Dear Church: Celebrate the Gospel or Die

It’s not only what you believe that is important, but how you believe it. Do you believe that pizza is a food for human consumption? Good. But how you eat it and talk about it will tell me so much more, and in fact, will invite me to join you or not.

The same goes with what we do on Sunday morning. Our worship together must not only confess the gospel but also delight in it, making it the central feast that is enjoyed. And this must take place every Sunday, this tasting and seeing that the Lord is good whether the he gives or takes away.

The reason why churches die spiritually is not because they deny the gospel, but because they celebrate something other than the gospel. And over time, the gospel is lost while the church hums along with its ever-expanding programs that are disconnected from the gospel, and its religious dutiful performance that does not really delight in knowing Christ and what he did for us on the cross. Sunday morning worship is to be a time and a place where we celebrate primarily what God has done for us in Christ, not what we did for him during the week. If you are reading this, you have read the word “gospel” several times. Do you know what the gospel is? Are you sure? If your answer goes something like this, then you did well:

1 Corinthians 15:1-5a

“Now I would remind you, brothers,of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared . . .”

This is our weekly celebration in the church. If it is not, we will celebrate something else because it is impossible to not exalt something. We were made to rejoice and put something worthy at the center of our emotions. No matter the subject of human existence – government, money, marriage and parenting, supporting missions, our jobs, our health, our burdens – if we do not see how these and all things have to do with what Christ has done for us in his death, burial, and resurrection, it will not be long for spiritual atrophy to settle in on our church. And about a decade or so later, we’ll be watching a whole generation of our kids either chuck the whole christian-thing out of their lives, or worse, live a moralistic external life of pharisee-ism that rivals those that opposed Jesus.

The reason why I say the later would be worse is two-fold: First, it would be better that the doors of the church would just close and the building sold to house sponges than for it to remain open and continue to poison another generation with a false gospel. Second, “it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for” a church who kept the light of the gospel so near them while denying its power – of the cross of Christ.

It’s not an easy thing to believe the gospel with the kind of passion that keeps it at the center of church life – we so easily leave the God we love. But there is no other place to go than to Christ, even when our emotions are but a trickle. But we will go and drink and eat none-the-less for we know in whom we have believed and have become persuaded that he is able to keep our hearts satisfied in him until the final day of celebration is lived – then we’ll really rejoice in Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior.

I close with a quote from Don Carson on this subject, who couldn’t write something bad even if he tried:

“I have been teaching more decades now than I can count and if I have learned anything from all of this teaching, it’s this: my students . . . learn what I’m excited about. So within the church of the living God, we must become excited about the gospel. That’s how we pass on our heritage. If, instead, the gospel increasingly becomes for us that which we assume, then we will, of course, assent to the correct creedal statement. But, at this point, the gospel is not what really captures us. Rather, it is a particular form of worship or a particular style of counseling, or a particular view on culture, or a particular technique in preaching, or—fill in the blank. Then, ultimately, our students make that their center and the generation after us loses the gospel. As soon as you get to the place where the gospel is that which is nearly assumed, you are only a generation and a half from death.”

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