In his book, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, J.I. Packer has a chapter entitled “The Gospel as of First Importance.” In that chapter, Packer discusses the pastoral and formational applications of the Gospel. Many are familiar with the quote from Tim Keller that “the Gospel is not the ABC’s of the Christian life; it is the A through Z of the Christian life.” Packer writes,
“In that spirit we offer the following ‘Gospel Alphabet’–twenty-six pastoral and formative reasons why the Gospel must retain primacy as the content of Christian education” (108).
This week, we come to the letter “U”.
U is for Unity
A clear Gospel focus in our preaching and teaching has the potential to contribute to the unity of the church. In the latter half of the twentieth century one frequently seen example of this was the evangelistic campaigns of Billy Graham, which typically featured the cooperation of a great diversity of congregations and denominations. At the beginning of this century new movements are afoot for the sake of the Gospel that aim to be both evangelical and ecumenical. We never seem to achieve perfect consensus here because we need to constantly wrestle with variant details of conviction and, of course, with all kinds of intellectual spin-offs of our fallenness. But magnifying the Gospel as our central point of reference can help us keep a variety of lesser concerns in proper perspective (Phil. 1:18).
Annotation from me:
Packer seems to be focusing primary on evangelicalism as a whole, and indeed there are gospel-centered movements (Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel, etc.) who are working to “renew the center” of evangelical life. But on a local church level, I believe a commitment to the gospel does its greatest work in promoting and protecting unity. There will always be competing cultures, surging personal preferences, and various approaches or philosophies of ministry. But what defines the identities and shapes the contours of the church should be the Gospel. When we are united around the Gospel and all of its implications and applications, we snuff out competing sub-cultures and celebrate diversity in multiple facets of life.