesus in the gospels.

    About 40 years ago I determined to have at least one lesson each week focused on Jesus. I saw a major increase in the depth and power of my preaching. It’s amazing what happens when we take seriously the example of probably the greatest Christian missionary ever who wrote in one of his early letters, “I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Not just Jesus crucified, but Jesus himself. Just as Jesus in giving the Lord’s Supper, said ‘Do this in memory of me,’ not ‘in memory of my death.’ Is his death important? Absolutely! But apart from his faithfulness in life, his death would mean nothing – and so also without his resurrection, his death would have been just one more young Jewish man crucified by the Romans.

    Hope to meet you at the Equip Conference in Orlando 4th of July weekend! I’ll be hanging out some at the EEM booth by one of the Grand Ballroom doors, but also look forward to hearing some of your presentations as well.

    1. Thank you for sharing this bit of history Jerry! I appreciate you. I am not sure if I will be in Orlando for equip yet. I might be able to make it but either way…thank you for all you do!

  2. I know this is 4 years old but is still relevant. The gospels show us how people are to live. There is so much in the parables that speaks to people today if we will just read them and attempt to understand them. Jesus interacted with everyone from Moses to Sanhedrin rabbis to harlots and tax collectors for Rome and everyone in between. He did it lovingly and based upon their knowledge and ability. To a simple person, a parable might mean one thing and to a highly educated person, it might mean something different, but neither are wrong. Omission of it did more to harm people in churches than anything else.

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