Reading 8.1

The Centrality of Jesus Christ in the Fourfold Gospel*

David Schroeder

The following is a sermon preached in Colorado Springs at the Division of Church Ministries Leadership Conference on March 22, 1994.

Worshipping five days a week some 50 yards away from A.B. Simpson's grave can have a profound effect on a person. At least it does so for me. Probably more than anything else, Simpson's "presence" there on the hillside challenges me about the sacred trust I have been given as Nyack College's president. Without trying to deify our founder, I want to confess how utterly astonished I continue to be as I learn more about his accomplishments.

While many people have never regarded Simpson as a theological giant, I have to confess that I have found new appreciation for him in that regard also. This new respect began a little more than a year ago in a most unexpected way. Dr. Rambo had asked me to give some structure to the strategic planning process for the Christian and Missionary Alliance. In early January 1993, the President's Cabinet went on a retreat to consider the eight plans that had already been developed and to synthesize them into one workable document.

Why We Exist

Near the beginning of our discussion, Richard Bailey asked for the privilege to present some ideas he had recently been pondering under the theme of recovering our spiritual vitality." [In about 20 minutes using the marker board, he sketched out an important idea calling us back to the centrality of Jesus in the fourfold Gospel.] He reminded us that Simpson's emphasis was not on the doctrines of salvation, sanctification, healing and the second coming, but on Jesus as the Saviour, Jesus as the Sanctifier, Jesus as the Healer, and Jesus as the Coming King. That very important idea, my friends, is why we exist as a denomination. Many churches have a doctrine of salvation, sanctification. healing and the second coming, but it is the Alliance's distinctive emphasis that beyond the doctrines we bring the living person of Jesus Christ into our daily experiences of empowerment for forgiveness, holiness, bodily health and eternal hope which stimulates missions. Let me develop this idea. Perhaps we have become sidetracked from the centrality of Jesus as we have argued (discussed) the various doctrines. Maybe we are asking the wrong questions.

The question about salvation is not why, but who?

The question about sanctification is not how, but who?

The question about healing is not what, but who?

The question about the second coming is not when, but who?

The Central Question about Salvation Is Not Why

Why are some saved and not others? Why do some hear the gospel but not all? Why is it fair for God to condemn those who have never heard? Why do some seem to be saved and then drift away?

We can argue forever about Calvinism versus Arminianism (and it is OK to discuss the issues: my fear today is that for most young people the counterpart to Calvin is not Arminius but Hobbes!) Fortunately, in the Alliance we have not allowed this issue to separate us, and we refuse to allow election or free will and eternal security or potential apostasy to become cardinal tenets of orthodoxy.

We have stayed together as a church even in the past few years amid some debate, and to our credit. I believe, we have examined carefully again the driving force of our mission which is not the lostness of man, but the command of Christ. The love of Christ compels us - His love for sinners - so we focus on Him.

If the question about salvation is why, it should be, 'Why are any saved!' The informed do not deserve to be saved anymore than the uninformed. Salvation is not about fairness, but about mercy! And about mercy the hymn writer said it best:

'Tis mystery all, let earth adore.
Let angel minds inquire no more.

But the question is not why, but who. By whose name must we all be saved? Jesus Christ. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

The Central Question about Sanctification Is Not How

How are we sanctified, in a crisis or progressively? How can we be sure if someone is sanctified--that is, what is the evidence! Some sign or special gift! Or, how is sanctification the same as or different from the baptism of the Holy Spirit or the filling of the Holy Spirit? Or, how thoroughly can one be sanctified? To the point of sinless perfection?

We can argue forever about these issues and in so doing, probably prove we are not very sanctified. Maybe the distinctions between these terms are important to some degree, but not important enough to sidetrack us from who is the Sanctifier. Simpson, for all his emphasis on the Holy Spirit, insisted that Jesus is the Sanctifier. Perhaps because Simpson brought back to the church an emphasis on the Holy Spirit in the late 19th century, we tend to associate him particularly with the third person of the Trinity. Indeed, he did write two great volumes on the Holy Spirit, but let us not forget that there were some 28 titles in the Christ in the Bible series (now published in a six-volume set).

Well, we are not trying to trichotomize the Godhead. It is clear that Scripture reports that the Father has assigned different roles to the Son and to the Spirit. Jesus is the primary agent for sanctification. "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the Pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are of the same family so Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers" (Hebrews 2:9-11). Later in Hebrews, the writer affirms this truth again. "And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to sanctify his people through his own blood" (Hebrews 13:12).

It is true that the Holy Spirit fills us and empowers us for holiness in service, but all of this is based on the atoning work of Christ. God has only one agent or source of grace for the believer. All the grace that will ever be imparted to the human family comes through Jesus. God the Father has not subjugated the role of Jesus to be the Saviour of the carnal, only for the Holy Spirit to be the Sanctifier of the saints. Jesus is the Sanctifier. All grace flows from Calvary. This is why we are not sacramentalists. There are no new provisions of grace, but many new distributions. Grace, including sanctification, comes through Jesus Christ. So the question about sanctification is not how, but who. If the question is how, it should be, "How far along am I with my sanctification? How can I be more like Jesus?" But the question is who. Stanza three of Simpson's hymn Jesus Only affirms Jesus is our Sanctifier:

Jesus is our Sanctifier,
Cleansing us from self and sin,
And with all his Spirit's fullness,
Filling all our hearts within.

The Central Question about Healing Is Not What

What are the conditions for healing? What is the role of faith? What activates healing power? What hinders some from being healed even when we abide by James 5?

We can argue about the role of faith, the 'name-it-claim-it' theology, or the healing- in-the-atonement issues. We can debate about the legitimacy of healing services versus private elders-only settings. We can exegete and reexegete James 5. But the question is not what, but who.

In Acts 4 just before the verse in which Peter boldly declares that salvation is found in no other name than that of Jesus, we find the Apostles explaining to the Jewish leaders how they were able to heal the crippled man who was found begging at the temple. "We are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and everyone else in Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you completely healed" (Acts 4:9-10).

Jesus only is our Healer. Is healing in the atonement? Of course it is- 'by his stripes we are healed.' Is healing unconditionally promised to everyone who asks? Apparently not. Does that render the atonement ineffective? No, it renders God sovereign. whose plan for our bodies is different than His plan for our souls. Divine healing, and indeed divine health, is not the end product of rigid obedience to some formula. Rather, it is the unmerited, sovereignly given act of grace provided to some people for the glory of God.

If the question about healing is what, it should be. 'What do I yearn for more: the gift or the giver!" "Once I sought for healing, now Himself alone." But the question is who. Who is our healer! Jesus Christ is our Healer.

The Central Question about the Second Coming Is Not When

When in the order of eschatology will it occur? When does the rapture happen in relation to the tribulation? When is the kingdom established on earth? When will there be a new heaven and new earth? When do the dead in Christ rise? When does the antichrist reign? We can argue forever about millennialism, the tribulation, the rapture, dispensationalism, apocalypticism and turn the blessed hope into a belligerent hype.

And while the Christian and Missionary Alliance holds to a premillennial view, for Simpson, premillennialism was not about eschatology, but about missions. It was the blessed hope of the imminent return of Jesus that fuelled his missionary passion. While Simpson did engage in a bit of eschatological speculation, for him the return of Jesus was not the subject of curious speculation, but the motive for dynamic missionary ministry.

No, the question about the second coming is not when, but who. Who is coming?

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen. white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. 'He will rule them with an iron sceptre.' He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:11-16)

The only important when question is, "When will the next unreached people get to hear the Gospel to hasten Christ's return?" "Ye men of Galilee why do you stand looking into the sky? . . . You shall be my witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the unreached peoples of the earth."

What Practical Difference?

But so what? What practical difference does it make to focus on the centrality of Jesus Christ in the fourfold gospel? Simply this: the fourfold gospel is not salvation, sanctification, healing and the second coming. It is Saviour, Sanctifier, Healer and coming King. It's about a person, a living, divine person. Not about ideas, doctrine or knowledge.

The doctrine of salvation cannot save anyone.

The doctrine of sanctification cannot make anyone holy.

The doctrine of healing cannot give health.

The doctrine of the second coming will not return to earth.

Whereas A.B. Simpson focused on the living, dynamic presence of Jesus in his daily life and on his blessed activities as Saviour, Sanctifier and Healer and King, all too often we have minused Jesus out of the equation and turned those blessed activities into sterile and stagnant doctrines. The Christian and Missionary Alliance has called upon us to give fresh impetus and terminology to the fourfold gospel. For me, the answer is simply to return to the centrality of Jesus Christ.

The Pastoral Implications

What are the pastoral implications of this? What real difference can this centrality of Jesus make in the lives of our people, our churches, our districts and our denomination? Let me share three ideas.

First, we must teach our people to relate daily with the living presence of Jesus. Why? Because you obey a person, whereas you only understand a doctrine. Obedience, not knowledge, must be the hallmark of the disciples of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures testify to this in an interesting way. The word for disciple (mathetes) is found 250 times in the Gospels and Acts. After that, it drops out of the New Testament vocabulary altogether. That is to say, the word disciple is not found in the Epistles or Revelation. Rather, the writers from that point on refer to believers as brethren, beloved, and saints. We must ask why such an important word in the Gospels and Acts was abandoned by the writers of the epistles. The answer is found in the last part of Acts 11:16 where it says, "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." The context of this verse indicates that the gospel was now going cosmopolitan. No longer was it being restricted to Jerusalem and Judea.

The word for disciple has a rich history in classical Greek. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and other philosophers all had disciples. That same Greek word was used and referred to a person who was an intellectual apprentice. The primary verb associated with this type of disciple is the Greek word manthano, which means to learn. Interestingly, although the word disciple occurs 250 times in the gospels and Acts, the verb manthano occurs only five times. When we look for a primary verb that describes the action of Christian disciples, we find the Greek word akoloutheo, which means to obey. (Literally, hear, follow and obey.) Thus, Jesus called his disciples by saying. "Follow me," using the word akoloutheo. He was not asking them simply to tread in his footsteps, but to become his obeyers.

Now because the primary action of a disciple of Jesus is not merely learning but obeying, the early Christians understood that to use the word for disciple as was understood in Greek culture would be to convey an misunderstanding of what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus. The disciples of Jesus are not merely those who learn truth, but those who obey a person.

(In fact, the frequent use of the word "saints" in the epistles may suggest to us that the disciples of the gospels have been turned into the saints of the epistles. If so, we find an interesting relationship between discipleship and sanctification, because the word for saint, hagoi, is the root word for sanctification, hagiosmos. In other words, the disciples of the gospels are now the holy ones, or saints, of the epistles. Therefore, our doctrine of sanctification is really the expansion of the concept of discipleship.)

So a first pastoral implication of the centrality of Jesus Christ to the fourfold gospel is that we must teach our people to relate daily with the living presence of Jesus. This will enable them to obey Him, which, as you know, is part of the Great Commission - "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

Secondly, we must help our people to enter the experiences of forgiveness, holiness, health and hope through connectedness to the life of Jesus.

Forgiveness must not be seen to be merely the end result of a formula or creedal confession. Forgiveness requires absolution, and only Jesus can give that absolution. The one we have disobeyed must be the one to whom we say, "Please forgive me." The one from whom we are seeking forgiveness must be heard to say, "I forgive you." Apart from this there is no real cleansing of the guilt that we carry with us. Perhaps this is why many Christians seem not to be able to be rid of their guilt. Rather than connecting to the living Jesus and hearing him say, "I forgive you, my son or daughter," we connect our people to some doctrine which they may not even understand, and which in its lifelessness is not able to extend pardon or the cleansing of guilt. Our people must enter the experience of forgiveness through connectedness to the life of Jesus.

We must teach our people that they cannot progress in the area of holiness by the works of the law or special self-discipline or self-improvement. The book of Galatians is written entirely for the purpose of demonstrating that those who begin with the life of the Spirit cannot then expect to progress through self effort or observance of external principles. The flesh is far too powerful to be conquered by the spirit of man apart from the Spirit of God energizing us. Holiness will never be achieved simply by self-determination. Perhaps the reason many of our people struggle with the strength of the flesh is they have not learned to abide by the power of the Spirit of Jesus within. We must help our people to enter the experience of holiness through daily connectedness to the life of Jesus. His holiness must be taken for our holiness. In a moment of great temptation it does little good to be reminded about a doctrine. It does immeasurable good to understand that we are in the presence of a divine person.

We must help our people to enter the experience of bodily health through connectedness to the life of Jesus. In our age, health is often idolized. Several new billion-dollar industries have developed in the past few decades because the human family, particularly in the West, has made such a fetish out of bodily health. Certainly, we need to take care of our bodies. They are the temple of the Lord, but they are not idols. The body is the Lord's; it belongs to the Lord. Jesus told His disciples not to take thought or be anxious about what they would eat and what they would wear. Furthermore, He reminded them, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" (Matthew 6:27).

We have heard recently some very encouraging reports of the grace of Jesus being extended to individuals among us who have touched God for divine healing. In these reports I have been impressed by the fact that the ones being healed are aware that it is the grace of Jesus and His divine strength which are the basis for their healing. These people have learned the truth that we must help all of our Alliance people to understand and act upon: namely, that in order to experience bodily health we must do so through daily connectedness to the life of Jesus.

We must also help our people to enter the experience of hope through connectedness to the life of Jesus. Hope is a rare commodity these days, and often, even when we do find hope, we find that it is very self-centred. Even among those who know the Lord and long for His return we find a progression of growth in the motivations for having the hope or His return. In early days, a Christian may want to see Jesus return for the purpose of getting revenge on the sceptics and enemies of Christ. We long to see Him come back so that He will show the rest of the world that after all, we are the right ones and they are wrong. As we progress in our Christian growth, perhaps our motivation becomes one of escape. Weary with well-doing in serving the Lord, we long for His return just so that we can "fly away" out of all of our troubles. This still is a self-centred motivation for hope. As we grow in maturity, however, we begin to understand that the primary reason for hope is just to be with the Lord we adore. We begin to yearn for Him to come for no other reason than for Him to come into the full inheritance of His kingdom and enjoy the family for which He laid down His life. And, yes, even here perhaps there is a bit of a selfish motive - namely, we want to be with the One we love.

Nevertheless, and for whatever reason, Christians are uniquely the people of hope. But many of the members of our churches do not live daily with the wonderful sense that Jesus may return at any time. We must help our people enter the experience of hope through daily connectedness to the life of Jesus.

Thirdly, we must motivate our people for missions out of a passion for the return of Jesus. For years we have focused on the Great Commission because it emphasizes the important acts of going and making disciples. Although Simpson used the Great Commission as a primary text in his life, a more important text was Matthew 24:14. Perhaps we ought to celebrate this verse in The Christian and Missionary Alliance as the "Great Motivation" - "and this gospel (fourfold?) of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."

Focusing only on the Great Commission has subtly shifted our missiology to being one of duty. We respond to the imperatives of going and making disciples of all the nations, and as we have seen earlier, it is the responsibility of disciples to be obedient. But wooden obedience is not the best motive for serving. Love is a far greater motivation, and the verse we quoted above shows that a far better stimulus for missions is the blessed hope for bringing back the King. The deep missionary passion of A.B. Simpson was not simply his joy of obeying a command of Jesus; rather, over and over again he focused on the blessed hope of Jesus coming back to the earth.

We must motivate our people for missions out of a passion for the return of Jesus.

I am calling on all of us fellow disciples of Jesus in The Christian and Missionary Alliance to come back to the centrality of the person of Jesus Christ in the fourfold gospel. To come back to the person, the living, divine, present person. To stop quibbling about the whys, hows, whats and whens of salvation, sanctification. healing and the second coming, and to focus on the divine Who. When we do this we will be teaching our people to re- late daily with the living presence of Jesus. We will be helping our people to enter the experiences of forgiveness, holiness, health and hope through connectedness to the life of Jesus. And we will be motivating our people for missions out of a passion for the return of Jesus. Even so come, Lord Jesus.

* David Schroeder, Heritage Series, Christian Publications, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, 1994