If we want others to hear the gospel that is “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16), we must show them this power in subversive gospel-centered communities.
These are communities characterized by humble, loving, truth-telling relationships of mutual affection and honor.
- “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10, NLT).
When Churches are filled with people who treat each other with honor, deference and humble service (foot-washing love), we will be a living alternative to the uncertainty, anxiety, and angst of this life.
- “If the Biblical story is told truly, it will subvert the alternative stories. But to tell it truly, you have to be living it”(N. T. Wright, emphasis mine).
Churches living out the narrative of gospel offer tangible plausibility for the authenticity of the gospel.
- I suggest that most of the letters of the New Testament are aimed at this concern, see: Purpose of the book of Romans.
Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
We must not overlook the narrative Jesus provided for these words.
His example of foot-washing love (John 13:1-5 and 12-17) modeled the kind of community one should find in gospel-centered fellowships. We are called (and profoundly privileged) to be communities of humble service where mutual affection and honor are deeply experienced.
Danger of legalism
Legalistic churches destroy this kind of community because of they are devoted to externalism, manipulation and control. These kinds of Churches watch each other instead of watching out for each other (see: Hebrews 3:12-14). The first contradicts and defies the gospel; the second is at the heart of the gospel.
I am not suggesting it’s easy to be loving and truth-telling communities. The difficulty, however, is an essential component to living this way. God put His treasure (the gospel) in vessels of clay so that the greatness of the power would be from God and not from us (II Corinthians 4:7).
The gospel is grounded in this reality (see: Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:3-6). We are called to live in shared dependence on the power of God in Christ.
Telling the story by living it
The Christian worldview is based on one overarching story for all people. we do not follow narratives that are controlling and dominating the lives of others. The Church is not a place to be used politically, socially and personally to bolster this or that power-trip.
N. T. Wright noted that,
“The Biblical metanarrative itself resists being abused in this fashion, because it is the story of love.”
“The Biblical meta-narrative offers itself as the one story which cannot be deconstructed, to which the criticisms of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud are not relevant. (Look at Jesus on the cross – was he doing that for money? Was he doing that for power? Was he doing it for sex? It was an act of love.)”
“The story speaks from first to last of a God who did not need to create, but who did so out of overflowing and generous love. It speaks of a God who did not need to redeem and recreate, but did so as the greatest possible act of self-giving love.”
“Somehow if we are to address contemporary culture with the message of the Bible we must get used to combining two things which are normally at opposite poles—humility and truth-telling.”
“Somehow we have to tell the truth but to tell it as the liberating story, the healing story, the true story. And of course… the best way we can do this is by telling, again and again, in story and symbol and acted drama, the biblical story, focused on the story of Jesus himself, the true story of the Word made flesh. (That is why the great symbol at the heart of Christianity is the symbol of the eucharist; it is the symbol of that story.”
Yet, “it is our task not just to tell but to live out the story—the model of God’s self-giving love in Christ must be the basis for our self-understanding, our life, and our vocation” (N. T. Wright).