Are We Keeping The Main Thing, The Main Thing?
ARE WE KEEPING THE MAIN THING THE MAIN THING?
By Keith Martens, M.Div.
For Jesus, the main thing was the Kingdom of God. It was the main emphasis and primary content of his teaching. Both his ministry and miracles were intended to demonstrate the reality that the Kingdom of God was among us. With all the activity in our lives, churches and ministry, I think we need to keep asking ourselves if we are indeed keeping the main thing, the main thing.
Back in the day, while doing research for my Master’s thesis on the Kingdom of God, I discovered a document that has become a significant part of my understanding about the signs that can help us recognize the active and present reality of God’s Kingdom in our lives, churches, and ministries today. For me it has become a kind of measure or means of evaluating whether or not we are proclaiming and advancing the Kingdom of God as Jesus intended.
With all the activity in our lives, churches and ministry, I think we need to keep asking ourselves if we are indeed keeping the main thing, the main thing.
I was especially impressed with the process of how this document came into being. Rather than the work of a single author, this paper was the result of an ecumenical gathering of Christ-centered leaders, pastors, and theologians from around the world. Their purpose was to come to a consensus regarding what it means to fulfill the Great Commission. As evangelical leaders from all over the world their goal was to come together to seek God, study the Scriptures, and agree on a common understanding and a plan for global evangelization. Specifically, they sought to answer the question, “what does it mean to take the Gospel of the Kingdom into all the world?”
As they gathered together, prayed, and studied the Scriptures they came to an agreement regarding the signs or indicators that give evidence of God’s Kingdom advancing and being proclaimed in the world today. The seven signs summarized below are the result of their gathering and together form a summary of key components to give us a clearer picture of what the New Testament means by proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
1. Jesus in the midst of His people (Mt. 18:20)
2. Preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom (especially to the poor) (Lk. 4:18,19)
3. Casting out demons (Lk. 11:20)
4. Healing and nature miracles (Jo. 5; Mk. 4:35-41)
5. Conversion and new birth (John 3:3)
6. People manifesting the fruit of the Spirit (Acts 2:42-47; Gal. 5:22-26)
7. Suffering and persecution (Mt. 10; Jo. 15:20)
International Consultation on the Relationship between Evangelism and Social Responsibility, Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, Grand Rapids, 1982. www.lausanne.org
My intention for including this list here is to suggest that we allow these signs to serve as a kind of checklist by which we can measure, to some degree, our effectiveness in the ministry of proclaiming the Good News. First it should be said that signs are simply indicators that point to a future or present reality. In other words they tell us something about what is or what is still to come.
Even the signs we encounter in everyday life serve this purpose as well. When we drive down the freeway and see an exit sign it may indicate that we’ve arrived at our destination. On the other hand it may simply indicate the path to a destination still to come. In this sense, one sign represents the now (present), while the other represents the not yet (future). Other signs may serve to warn, to identify, or to announce something. In the same way, so do the signs of the kingdom.
It seems to me that a large majority of the Church associates the proclamation of the Gospel primarily with conversion and new birth. As we can see from this list, being born again is only one sign of the Kingdom.
For example, one of the signs of the Kingdom of God evident in Jesus’ ministry is healing. When Jesus or those who follow him heal the sick, it is a sign or evidence that God’s kingdom is breaking into the now to change a person’s present condition or the natural order of things. The reality of God’s healing power in the future kingdom which we will enjoy forever and in completeness has become a present reality here on earth for the one who receives it. A person’s healing then is a sign that points to a reality that will only be fully completed in the future kingdom of heaven. At the same time, when people are healed in Jesus’ name these signs announce that the kingdom of God is real and active here and now. We can see from the Scriptures that these signs often form a basis for faith and verify the power of the Gospel and that its message really is good news!
It seems to me that a large majority of the Church associates the proclamation of the Gospel primarily with conversion and new birth. As we can see from this list, being born again is only one sign of the kingdom. Nevertheless, entrance into the kingdom of God is an essential first step and a fundamental part of our commission to carry the Gospel into all the world.
While most of the Church would emphasize that leading others to Christ is the primary task of proclaiming the Good News, Jesus’ ministry and the activity of those who followed Him suggest a broader view. In fact, the clearest sign of God’s Kingdom breaking into our present world is reflected in a statement Jesus made regarding casting out demons. He said, “If by the finger of God I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Lk. 11:20). By this Jesus was indicating that God’s kingly power and authority was breaking into the present order to overthrow the work of Satan in order to restore things as God intended them to be—here “on earth, as it is in heaven.” This then, was and is a sign of God’s Kingdom at work and an essential part of the ministry Jesus had and the commission He later gave his disciples to fulfill.
If we were to look at this list of signs as if it were a checklist and consider our present understanding of, and effort to, take the message of the Gospel into all the world, what signs could we check as indicators that characterize our ministry? Also, when we consider the mission, vision, activity, and fruit of our church’s ministry and that of the ministries we support, what signs can be checked as indicators of the Kingdom’s advance?
While these questions are pointed they must be asked, particularly if these signs accurately represent the signs that characterized the ministry of Jesus and the early Church; and together represent what it means to proclaim the Gospel.