Why Gospel Cultures Are So Hard To Build

Wise pastor Ray Ortlund addresses this problem throughout his forthcoming book, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (Crossway; April 30, 2014). He writes this on pages 82–83:

A gospel culture is harder to lay hold of than gospel doctrine. It requires more relational wisdom and finesse. It involves stepping into a kind of community unlike anything we’ve experienced, where we happily live together on a love we can’t create. A gospel culture requires us not to bank on our own importance or virtues, but to forsake self-assurance and exult together in Christ alone.

This mental adjustment is not easy, but living in this kind of community is wonderful. We find ourselves saying with Paul, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things” — all the trophies of our self-importance, all the wounds of our self-pity, every self-invented thing that we lug around as a way of getting attention — “and count them as dung in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ” (Phil. 3:8–9).

Paul did not regard the loss of his inflated self as sacrificial. Who admires his own dung? It is a relief to be rid of our distasteful egos! And when a whole church together luxuriates in Christ alone, that church embodies a gospel culture. It becomes a surprising new kind of community where sinners and sufferers come alive because the Lord is there, giving himself freely to the desperate and undeserving.

But how easy it is for a church to exist in order to puff itself up! How hard it is to forsake our own glory for a higher glory!

The primary barrier to displaying the beauty of Jesus in our churches comes from the way we re-insert ourselves into that sacred center that belongs to him alone. Exalting ourselves always diminishes his visibility. That is why cultivating a gospel culture requires a profound, moment by moment “unselfing” by every one of us. It is personally costly, even painful.

What I am proposing throughout this book is not glib or shallow. So much is set against us, within and without. But the triumph of the gospel in our churches is still possible, as we look to Christ alone. He will help us.

 

Primitive Christian Worship


Although I disagree with a few strands of his overall theology, I appreciate what Ethelbert Stauffer writes about corporate Christian worship in his New Testament Theology [(Macmillan: 1955), 201]:

The worship of the primitive Church at every point took it back to the coming of Christ, the Christ-event. So it is the good news of the gospel that constitutes the real centre of her services of worship. The Word of Jesus Christ must have its course, said Luther, in the German Mass. It must dwell amongst us richly, declared Paul (Col. 3.16; cf. 1.27). So it came about that the prophecies and histories of the OT were read and expounded; the sermon set forth the mighty acts of God in the fulness of time (Acts 13.15 ff.); the correspondence of the apostles, new and old alike, the epistles, which are very much like sermons when read to the congregations, these were read and so, with their message, their thanksgivings and doxologies, helped to bring out the full meaning of Christian worship.

But Christian worship was ‘also’, most certainly, a service to the world. Yet the primitive Church did not serve mankind in solemn rites and cultic practices, in pious instructions and edifying spirituality. Christian worship rooted men out of their self-centred individualism into an extra nos — away from all that is subjective — up to that which is simply objective. This was its service to humanity. It summoned the nations to worship the crucified.