Evangelicals are called to a dual fidelity: faithfulness to the gospel word and faithfulness to the gospel community. The gospel word creates the gospel community; the gospel community displays and declares the gospel word. In the contemporary scene, people and movements tend towards polarization on this issue. It’s often those who are solid on the gospel word who are flabby on gospel community. Likewise, those who elevate community tend to downplay the word. But there are dangers facing those of us who want to be true to that dual fidelity. As we move towards the nurture and development of vibrant and attractive gospel communities, we must avoid certain pitfalls to prevent us from damaging a truly good thing. In a series of short blogs, I’ll highlight some of these pitfalls. The aim is not to scare us away from gospel community, but to make it even sweeter when we get into it.
THE GOSPEL SAVES … NOT COMMUNITY
In the first chapter of Romans, Paul gives a summary of the gospel (Rom. 1:3-4), which he then later (Rom. 1:16) describes as the power of God for the salvation of those who believe. The gospel that saves is the proclamation that Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, is the risen Lord of the world. It is a summons to the whole world to submit to him. Every time Paul preached Christ crucified and risen, he did so confidently and expectantly because he knew that was the means by which God saved his people. If the gospel saves because it is God’s ordained method of rescuing the lost, then:
- You and I don’t
- Methods and personalities don’t
- Structures and systems don’t
Our danger comes not through actively rejecting the gospel, but in terms of our assumptions being demonstrated by our practice. What we can’t do is let our focus on community (as important as that is) lull us into thinking that all we need to do is expose people to it, and hey presto, they’re with us. That might happen of course, but it won’t mean they’re Christians. According to Peter, it is our corporate life that invites people to ask for the reason for the hope that we have (1 Pet. 3:15). There has to be something inexplicable about our gospel community that causes people to inquire. We then have the opportunity to speak the gospel word, for it is through that, and that alone, that God saves.