In Lesslie Newbigin's thoughtful book, "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society", he enters a chapter called The Congregation as Hermeneutic (interpretation) of the Gospel".
In it he asks: "How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last wordd in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross?"
And then Newbigin states: "Jesus did not write a book but formed a community. This community has at its heart the remembering and rehearsing of his words and deeds..."
So now, the question is what kind of community lives out the words and deeds of Jesus such that a credible gospel becomes believable in a society brimming over with competing religions, allegiances, and beliefs?
Newbigin lists six characteristics that are true of this kind of Jesus-community; the first: It will be a community of praise. He notes: "Praise is an activity which is almost totally absent from 'modern' society', thus this is a distinctive characteristic. He makes two distinct points about this idea of a praising community. The first is that in our cynical, doubt-filled, skeptical culture, their is suspicion towards any dearly held belief. Thus it is nearly impossible to believe in a God, or hold a belief about Himm that matters, thus making reverance and worship impossible. Thus for Christians to praise God, they are rebelling against a suspicion-filled society and expressing their true dignity, freedom and equality in revering "the One who is worthy of all the praise that we can offer."
The second characteristic: "...the Church's praise includes thanksgiving...a community that acknowledges that it lives by the amazing grace of a boundless kindness." We have "gratitude to spare, a gratitude that can spill over into the care of a neighbor." This is in contrast to our national pastime of claiming grievance over lost rights, violated rights, abused rights. Rather than exerting our rights, "we confess that we cannot speak of rights, for we have been given everything, and forgiven everything, and promised everything (aka Martin Luther)." Finally, "...it is tof the essence of the matter that this concern for the neighbor is the overflow of a great gift of grace and not, primarily, the expression of commitment to a moral crusade. There is a big difference between the two."
Amen and Amen. Newbigin states well, though a bit academically, my perspective and attitude towards praise on our Sunday morning gatherings, and on gratitude as expressed in our ministries to one another and our neighbors. For example, we are planning to relandscape five homes on 3rd Street on Saturday in the name of Jesus as a gift of grace, in an attitude of gratitude. We are partnering with five other neighborhood churches to lead a four day VBS - not so we can jockey against each other for who is the superior church, but so that with one clear voice we can express praise together with the children of the neighborhood to our generous God who's coming Kingdom brings grace, forgiveness and gratitude with it.
Okay, so that sounds too poetic, but it is my articulation of my perspective.