Changes Are in the Wind

A New Fall Focus on Being the Church

The Sunday morning messages and the Wednesday evening BITC Plenary session will both focus this fall on issues relating to what it means to be the Church. We sense that significant changes are in the wind.

This will touch on the problems of bigness and anonymity, friendliness and folding in new people, the role of small groups and mid-size groups (Sunday school), the use of gifts and mutual ministry from every member, the function of elders and deacons, the way evangelism and social action relate to body life, the connection between big celebrations and the nitty-gritty day-to-day caring for each other. We will be dealing with issues of love and loneliness and estrangement and belonging, and the structures that help or hurt the connectedness of our lives.

Sundays I will preach from God’s word on these matters. Wednesdays we will pray about them in the context of worship led by Greg Dirnbirger from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. And in the Plenary session (6:45 - 7:55) I will teach, apply and discuss with you what the practical implications are for our church.

We see the Wednesday sessions as a time to involve all who come in major decisions about how we will “be the church” and “do church” in the coming years. We want you in on the changes that must come.

What does it mean to be the “church of God”?

What does it mean when the New Testament speaks, on the one hand, of “the church in Ephesus” (Revelation 2:1); and when it speaks, on the other hand, of “the church in [Priscilla and Aquila’s] house” (Romans 16:5) and “the church in [Philemon’s] house” (Philemon 1:2)?

Is the church the universal body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22), or is it “the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria” (Acts 9:31), or is it “the church in Ephesus” (Revelation 2:1) or is it “the church in your house” (Philemon 1:2)?

The answers to these questions make a tremendous difference in the way we understand who we are at Bethlehem, and how we relate to each other.

Awesome things are at stake in this matter. Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Paul said that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God will be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10).

How do small house groups fit in? Are they the church? Was each house gathering in Jerusalem “a church”? Was “the church in Jerusalem” one organizational unit?

What does it mean to “belong” to the church and to each other? What does it mean to be a “member” of the church (universal, regional, local, house). “You are one body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).

How are we doing as “church”? Are we fulfilling the New Testament blessing: “if one member suffers all suffer, and if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26)? Is our structure as a big and growing church enabling the reality of John 13:35— “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”?

How does a “church” of 1200 people “love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10), and “have the same care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:25), and “be servants of one another” (Galatians 5:13), and “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2)?

I am excited to study and dream with you as we let God speak in a fresh way about our life together. See you Sundays and Wednesdays.

Affectionately,

Pastor John

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