What is a Gospel-Centered Sunday Gathering?
When I was in the 10th grade I was in a play called Thurber’s Carnival. I had only one line, and in spite of rehearsing that one line over and over again, I still barely managed to say it. If you asked me today, I wouldn’t be able to tell you my line in spite of rehearsing for several months. In the same way, I forget the gospel. Of course I don’t forget the basic truth of the gospel that Jesus died for my sin, but I do forget the gospel in many, many other ways.
- I forget the gospel when on a scale of 1-10 (10 high) I believe that God loves me less than a 10 because I fail at a consistent devotional life, and I forget that God’s acceptance of me is not based on my devotion to Him, but on Jesus’ devotion to obey the Father, even to die on the cross.
- I forget the gospel when I feel I need to make up my shortcomings to God, and I don’t remember that Jesus gives me his perfect record as my own.
- I forget the gospel when I feel crushed that my church isn’t as big as the church down the street, and I forget that God doesn’t measure me by the size of the church but by the success of Christ’s finished work for me.
- I forget the gospel when I feel bitter toward people who have offended me and owe me an apology that’s never coming, and I forget that every selfish, sinful act of mine is a deep offense against God. Yet, he forgives me not because I was the most sorrowful, but because He is the most graceful.
- I forget the gospel when I look to success, approval, sensuality, food, etc. to satisfy me, and I forget that God has given me the only thing that can truly satisfy me – Himself.
- I forget the gospel when I present my “resume” to God and others so they will like me, and I forget that the only resume that counts is Jesus’, and He puts my name on His resume.
Because of this “gospel amnesia”, it is crucial that our Sunday gatherings remind us again and again of the good news. Preaching the gospel every Sunday does this, but what about the other elements of the Sunday gathering such as singing, giving, greeting, and the sacraments? Do they have any part to play in reminding us of the gospel and all its implications? Here are some thoughts on how these elements serve to connect the gospel to the lives of the congregation, and how they help to heal gospel amnesia.
Songs with lyrics that speak to the main parts of the gospel story help us remember the gospel. That is, songs about God’s holiness, man’s guilt, God’s grace in Christ, and our gratitude and praise help the congregation rehearse the gospel that is so easily forgotten. This is why singing isn’t about experiencing something; we sing because we have experienced something - grace!
Baptism and Communion are tangible, physical, and visual expressions of God’s grace and when the sacraments are properly located in the gospel story, they show us as recipients of God’s specific, saving grace. This is why the sacraments are not a means of “re-dedication” or “getting right with God.” On the contrary, the sacraments remind us that we stand under the deluge of grace that washes away human striving for God’s acceptance.
Winsome, cheerful giving happens when we behold the extravagant, over-the-top gift we were given in Jesus. It’s a time when we express our faith in the riches of Christ and not in the material and temporal things that easily grip our hearts. Gospel generosity isn’t so we can get, we are generous because much has been given.
More than buying time for the band to strike the stage and for the pulpit to be set-up, greeting time has deep gospel implications. Typically, we greet one another with the basic disposition of “glad you’re here.” And this is right and true. But what if the congregation greeted one another with the disposition of “I know why you’re here.” That is, the only reason why we are here is because we are sinners saved by grace; you’re here for the same reason I’m here - the gospel. This is also true for unbelieving guests: I know why you’re here. Whether you know it or not, God is drawing you to Himself.
While much can be said here, preaching that exposes our fallenness and exposes our need for a Savior serves to put God’s grace in full view. Weekly delivery of the good news of Jesus Christ rescues us from the natural drift toward self-justification; it reminds us that God doesn’t guarantee our best life now, but he does guarantee our best life later; it smashes and expels the misguided faith we put in people and things for our source of meaning, love, purpose, security, etc.; it tells us that Jesus’ righteousness is ours and now we are free to truly love God and love our neighbors.