If you know me, then you know that I place myself in the camp of those folks who are big on the Gospel. I’m one of those obsessed evangelo-philes that can’t get enough of the good news. I’m convinced that evangelicalism has inadvertently over the years done some diminishing of the Gospel’s scope and depth, and I’m on board with those (like the Gospel Coalition) who want to reclaim it for all its power, beauty, and worth.
What I don’t hear talked about much among the Gospel-lovers is how the context of corporate worship is uniquely qualified to convey, proclaim, preach, and minister the Gospel. The Gospel is certainly brilliant in and of itself, but it seems that God has ordained that it shine brightest and purest in the context of worship. Where else can the Gospel be preached in the context of the gathered people of God? Where else can the Gospel be displayed uniquely in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper? Where else can the Gospel be rehearsed by the people of God in one collective, sacred liturgical act? Where else can Gospel-borne community so aptly summarized and pictured?
The Gospel is like a diamond. It’s beautiful and captivating all the time. But a diamond’s brilliance and color is at its peak when it is placed in the right setting, viewed under the best lighting, prepared with the ideal polish, and observed from an optimal angle. God has ordained that worship be the Gospel’s most perfect display case.
The Gospel is like medicine. It heals and restores sick and wounded souls. It shows no favoritism. If Christians and non-Christians truly receive it, the effect is the same—healing and growth. But medicine is most effective when it is prescribed in ideal dosages and administered rightly. Worship is God’s authorized pharmacy for the Gospel. Sure, the medicine works whether you get it from the black market or the drug store (that seemed to be Paul’s point in Philippians 1:12-18). But the Gospel’s dosage and administration are at its peak potency and effectiveness in the context of worship.
There’s something missing from the discussion if, in speaking of the Gospel, we are subtracting from it its ecclesiological and doxological contexts. The Gospel is not a nebulous, free-floating message. It is the good news of Christ given to the Church to give to the world. So the Gospel has an ecclesiological (church) context. Furthermore, its message is uniquely displayed by the Church in her worship. So the Gospel has a doxological (worship) context.
Some might argue, “Well, Jesus didn’t have an ecclesiological and doxological context when He communicated the Gospel.” But this is creating a false dichotomy, for Christ was and is the fullness of ecclesiology and doxology. We must first think about the fact that the four gospel-writers went to great lengths to communicate that Christ was the fulfillment of the people of God. His successful forty days in the wilderness mirrored Israel’s failed forty years in the desert. His selection of twelve disciples mirrored the twelve tribes of Israel. His “I Am” statements throughout the first half of the gospel of John are intended to communicate that He is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament feasts and festivals. So as Christ was ministering the Gospel, He was His own ecclesiological and doxological context.
Secondly, we must remember that Christ sent His Spirit to the Church (Acts 2) in order that the Church, filled with His very Presence, might be the true “body of Christ” to the world. As some theologians have put it succinctly, in many ways, “Christology is ecclesiology.” If the Church is the body of Christ, and if Christ is the head, then it makes sense that the Church actually exemplifies Christ’s own earthly ministry of the Gospel best when she is gathered as one body, because she displays Christ most fully when she is together, en masse. And while the Church may gather at other times, her prescribed and sanctioned convocation is weekly corporate worship.
Therefore, we might say that the Gospel is uniquely manifested most acutely at the intersection of Christ, His Church, and worship. If this is true, then there are many implications for our worship, for both how we view it and what we do in it. But that’s for another day.
Best read so far today! Nice work Zach!
Good stuff! I appreciate the depth expressed in such concise terms. My wife and I are Worship Trainers and are always looking for new ways of expressing ageless truths. Thanks!
Thank you for this, it is great. "we might say that the Gospel is uniquely manifested most acutely at the intersection of Christ, His Church, and worship" — I love your concluding sentence.
My favorite part of our Discovery Class is when, after teaching "The Five Points" (w/out using TULIP), I say, "Now where have you heard this before?" The reply is, most often, a hearty, "That sounds like the Order of Worship." Boom.