Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
There are two million people within driving distance of our church. Most of them do not treasure Jesus Christ. Most of them are under the wrath of God and will be condemned eternally if they do not receive Jesus as the supremely valuable Savior and Lord of their lives. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). All the hundreds of thousands of unbelievers in the Metro area, from Lakeville to Elk River and from Wayzata to Lake Elmo, need to be born again by the living and abiding word of God (1 Peter 1:23) and be nurtured in a church where their passion for the supremacy of God in all things can grow.
There are many good, Christ-exalting, gospel-preaching churches in the Twin Cities. We are not alone in this task. But we are not responsible for their faithfulness. We are responsible for ours. I and the other elders of Bethlehem will give an account for how we shepherded this flock, and how we equipped you for the work of the ministry, and how we strategized to spread a passion for Christ among the unbelievers of these cities.
Not to Strategize Is a Heartless Strategy
Not thinking through a strategy as a church for winning and adding and shepherding more and more people is not an option. Because no strategy is a strategy. A heartless one. So the strategy we call Treasuring Christ Together is not a small thing for us. It is not icing on the cake. It is the calling of God on our lives among these hundreds of thousands of perishing people. I want you to feel the wonderful weight of this calling. And, if God would be so gracious, I want you to share it.
Treasuring Christ Together
We are focusing for three weeks—this is the second—on our church strategy called Treasuring Christ Together. TCT is a commitment to multiply campuses, plant new churches, and care for the poorest of the poor through the Global Diaconate, all founded on a common biblical life and doctrine. Presently we meet as a single church on three campuses—downtown Minneapolis near the Metrodome, Mounds View (north), and Burnsville (south). We own the Downtown Campus debt free. We owe about $8 million on the North Campus. And we rent the South Site. When Treasuring Christ Together was launched in the fall of 2003, the average first quarter attendance at Bethlehem was 2,742 people. This past first quarter, four years later, across the three campuses the average was 3,935. Last April we had over 5,000 people on a single weekend for the first time in the 136-year history of the church.
One of the most basic questions that the church faced four years ago was: Should our strategy for handling present growth and pursing new growth be the building of a very large sanctuary downtown—say for three or four thousand people, and then have two services—and then what? Or do we become one church on several campuses? The biblical thinking, and cultural reflection, and long discussions, and serious prayer that went into that decision were extraordinary. My hope in these messages is to inspire your sense of significance in being part of Treasuring Christ Together, and to win your joyful, visionary, financial giving to this strategy, and to summon you into deeper Christ-treasuring, Christ-exalting investment of your life in the advancement of this vision.
One Place We Went for Help: Acts 2
As we wrestled with these things, we asked, How are we to think about growth? We are talking about human beings who will spend eternity in heaven or in hell. Hundreds of thousands of them. Where could we go for help? In this message, I want to give you one example of where we went: Acts 2:36-47. It does not answer all our questions, and it does not mandate or forbid doing church on multiple campuses. But it is inspiring and illuminating in regard to what faces us.
Peter comes to the end of his sermon at Pentecost, fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus and ten days after his ascension into heaven. He ends on a great Christ-exalting note in verse 36, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” In other words, God has raised Jesus from the dead and installed him into his exalted offices of Lord of the church that he bought with his blood and king over his covenant people. This one, Peter says, you crucified.
“What Must I Do to be Saved?”
Then by God’s amazing grace, instead of grinding their teeth at him and dragging him out to be beheaded or stoned, which is what will happen to James and Stephen before long, they are convicted for their sin. Verse 37: “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”
When Peter later reports to the church in Jerusalem that Cornelius and the Gentiles had believed in Christ and received the Holy Spirit, these very people who are here being converted say in Acts 11:18, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” The reason they say “to the Gentiles also” is because they knew that is what happened to them on this day of Pentecost. They were granted repentance. It was a gift of God. When an unbelieving person hears the word of God—a person who has been guilty of crucifying the Lord of glory (by their hands or by their shouts or by their sins)—only a miracle of sovereign grace explains why some cry out, “Away with such men,” and others say, “What must I do to be saved?”
So God brings them to conviction, and in verses 38-39, Peter answers them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” It would be a terrible misuse of these verses to build a whole theology of baptismal regeneration on it—that is, to say as some denominations do that the act of baptism is the instrument that connects you to Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and until you are baptized you are not forgiven, and not justified. I have dealt with many people over the years because those denominations capture many vulnerable students at the university.
“Get Your Hat and Run”
The mere statement that we should repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins does not tell us how baptism works in relation to the forgiveness of sins. If I say, “Get your hat and run, or you’ll miss the train,” I am not saying that “getting your hat is part of what gets you to the train on time. I’m just saying that there are good reasons to get your hat as you run. But it’s the running that makes the difference whether you get to the train on time. And when Peter says, “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, he does not tell us whether the baptism or the repentance or both are the instrument that connects us with forgiveness.
In fact, in Acts 3:19, Peter says, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.” No mention of baptism. But the promise of forgiveness is still given. And in Acts 16:31, Paul says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” No mention of baptism, but the assurance of salvation given.
If you take the whole witness of the New Testament into account, it becomes clear that we are justified by faith alone (Romans 3:28; 5:1) and that baptism is a proper and Christ-mandated expression of that faith. So I would paraphrase verse 38 like this: “Repent, that is, turn from your unbelief and put your faith in Christ, and give expression to that faith in baptism. This faith will connect you to Jesus Christ, and on the basis of what he has done for you, you will be forgiven all your sins, even the sin of crucifying the Lord of glory. And in that forgiven state, you will receive the enjoyment of Holy Spirit and all his fruit in your life.”
Everyone Who Jesus Calls to Himself
Indeed, don’t think that this blessing is just for you, verse 39 says. It is for the generations that come after you and for the Gentiles, that is, those who are far off. But it is not automatic, or genetic. Just because a Christian has children does not guarantee that those children will be saved. That’s why Peter says, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, [and then adds the defining point] everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Peter is not saying there are three groups who get the Holy Spirit: your children, those far off, and those whom God calls. He is saying that among your children and among those far off it is those whom God calls who will receive the Holy Spirit. That is why we pray for our children and the nations of the world: O Sovereign Lord, deliver your great soul-saving call!
Peter goes on in verse 40. Luke says “with many other words” he encouraged them to “be saved”! The verb is passive, not active—not save yourselves, but be saved. Which means, receive the saving grace of God.
Three Thousand Added
The result of Peter’s sermon and God’s gift of repentance is that three thousand people professed faith in Christ and were baptized and became a part of that first church. Verse 41: “Those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” Verse 42 gives a summary of what their lives looked like: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” 1) Serious students of the apostles’ teaching; 2) fellowship which included the effort to share possessions so that no one was in need; 3) eating together, perhaps including the Lord’s Supper; and 4) praying together.
Day by Day Adding to Their Number
Then Luke tells us in verse 43-45 that “awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Poor and rich joined the church. And those who had more than they needed sold something they possessed and gave the money to those in need so that no one was in need. Like I said last week, in regard to the Global Diaconate, you cannot read far in the Bible till the issue of caring for the poor is mentioned or implied.
Then in verse 46-47, we get a glimpse into the structure of the church: “Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes [note: temple and homes], they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Observations Relevant to Our TCT Strategy
Now let’s step back and make some observations that are relevant for the strategy of Treasuring Christ Together.
1) Christ himself builds his church.
We plant. We water. But the Lord gives life. Verse 47b: “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” The Lord did this. Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Church strategies are not decisive. God is decisive. There is far too much emphasis in the American church on the human dimension of church planting and church growth, and far too little emphasis on the divine dimension. Let there be no mistake: Treasuring Christ Together, as a strategy for spreading a passion for God, is not decisive in whether anyone cries out, “What must I do to be saved?” That is a work of the Holy Spirit. And we should be on our faces crying out for it continually.
2) The Lord uses the word of God in the mouth of his servants to grow the church.
Verse 37: “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart.” It was God who cut them to the heart. But God used the word spoken by Peter. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word about Christ (Romans 10:17). Bethlehem is a word-oriented church. We aim to be a Bible-saturated people. We believe it is staggeringly significant that God has spoken—that he has inspired a book. Campus and church plants and Global Diaconate teams are built around the word of God.
3) There was one church in Jerusalem, and it was big and growing.
At least as far as we know, this church was conceived as one church. In Acts 8:1, Luke writes, “There arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem.” Not “churches.” One church. In Acts 11:22, Luke writes, “The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.” Not “churches” but “church.” And in Acts 15:4, Luke describes the welcome of Paul and Barnabas in Jerusalem: “When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders.” Not churches, but church.
So there is no evidence that the believers in Jerusalem were several churches. But consider the numbers. In Acts 2:41, “there were added that day about three thousand souls.” In Acts 4:4, Luke says, “Many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” And the word for “men” refers to males. So the real number of believers was at least double that, because it says in Acts 5:14, “More than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” So we have one church of at least ten thousand members. How did they do that? How were they structured? What did church look like?
Don’t misunderstand. We are not operating on the assumption that if we knew the exact structure of the Jerusalem church or the Philippian church or the Corinthian church we would have to structure ourselves just that way. We believe that where the New Testament commands us to do something or implies that it is right to do it in all times and all places, we obey. But there is no command in the New Testament that says, “Replicate all the structures that you see in the early church.” Some are commanded; some are not. Our aim was simply, “Can we see some guidelines? Can we see mandates and prohibitions if there are any, and can we see opportunities and permissions?”
4) This church met in large gatherings to hear the apostles in the temple, it seems, and in small gatherings in their homes.
Verse 46: “Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” So it says they met every day in the temple. But be careful you don’t jump to the conclusion that all believers worshipped every day in the temple. Maybe. But I doubt it. More likely is that it means: There were Christians there every day listening to the apostles, not that they were all there every day.
The temple was large, perhaps a total of 26-35 acres depending on the exact measurement of the cubit. The court of the Gentiles could hold huge crowds. But an apostle shouting loud enough to be heard by ten thousand people would have been totally disruptive to the ongoing life of the temple. More likely is that there were gatherings of several hundred perhaps two or three times during the day every day and the apostles shared the teaching.
The reason I say they were probably being taught by the apostles is that, just like it says in Acts 2:46, “Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes . . .” so it says in Acts 5:42, “Every day, in the temple and from house to house, [the apostles] did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” So we know that the church “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching” (2:42) and gathered daily in the temple (2:46) and that the apostles taught daily in the temple (5:42). So it seems to me that they had organized themselves so that as one church of over ten thousand they could be instructed by the apostles in larger groups in the temple courts and meet in smaller groups from house to house. We don’t know for sure how they did it. But we take heart that it appears they had to wrestle with some of the same things we do, and they did the best they could structurally with ten thousand people.
5) One more thing about this church: They encountered problems along the way owing to their size and their ethnic diversity.
Acts 6:1 says, “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number [there’s the size cause], a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews [there’s the ethnic or cultural cause] because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” In other words, even though they tried to structure themselves to meet everyone’s needs, it didn’t always work and they had to figure out some new structures.
So we see ourselves as one church, growing, by God’s sovereign grace and through the instrument of his word, from two thousand to four thousand to ten thousand people. And we believe that it is possible—indeed, strategic—to structure ourselves on multiple campuses and in hundreds of home groups so that the larger temple experience and the smaller home experience happens as we devote ourselves to the teaching of the apostles (the New Testament) and to fellowship and to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
A Letter from 2004
Now to draw this to a close and encourage you to take the TCT brochure and study it and pray over it and bring back the response card next week with whatever commitment God leads you to make, I want to read a letter that I wrote to you all on April 21, 2004, encouraging you to be a part of Treasuring Christ Together.
Treasuring Christ Together
A Vision for Church Planting and Campus Multiplication
Bethlehem Baptist Church
April 21, 2004
Bethlehem Baptist Church exists to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.
God’s mercy on our commitment “to spread” this passion has given birth to growth that must be managed and dreams that should be pursued.
The growth to be managed looks like this: First quarter worship attendance averages: 1998 – 1234; 1999 – 1631; 2000 – 1963; 2001 – 2110; 2002 – 2285; 2003 – 2742. [2007 – 3985]
As such, 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, in this decade of the twenty-first century, we think this alternative vision is harder and better. New churches and new campuses call for new faith in God through continual stretching. It will require a pilgrim mindset on this earth, not a settler mindset.
Picture a future with me. What if God did here what he has done in Taiyuan, China, in the past five years, namely, bring five thousand new baptized believers into the church? How would we care for them and build them up and assemble with them in worship? The answer of TCT is multiply churches and campuses.
Take the concept of multiple campuses. Being one church on several campuses means that, as the church grows, every campus is paid for by more people, and therefore becomes less expensive per capita. Imagine a campus typically serving two thousand people (which is what we are aiming at). Imagine, with each campus, the cumulative numbers of saints devoted to providing campuses where they do not attend.
For example, right now that would mean two thousand people downtown and one thousand people north combining to pay for a second campus. With each campus, the numbers of those committed to paying for the next campus increases, and the price per person comes down.
So if we pay for a $9 million second campus with three thousand people that averages out to $1,000 per person per year over three years. If we then provide a third campus at $9 million with 4,500 people, that averages out to $667 per person per year over three years. The fourth campus with six thousand people would average $500 similarly.
The point is not that we will certainly grow that slowly or that quickly, nor that campuses will always be $9 million. The point is a principle: If a band of radical disciples of Jesus are able to keep a pilgrim mindset and believe in an expanding vision of the local church, multiplying campuses is a feasible and affordable way to do it under the united banner of spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.
To put things in perspective, compare the cost of this expansion with the cost of housing you or your family. A $120,000 house purchased to house four people costs an average of $30,000 per person. That is $10,000 a year per person for three years. Or $1,000 per person for thirty years (not counting interest in either illustration).
Please pray with us that the vision of Treasuring Christ Together will grip our hearts and be the means of folding ten thousand people into Bethlehem’s community of passion for God’s supremacy.
Our Present Drive: Four Million Dollars in Fourteen Months
This present drive is to raise four million dollars by the end of next year for TCT—that’s over and above an $8.5 million church and missions budget for next year. That may sound huge. But I wonder if God might want to do something utterly amazing and totally pay off the North Campus debt so that we could move sooner rather than later on the permanent South Campus. Four million dollars would be less than $1,000 per attender over the next fourteen months. I know there are children and young people in that number. But I also know of three commitments waiting to be made totaling $300,000. So three hundred of those children are already covered. And I believe there are hundreds of very large gifts waiting to happen.
The Widow’s Mite Is Precious
In God’s eyes, the widow’s mite is very precious. And God has a way of making five fish feed five thousand. I would not presume to orchestrate God’s counter-intuitive ways of meeting our needs. I simply ask you to take the brochure and pray over it and think about it, and ask this question: Do I want to own this vision as a very good thing for the glory of Christ and the good of these cities and the reaching of the nations?