Unfolding Bethlehem's Fresh Initiative #2
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Our mission and Spiritual Dynamic declare that the all-satisfying supremacy of God shines most brightly through sacrificial deeds of joyful love. The cry of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our people is for a fresh, decisive emphasis on relationships of love.
Therefore we eagerly embrace God's call for new, visible manifestations of love toward each other, our guests, and our neighbors. With a fresh openness and outgoing spirit to each other and to all new people, we henceforth put understanding above accusation, forbearance above faultfinding, and biblical unity above the demand for uniformity.
2. Urban-Suburban Partnership. We will strive to forge a mutually enriching urban-suburban partnership, in which a significant range of racially, educationally, and economically diverse people feel at home, as they grow in their passion for the supremacy of God.
Introduction and Review
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to Colossians 3:8–17. We will read this in a few minutes to bring God's Word to bear on our thinking. First, let me set the stage.
In recent weeks we have been unfolding the meaning of our mission as a church which the elders and Master Planning Team formulated over the past year. The Mission is on page one. The reaffirmed vision of 2000 by 2000 is on page seven. The Spiritual Dynamic that drives this Mission and Vision is on page two. And the Fresh Initiatives for the immediate future of our mission are on page three. These six Fresh Initiatives are the focus of my messages in these next several weeks.
Rock-Solid Foundations at Bethlehem
The very term "Fresh Initiatives" is unsettling for some of us. We love having things stay the same. It is comfortable and we feel at home. That's a normal and innocent bent in our nature. But the danger is that we will harden in our bent. And when even good and needed change comes, it feels threatening—as if it would break us, rather than mold us and help us be what God is calling us to be.
I have tried in these weeks this fall to unfold the Mission Statement and the Spiritual Dynamic of our life together so that you could see that some things are rock solid at Bethlehem. The ground under our feet is not shaking. God's Word is sure. God's glory is central. God's grace is all-sufficient. Our affirmation of faith is not wavering. Our Reformed-orientation on the sovereignty of God is as strong as ever. Our openness to the whole work of the Holy Spirit is as wide as ever. Our desire for all the fullness of God is unchanged. Our commitment to world evangelization is undiminished. The combination of head and heart is still a priority. Our longing to see this city awakened with the reviving power of the gospel is as strong as ever. And the list could go on and on. Read the values (pages 4–6) and you will see dozens of old and cherished priorities that remain unchanged.
If you need that to maintain your equilibrium in these days, do it. By all means, do it.
A Call for Change
But the point of page three—the Fresh Initiatives—is to call for change—change within the large, unshakable commitments we have been talking about, but change nevertheless. What this will look like, only God knows for sure. No mere human is managing the prayers and thoughts and dreams of the 17 task forces that are working to flesh out these things into practical suggestions. And my prayer and confidence is that God is so overruling in this whole process that what will emerge will be the unique ministry design that he promises to bless at Bethlehem.
The Fresh Initiatives don't define programs. They adjust direction. Programs may or may not follow. The Initiatives call for new intentions and new efforts. The first Fresh Initiative (looked at last week) calls for new efforts in developing an atmosphere where personal, deepening, supportive, faith-building relationships are highly valued as an expression of our passion of the supremacy of God. The newness here is not in desire or value, but in intentionally and priority. What this will look like I don't know. It may not look like anything. It may only feel radically and wonderfully right.
The second Fresh Initiative (urban-suburban partnership) is what we take up today. It says, "We will strive to forge a mutually enriching urban-suburban partnership, in which a significant range of racially, educationally, and economically diverse people feel at home, as they grow in their passion for the supremacy of God."
The Relationship Between the "Urbs" and the "Burbs"
We are going to get to our text. But let me give a word about the background of this Initiative first. The background demands that you read this initiative in two ways. First, there are some members and regular attenders of Bethlehem who live in the suburbs and some who live in the urban center. Specifically, from our last year's survey 12% of our people live within a five minutes' drive of the church—these are our urban dwellers. 21% live between 5 and 15 minutes. 35% live between 15 and 25 minutes. And 11% live over 25 minutes away. So you can see that, though we are located here in the center of Minneapolis, our people come from all over the cities and suburbs. Last year 88% lived outside the urban center. 46% lived over 15 minutes' drive away.
Ever since I came to Bethlehem in 1980 and moved to be a part of the church's neighborhood we have said that "proximity implies accountability." The church's gathering here means something. Within a short time we called a full time associate for urban ministry. Dozens of families have moved into the city as part of the challenge to come make a difference in the city. Ministries of all kinds have sprung up over the years. And we have clearly put a priority on urban ministry. This is where we come and meet, and proximity implies some accountability. The rich man in Luke 16 was not rebuked for ignoring all the poor in his city, but for ignoring Lazarus whom he passed by every day (vv. 19–26).
But one of the upshots of this focus on urban ministry—and urban living as part of that ministry—is that the urbs and the burbs sometimes feel estranged or put off by each other. It becomes easy to point the finger and think unkind thoughts. Initiative #2 is a call for these two groups to see their presence here as mutually enriching and not as competitive or threatening. That is one way of seeing the background of Initiative #2.
The Desire to Broaden Bethlehem's Range
The other way of seeing the background of Initiative #2 is that the make up of the people we live among and want to reach for Christ and his kingdom is not the same in the suburbs and in the urban core. For example, in Minneapolis (not just the urban center, but the whole city) in 1990 13% of the population was African American and 3.3% was Native American. In the suburban Metro area outside Minneapolis and St. Paul 1.3% of the population was African American and .04% was Native American. And of course if you considered only the area within five minutes of this building the proportion of the people of color would be dramatically higher. And the same disparity between the urban center and the suburbs could be shown in economic and educational terms as well.
This means that the challenges of local evangelism and disciple making and assimilation into fellowship are radically different depending on where you live. That is the other way of thinking about the background of Initiative #2. We must not only see each other in a mutually enriching partnership; we believe, more and more, that God is calling us to broaden the range of people—racially, educationally, and economically—who feel at home here. And that both urban and suburban people should feel good about that.
The Master Planning Team and Elders are not completely naïve at this point. We know that there are limits to whom you can make feel at home. For example there are language limits. We are committed in this service to speaking English. That eliminates most of the world's population from feeling at home here. Other churches must help. The point of Initiative #2 is not to say that we have to make every potential urban and suburban attender feel at home. The point is that in the past 15 years the range of who fits was, we believe, too narrow. Thus we call for a "significant range" and leave it undefined. This is a direction, not a program. But the direction is important. That's the background of Initiative #2.
Now it is time to read God's Word, Colossians 3:8–17
But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
Choose Where You Live for Christ's Sake
I want to make two points from this text. One is that Christians should choose where they live for Christ's sake. If you choose to live in the suburbs, it should be because you have thought it through with a view to honoring Christ more this way. If you live in the urban center, it should be because you have thought it through with a view to honoring Christ more this way. I get this conviction from verse 17 and others in the New Testament like it: "Whatever you do in word or deed [like buying a house or renting an apartment], do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father."
Don't Simply Absorb the Values of the Culture
One of the great dangers in American Christianity is that we will simply absorb the values of our culture. We will think of Christianity as an ethic that relates to certain moral issues (adultery, alcohol, abortion, stealing, lying, violence, foul language, etc.), and forget that being a Christian means that everything—everything—is under the rule of Christ. Our mission is "to spread a passion for the supremacy of God IN EVERYTHING." Including choosing where we live.
So verse 17—do all (do everything!) in the name of the Lord Jesus—means: urbs and burbs, be sure that you have made your choice of where to live for Christ-exalting reasons. "In the name of the Lord Jesus" means with his authorization and by his strength and for his glory. In other words it means that all we do, we do with a view to honoring him as the Lord and the strength and the goal of our lives.
When that decision is made, then live where you live with all your might for the glory of the Lord Jesus, and let your brother or sister stand or fall before their own Lord—in the city or in the suburb. There are good, Christ-exalting reasons for living in the suburbs and good, Christ exalting reasons for living in the urban center. If I served a church in the suburbs, I have little doubt that I would live in the suburbs near the building, just like I live near the center of our church's life here in the city.
Test your motives. Why do you live where you live? How did you make that choice? Did you buy on the outer ring in the hope of fast appreciation? Did you buy in the city in hopes of catching the front end of regentrification? Not the best of motives, either one. It is possible to move to the city for wrong reasons, and to move to the suburbs of the wrong reasons. And it is possible to stay in the one or the other for the wrong reasons—fear, apathy, pride, greed, inordinate love of things, etc. Why do you live where you live, that is the question.
Clarifying My Calling in This Church
I need to clarify the meaning of what you will hear in the years to come, lest you take it wrongly. The choice to live in the suburbs is the easier choice. It's the one that most people take, if they can afford it—black or white or Asian. If you can afford it, you leave. That's the natural thing to do. I don't know of any church that has developed a program to help their urban people be willing to move to the suburbs. Such programs are not necessary. Almost all the natural gravity pulls in that direction. There never has been a white flight—or any other colored flight—from the suburbs to the center of the city. Downward mobility is un-American.
Therefore, I take as part of my calling in this church to so preach and to so live as to persuade some Christians to move to the city to spread a passion of the supremacy of God in all things. Not because I think it is wrong to live in the suburbs, but because it is most definitely right—and gloriously right—to live for Christ and his kingdom in the city, and almost nothing in our materialistic, security-driven, fun-seeking culture is going to motivate you to consider it. In short the church doesn't need as much help to spread itself as salt through the suburbs as it does to spread itself as salt through the decaying inner city.
When Fresh Initiative #2 calls for a partnership between these two groups, it is calling for the urban folks not to be proud and arrogant over what God has done to bring them here. And it is calling for the suburban folks to glory in their appointed ministry and not to resent the necessary focus and effort to swim against the tide to help people survive in the city. I hope that Bethlehem will be a place where more and more suburban people are saved and love to be a part of a church that is committed to the city, while staying right where God calls them.
The Supremacy of Christ Unifies Diverse Peoples
The second thing to see in this text is that what holds the range of diversity together in the church is the supremacy of Christ. In verse 11 Paul says that in the new people that God is creating, "there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all." Now this is amazing. Fresh Initiative #2 calls for "a significant range of racially, educationally, and economically diverse people." That is what we have in verse 11. Jews and Greeks did not dress the same or eat the same or entertain themselves the same or worship the same or share the same family or social customs. They were worlds apart. Scythian, Lightfoot says, represents "the lowest type of barbarian." It had become a name almost synonymous with the slave class because so many slaves were taken from the Scythian tribes around the Black Sea. They were destitute of education and refinement and were foreigners to the city of Colossae.
Now how could Paul say that in the church of Colossae these differences—this "significant range of racially, educationally, and economically diverse people"—how could he say that these deep differences were overcome in unity? Answer (verse 11b): "Christ was all and in all." Christ was in them and he was everything to them. That is, Christ was in them all by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9) through faith, and Christ was their highest value—he was supreme. He was so valuable and so preeminent and so supreme that in relation to him and his will and his presence, dividing preferences defused. The grip of these preferences on our hearts is overcome by the all-pervading supremacy of Christ. So at the end of Fresh Initiative #2 we point to the unifying element in the widening range of diverse people—they will be people who are growing in their passion for the supremacy of God. If that supremacy does not exist in your heart, the diversity will only be seen as a burden and not as a beauty.
So there are two words from God for us this morning—two biblical keys that unlock the treasure of an urban-suburban partnership: 1) do all that you do (including deciding where to live and minister) in the name of Jesus; and 2) open your heart to the truth that Christ is all and in all. Ask yourself as you go this morning: what kind of church, according to Colossians 3:11, will be the best witness to the truth that Christ is all and in all—or the best witness to the truth that here reigns a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for all peoples?