Rutledge: It’s All About the Power of God

Post a Comment » Written on February 7th, 2007     
Filed under: News
By Don Meyer

DENVER, CO (February 7, 2007) – “Our competence comes from God. All power comes from God. All this comes from God.”

With that declaration, noted author and speaker Fleming Rutledge encouraged hundreds of pastors gathered for the 2007 Evangelical Covenant Church Midwinter Pastors Conference not to waiver in preaching the gospel of the glory of Christ Jesus in the historic apostolic tradition.

One of the first women to be ordained in the Episcopal Church in 1977, Rutledge spent 22 years in parish ministry, including 14 years as part of the pastoral staff of Grace Church on Lower Broadway in New York City. Widely recognized as a biblical scholar and “a teacher of other preachers,” her expertise is in the intersection of biblical theology with contemporary culture.

Rutledge“We are losing sight of the gospel in our preaching and teaching,” Rutledge said in reflecting on her numerous visits to churches throughout North America and listening to many sermons in many settings. There is a theological vacancy where God ought to be, she suggests, as many pastors focus more on a “social gospel” than the gospel of the risen Christ.

Too many pastors lose sight of the truth that it is God who is in charge, she believes. “We are called to build the kingdom of God,” she recites some pastors as saying – “the emphasis is on the ‘we’ and not God,” she quickly points out.

Christians need to be reminded of our proper place in relationship to God, which suggests a certain paradox. Using the apostle Paul’s letters as her scriptural focal point, Rutledge used the imagery of the Roman Triumph in explaining this paradox. In Roman times, the Triumph was a military procession and celebration that took place following a military victory. Victorious commanders led the procession in their chariots, followed by the soldiers wearing the victory wreaths. At the end came the captives, bound and paraded in shame through the streets.

She likened the image of the Roman Triumph to the Christian experience, picturing Christ as the victorious leader, followed by the soldiers, with the slaves – the conquered – at the rear. “We are in Christ, so we could be pictured as riding in the chariots,” she suggested. “But then, we also are the church, and we could be counted among the warriors of the faith. But, we also are the slaves, captives in Christ Jesus, so could perhaps be found at the end of the processional.

“So, where are we?” she asks. “In the lead chariots? Marching with the infantry? Among the captives? Some suggest all three apply.” And therein lies the paradox she describes.

“Paul never forgot that without Christ, he would have remained a slave to sin,” she said. “Paul’s deliverance from bondage always remained at the center of his message. When Paul thinks about all of his ministry, it is a procession of victory with himself as Christ’s slave,” to which she quickly added, “and as a slave of Christ is to be at liberty.”

Slave and free? And at the same time? “That appears to be a contradiction,” she noted. “But, Paul explains that in Romans, the sixth chapter.”

All will be slaves of either sin or righteousness, she quoted Paul as saying. “To be a slave of Jesus Christ is to be free of all kinds of bondage. Paul was free, even though he was in bonds. If the son makes you free, you will be free indeed,” she added, quoting from scripture.

“You have to serve somebody,” she said, “Satan or the Lord. To be a slave to Satan is to be a slave to sin. To be a slave to Jesus Christ is to be free from bondage. The outcome of worldly freedom is death. Slavery to Christ is eternal life and true freedom. These contradictory terms – slavery and freedom – are held together at the center in Christ.”

In order for Christians to understand their place in the triumphal procession, they must hear of the glory of Christ and the transcendent power of God, Rutledge said in returning to her core theme. And that is the work of those entrusted with the ministry of the word, remembering that it is not in their own strength that they minister in the true apostolic tradition, but that it is through the power of God.

“We need always to remember our place in the procession.”

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