January 28, 2010

Cherishing the Gospel

Filed under: Theology — quotable1988 @ 11:05 pm

“Imagine two scenarios of church life. In the first, God gathers His people together in a covenantal event to judge and to justify, to kill and to make alive. The emphasis is on God’s work for us – the Father’s gracious plan, the Son’s saving life, death, and resurrection, and the Spirit’s work of bringing life to the valley of dry bones through the proclamation of Christ. The preaching focuses on God’s work in the history of redemption from Genesis through Revelation, and sinners are swept into this unfolding drama. Trained and ordained to mine the riches of Scripture for the benefit of God’s people, ministers try to push their own agendas, opinions, and personalities to the background so that God’s Word will be clearly proclaimed. In this preaching, the people once again are simply receivers – recipients of grace.  Similarly in baptism, they do not baptize themselves; they are baptized.  In the Lord’s Supper, they do not prepare and cook the meal, they do not contribute to the fare; but they are guests who simply enjoy the bread of heaven.  Having been served by God in the public assembly, the people are then servants of each other and their neighbors in the world. Pursuing their callings in the world with vigor and dedication, they win the respect of outsiders. Because they have been served well themselves – especially by pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons – they are able to share the Good News of Christ in well-informed, natural ways. And because they have been relieved of numerous burdens to spend all of their energy on church-related ministries throughout the week, they have more time to serve their families, neighbors, and coworkers in the world…

In the second scenario, the church is its own subculture, and alternative community not only for weekly dying and rising in Christ but for one’s entire circle of friends, electricians, and neighbors. In this scenario, the people assume that they come to church primarily to do something. The emphasis is on their work for God. The preaching concentrates on principles and steps to live a better life, with a constant stream of exhortations: Be more committed. Read your bible more. Pray more. Witness more. Give more. Get involved in this cause or that movement to save the world. Their calling by God to secular vocations is made secondary to finding their ministry in the church. Often malnourished because of a ministry defined by personal charisma and motivational skills rather than by knowledge and godliness, these same sheep are expected to be shepherds themselves. Always serving, they are rarely served. Ill-informed about the grand narrative of God’s work in redemptive history, they do not really know what to say to a non-Christian except to talk about their own experiences and perhaps repeat some slogans or formulas that they might be hard-pressed to explain. Furthermore, because they are expected to be so heavily involved in church-related activities (often considered more important even than the public services on Sunday), they do not have the time, energy, or opportunity to develop significant relationships outside the church.” –  Michael Horton, Christless Christianity, emphases added, quoted at Gloria Dei

“The Bible is not a collection of timeless principles offering a gentle thought for the day.  It is not a resource for our self-improvement.  Rather, it is a dramatic story that unfolds from promise to fulfillment, with Christ at the center.  Its focus is God and his action. God is not a supporting actor in our drama; it is the other way around.  God does not exist to make sure that we are happy and fulfilled.  Rather, we exist to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. God is not a facilitator of our ‘life transformation’ projects.  He is not a life coach.  Rather, he is our Creator, Lawgiver, Judge, and Covenant Lord.” – Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life, emphases added, quoted at Gloria Dei

I have read neither of these books; however, due both to Josh’s high level of praise for both of them and to these quotes, they are on my short list of books to purchase.

These quotes strike a chord in me, mostly because I think the second scenario above describes Antioch to some extent. I often think that I am the only person at Antioch who has any close friends outside of the church, and the only reason I do have those friends is because I was already friends with them before I started attending Antioch. As much as they talk about being “holistic,” I really don’t think they are.

It also seems to me that Antioch is somewhat in the situation described by Paul in Romans 1: they effectively worship the creation rather than the creator, or the gifts rather than the giver. Celebrating “gold dust” and manifestations seems… well, rather… shallow, I guess. I don’t doubt the gifts of God. The people whom I have seen reveling over these things are people whom I trust, so I don’t think it’s made up. But all gifts are a means to an end. Even the gift of salvation is a means: the end is the Father being glorified. Worshiping the Gospel itself is idolatry: for that is worshiping the gift rather than the giver. Nay, we must worship the Giver of the Gospel: the Author of the Gospel: the Person at the centerpiece of the Gospel. And it is only when we do this that the gates are opened to everything else. Is this pedantic? Yes. But it is necessary.

To conclude, I will quote Josh’s blog again, this time something that he wrote himself on his review of The Gospel-Driven Life.

“We have no other message [besides the Gospel], why would you want one?” – Josh King


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