By Pastor Bob Myers
Culture eats doctrine for breakfast. Gospel Doctrine is relatively easy to find compared to Gospel culture.
There are many churches that can preach gospel doctrine. Gospel doctrine proclaims that through Christ alone, through His atoning work completed on the Cross, we escape our brokenness, rebellion, sin, the inevitability of facing God’s wrath and hell, and receive an undeserved, redeemed-at-infinite-cost new life.
Churches can hold to gospel doctrine but then go on to deny it by the lack of a gospel culture. This is why the more seasoned Christian knows that to really know a church, you must get underneath the doctrine. The question is not only what does this church teach, but can I come with all my baggage and stuff and work out my problems, questions, and inner conflicts in a place of acceptance and grace?
This kind of church leads with grace. This kind of church treats everyone with warmth and the expectation that they will receive and work out all that Christ has for them. It’s our responsibility to love. Not to play Holy Spirit.
When I was in seminary, theologically we were all about grace. There was a new awakening to grace and the need for the inner life to be the fount of change. It was there I learned that the highest praise you could give another person was to describe them as being “gracious”. I had never heard that before.
But the seminary culture was not safe from a path that increasingly deviated from grace. Doctrinally, all about grace, but culturally, in deep denial. Years later, it became public that even the faculty and leadership and board had become deeply divided.
Many of us sensed that something was off. Faculty were “walking on egg shells” and tip-toeing around controversies.
I have learned this lesson: When out of a desire to promote peace we “walk on egg shells”, division grows. Division grows in darkness and silence. Self-appointed watch dogs begin to multiply. Evil suspicion masquerades as laudable “discernment”. These start out as small seeds in individuals, but later they emerge to defeat love and grace and our standing together as a team to further Christ’s kingdom.
So sadly, a good seminary, a place of scholarship and believing study of the scriptures became a place where they couldn’t agree on some basics and devolved to a point where they were even asking the question “what is the gospel?”
Over the years, I’ve seen these sad dynamics play out in many relationships, in marriages, in compartments of ministry, within leadership teams, between missionaries on the field, churches, and even whole denominations.
The greatest crisis on mission fields is graceless division among missionaries. They haven’t left gospel doctrine. But gospel culture is no longer a reality. The missionaries think they are nobly contending over the right interpretation of their mission, doctrinal purity, or even their man-made policy manual. But when good things, things like obedience, orthodoxy, and reverence become ultimate things, we’re in trouble. Detached from the gospel the pursuit of these things will actually cause us to become the negative image of Jesus.
That’s why each and every week, in different ways, and in different degrees, I not only seek to preach the gospel, but also seek to undermine all the other enemies to gospel culture. My charismatic friends call this enemy to the gospel a “religious spirit”. Wherever this comes from, either our human flesh, or demonic spirit, even I myself need a daily exorcism.
We are all so vulnerable to lip service to the gospel of grace, but then living out a merciless scrutiny, guarded aloofness, and the tolerance of cold disaffection between people who should be allies and friends.
When it happens, our adversary the devil cackles with delight as he now has recruits infiltrating and carrying out his signature work of accusation and spreading suspicion.
I love this statement below which was the call to worship at Tenth Church in Philadelphia during the three years I was a member. I loved that church and the stellar preaching of Dr. James Montgomery Boice. But even then, I heard some graceless and harsh criticisms of Dr. Boice that caused him unbeknownst to the congregation to offer his resignation to the elders some years before his untimely illness and death at the age of 61. At Dr. Boice’s funeral one of his elders shared honestly about this sad season. That honesty, in and of itself was a small and perhaps belated victory for gospel culture.
I remember these words, often spoken in the inimitable voice of Dr. Boice. I encourage you to read it until it becomes personally sweet. This statement marries gospel doctrine to gospel culture. May we all chase after Jesus in such a way that it becomes more and more true of us.
To all who are weary and need rest
To all who mourn and long for comfort
To all who feel worthless and wonder if God cares
To all who fail and desire strength
To all who sin and need a Savior
This church opens wide her doors with a welcome from Jesus Christ,
The Ally of His enemies, the Defender of the guilty, the Justifier of the inexcusable,
The Friend of Sinners, Welcome!
Let’s all pray that not only gospel doctrine, but gospel culture is the dominant and reigning reality at Covenant.