1 Peter 2:1–12
So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation- 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." 7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," 8 and "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
You have been very patient as a people while the elders prayed and pondered their way through to the vision for our future that you have in front of you called Treasuring Christ Together (320KB PDF). Today I would like to make a first pass at presenting it to you and putting it in a biblical context. So let's begin with a brief look at today's text, and then spend most of our time walking through the vision booklet.
The key statement I want you to see in 1 Peter 2:1-12 is the purpose statement for our existence as a church in verse 9. Verse 9 says, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." Notice above all the purpose statement: "That you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." This is why one of the great reasons why we exist as a church.
Who Are You? Ten Identity Markers
To understand it more fully, let's ask who the "you" is by walking through the text. It says in verse 9, "YOU are a chosen race . . . that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." Who is the "you"? Are you included? Is he describing your reason for being? Test yourself as we walk through the text.
1. Verse 2: It is you who desire the word of God the way newborn babies desire milk.
2. Verse 2: It is you who are growing up into the fullness of salvation rather than just coasting in your spiritual life.
3. Verse 3: It is you who have tasted in that word that the Lord is good. This is why we talk a lot about "savoring" Jesus Christ!
4. Verse 4: It is you who share the viewpoint of God that Jesus Christ, though rejected by men, is chosen and precious.Is Christ precious to you? Pick a very precious thing in your life, and make the comparison.
5. Verse 5: It is you who are being built into a spiritual house-not a physical building, but a spiritual dwelling for God. Two huge implications: First, God does not intend for us to be isolated Christians, but relationally connected. Isolated stones are not a building. They don't house anything. Second, the building we are becoming is to be a place where God dwells and where he receives pleasant offerings of praise.
6. Verse 9: It is you who are a "chosen race." A new race! Not that old race ceases, but that the new race identity is 10,000 times more important. Red and yellow, black and white are beautiful, but "Christian" is 10,000 times more beautiful. Are those your racial priorities?
7. Verse 9b: It is you who are a "royal priesthood." In the service of the king, every Christian represents God to his brothers and sisters (in exhortation and encouragement), and every Christian represents the brothers and sisters to God (in prayer). We are all priests.
8. Verse 9c: It is you who are a "holy nation." The words are ethnos hagion. A holy "ethnicity." A new ethnicity! "Set apart" for God. A God-ethnicity. Not nullifying all other ethnicities, but subordinating them to this new identity. A Christ-ethnicity.
9. Verse 9d: It is you who are "a people for his own possession." You are not your own. You belong to another. To Jesus Christ. He created you. And he bought you with his blood. You are doubly his.
10. Verse 9e: It is you who were in spiritual darkness but are now in marvelous light, which shines with the glory and beauty of Christ.
What Is Your Purpose?
Now what is your purpose? Why is all of this true of you? Of this "you" Peter says: here is why you exist as a church-with all its new racial, ethnic, relational, and spiritual dimensions-you exist to "proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." With all these ten identity markers, your aim, your purpose, your goal is to spread something. This is why the word "spread" is so central to Bethlehem's mission statement-in the middle of the front page of vision booklet. We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.
Treasuring Christ Together: Vision Booklet
Now, how has God fleshed that out at Bethlehem up till now? And how have the elders perceived God's leading for the fleshing it out in the future? That is what the vision booklet (Treasuring Christ Together) is meant to explain. The letter that I wrote on pages two and three is a guided tour of the booklet. So let's read it with some comments as we go.
When Jesus Christ blesses his church, he puts us to the test. How will we manage his mercy? Managing mercy may feel unfitting, but it is biblical. Jesus gave differing "talents" to his servants and told them to manage well till he comes (Matt. 25:15). We either do this humbly and wisely, or we do it badly. There is no non-response to mercy.
That's our situation at Bethlehem. One fallible but crucial measure of Christ's blessing is how many people are tasting the supremacy of God among us on Sunday morning. The answer is: more than twice as many as five years ago. Here are the first quarter averages:
This trajectory of grace set the Council of Elders to praying and planning. We would like to share with you how we think God is leading us to respond. We hope you will taste the same joyful anticipation we feel.
After four years of effort, the adult ministries team is finally in place with the call of Sherard Burns and Tom Eckblad to join David Livingston. This is crucial because it lays the foundation for aggressive growth without neglecting the relational health of the church.
[In other words, it really matters that we are living stones being built into a spiritual house, NOT isolated stones lying around on the ground!]
Never before have we had a team that includes assimilation[Sherard Burns], covenant care [David Livingston], and counseling [Tom Eckblad]. We believe the time is right to exchange the mentality of coping with the mentality of strategic growth.
We build on the past grace of what God has made Bethlehem to be. On page 4 we try to portray Bethlehem as it is today.
[So please look at that page with me.]
With the glory of God at the top and the grace of God at the bottom, every ministry exists "to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ." [as unfolded in the TBI AFFIRMATION OF FAITH]
[Then reading from the bottom, note the Council of Elders under Christ, bearing the responsibility for "guarding the Mission and Doctrine, and overseeing with prayer to spread . . .]
[Then notice the supporting ministries of "Ministry Infrastructure," "Building and Facilities," and "Technical Support."]
[Then comes our corporate worship which expresses our passion for God's supremacy.]
[Then the bread-and-butter ministries of the church in fulfillment of Ephesians 4:12 where the staff and elders equip the saints to do the work of the ministry-all of this equipping for the sake of the spreading a passion for the supremacy of God . . . . Children, youth, college, women, adults, seniors, urban dreamers. Note how the Adult team works: Sherard's equipping is more spreading-oriented, Tom Eckblad's equipping is more care-oriented, and David Livingston's equipping swings both ways as he equips us all for steady-state covenant care of each other.]
Most unusual are the six auxiliary ministries that span upwards at the top, from TBI to World Missions. These rise with increasing expansiveness and distance from Bethlehem. In all our planning we should not forget that the blessing and burden of being Bethlehem include an ever-expanding global responsibility.
[The Bethlehem Institute, Church Planting and Strategic Mobilization, Bethlehem Urban Initiatives, Campus Outreach, Desiring God, World Missions]
What's new at this point in our history is the fresh resolve to multiply congregations, campuses, and churches. You see this on page 4 in the ministry called "Church Planting and Strategic Mobilization." The church already approved Kenny Stokes as the leader of this ministry. You also see it on pages 5-7 in the vision statement called Treasuring Christ Together (TCT).
[Look at page 5:]
Treasuring Christ Together
A Multiplying Movement of
Congregations, Campuses, and Churches
Treasuring Christ Together (TCT) is a multiplying movement of congregations, campuses, and churches defined and united by their common Mission and Biblical Life and Doctrine. ? The Mission is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. ? The Biblical Life and Doctrine is The Bethlehem Institute (TBI) Affirmation of Faith.
[This is utterly crucial to grasp: We are church defined under Christ by a Mission and by a statement of Life and Doctrine. To understand Bethlehem you need to understand that Mission and that Statement of Life and Doctrine.]
TCT is a strategic alternative to an ever-larger sanctuary downtown and an ever-increasing number of services at the single downtown campus. The alternative is to create and nurture a radical, risk-taking mindset for "spreading" by multiplication, as opposed to the more comfortable mindset of expansion by centralized enlargement. For Bethlehem at this time, we think this alternative vision is harder and better.
Bethlehem's Commitment to Multiplication
As a part of Treasuring Christ Together, Bethlehem Baptist Church is committed to an aggressive strategy of multiplying such congregations, campuses and churches as God adds to his church those who are being saved.
TCT means three kinds of multiplication: neighborhood congregations, campuses, and independent churches. You may read about these on page 6.
[Neighborhood congregations are "smaller congregations within Bethlehem which remain part of the church but may meet in homes or rented facilities for Sunday worship with a view to reaching a specific neighborhood or a specific segment of people."]
[Campuses are what is happening at Northwestern with a view to renting or buying a more permanent site with ministries specific to the North campus.]
[Third, we aim to plant independent churches here and around the country and the world. I hope you can all see the video that Kenny just made of our church plant in Charlotte.]
Our aim is that multiple churches be planted and that there be more than two campuses. One essential part of this vision is a mixture of live and video preaching in worship. It seems good to the elders, for this season in our history, that the congregations and campuses be united by Pastor John's preaching.
[In other words, a unified preaching ministry in worship to hold us together under the same vision.]
Newly planted independent churches would have their own preaching pastors.
[Now here comes the details and specifics you have been waiting for so patiently over the summer months.]
The anchor service (always live) would be Saturday night, starting October 4. At this service a video recording of the sermon will be made. The next morning this recording will be used in the worship services where the preacher is not present. We will continue to rotate live preaching among the campuses, but now we will use this recording instead of broadcasting live.
[Hear this as a strong commitment from the staff and elders to bless the North Campus vision and to pursue excellence in being one church on multiple campuses!]
This change accomplishes four things.
1) It keeps the preaching pastor live downtown every weekend (Saturday night) for the sake of a consistent urban presence.
[There are unique dynamics in the urban setting that seemed to us to make that consistency wise and helpful.]
2) It frees us from the spirit-squeezing synchronization of services on Sunday morning.
[Some of us felt that the clock was "killing us."]
3) It saves us $1,400 a week in broadcast fees.
[With this money that will be freed on October 4, we could begin to invest in planning and preparation for a South campus, if God leads in that direction.]
4) It enables "neighborhood congregations" to use the video in homes at creative times when outreach is optimal. For more details on scheduling see page 8.
We pray that God will create in us the pilgrim mindset to spread a passion by multiplication. The price is higher [emotional not financial] than centralization. But the saving effect for those without Christ will, we believe, be greater. And that will be our joy. Pray with us for this miracle of grace.
For the Council of Elders,
How Can You Respond?
Here are five ways you can respond to what you have heard:
1. Pray earnestly alone and as a family or small group that God will give you, and all of us, a risk-taking pilgrim mindset in the place of a more comfortable, domestic, stay-where-you-are mindset. Pray for a passion to spread. Pray that your joy would be the more painful act of giving birth to new things. Pray for a love for lost people and a zeal for winning them.
2. Offer yourself for ministry. Look at the back page of the vision booklet and call or go to the tables in the commons and foyer and say, "I want to be a part of making this vision a reality in whatever way I can." (Usher, greeter, teacher, small-group leader, any of the ministries on page 4.)
3. Come to the Treasuring Christ Together dream and pray night this Wednesday at 6:45. See the inspiring video of the Charlotte church plant. Share your dreams. Ask your questions. Pray together that God would have mercy on us and establish the work of our hands.
4. Come next Sunday and hear about one biblical strategy for relationships in a big church with multiple campuses.
5. Now put all these plans and dreams on the altar, and by your participation at the Lord's table, say: Jesus, you matter to me-to us together-more than all these plans. They are the wineskins. You are the wine. It's all about you. We are your chosen race, royal priesthood, your holy nation, your own possession. And you are our treasure, our food, our drink, our life. Amen.