“There is a way that seemeth right unto a man…” but it’s not the last word.
A few hours north of Nairobi lies Embu County. It is a very rural area that relies heavily on agriculture; much of it small family farms. Each farmer calls his farm a “shamba” where he produces crops such as maize (corn), coffee, mangoes, macadamia nuts, or bananas. My good friend, Bishop Henry Kathii, invited me to come to speak to their diocesan men’s conference and to preach at confirmation. It was a wonderful and instructive time. Their ministry is deep and powerful despite the challenges.
The fact that it is an agricultural area does not mean, however, that there is no place for commerce. There are many small shops and businesses, especially in the towns. Some of the city center businesses are quite strong. In the rural areas there are also places called “hotels,” but the term is used differently than it is in the west. Of course in town there are businesses that are traditional hotels like Westerners are used to, but the same term is also used for little restaurant/bars that can be as small as a couple hundred square feet. A ubiquitous presence is Tusker beer – usually lots of it.
A small crossroad in Embu County was called Kaurirori. It had a very active “hotel,” but not the kind where one can stay. Kaurirori did not have a tiny bar; it had a big one. There were pool tables, nefarious characters and an abundance of Tusker. In the local language, Kaurirori means “where you go to get lost.” People would say, “This is the place to go in order to lose your way.”
The Church, however, is not “left comfortless” in such situations. Since the beginning, resources have been marshalled to address the draw of the world as it tries to seduce people away from Christ toward perdition. There are many principles at work, but some of the important ones are:
* Transformation, and
* The power of the Holy Spirit.
The proclamation of the Kingdom is called the kerygma- the passionate proclamation with our whole lives of the irreducible content of the Gospel of Jesus. In other words, kerygma must include the following elements:
1. The Age of Fulfillment has come, i.e., that Jesus came in the fullness of time.
2. The pivotal point of human history is the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
3. The risen Jesus is exalted at the right hand of God.
4. Christ is present and works through the power of the Holy Spirit.
5. Jesus will return for the consummation of all things.
6. We are to appeal for repentance and offer forgiveness, salvation, and the work of the Holy Spirit.
The way, however, that the kerygma is presented is not just as philosophical concepts. It is presented through Incarnation. That does not just refer to the Incarnation of Christ (though the Incarnation of Christ is the ultimate expression as God the Son took on human flesh). Incarnation is also manifest in the way that the Church is called to minister. Incarnational ministry fleshes out Kingdom life, love, and principles to touch and transform people’s lives. That is exactly what happened in Kaurirori. Rather than avoiding this crossroads of evil, Christians resolved that evil had triumphed in that place long enough. It was time for the Gospel to take that land. Of course they prayed, but they did not stop there. They went to Kaurirori motivated by the Scripture, “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses.” (Joshua 1:3)
So they went in number. They sat at the “hotel.” They shared testimonies. They loved people. They proclaimed the Gospel. They prayed. Before long, there was a change. People’s lives changed one at a time. Eventually, the revolution was epitomized in the renaming of Kaurirori to be “Jubilee Center,” which it is called today. Now, it is a center for the Gospel. People still socialize, but their socialization now has a Kingdom character. That is the difference we are called to make.
Earlier today I had the chance to meet Dr. Agnes Aboum. She is a Kenyan Anglican Christian. A gifted leader, she has become the global head of the World Council of Churches (WCC). That organization, which has for decades moved in a liberal direction, now has an evangelical at the helm. She says that the Church is called both to faith and action. Just as Jesus said, we are to be salt and light. “Church members are weapons for righteousness at the hand of God,” she said today. This is a dramatic departure from the WCC programs of the past which have been innocuous at best and sometimes destructive at their worst. It is truly remarkable that the WCC selected her – the first African and the first woman to head the WCC. It is even more amazing that the appointment was done prayerfully without political maneuvering. It shows that there are many more biblically-minded Christians involved in the World Council of Churches than was apparent (at least to me)! Biblically faithful voices may not have been properly heard in the past, but they certainly are being heard now.
As many liberal Western churches are flailing about (and shrinking), they have assumed that they have the control of the agenda of global conversation. In fact, that is not the case. Of course, the liberal push will not abate without a struggle. Though they are shrinking, liberal churches have a huge bank of funds, ironically originally given by biblically-orthodox people, that they re-purpose to serve their agenda. Eventually those funds will run out, but it will take a very long time. In the meantime, even though they close parishes every week, they export lots of trouble by investing funds to destabilize economically vulnerable leaders wherever they can. That has consistently been the strategy that has been used over the last 20 years. Just when we think things are in order, another initiative will be begun by Western liberals. In the midst of this, the importance of GAFCON/GFCA cannot be overstated. The Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans is the key voice to speak with biblical authority in the Anglican world. None of the historic institutional structures are able to do it anymore. They are just too compromised.
We should not be overwhelmed by the challenges that we face. The extension of the Kingdom cannot come if we maintain independence. We must surrender our independence and come into submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ. We need to learn to follow His lead, methods, agenda, and purposes. In every nation, city, and state, God has a plan. There are people that He wants to reach, and He has chosen to work through His Church.
In order to be effective in this, we cannot rely on our own strength. An old friend who is a Pentecostal preacher often says, “I don’t want to do nuthin’ else in the flesh, ‘cuz then I’ve got to maintain it in my own strength.”
Rather than deciding what we want to do and then asking God to bless it, we should be seeking His lead to find out what it is He wants us to do. Enduring works will be born of the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, and sustained by the Spirit.
In the 5th century, Patrick of Ireland transformed the culture in which he lived by being committed to flesh out Christian community to reach people with the Gospel. He would take a band of Christians to set up just on the edge of a village. Serving, loving, and caring for people was the heart of what they did. They shared the heart of the faith in kerygma. They used music and the arts to touch people’s lives. The result was a company of converts who would join in with his mission. When the faith was getting established, Patrick would move on, often taking new converts with him to join in the extension of the Gospel to the next place. Eventually all of Ireland was impacted by this Celtic way of evangelism.
When the Kingdom of God is being shared effectively and fully, people’s lives are changed individually, but the culture can be impacted as well. Even in times when we live up to our necks in the swirling waters of Babylon, we not only ride through the waters in the ark that is Christ, we can work to subdue those waters and expand the company of the redeemed and truly transformed. We can live and move into places “where to go to be lost,” and instead find and make known the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Bishop Bill Atwood is Bishop of the International Diocese of the Anglican Church in North America.