The least possible evidence that someone has believed the Gospel [which literally means “good news”] of Jesus is that they center their lives upon trying to get people to show up to something in order to hear a verbal presentation of this Gospel.
Acknowledging that reality is important when phrases like “just preach the Gospel” are being thrown around as “solutions” to injustices that exist.
It’s fascinating when you begin to explore what this “good news” actually is, why it matters, and what it actually means to believe in it.
To do that, you have to consider and start with the entire narrative of Scripture.
The God we read about in the Bible is the one who created us by sending His very breath into us. This God is the one who became human in order to enter into humanity to live with us. This God is the one who sent His Spirit to now live within each of us. And this God is the one who will not “bring us up into heaven” but instead has been bringing heaven to earth this whole time and eventually will redeem or recreate earth and heaven fully.
This is the God of incarnation. And that’s good news!
Because incarnation is not just some fancy theological word. It is essential to the nature of who God is, and it means that God is always “getting to us.”
Most Christians will tell you that the Scripture teaches that we can’t get to God. And whether that is true or not is almost beside the point. Because the nature of God never allows for that instance to exist. Just because of who He is, He is always “getting to us.”
This God of incarnation is the God of every day life. Of showing up when and where we are. Of managing to meet us in our mess and not expecting us to clean up our mess to get to Him – or more correct, clean it up before He can get to us.
The truth is this: too much of this history of the Church has miscommunicated this reality.
Not necessarily through words. But certainly through actions.
The Church has most consistently taught with its actions that we do not actually believe complete incarnation to be the trajectory of the Scriptures and the very nature of God.
Instead, it has been communicated through actions that the center of the Christian life is a weekly gathering, for a specified period of time, in a facility that is owned or rented, that we should be trying to get everyone to show up to. And that this is (incompletely) called “church.”
Which communicates that this is a necessary and important outcome of the Gospel.
But is it?
This isn’t actually a question about whether or not gathering should happen. It will happen as a natural outcome of being made in the image of God, and of being “the church.”
It is a question about what the place of gathering is: What is its actual role? How much of our focus does it deserve (especially since it seemed to get so little of the God of the Bible’s attention while He was here on earth)? How much impetus should we place on it (when it seems to be described as a small part of the overall lifestyle of the Church in Acts done in mostly normal, everyday sorts of ways)?
There will be those who get upset at this attempt to take incarnation to its full implications. To “work it out” beyond the least possible evidence of it, to a mature understanding of its inworking and outworking in our lives.
Many of those who may become upset will be religious professionals or dedicated “church goers” (as “church” is being defined above).
But there is very little doubt what someone believes to be most important in their life if you just follow their actions, or their money, or their time. No matter what their lips say. Jesus taught us this.
And if you follow those things in the functioning of almost every single “church” I know of, they will tell you that gathering people is the single most important thing “the church” does. It’s honestly not even close. Somewhere between 75-90% of almost every church’s actions, money, and time spent is on gathering people.
Facilities are built around it. Staff are hired around it. Programs are run around it. And schedules are created around it. Whether it is getting people to show up or what happens once they do, by the actions of all involved (myself included for much of my “ministry life”) we have communicated what we believe is most central to “the Church” and thus to “the Gospel.”
Now here me loud and clear: gathering is important.
But we rightfully should ask what its importance is and are we rightfully placing it in the correct spot in importance level.
And we should rightfully acknowledge that gathering is the least possible evidence of our internalizing of the presence of God (incarnation being essential to who He is) into our lives.
Actively treating gathering as the most central aspect of the life of the Christian ultimately runs contrary to what we read in the Scriptures. The Gospel of incarnation, as displayed perfectly by Jesus (God incarnate), does not centralize gathering people.
And that must start to be said loud and clear if we are to reclaim the Gospel fully again – the literal good news of God for the entire world.
We must lament the reality that we have believed the Gospel only in part. Only in its most basic, elementary form. And thus we have placed gathering as the most important part of our Christian lives.
And so I join together with all those willing to acknowledge this, and look to Jesus once more as our guide to imaging God in this world. In doing so, may we fully reflect to the world “God with us” this Advent.