These two verses make it pretty much indisputable that those who preached the gospel in the 1st century saw themselves as preaching a message that was hardly "culturally conditioned." Jailbreaker's post does a good job of making the point that many of us have lost sight of that truth.
... the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God ... we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1:18, 23-24)
However, there seems to be a tendency on the part of some to draw from this insight some conclusions that, in the end, are simply indefensible, prominent among them the notion that what we call the "visible church" is more of a hindrance than anything else, and all that matters is what we call the "invisible church".
It would be an error to try to argue from the New Testament that the only content one can find there for what "the church" is supposed to mean is either the "visible" or the "invisible church", to the exclusion of the other. But more than one commentator has pointed out that, if one chose to do so, it would be the "visble church" that would have much the stronger case. The very fact of Paul's letters is a case in point. They were written to particular groups of believers, organized and with officers, and it was generally expected that they would be read to particular congregations and passed on to other particular congregations. Included among their exhortations is one "to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work." The writer to the Hebrews offers a similar admonition.
It would be hard to defend the notion that these admonitions meant anything to believers who never met with other believers, and who weren't under the care of elders. Moreover, Paul's pastoral letters make it clear that God does call certain men to to oppose those who will come into the church and try to corrupt its message, and, instead to proclaim its true message, and also to pass on their charge. Moreover, these letters make it clear that congregations should, if they can, afford these men support, so that they can pursue this calling.
So there it lies: Yes, we are one with "all the saints" in all ages and places, but we gather in particular congregations, which meet in particular places, have men in their midst who are called to proclaim God's word to them, and to "keep watch over their souls", and whom we are exhorted to support so that they can be free to do this--"professional clergy", if you will, or some other term if you won't. (Whatever term you choose for Christ's ministers, be sure not to make it one of denigration. One retired minister I know told me that he knew it was time to retire, when he found that he was the one who was crying in a counseling session. My personal opinion is that to treat him dismissively would be picking a fight with his Lord.)
Of course, there are dangers in this: If we gather as particular congregations in particular cultures, we will be tempted to confuse what is merely cultural in our organization for its essence. Even worse, the church will find "false sons in her pale" who will make it their business to substitute the culture's message and agenda for God's. We have to recognize that and constantly examine and reform ourselves. What we don't have to do is to fall into the trap of thinking that we should treat the "visible church" with contempt and devote ourselves exclusively to the "invisible church". Indeed, we should be very careful that we're not falling into a prideful trap when we think that way.
As we seek to “constantly examine and reform ourselves”, there are some questions which ought to be primary, and one that comes to mind may seem surprising to some: What about preaching?
It’s my understanding that, in the original languages, “to preach” carried something of the flavor of a herald, stepping forward to make a proclamation on behalf of a king. So, when we hear “preaching” (that is, a sermon), the proper spirit in which we ought to receive it is that, in a very real sense, Christ is speaking to us. Moreover, what is going on is essential, both in conversion, and in Christian growth (sanctification): “... how are they to hear without someone preaching? .... So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” Of course, after we hear a sermon, we do well to follow the example of the Bereans and go home to review it and to be sure that what we have heard from Christ’s herald was really Christ speaking to us, but that doesn’t change the basic expectation we ought to have when we “sit under preaching”.
Moreover, the importance of preaching is underscored by the use the Holy Spirit makes of it: “... you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; .... And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher of the 19th century, when asked by a visitor why he had such success, took the visitor to the church basement and showed him some women praying. He understood that, in the words of the American folk hymn, “Holy Manna”, “All is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down”. His preaching, be it ever so faithful, would still be “folly” to his hearers, unless the Holy Spirit made it effective in their lives.
Is this our view of preaching and its effects, when it is faithful and the Holy Spirit blesses it? Do we pray that our ministers will be faithful, true heralds of Christ, and that His Spirit would bless their proclamation? If so, then we have the central touchstone which we ought to use to “examine and reform ourselves”. But, and here is one point where I have some trouble with Jailbreaker’s post, no “outsider looking in [at] our forms, practices, and mindset” could have been of the least help in leading us to this view. To this outsider, preaching simply “takes the cake” among all the things he might be seeing (and many of them may be, even probably are, simply cultural) being the one that outdoes all the rest in being the most foolish!
Instead of turning outside our culture for this particular insight, we ought instead to turn “back” into it: The reformers of the 16th and 17th centuries went to great pains--admittedly imperfectly--to discern what the Bible, and especially the New Testament taught us of what is essential in the life of the visible church, and what ought to be excised from it. While much of this is forgotten now, a great deal of their attention was devoted to the worship of the church and the place of preaching in it. They, and especially those who came from the Swiss Reformation and the English Puritans, clearly saw the dangers described in Calvin’s saying that the heart of man is “an idol factory”.
To put things in Old Testament terms, the path from the illegal worship of Jeroboam in 1 Kings 12 to the apostacy of Ahab in 1 Kings 16 was not a long one. Or, in terms of the 10 Commandments, break the 2nd, and breaking the 1st won’t be far behind. This is a lesson that the American church has gone beyond just forgetting. It hardly recalls that it was ever taught in the first place, and, when it does deal with it, it tends to do so with condescension. If we are to see reform and renewal in our churches, this sin (and it is that) needs to be lovingly confronted. We need to work for the day when our lives as congregations are once again oriented around the pulpit, faithfully filled and Spirit-blessed.
That brings me back my original theme of our attitude toward the visible church: We are not to treat her with contempt, but we are to be realistic about her failings, and it’s very hard to do the second of those without lapsing into the first. Moreover, even if one worships in a “Puritan” church (and I do), there will be all sorts of things that will drive one to distraction. It was hardly untypical that the minister friend I mentioned above was eventually worn out by his pastoral duties. The word “pastor” is supposed to remind us of “sheep”, and, as those who have ever heard a good “sheep sermon” can attest, the idea there isn’t supposed to be about cute, woolly lambs, but rather of stubborn, foolish animals whom the shepherd doesn’t dare let out of his sight for a minute! And, even in very faithful churches, they will do some awful things. It’s hard, for instance, for anyone who has ever been through a church “faction fight” to deal with the very fact that it could have happened.
Because of that sort of thing, I can personally attest that, “my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped”. In the course of that, I wrote a long letter to this same minister friend and, a few weeks later, we met and talked about it. He was understanding, but his bottom line was uncompromising: “Don’t you dare talk that way about Christ’s church! It’s the apple of His eye.”