Defining the Main Thing
June 10, 2013
Updated December 5, 2017
4 comments 26 views
There has been a pretty good discussion about Classis Northern Illinois’ Overture 15, with regard to focusing on the Great Commission. It is all well and good to say that we want to keep the main thing the main thing. Problem is, we can’t decide on the main thing. Is it evangelism? Is it discipleship? It is evangelism with follow-up of discipleship? Is it questions of Biblical interpretation or is it matters of Kingdom Consciousness? Is it Biblical Interpretation with a side of Kingdom Consciousness? Or is it Kingdom Consciousness with an appetizer of Biblical Interpretation?
Within the Agenda for Synod 2013, we have our very own case study. Let’s say we accede to Overture 15. The main thing is the Great Commission. Which, if any, of the following then fall under the mandate of Synod and our denomination:
Overture 11 What is the impact of Eastern Mystical Practices (namely practice of martial arts and yoga) on the Spiritual Lives of Christians and the Church as a whole?
Overture 9 What should the church’s response be to religious persecution and liberty? This overture is specific to the persecution of Christians and the curtailing of Christian liberties. Does that make the Overture more of a “main thing” than if they also wanted to address a Christian response to the persecution or limitations of other religious groups?
Overture 8 Classis Grand Rapids East wants the denomination to posit a position on the use of capital punishment. What has this to do with the Gospel? I mean, no one in Jesus’ day was ever an innocent victim of government-sanctioned death, right?
Which of any of the above listed have anything at all to do with the Great Commission and WHY?
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Harry Truman would often say: The only thing new under the sun is the history you don't know. He would then dig into the past to find a parallel to some problem he was facing at that time, with one country or the other. To keep the main thing the main thing in the churches today, here is what David Brainerd found: "I never got away from Jesus and Him crucified. And I found that when my people were gripped by this great evangelical doctrine of Christ and Him crucified, I had no need to give them instructions about morality. I found that one followed as the sure and inevitable fruit of the other".
Edward, David Brainerd's statement may have been his experience, but maybe it was the way he preached about Jesus crucified. We must always start with Jesus crucified, but also Jesus risen, and also spirit sent. In my own experience, I see people struggling with morality, reverence, patience, immoral behaviour, and how to follow Christ. And they are constantly looking for advice and teaching on it. I cannot forget either the statement in the book of Jude, which says "... they turned the grace of God into a license for immorality...". Paul talks in one of his epistles about going beyond the milk of the gospel (I Cor.3), and in Hebrews 5:11-14 " In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil."
John: Thank you for your comments. I agree: 'Crucified-Risen-Spirit Sent' is the right progression. However, as you state: "in my own experience I see people struggling with morality, reverence, patience, immoral behavior", and you add: they also struggle with how to follow Christ.
In other words there is a sin issue that needs to be dealt with, for it is impossible for one to move toward the maturity spoken of in Hebrews 5 without first dealing with the issue of sin. And, sin can only be dealt with at the cross. Period.
To help keep the 'main thing the main thing' it may be instructive to go back to the mid 1700's. George Whitefield was perhaps the greatest Calvinist Evangelist the world has ever known. One of his primary concerns was with the general practice of allowing unconverted men to enter the ministry. The prevailing attitude at the time seemed to be: A converted minister is best but an unconverted one cannot fail to do some good. "In order to preach Christ aright' George preached consistently on the absolute necessity of the need to be born again. He said: "The reason why congregations have been so dead is due to the fact that they have dead men preaching to them. How can dead men beget living children?" he asked.
On one occasion, one old minister who was deeply convicted during a message by George confessed through much weeping: " I have been a scholar, and have preached the doctrines of grace a long time, but I believe I have never felt the power of them in my soul."
Surrendering at the cross is the first step in the new or renewed life of a Christian, but how many folks simply bypass it? The ' main thing ' can then be reduced to the tail end thing... or anything! Instead they proceed to struggle on to 'maturity' (more Bible studies, more church services, more prayer, more struggles to overcome the flesh) and wonder why lasting joy, power, victory and fulfillment remain lacking in their 'growth process'.
George Whitfield was right of course, on the necessity of being born again in order to bring the gospel. Although I remember reading a story written by George Macdonald, about a preacher who became born again after he had been a preacher for several years, and yet God somehow used his messages to bring a parishioner to Christ. Still, the message grew in power much more after the preacher became a Christian, and although this was just a story, I believe it to be true.
Yes, surrendering at the cross is the first step, as you say. Too often people only surrender theoretically, saying they are sinners but unwilling to relinquish their sin, or even to name it. Sometimes they are like sinners without any sins. But the cross is not the last step; that's why Jesus sent His Spirit to be with us. After the cross, at which the disciples fled, they waited for Christ to return in His Spirit on Pentecost, and then it was that they could preach and witness and be bold and persevere and heal and suffer in joy.
But we also know soon after, about Annanias and Sapphira... had they denied the cross? had they denied the spirit? Were they simply innocently mistaken, that lying to the church in order to be accepted was okay? Today we have many Christians wanting to know how and how much money to give to the church, how to respect their husbands and love their wives, how to raise their children, how to teach sunday school and dayschool, how to manage sexual relations, how to dress, and how to speak as Christ followers. The desire to follow Christ is who Christians are, but sometimes we do things we don't want to do, as Paul the apostle said. And as a Christian community, we can help each other by using scripture and christian love, (and rebuke and discipline, as forms for baptism, prof of faith, ordinations, and scriptures say) to find better ways to serve and follow Christ. That is what His Spirit does through and in us.
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