In general, the gospel is the message of the Bible that God is redeeming his fallen creation through the coming of his kingdom in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In particular, the gospel is the message that we are saved from our sins by sheer, free grace through faith in the finished work of Christ, not through our efforts and works. istanbulprojesi believes that this gospel message of hope for the world and grace for the sinner is not merely a body of truth, but the very power of God which grows, changes, and shapes everything with which it has contact—hearts and identities, relationships, practices in every area of public and private life, and whole societies. So the gospel is “central,” first, because it is not merely one department of belief, but it is a power that affects every area of life when its implications are felt and thought out. But secondly, the gospel is “central” because it is neither legalism on the one hand nor relativism on the other.
Ruhsal Arayış · 18 Aralık 2018
It is common to think the gospel is a message mainly to be shared with non-believers to bring them salvation, after which they grow through following Biblical principles. But we believe the gospel is a message for believers also—that believing, understanding, rejoicing in and practicing the gospel more deeply is the main way believers overcome flaws and problems and grow into Christ-likeness. Our sinful behavior is rooted in idols of the heart—alternative ‘salvations’—and deeper knowledge of and experience of God’s grace in Christ can change them. We know that long-term life change also requires formative practices of individual and communal prayer, instruction, and worship (see Gospel Community), but without a gospel-changed and changing heart, church practices will produce nominal believers. The gospel changes us from the inside out, freeing us from both self-righteousness and self-condemnation, enabling us to welcome people we excluded, including those who don’t share our beliefs. Bringing the gospel to bear on life is, therefore, the essence of what we do in preaching, pastoral care, counseling, and education. The gospel can change anyone at all, and we take special delight in testimonies of its powerful work.
Because the gospel changes our hearts and identities, it makes us into people who can conduct far more transparent, honest, intimate, and loving relationships. So the gospel creates a new kind of community. And, the nature of the gospel is best conveyed and made plain in community because it is just as true that the gospel is not only a body of truth but also a life-changing power. Growth in gospel grace (discipleship) is best done in a community of informal relationships, not in a classroom or through a book. It is in community that people see how a gospel-changed heart really works—in our humility as well as our boldness; in our quickness to repent, forgive, and reconcile; and in the uniqueness of our life practices. The gospel does not merely make us closer in our one-on-one relationships, but also creates a counter-culture, a contrast community in which all can see the difference the gospel makes. The gospel, then, in multiple ways leads us to prize community and we aim to, whenever possible, do things through organic community and lay ministry rather than through staff-led programs. There are multiple ways to form community, but in urban settings the small group fellowship will continue to be crucial to it.
At istanbulprojesi we hold a positive, balanced, Biblically-rooted view of the city. We are very positive about the city—seeing it as perhaps the most strategic place for Christians to live and minister today, and also valuing its many benefits for human life and flourishing. As a result, we encourage Christians to stay and live in the city (though not legalistically). We want our leaders to be energized by and enjoy city living. We call this positive regard “balanced” because istanbulprojesi is contextualized to the city. To contextualize means to be adapted to a culture without compromising the truth, as Jesus was incarnated (fully human) yet without sin. The gospel makes us contextualizers—too humbled to make an idol out of our old culture, but too affirmed and loved to need the approval of the new one. So we are very concerned to be urban rather than suburban in our sensibilities and communication; nonethe- less we do not romanticize the city or uncritically adopt attitudes and practices that contradict the gospel. We don’t hate the city or romanticize it—we love the city, we have a vision for what it could be, and we are here to seek its well being for all its people.
The gospel humbles people with means and power, showing them that they are no better than anyone else before God. It also lifts up the poor and broken, giving them a new identity and confidence in Christ. While concern for the needy is in no way a means of salvation, a life poured out in deeds of mercy and justice is a sign that the heart has been changed by grace. We use both terms. Mercy is simply meeting people’s basic needs out of a gospel-produced compassion. Doing justice includes being generous in sharing one’s wealth and time in meeting immediate needs, but it consists also in being advocates for people with less social power, and more broadly, engaging as citizens in the city in order to make it a good place for all people to live. A gospel-preaching church should be famous for its mercy and justice, or outsiders will not listen to what is being preached. While bringing people to faith in Christ is the single greatest thing you can do for someone, the gospel must be ministered in word and deed together if it is going to have the life-changing impact we desire.
The gospel does not only have implications for our private life and Christian relationships. It also affects our public life, particularly how we pursue our vocations in the world and do our daily work. Any particular culture is largely the result of a society’s core beliefs about the meaning of life, right and wrong, the nature of the human dilemma and it’s solution—all fleshed out and expressed through people’s work and the things they produce. When Christians begin to do their work out of a different set of beliefs—whether in business, the arts, the academy, government, or the helping professions—it changes and renews the culture. The gospel gives every believer a new worldview, new inner motives and power, and new conceptions and guidelines for work. While the local church does not directly seek to change culture, it disciples its people to be agents out in the world who do.
istanbulprojesi is especially concerned to welcome the secular, non-believing Manhattanite. We as a church don't want to adopt an ethos that is confusing or offensive to everyone but evangelicals. We seek to be a place where doubters felt their questions were noticed and taken seriously. This is one of the reasons why we have always avoided typical Christian piety-jargon that makes outsiders immediately feel unnecessarily alien. Sermons should be preached, and public events (even most small groups) conducted as if non-Christians were present, over-hearing what we are saying. We must constantly keep in mind what is like to not believe. If we maintain such an environment, then evangelism shall happen the right way—not so much through programs but organically through the witness of believers. It is crucial that a large percentage of Christians come into istanbulprojesi and think, “I wish my non-Christian friend could hear this.” While istanbulprojesi will always grow by attracting already-Christians in, that is not our intended way to grow, and a strong outward face will guarantee that newly arrived Christians are mobilized to reach out to the city.
istanbulprojesi is a local church, but we want to be one of the catalysts for an entire movement of the gospel in our city and in the other great cities of the world. A movement is a dynamic set of interactive relationships between renewed churches, new churches, a variety of specialist ministries (that unite congregations and lay people to do prayer, evangelism, youth and college ministries, faith and work projects, and mercy and justice) as well as many other new institutions, non-profits, arts initiatives, organizations, and companies. In a true movement, common vision and a spirit of innovation and cooperation characterize the relationships of these entities. Then the relationships stimulate all parties and the overall the Body of Christ in a city grows faster than the population—without a central, top-down, control center. Lots of new ministries and churches are begun, and churches overall see conversions and changed lives. A movement also requires a host of institutions, such as schools and theological training centers, which support family life in the city and raises up leaders. A movement requires above all a “kingdom” (rather than a tribal) mindset on the part of the Christians of the city, produced (as usual!) by a grasp of the gospel of grace and the Biblical theology on which it is based.
We believe that at the heart of the heart of any gospel movement in a city is church planting. On the one hand, we know that church planting is not everything that is needed. Existing churches must be renewed with the gospel. Christians must evangelize, do justice, and integrate their faith with their work. Educational institutions and arts initiatives and many non-profits must be started. And yet the best way to renew older churches and increase the number of Christians, ministers, and givers in a city is to plant new churches. This is a high priority of istanbulprojesi. We have no illusions that our single church is sufficient to enrich and bless all of İstanbul. We are therefore committed to planting (and helping others plant) hundreds of new churches, while at the same time working for a renewal of gospel vitality in all the congregations of the city.