Some in the Church of Christ teach that the Gospel is not merely the good news about Jesus, but also includes every teaching contained within the entire New Testament. They insist there is no distinction between the Gospel and other New Testament doctrines.
Is this true? If so, the implications are considerable. If everything taught in the New Testament is part of the gospel, then every doctrinal issue becomes a salvation issue since the gospel is central to our salvation. Indeed, this is what many teach: If a person makes an incorrect conclusion about any doctrine or practice, then his or her salvation is forfeit!
New Testament definition of “gospel”
The word “gospel” comes from the Greek word euaggelion (εὐαγγέλιον, Strongs G2098) and simply means “good news.” Good news about what exactly? What does the Bible include in this good news?
There are two prominent texts in the New Testament which help delineate what the good news consists of.
1 Corinthians 15
1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 1 Cor 15:1-8 NIV
From this passage we can note a few defining characteristics of the good news.
- Jesus died for our sins according the [Old Testament] Scriptures
- Jesus was buried
- Jesus was raised on the third day
- After Jesus’ resurrection he was seen by many witnesses
What does Romans 1 add to this list?
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Rom 1:1-4 NIV
- The good news was promised by God through the prophets
- The good news concerned the Son of God
- The Son of God is a descendant of King David
- The Son of God was resurrected from the dead
- Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah and our Lord
It’s really important to recognize here that the good news was foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures. I encourage you to read Isa 40:9-12, 52:7-15, 53 (the whole chapter) and Isa 61:1-3. In these passages from Isaiah more items can be added to the list which details what this good news was all about.
- God will be triumphant
- God is a shepherd who loves His people
- Through God’s servant (Jesus), the nations (Gentiles) will be forgiven
- The servant will be wounded and suffer for our betterment
- He will be treated as a transgressor even though He is innocent
- He will bear our sin
- He will intercede for us
- He will have the Spirit of God
- He will help the broken and disadvantaged
Every text which describes the good news is describing a person (Jesus) and His deeds. The same is true of any New Testament passage that further defines the good news.
Things not included in the gospel
It’s important to note the things that we do NOT see defined as part of the gospel:
- The five acts of worship
- Qualifications for elders and deacons
- Whether it is okay to eat in the church building or not
- What the church treasury may be used for
- If singing may or may not be accompanied with musical instruments
- Whether we must use only one communion cup or if we may use multiple cups
- If we may have Bible classes nor not
- How we should dress for worship services
- Whether women may baptize new believers
- If weddings and funerals in the church building are authorized
- And so on…
Not a single issue that we in the Church of Christ spend time squabbling about is ever mentioned by the Scriptures as being part of the good news! Should this fact tell us something about our priorities and our tendancy to divide over issues that are not part of the gospel?
What is Doctrine?
Having defined what the gospel is, we now need to know how “doctrine” is defined. The word “doctrine” is translated from the Greek word didaskalia (διδασκαλία, Strongs G1319). This word simply means teachings or instruction.
We are taught the gospel. Therefore, the gospel is doctrine, but not all doctrine is the gospel. Sometimes religious words take on a life of their own because time and tradition has imbued them with concepts that aren’t really there. As I sometimes like to do to make things clearer, let’s repeat the first two sentences of this paragraph substituting the keywords with their definitions.
We are taught the gospel good news. Therefore, the gospel good news is doctrine instruction, but not all doctrine instruction is the gospel good news.
This doesn’t mean that teachings which are not part of the gospel are uninspired or unimportant. Some of our more conservative preachers, elders and teachers think that if the entirety of the New Testament teachings aren’t part of the gospel that the rest of us consider them to be uninspired or unworthy of paying attention to. Committed disciples of Jesus will not fail to take all the instructions of the bible seriously even though they are not all part of the gospel.
As we’ve seen, the good news is a very specific teaching that does not include everything that is taught in the New Testament. The gospel is the good news about Jesus and what He did to bring about salvation. This is a very important distinction. Therefore, the bible does not teach that being mistaken about some secondary matter will cost us our salvation. God’s grace is bigger than our mistakes. If it is not so, then we will all surely be lost because none of us are perfect in our understanding.