“If you get to the place as an individual in a family or in leadership in a local church, you get to the place where the Gospel is that which is assumed, but which you’re not particularly excited about, the next generation puts the Gospel to one side. It assumes it too but doesn’t really care. The generation after that loses the Gospel.
So when you come likewise to something like the Lord’s Supper, I would argue that one of the groups of churches that is most likely to lose the centrality of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, is precisely the Plymouth Brethren; precisely because it’s so central for [them]. That’s not an insult, it’s a perennial danger in every denomination: that which is most understood to be central can accidentally become that which is merely assumed – and then is on the edge of being lost!”
D. A. Carson
“A perennial danger” maybe the perennial danger. I have found that as wonderful as being involved in a church can be, the power of assumptions are quite something to behold. We assume too much because what we assume is too little. There is a cognitive displacement that takes place, as though the Gospel is a stepping stone to actual ministry, or actual church business: The Gospel is actual ministry and it is actual church business. I suppose it gives rise to the reason why Carson would also say “I cannot think of why any thinking Christian would not want to study theology.”
Any departure from the Gospel is, of course, a catastrophic mistake more serious than if the escaping Israelites had set up home in the middle of the parted waters as they escaped the despotic Pharoah. Many churches have “set up home” in the place where they are still being redeemed, because they have assumed the Gospel, they have fallen for the perennial danger; they have cuddled the wolf thinking it is a lamb. This leads inevitably to a fossilising of corporate church life and of personal devotional life. That is how the theological wolves pacify the churches today.
Institutional monotony is as alive and well in decaying Catholic churches as well as so-called charismatic-evangelical churches. Give us a baby in a manger any day but do not give us the Christ who walks on water or wakes the dead!” The Gospel obviously gives both – and shows that the baby doesn’t stay in the manger because he likewise doesn’t stay in the boat….or the grave for that matter. A water-walking, dead-rising Messiah is a Messiah we can’t control, and the moment we have controlled him…..it’s not Him but another sentimental Hymn of slogans (this is the point to say that a truly great hymn can be reduced to sentimental sloganeering no less than a soppy bad hymn – it is the culture in which it is sung that makes the difference). If it is a culture of Gospelised content, then wonderful. But if not, then it is noise and wind!
Let us not lose sight of the Gospel because we’ve been too busy or too lazy to see it. In 1534 John Calvin wrote on the importance of the Gospel, the opening of which reads:
“Without the gospel
everything is useless and vain;
without the gospel
we are not Christians;
without the gospel
all riches is poverty,
all wisdom folly before God;
strength is weakness…”
I have quoted it in full here, and it is a brilliant reminder of the things that are of first importance. Our cognitive displacement is, I think, part of our tendency to sloganeer words rather than live with their reality and depth. In other words, actual biblical content has been displaced in favour of mere words that are biblical but function as religious slogans. This happens in our worship, mission, evangelism and devotions. Often, what we think is Christianity is a parody, a shadow a pale reflection. The Gospel, and all its content and entailments is biblical Christianity. An assumed Gospel is a sloganeered Gospel, empty of power, depth and meaning – and who wants that? Not me!
And we say this because we love the church. And we love the church because Jesus loves the church.