1. Love and Prioritize Gospel Doctrine
Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace.
When the doctrine is clear and the culture is beautiful, that church will be powerful. But there are no shortcuts to getting there. Without the doctrine, the culture will be weak. Without the culture, the doctrine will seem pointless.
Gospel doctrine with gospel culture is prophetic. Francis Schaeffer wrote:
One cannot explain the explosive dynamite, the dunamis, of the early church apart from the fact that they practiced two things simultaneously: orthodoxy of doctrine and orthodoxy of community in the midst of the visible church, a community which the world could see. By the grace of God, therefore, the church must be known simultaneously for its purity of doctrine and the reality of its community. Our churches have so often been only preaching points with very little emphasis on community, but exhibition of the love of God in practice is beautiful and must be there.
By the grace of God, therefore, the church must be known simultaneously for its purity of doctrine and the reality of its community.
Schaeffer’s words “by the grace of God” are crucial. We need strength from beyond ourselves, because it’s hard to hold on to gospel doctrine. It’s even harder to create a gospel culture, one so humane and so attractive that people want to be part of it. Schaeffer also wrote: “If the church is what it should be, young people will be there. But they will not just ‘be there’—they will be there with the blowing of horns and the clashing of high-sounding cymbals, and they will come dancing with flowers in their hair.”
2.Love and Prioritize Gospel Culture
We accept that the truth of biblical doctrine is essential to authentic Christianity, but do we accept that the beauty of human relationships is equally essential? If by God’s grace we hold the two together—gospel doctrine and gospel culture—people of all ages will more likely come to our churches with great joy. It is more likely that they will think, “Here is the answer I’ve been looking for all my life.”
Doctrine or Culture?
Every one of us is wired to lean one way or the other—toward emphasizing doctrine or culture. Some of us naturally resonate with truth and standards and definitions. Others of us resonate with feel and vibe and relationships. Whole churches, too, can emphasize one or the other.
Left to ourselves, we will get it partly wrong, but we won’t feel wrong, because we’ll be partly right. But only partly. Truth without grace is harsh and ugly. Grace without truth is sentimental and cowardly. The living Christ is full of grace and truth (John 1:14). We cannot represent him, therefore, within the limits of our own personalities and backgrounds. Yet as we depend on him moment by moment, both personally and corporately, he will give us wisdom. He will stretch us and make our churches more like himself, so that we can glorify him more clearly than we ever have before.
These equations help me define the matter more simply:
Gospel doctrine – gospel culture = hypocrisy
Gospel culture – gospel doctrine = fragility
Gospel doctrine + gospel culture = power
Several years ago, author Anne Rice said, “Christians have lost credibility in America as people who know how to love.” There might be many reasons for that negative assessment, not all of them convincing. But I cannot dismiss her comment. Neither does the problem that she highlights register as a low priority in the Bible, one we might get around to someday. In fact, few things are more urgent for us than to regain credibility as people who know how to love, for Jesus’s sake, so that his glorious gospel is unmistakably clear in our churches.
This article was adapted from The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund.