Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Where the Power Is

I attended a conference recently that challenged and inspired me. Its effect brings to mind a quote by T.S. Elliott which for some reason (I am not a literature buff) I stored in my memory years ago: “We must not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.” Let me explain.

After I was baptized the summer before my senior year in college
I spent my first year as a Christ-follower participating in a dormitory Bible study and interacting with Campus Crusade for Christ, which was based out of Memphis State but had a small presence on my campus at Rhodes College. I worshiped at the Highland St. congregation but, college life being what it is, found myself more rooted in the campus ministry relationships. We placed a great deal of emphasis on the Great Commission and being “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). When my commission (ironic nomenclature, eh?) with the Marine Corps did not work out I was approached by Campus Crusade to go “on staff,” but turned it down to pursue a conventional job (my degree was in business).

On one of my weeks off I attended a 5-day Personal Evangelism workshop in Dalton, GA led by a preacher named Jerrie Barber. This planted the seeds which led me to go back to school two years later and eventually into full-time preaching.

My point is that my early Christian years directed me towards the Great Commission and an evangelistic commitment in my faith life. How curious that five years of school and thirteen years of “church work” actually softened that commitment. How sad that “church life” often (indeed, usually) leads us into maintenance and away from mission.

At this conference church leaders were challenged to focus on the “kerygma,” which is the New Testament term for the “core” of the gospel, namely the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and its atoning benefit for those who will place their faith and trust in him. A helpful and more familiar shorthand for “kerygma” could be “the Cross,” as in Paul’s assertion that “the message about the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Cor. 1:18). While certainly there is a place and a need for other teaching on more specific issues pertaining to Christian life, the kerygma must remain the item of “first importance.” As noted Christian apologist C.S. Lewis put it, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in; put second things first and we lose both first and second things.”

One speaker at the conference delineated three types of “issues” churches spend their time on: 1) the essentials (kerygma), 2) convictions (doctrine emanating from the essentials), and 3) preferences (matters of style and taste). Now which do you think occupies most of our time and, alas, disagreement in the local church? Paul talks about being sure not to “empty the Cross of its power” (I Cor. 1:17). The modern church, and its preachers, would do well to take heed.

I feel indeed like I have “arrived where I began and know the place for the first time.” Here’s to putting first things first. Will you join me?


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