"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”--Matthew 23:23
Some things you can chalk up to oversight. And, at times we can all say something without thinking it through very well. Even more so, as a preacher, we have all had to rethink a position or two over the years—that is, if we are truly studying the Bible and realizing we don’t have it all figured out. But, some things are simply unacceptable and cannot be deemed oversights or misstatements. The one thing at the top of this list is the priority of the Gospel message among believers in Jesus Christ. Every other doctrine pales in comparison to the Gospel. Everything else is second to it. If our foundational driving force is ever “the Gospel and…”, we have missed something somewhere—and it’s not a minor infraction.
As an elder in a church, I sometimes wonder how vocal I should be outside our own assembly. Let me be clear—I believe churches are independent and autonomous. Every church is accountable to her head, Jesus Christ. As a pastor of one assembly of saints in Northport, AL, I am in no way the leader of other churches. This understanding has made me hesitant to write such an article as this. However, it is out of concern that this article is written—not so much out of rebuke. I am not an apostle, but a concerned teacher of God’s Word.
Let me state this as clearly as I know how—everything in the Bible is not equally important. Now listen closely; I am in no way suggesting that we should overlook any truth in Scripture or that we should change the Word of God to fit the culture or anything like that. I am not, as some have done in recent years, suggesting that we should adapt our idea of sin to that of Washington or Hollywood. However, the verse above is a direct quote from our Lord. And with great clarity, He speaks of “weightier matters of the law.” That simply cannot be misunderstood. Some things carry more weight than others.
Let me give some examples here. The identity of Melchizedek in Genesis 14 is not as important as understanding the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is “weightier”. The resurrection is critical. Good, solid, sound scholars disagree on the identity of Melchizedek. They do not disagree on the resurrection. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). The validity of our faith simply doesn’t stand or fall on the identity of Melchizedek. And, without trying to sound superior to anybody, even a cursory reading of the Bible should be enough to prove that.
Whether the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 are angels or men simply is not as important as whether Jesus came to Earth as God in the flesh or not. With all due respect, it is ludicrous to equate those things. It shows both a lack of Biblical knowledge as well as a lack of Christian maturity. The Apostle John wrote, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already” (1 John 4:2-3). Nobody has ever suggested that if you have the Holy Spirit, you will correctly identify the “sons of God” in Genesis 6. Such a position is silly, at best—irresponsible, at worst.
The identity of the two witnesses in Revelation 11 simply isn’t as important as the impeccability (or sinlessness) of Jesus Christ. Look, I’ve heard scholars—good, solid, Scriptural, honest scholars—passionately argue over the identity of those two men my entire life. I’ve heard Enoch and Elijah and Moses and Zerubbabel and John the Baptist all offered as possibilities—and I’m sure others have suggested other people. But, it’s simply foolish to suggest to any crowd that such an understanding is as critical as the impeccability of Christ. We simply cannot know for certain whom these two represent. However, we know this—“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). And, this truth is weightier than the identity of the two witnesses.
I could go on, but I shouldn’t have to. This isn’t deep theology. It should be common knowledge—especially in a pulpit. As a church leader, I feel like it is my duty to have some recognition of obviously important things vs. obviously less important things. And again, I am not in any way suggesting that anything the Bible addresses is unimportant. But, there are obviously “weighter matters” in the Word of God.
But, what is the weightiest matter? That’s a big question, for sure. However, the answer should quickly be on the lips of every believer in Jesus Christ. I’m not going to beat around the bush here. The Gospel of Jesus Christ—the pure, unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ is the weightiest matter in all of God’s Word. In fact, no other doctrinal truth remotely measures up with it. A misunderstanding of the Gospel deems one to be “accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9). A misunderstanding of the Gospel is a religion without the proper foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11).
Churches have been commissioned by our Lord to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). If disciples aren’t made through the preaching of the Gospel, then we are only witnessing false professions of faith. Paul understood this. He wrote to the church at Corinth, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). This wouldn’t make any sense if we don’t realize that the Gospel carries a greater priority than anything else. In fact, this would make Paul an unfaithful servant—and we know he was anything but that (2 Timothy 4:7). In fact, in the previous chapter, Paul even wrote to the same church, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel…” (1 Corinthians 1:17). As important as baptism is, the Gospel is more important.
Churches that fail to grasp the supremacy of the Gospel are doomed to ultimately fall away. Even good truths can be abused, folks. If the nation of Israel can trust the ark of the covenant more than God (1 Samuel 4:3)…if they can worship the bronze serpent (2 Kings 18:4)…then, we can take truths that God has given us and lift them so high that we have an unhealthy view of them. This happened to the Jews with the Law and the Sabbath Day and with circumcision. And, this happens to churches when we lack Gospel-centeredness—when we misunderstand the priority of the Gospel.
How can this be corrected? A few things come to mind. First of all, the ordinances were actually given by God to His churches to keep the Gospel primary. Baptism reflects the death and resurrection of Christ—and, of course, designates a person’s commitment to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior. And though baptism is to be done at the beginning of one’s walk with Christ, the Lord’s Supper is repeated continually to keep our eyes focused on that same Gospel that baptism represents. This is the purpose of the ordinances. And, if we are carrying them out properly, they will do what God intended.
Secondly, elders in a church need to be committed to sequential exposition through books of the Bible. I’m not saying this is all that can ever be done in a church service. However, this is the way God wrote His Word. And, such an approach will assure teachers that they are remaining just as Gospel centered as the Book itself. Let us not forget that on the road to Emmaus, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). The Bible is about Jesus—yes, the whole thing. And, if church leaders do their job, this will become more and more evident to those in the pew.
Lastly, churches are going to have to hold their leaders accountable. It simply is unreasonable to allow a Bible teacher to continually preach error from the pulpit or elsewhere. I certainly realize that elders are ultimately responsible to God and will be judged by Him. However, churches too are responsible for how they deal with poor preaching—and especially an erroneous understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is not some minor debate. There are many things we can (and I’m sure will) debate this side of eternity. We may debate the identity of Melchizedek or the “sons of God” or the two witnesses. We may write papers on the feminine motif of wisdom in the book of Proverbs. We may even waver on whether we think King Saul was saved or not. However, one thing we cannot waver on is the place of the Gospel. It is priority number one. The Gospel alone is the foundation of all we preach and practice. Let us, as individuals and as churches, seek to be Gospel-centered. Only in doing this can we please our Lord—the One Whom the Gospel properly portrays as “preeminent” over everything else (Colossians 1:18).
Todd Bryant is the Lead Elder at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Northport, AL. He has pastored there since 1998. For more more information on the church and links to audio sermons and apps for electronic devices, visit www.sovereigngrace.net