Trevin Wax makes some really convicting points in this article. In it he describes a fictitious, but representative story of two Christians. They know the gospel, love Christ, but struggle to find a new home church that match up with their old church. An excerpt:
Rob grew up in a Southern Baptist church in the Deep South. His church believed the gospel and demonstrated genuine affection for the lost.
Even though the gospel was preached in Rob’s church, the deacons seemed to save their heartiest “Amens” for whenever the preacher went off script and started reminding them of all that set their church apart from the others in town. The preacher and congregation took pride in the fact that their church was traditional:
* Just gimme that “old-time religion” please!
* No need to project Bible verses up on some newfangled screen. (We actually expect people to bring their Bibles to church!)
* We like organs and hymns, and we refuse to dumb down our music for the 7/11 ditties you can hear on the radio 24/7.
* We dress up around here because we’re meeting King Jesus (and shouldn’t you wear your finest clothes for royalty?).
* Name the program you need and we’ve got it covered.
* From birth to heaven, our church offers an “old-fashioned” church experience in Southern Baptist style.
Rob went off to college in a big city and started looking for a church. He knew the gospel. He wanted to walk with the Lord. But in his new city, he had trouble finding a Southern Baptist church that felt like home. One week, he tried a church that turned out to be much too casual for his liking (they had a coffee bar!). Another church didn’t have enough programs to suit his taste. He found a church where he clicked with people and liked the preacher, but they had a screen, a drum set, and a singer with suspiciously shaggy hair.
Several months have gone by, and now, Rob is adrift. He feels disoriented. He sits down one evening and writes out a list of all the things important to his church experience. By the time he puts the pen down, he is frustrated that he can’t find “the right church.”
Thinking about it now, and reflecting on our own search for a home church a couple of years back, we did indeed fall into some of the same pitfalls.
Week after week, the churches emphasize and celebrate what makes them different from other churches. They celebrate their uniqueness — not the gospel uniqueness that shines light in a dark world, but a worldly uniqueness that would have us base our identity in stylistic distinctions between brothers and sisters.
Whenever we are formed within a context that celebrates certain cultural expressions over against other expressions, we begin to expect the wrong things from a church. So when the day comes for us to unite with a different congregation, our list of expectations is devoid of the gospel [emphasis mine].
It really was God’s grace that we didn’t go adrift ourselves and get disillusioned about not finding “the right church”, that ticked all our preferential boxes, that matched with all our distinctives.
I pray that we celebrate the gospel in a way that leads our church members to easily cross cultural divides because of the centrality of the cross. What we celebrate is just as important as what we believe.
“I have been teaching more decades now that I can count and if I have learned anything from all of this teaching, its 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, 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”.
God has been really good to us to put us in a church that celebrates the gospel!