An Old Dog Looks Back

By Frank Decker –

I’ve been telling friends that in a matter of months I plan to “reboot,” not retire. In what is likely to be my final column for Good News, I want to share about something that I wish I had more fully understood when I entered the ministry almost 40 years ago and full time cross-cultural involvement in 60 countries. Simply put, I wish I’d had a greater appreciation for Jesus’ central focus on the kingdom of God and its many implications.

There are a few places in the Gospels where Jesus explicitly stated why he came. One of those is in Luke 4:43, “I must proclaim the kingdom of God…, for I was sent for this purpose.” Jesus told 14 specific parables on the kingdom of God. The kingdom is like a man who casts seed on the ground; like a mustard seed; like yeast; like treasure that is hidden; like a big net; like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls; like a landowner who hired laborers; like treasure that is hidden.

Jesus often taught about the kingdom, but curiously absent from his teachings is anything about starting a new religion. When he spoke about “my church” he was simply referring to his followers. The institutional element came much later.

Christianity seems to have lost touch with Christ’s singular emphasis on the kingdom of God in the wake, ironically, of perpetuating itself. People looking in from the outside see the message of Jesus framed within a single religion which, inevitably, is in competition with other religions. Issues of exclusivity, who is a member and who is not, become a focal point.

A friend of mine recently spoke to a gathering of evangelical ministers. His theme was how Jesus focused on matters of the heart more than outward religious rites of passage, (such as baptism and church membership). One attendee responded by asking, “But how can we know who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out?’” My colleague’s response was, “It doesn’t matter.” Let the wheat and the weeds grow together, Jesus said.

Maybe we aren’t that adept at telling them apart anyway. As odd as it may sound, I personally know Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus who follow Jesus. They have genuinely repented, or “turned” – (a word truer to the Greek “metanoia” than the English word “converted”) – to Jesus while remaining within the context of their religious birth heritage rather than being extracted out of it. This phenomenon continues to stretch the conventional wisdom of missiologists as it would any Christian who heard it for the first time.

Perhaps this idea is not as controversial as it may appear. After all, none of Jesus’ disciples, nor any of his followers, are referred to as “Christians” in the Gospels. Over the course of the history of our faith, “become a Christian” has replaced “repent, believe, and follow Jesus” as the core of the gospel message. We need to rethink that.

By emphasizing a conversion-to-Christianity narrative rather than a life-in-the-kingdom narrative, the gospel message can come across to others as predictable and shallow. A ministry colleague serving in Central America told me, “We don’t need any more American work teams coming down here to do street theater or puppet shows and give altar calls. Most non-believers here can lip-sync a gospel invitation. What is needed are Christians who will demonstrate their faith by living among us and doing acts of kindness.”

I marvel at how I moved through my 20s and 30s with a rather deficient understanding of the centrality of the kingdom of God, when it is so evident in Jesus’ teachings. Maybe I’m a slow learner, or perhaps my education prepared me for life in the church more than life in the kingdom. But any regret of not having learned something sooner in life is countered by a deep gratitude that transformation is a gift from above, and that gift prevents us from remaining the same person that we used to be.

After all, I want to look back on my life as having spent my energy navigating a flowing river rather than simply managing to stay afloat on a stagnant pond. 

Frank Decker is vice president for training and formation at TMS Global (www.TMS-Global.org).

Comments

  1. Janice Maw says

    Amen♥️

  2. This is amazing. Thank you Frank for sharing it with us.
    May God bless you on this next step.

  3. David Angulo says

    Man of God

  4. Robin Walker says

    Absolutely amazing!!!

  5. Al VomSteeg says

    Well said, Frank. It is the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven that Jesus taught us. A good start when you reboot.

  6. Jeff Hayes says

    Well-said, Frank

  7. Brenda Anderson says

    This is beautiful. But where is the commandment remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Did Jesus not go into a structure, a synagogue to worship on this today? Please let me know how this fits into your being a follower of Jesus. Thank you.

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.