I work full time promoting church growth in a world where church
growth is a multi-million dollar industry and the church is not
growing. Millions are spend every year on books, CDs, conferences,
DVDs, web pages, research and consulting and the church is not
growing.

I don’t want to be too hard on those of us in the church growth
industry/ministry. (I often feel I wear two hats: business man and
minister.) The church might be doing even worse without us.

But, I can’t help but contrast this world with the world of the
early church where, best I can tell, there was no church growth
industry. They didn’t have any church growth seminars or church
growth books or church growth consultants, and the church was
growing and growing rapidly. Not just one church. Not just a few
churches. Overall, there was a movement of church growth that was
rapidly advancing. (As it is in much of the world, outside of the
USA, today.)

Not only did they not have a church growth industry, the whole
thought of it seems out of place. Imagine you were reading in the
book of Acts and came across a passage that said something like,
“Then the elders of the Ephesian church noticed that the growth rate
had suddenly dropped. They contacted Paul to do a church growth
consultation to see what was at the root of the problem and what new
programs might be implemented to address the issue.” Does that sound
a little not-New Testament to you?

I have been thinking about this a long time and have come to this
conclusion: the central message of the gospel that is preached today
is fundamentally different than the central message of the gospel
back in the day.

 

I realize this is a dangerous thing to say, because the Bible
says, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other
than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!

As we have already said,
so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other
than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” Galatians
1:8-9 (NIV)
It is a serious thing to tinker with the central message of the
gospel. But, that warning slices both ways. It is a serious thing to
question the central message of the gospel if what we preach is what
Jesus and the early church taught. But, it is also a serious thing
NOT to question what the central message of the gospel is if what we
preach is not what Jesus and the early church taught.

 

In theology, they have a word for the central message of the
gospel: Kerygma. It means, “the act of preaching,” or, “the content
of the preaching.” It is that second sense that we have in mind
here. When we say that Jesus preached the gospel, what did He say?
What did He preach? What was the content of the preaching? When Paul and the other apostles preached the
gospel, what was the gospel?

 

What is our Kerygma?

 

Before we look at what the New Testament Kerygma was, let’s see
if we can establish a base line of what the Kerygma of the modern
church is. One way of saying this is in the form of a question: the
central question of one of the most popular evangelism training
tools of the modern era, Evangelism Explosion. The presentation
starts with a question:

 

Have you come to the place in your spiritual life
where you know for certain that if you died tonight you would go to
Heaven?

 

The follow up question goes like this:

 

If God were to ask you, “Why should I let you
into My Heaven?” what would you say?

 

From there, the Evangelism Explosion presentation of the kerygma
(gospel) goes like what follows. (condensed from

http://www.eeinternational.org
) Note how many times, “How to go
to heaven when you die” comes up.

 

Grace

 

No amount of personal effort, good works, or religious deeds can
earn a place in Heaven for you.

 

“For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of
yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should
boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).

 

WHY is it that no one can earn his way to Heaven? Because . . .

 

MAN

 

Man is a sinner. “For all have sinned, and come short of the
glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

 

Sin is transgressing God’s law and includes such things as lying,
lust, cheating, deceit, evil thoughts, immoral behavior, and more.

 

And because of this, man cannot save himself. If you wanted to
save yourself by good deeds, do you know how good you would have to
be?

 

However, in spite of our sin . . .

 

GOD

 

God is merciful, and therefore doesn’t want to punish us.

 

We have a problem. God solved this problem for us in the Person
of Jesus Christ.

 

Christ

 

Jesus Christ bore our sin in His body on the cross and now offers
you eternal life (Heaven) as a free gift.

 

This gift is received by faith.

 

FAITH

 

Saving faith is trusting in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life.
It means resting upon Christ alone and what He has done rather than
in what you or I have done to get us into Heaven.

The question that God is asking you now is would you like to
receive the gift of eternal life?

COMMITMENT

It means that you need to:

    • Transfer your trust
    • Accept Christ as Savior
    • Repent

Now, please read this next sentence carefully. I am not
suggesting that these things are not true; I am suggesting that
these truths were not the central message of the early church.
These
things are true, and can be supported scripturally. But, they are
not the things the early church spent most of their time talking
about. The central question for the early church was not, “How can
you know for certain that you can go to heaven when you die?” In
short: right answer; wrong question.

They did not spend most of their time talking about how to go to
heaven when you die. The sermons were about something else.

The Kerygma of Jesus and the Early Church

What was the central message of the gospel as Jesus and the early
church preached it? Let’s look at what the Bible says:

    • After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee,
      proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said.
      “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
      Mark 1:14-15 [NIV]
    • After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village
      to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.
      Luke 8:1 [NIV]
    • Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues,
      preaching the good news of the kingdom. Matthew 4:23 (NIV)
    • When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them
      power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure
      diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and
      to heal the sick. Luke 9:1-2 [NIV]
    • After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave
      many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them
      over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
      Acts 1:3 [NIV]
    • Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God
      and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 28:31 [NIV]

What would you say was the central message of Jesus and the early
church?

If you said, “The Kingdom of God” you are getting warm.

I remember noticing this difference when I first starting reading
the Bible on my own. Churches today seem to talk about the kingdom a
little more than they did back in the day. I remember reading the
Bible and thinking, “Is this the same book we read at church?” It
didn’t seem to be talking about the same thing. Even as a Junior
high student I sensed that they church was always talking about how
to go to heaven when you die and the New Testament was always
talking about this thing called the kingdom. “What in the world is
the kingdom of God?” I pondered.

Next week, we will talk about that.

Continued at
www.joshhunt.com/mail260.htm