Can we grow the kingdom?
May 9 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Can we grow the kingdom? | Friday, May 9, 2003

Friday, May 9, 2003

Can we grow the kingdom?

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

What can Southern Baptists do to grow the kingdom of God? At the annual convention meeting in St. Louis last summer, messengers approved a strategic initiative called "Empowering Kingdom Growth," commonly called "EKG."

The emphasis began with no stated goals, but some aspects of the program are taking shape. A new "Empowering Kingdom Families" program and a line of supportive resources will be unveiled at the pastor's conference prior to the meeting in Phoenix this June, and LifeWay is also promoting new "Kingdom Focused Churches" materials, but other aspects of the emphasis remain vague.

Ken Hemphill, who recently announced his departure from the presidency of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), has been named to head up the EKG emphasis and bring it more focus.

To promote understanding of the concept, LifeWay Christian Resources held a conference for Southern Baptist Communicators at Ridgecrest April 30-May 2, and I appreciated the invitation to participate.

Speakers included LifeWay president Jimmy Draper, SWBTS provost Craig Blaising (author, with Darrell Bock, of Progressive Dispensationalism), LifeWay executive Gene Mims (author of the newly released The Kingdom Focused Church), Tom Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Ok, and author of the forthcoming Unbreakable! The Seven Pillars of a Kingdom Family, David Hankins, SBC Executive Committee vice-president for Cooperative Program and Carlisle Driggers, executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, which pioneered a similar program.

Participants struggled with what we mean by the "Kingdom of God," whether Southern Baptists can retain their distinctive identity and still be "kingdom people," and how the SBC can best promote its new emphasis on kingdom values.

I personally struggle with how to communicate an emphasis that has what I believe to be a self-contradictory name. Naming the enterprise "Empowering Kingdom Growth" implies that Southern Baptists can actually empower kingdom growth - that we can do something that will make God's kingdom bigger.

But the Bible clearly teaches that God's kingdom already fills the universe and encompasses every race and tribe, so there is little we can do to expand it.

The expression "kingdom of God" never appears in the Old Testament, but the concept is everywhere, and it can be summed up in two words: Yahweh rules! Every writer from the Pentateuch through the historical books to the Psalms and the prophets wrote from the perspective that there is a God, and that God is the boss. The Lord is King.

When Jewish people offer prayers of blessing before eating, they usually begin "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe ..."

When Christians gather for worship, we often sing, "Rejoice the Lord is King," or a praise chorus about God's kingship. It's pure hubris for us to think that any human work can make the kingdom any bigger than it is.

Which is not to say that we cannot participate with God in kingdom work. God calls His followers to a unique relationship within the kingdom. For example, God's covenant with Israel in Exodus 19:5-6 affirms that Yahweh is Lord of all peoples, but He offers a special, treasured, covenant relationship to those who listen to Him and follow Him. 1 Peter 2:9 quotes this as a promise to the church as the new Israel.

When Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom, He declared that the kingdom was present in His ministry in a way it had not been experienced before.

I believe we are indeed called to declare the good news that the kingdom of God has been revealed in a new way through Jesus Christ, and that its benefits and responsibilities are waiting for those who will receive it - but that's not empowering kingdom growth as much as encouraging human surrender.

We don't make the kingdom itself any bigger, but encourage more people to live more faithfully as subjects of the king who rules, whether they acknowledge Him or not.

I found the second issue particularly intriguing, as several speakers struggled with the concept of whether Southern Baptists can be sold out to the kingdom and sold out to their Southern Baptist identity at the same time.

Some observers have expressed a concern that if we put too much emphasis on the kingdom of God, it might lead Southern Baptists away from a doctrinally oriented focus and toward the more ambiguous concept that we're just supposed to love each other.

My concern is that that won't happen.

I'm all for any emphasis that encourages Christians to be more faithful servants of the king, obeying Christ's command to love God and to love one another, in keeping with God's purpose for humankind.

For that to happen, however, we must catch a kingdom vision that goes beyond our own denominational and doctrinal kingdoms.

Such is my prayer.

TWC

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5/9/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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