The Evangelical Church Is Neglecting the Gospel
The gospel is two things. The gospel is the powerful message about Jesus that brings salvation, and the gospel is the blue-print of a community that reflects the kingdom of God on earth. Most evangelicals are switched on enough to know that the first part of the gospel is a non-negotiable for churches. Thus they lament the departure of the liberal church from the corner stone of all authentic spiritual life, the death and resurrection of Jesus. Yet tragically these same evangelicals view the second part of the gospel as expendable. The very same people who would never allow a liberal preacher to deny the gospel in the pulpit are willing to deny the gospel themselves by adopting a form of church that betrays the love, service, and commitment to which they are called.
This is catastrophic. Somehow evangelicals have been blinded so that the accessories of church life have become the essentials, the expendables have become the priorities. A sweeping glance of the New Testament would reveal this to be so. Sceptics can do the math: contrast the amount of time that the New Testament devotes to describing the distinct shape of gospel community with the amount of time spent describing worship services, professional clergy, buildings, institutional structures, business strategies, ministries and programs, outreach events – in sum, all of the things that modern Christians take to be the sine qua non of church life. The result is undeniable: evangelicals have found a way to hang on to the message of the gospel while neglecting, even rejecting, the method of the gospel. We cannot expect any great mission work to occur in the Highlands under these conditions. The Highland church will only become missional if and when it takes seriously – not just the word about Jesus – but the form of communal life inaugurated by Jesus.
What is gospel community? At KFC we have a begun a series on I Corinthians about this topic. Yesterday we considered four traits of gospel community taken from I Corinthians 1:1-9. They were the following: (1) a gospel community is a non-metaphorical family; (2) a gospel community is a group of sinners set apart for holiness; (3) a gospel community is a local chapter of a revolutionary movement; and (4) a gospel community is a partnership made possible by a total self-investment in Christ. This sermon laid the foundation for four applications which, unfortunately, were undeveloped. They are discussed below.
1 – The Church Needs to Recover the New Testament Model of House Groups
The church cannot be a family – let me say this again – the church cannot be an actual, non-metaphorical family if relationships are limited to large group gatherings. This raises a critical question that church leaders must ponder. Was the form of the early church (think here of a spreading-network of households) accidental or providential? There is nothing wrong with big group worship services. They offer something that is hard to manage in a small group. Nonetheless, big group worship services also come with a massive liability – namely, gospel community cannot happen in a crowd. This is why house groups are not an accessory but essential. Discipleship, pastoral care, and mission cannot happen without them.
2 – The Church Must Avoid Assimilation
Gospel community cannot occur among people who refuse to stand out among the culture. The reason for this is that gospel community demands that Christians deliberately swim against the tide in order to find a shared rhythm of life, in order to adopt a counter-cultural scale of priorities, in order to forge new models of adolescence, education, parenting, retirement, and other forms of social existence. Assimilation is the death of the church just as it was the death of Israel. If light stands out in the darkness, the church must stand out in the world.
3 – The Church Needs to Share a Life-Defining Purpose
Gospel community requires more than shared beliefs. Gospel community is fed by a shared purpose. This purpose is to be holy. Now holiness can only ever be defined by God, not by religious norms. Therefore, the call to be holy is often a call to break with religious tradition in order to rediscover the brilliance, form and power of divine beauty. In the Highlands in the 21st century, the call to holiness is in part a call to rediscover a distinctive form of community. If God is relational, as we know He is through the Trinity, the church must reflect the relationality of God in and through its life together. Following the teaching of Jesus, we must be one, as God is one. Thus, holiness is more than a call to personal piety; holiness is a call to gospel community.
4 – Christians Must Be Fully Invested in Christ
Only one thing could motivate Christians to divest themselves of autonomy, independence, self-indulgence, and personal ambition and re-invest their time, energy and money in gospel community. This would be a total self-investment in Christ. Only those who are all-in, who want nothing above, nothing other, than Jesus himself are willing to sacrifice the contemporary model of happiness in order to find a purer joy and a richer blessing in Christ.