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The importance of the fundamentals

Through the years I’ve frequently been asked to teach a series of lessons on the fundamentals of the Christian faith. I have typically responded by asking my questioners what they considered to be “fundamental.” Their answers have always been fascinating. They’ve been all over the map. (Not to beat a tired drum [no pun intended], but the most common answer has had to do with music).

Actually, we don’t have to guess at what the fundamental doctrines of our faith are. The Hebrew writer names them, in black and white.

In a text in which he is chiding his readers for failing to go on to maturity, the Hebrew writer lists the ABC’s of the faith–these are things that every believer should master:

“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.” (Hebrews 6:1-3)

The six fundamentals of the Christian faith are these:

1. repentance from dead works

2. faith in God,

3. instruction about baptisms,

4. the laying on of hands,

5. resurrection of the dead, and

6. eternal judgment.

I won’t try to parse each of these fundamental truths in this blog. I did a series of teachings on them in the spring of 2017. You can listen/watch them at

Instead of exploring each of the fundamentals the Hebrew writer lists, I merely want to emphasize that fundamentals matter. Let me illustrate from my own experience.

I took karate with my children when we were all younger, and I think I enjoyed it more than both of them combined. There was something thrilling about getting to punch people with immunity (it reminded me a lot of growing up with three brothers). I never “practiced” karate. I always kicked or punched or blocked like it was my last fight. I figured that the best way to be the best was always to give your best.

After a year or so of karate, I asked my Sensei if we were ever going to stop spending the first thirty minutes of each session stretching and going through basic motions. His answer stuck: “No. We never leave the fundamentals. Black belts aren’t people who learned a bunch of new things. Black belts are people who mastered the fundamentals.”

So it is with the Christian faith.

We live in a restless age where we are constantly drawn to something new. Cell phone companies offer upgrades every six months. Celebrities  rise overnight, but are quickly pushed aside to make room for an ever-expanding pantheon of American idols. News cycles are measured in hours rather than weeks–this morning North Korea is going to blow us off the map; tonight a Kardashian has appeared somewhere in a deficient bikini. Fashions and fads come and go with breath-taking speed in America.

In such a fidgety age it can be counter-intuitive to devote your life to the mastery of a handful of fundamentals. After all, what if it were to turn out that the fundamentals we’ve adopted are the wrong ones–or, at least, that they didn’t adequately provide a basis for experiencing all that life has to offer? What do we miss out on if we live by only six principles rather than, say, a thousand?

More to the point for Americans, isn’t it boring to spend a whole life on a few basic truths?

The answer to these questions for the disciple of Christ is, of course, fairly simple: When you said “I do” to Jesus, you made a commitment to life His way for the rest of your life. Confessing Him means adopting His virtues as yours. It means that you enter His dojo. Karate means (I was told) “the way of the fist.” Christianity means (I am sure) “the way of the Christ.” When you take up your cross and follow Jesus, you say no to a thousand life choices, a million “truth” options, and a bazillion new thrills. And you say yes to a handful of fundamentals given us by Jesus.

We start each day with a commitment to the fundamentals.

In the same way that I would never have asked my Sensei to invent new kata’s just to satisfy my restlessness, I don’t feel the need to update, revise, and re-imagine the Christian faith continually. After all, the apostolic treasure I’ve received has its origins in the very soil of the Galilee. Its mighty branches have spread to every corner of the earth. I don’t need a bunch of new Christian thrills. Isn’t it enough to master what the apostles have already given me?

Coach Rick Insell was recently inducted into the National Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. He has just finished his twelfth season as head coach for the MTSU Women Raiders, during which time he has led the Lady Raiders to nine NCAA Tournaments and eight conference titles. Before that, Insell led the Shelbyville High School basketball team to a record 10 Class AAA state championships. He has won over 1,000 games in his coaching career.

I had the privilege of interviewing Coach Insell, who goes to North Boulevard, about the importance of the fundamentals in his sport. His answers were informative and inspiring. He only recruits players who have mastered the fundamentals. His players practice the fundamentals every day. And they win games based on a mastery of these fundamentals.

He told me that he was once asked why his team practices the fundamentals every day. “Isn’t it boring?” his questioner suggested.

“Yeah, it’s boring to do the fundamentals every day,” he remarked. “But what’s not boring is holding the championship trophy. And without the fundamentals, you can’t be a champion.”

Well said.

P.S. Here is the full interview. Coach Insell was gracious to allow me to post it.


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