...Until the End
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End."
“This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I said, `I will give it to your descendants.' I have now allowed you to see it with your own eyes, but you will not enter the land."
This address “I have been to the mountaintop” was given by Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, TN on April 3, 1968. On April 4, Dr. King was assassinated...
"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."
- Martin Luther King Jr.
When I attended The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, I played football in my freshman year with my friend Jay. As far as offensive lineman go, both of us were fairly small in size. In the world of NCAA, Division I football, you almost have be over 275 pounds to compete. At 245 pounds, soaking wet, I struggled to keep up.
The interesting thing concerned my friend Jay. Even though he wasn’t much bigger than I was, he managed to make second string his freshman year even starting a game of two. And as I already said, I struggled.
Much to my surprise, one afternoon, our head coach called me into his office. He wanted to encourage me to stick with it and emphasized the key area I would need to emphasize in order to continue. He told me, as most of you who have played sports of any kind already know, that football was about the fundamentals.
If I, as a college athlete, could refocus on the basics then I could overcome whatever challenges I had in size and ability. In football, on the offensive line, that means staying lower than the other guy. It’s about taking the right first step off the line and following through the blocking angle. These are just a couple things I remember about the basics.
But there is more that I remember about what my coach had pointed out. I remember that Jay was doing fundamentals. He was a picture perfect offensive lineman. Again, he wasn’t that much bigger or stronger than I, he just did all the basic things better than I did.
In High School my strategy had always been to use strength and size to get by. I was bigger than most at that level and I had never needed to spend much time on the basics. I really didn’t know as much as Jay did about being a good lineman.
I lasted only one season and at the end of my first year, I knew that my football career was over. I knew that I could not catch up and compete at that level given the challenges I faced and so I hung up my cleats and went on to other things.
But Jay didn’t. Being a much better lineman than I he played all four years. Even though he remained smaller than almost all of his opponents, he started three of those years by focusing on the basics. And even then football didn’t end for Jay. Last I knew, he was the head coach of a high school team in North Carolina. Because he knew those basics he is now teaching them to others.
Just about anything we do in life has a set of basics to follow for success. I would even suggest, actually have been suggesting through this whole book, that the church should be governed by also focusing on the basics. I have called those basics rediscovering our voice.
The end of my football career came when I could no longer perform the basics well enough to compete. I believe the end of the church too will be the denial and abandonment of the basics of our Presbyterian church.
For many generations we have been relying on our size and our strength as a mainline denomination. When most of our nation consisted of professing believers, the church did not have to work very hard to maintain itself. In the church world of today however, that’s no longer good enough.
When we can no longer remember the basics of what our calling is, and why we do the things we do uniquely as Presbyterians, then it will also be time for us to hang up our cleats. That time has not come yet. Quite the contrary, I believe it’s time for us, in the words of my football coach, to refocus on the basics, or refocus on discovering our unique voice.
Only the mediocre are always at their best.
I believe we have an incredible witness to Jesus Christ as a Presbyterian Church, and we must be about reclaiming that voice with power and conviction for the whole church. What does that mean for us?
First it means we must understand that we are called by God for God’s purposes and not for our own. It means we had better get busy serving the world and not our own agendas and desires for the church.
Next, a basic fundamental of our church is that, in Jesus Christ, we and all our Christian brothers and sisters are united. There is no splitting our witness to the world, based on our individual theologies. We are a “big tent” church and must begin to embrace our differences as we celebrate what makes us the same. And what makes us the same is Jesus. That’s enough to build a church on.
Finally, we had better reclaim our commitment to the Spirit. Presbyterians, like John Calvin, have always understood that the power we have comes from God through the Holy Spirit. To energize our preaching, our teaching and all our activities in the church, we must emphasize that the Spirit is what makes the difference. May all our churches be renewed with a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
But there is more to the basic fundamentals than Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Presbyterians, we are committed to our system of polity. We believe our system is Biblical, given to us and developed through the ages by men and women who know what leadership must be in order for the church to thrive. We know what each voice must sound like if we are to be a thriving, fully functioning witness to Jesus Christ.
Therefore, allow our pastors to get back to their voice of preaching and teaching. There is no one else called to the community of faith for that specific purpose. Others can do many of the things our pastors are currently doing, but no one else has been given the incredible blessing of theological education to share with their faith community. Do you really want one hundred thousand dollars of theological education with advanced degrees rearranging the chairs in the fellowship hall? It’s not that the pastor can’t do it, but is that the best use of his or her voice?
Elders are called to be the leader voice of our church. Our elders are not the board of directors or the permission givers for the pastor’s ministry. Our elders are the spiritual leaders of the congregation. They are ministers in every sense of the word, and must get on with the business of leading if our churches are going to thrive.
Deacons are the care giving voice in our churches. They are not expendable and have a strong call to be the hands and feet of Jesus not only in our church community, but in the larger community in which we live. Deacons are the ones who empower our members to do the work of Christ. They do not have to be constituted in a board, but it is my hope that someone in the community of faith besides the pastor should be given the privilege and the responsibility of ordination in caring for God’s people.
Finally, the Presbyterian Church really comes down to the people, the disciples of Jesus. Discipleship is about following Jesus. It’s not about maintaining our independence and being consumers of the “McChurch.” Imagine the strength of our churches if 98% of our members showed up 98% of the time. What an amazing witness to faith in Jesus Christ that would make.
As a few last words, I believe in God, I trust in Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I feel inspired by the Holy Spirit, and I am proud to be a Presbyterian. I hope you are too.
It cannot be said enough times. I believe in the Presbyterian Church. I believe that God has called for pastor’s to preach, elders to lead, deacons to care, and disciples to follow. I believe that God is using our Presbyterian polity and our “Big-Tent” theology as a church to renew the mainline church. I believe we are called for a purpose, united in Christ, and empowered by the Spirit.
If someone asks, “Who Am I?” The answer is, “I am a Presbyterian!” Thanks be to God for our amazing Presbyterian USA church!