Bethlehem Conference for Pastors Update #2

Bethlehem Conference for Pastors Update #2

Michael Campbell—Sacrificing Self: the Multi-Ethnic Church and the Mandate of the Gospel

We need to think about the church the way God thinks about the church
• this means for pastors to give of self toward the goal of a multi-ethnic church

1 Corinthians 9.19-23: all for the sake of the gospel

Campbell is the pastor of a “growing multi-ethnic congregation in Jackson, MS. The part that should surprise us is this is happening in Jackson, MS. Surprising because church growth experts like to tell us that in order to grow a church you’ll need to find your niche market and pursue that level of homogeneity or sameness. This raises an obvious question: can a multi-ethnic church even exist let alone thrive? Campbell’s answer was a resounding “Yes!” it can and does.

Pastor Campbell then gave us some glimpses into his background as an African-American growing up in southwestern Virginia and how that brings real experience to bear for him in this matter.

In speaking from 1 Corinthians 9, we saw that Paul, too had a strong ethnic heritage as a Jew, a Hebrew of Hebrews (Philippians 3.3-6). This identity is what distinguishes as well as isolates or is used to isolate. In Acts, after Paul’s conversion, it is this identity and the radically proposed change to that identity, not Christ even, that nearly got Paul killed (Acts 22).

Paul’s world had been turned upside down by Christ. Our world should be turned upside down by Christ, but sadly, it’s not. Paul, once a Hebrew of Hebrews, is now a “free slave”. He is a slave to Christ and to all these Christians, but he is, at the same time free from them: free from their financial control, from the political control, from whatever other bondage they might try to impose upon him. He is free in Christ and now he is free indeed. He is even free of his ethnicity: not to deny it or ignore it or move away from it, but free from the bondage to only be a certain way because of this identity.

I appreciated this message a great deal. I agree with it wholeheartedly. I am greatly convicted that I am, most likely unwittingly, a slave of my cultural/ethnic heritage as a white American. I want to repent of that. And in repenting, seek to have Cornerstone EFC in Rochester embrace others, not because it would be good to have blacks or Hispanics or Asians in our congregation, but because they are lost sinners headed to an eternity under the terrible and fearsome wrath of God. I want to live the gospel for the sake of Christ and His body.

My big problem is this: I simply don’t know how. If there are one or two books that might give me and my congregation some good, solid, biblical practical help in this, please recommend away. I want to look like Christ. I want our congregation to look like Christ to the praise of His glory.

Ajith Fernando: How Must a Pastor Die? Part 2

Later this morning, Ajith Fernando came to the pulpit again to address more teaching from Colossians 1.24-29. This morning we moved on to the phrase “…for the sake of His body…” We saw that we, as pastors must die, so that the church would be blessed.

Suffering. What a foreign concept to most church “stuff” put out today, at least in almost any church growth materials I’ve seen or in the emergent church writings/bloggings/ramblings I’ve read. Ajith continued to give example after example of those who have died and suffered for the glory of God, the cause of Christ and the blessing of His church.

Then, five points were given how suffering spurs on church growth. Here they are without much else included (I fear I’ll never do justice to the full text of his message. The mp3 discs will be made available through the Desiring God web store at some point in the future):

Suffering spurs on true, biblical church growth…
By creating situations for the church to out
• see how this happened throughout the book of Acts: because the church was persecuted, they were scattered and the Gospel spread to the known world
• persecution opened the door for the gospel

by helping to demonstrate the gospel
• John’s gospel uses this word of Christ’s death: glory!
• suffering shows the heart of the gospel; martyrdom does this like nothing else
• in today’s pluralistic culture absent of “absolute truth” people are craving that which is truly real and martyrdom is eminently real!

By helping us to identify with people, thus having a more effective ministry among them
• this is the incarnational aspect to the gospel: we become Christ to them, just as Christ became man to us
• perhaps the greatest need of the church today is found in this 1 Corinthians. 9 passage: to the weak I became weak. When was the last book title on growing a church and doing evangelism with that line in it?
• the key to incarnational ministry is learning to live with frustration, suffering and pain because we’re going to be living & serving people

By helping us through spiritual turmoil in our hearts as we face failure
• Jesus seemed to face failure frequently, as seen most poignantly in the Garden of Gethsemane (Could you not pray for one hour?)
• most important lessons learned from failure
• most of the epistles are written because of failure and problems in the churches and yet these churches grew through these struggles

Finally, by giving us credibility
• Ephesians 4.1 exhorts us to walk in a worthy manner
• this will involve passion: commitment to Christ
• we’ve lost this in today’s churches; instead we give people what they like and then marvel with incredulity that they leave for bigger churches with more programs to offer

Can we avoid suffering? Yes, if we avoid commitment, passionate commitment to the gospel
• Dr. Fernando highlighted the biggest pain in his ministry has not come from Sri Lankan wars or revolutions, nor from tsunamis or political opposition, but from within the church itself!
• why? Because I care and love them and have strong commitments to Christ & his gospel for them
• we live in an aspirin generation—we don’t like pain and discomfort, so we avoid commitments of all kinds when they demand more than we’re willing to give to be comfortable
• so be committed, be prepared to suffer, be expecting to see the church blessed because of this.

John Piper: “Always Singing One Not… a Vernacular Bible – Why William Tyndale Live and Died”

Fortunately, we were given about an hour and a half to feed our physical bodies and rest our minds for just a bit before John Piper spoke to us about the life of William Tyndale. My goodness, I couldn’t write fast enough to take good notes. This being my 15th year at the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors I usually wait for the manuscript to be handed out following this Tuesday afternoon session (they haven’t done this for 2-3 years now; sometimes it’s made available online). Since that isn’t happening and since I couldn’t take copious enough notes, let me once again highlight and dwell on one tremendously significant and timely, relevant bit touched on by Dr. Piper.

Piper said there were three things he hoped and expected for us in this time together:
• to see that justification by grace alone through faith alone is at the heart of the Bible
• to see that vague doctrinal minimalizing language is not new; it’s not post-modern, it’s pre-modern because it’s perpetual! (more on this bit in a moment)
• to see that God’s Word is worth suffering and dying for

The key source for Piper’s lecture was from David Daniell’s William Tyndale: A Biography published by Yale University Press, New Haven, 1994 (one of the my first purchases upon arriving Monday afternoon!). So, if you want to know more, you’ll have to wait for the mp3 disc or get the book.

Tyndale, an ordained Catholic priest had some similarities with his contemporary, Erasmus: one must think hard and work hard in order to achieve spiritual growth. This was applied to their desire to translate the Scriptures into the vernacular of the people. Many great examples given here, e.g., one classroom assignment was to give 150 different ways to say, “Your letter has delighted me very much.” Yikes! So much for dull, boring, repetitive offertory prayers!

Where they parted company was that one must die to the notion that our thinking hard and diligent work are the keys to spiritual growth. Tyndale was Catholic, but was a reformer also, for he came to passionately believe that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone. And this, along with his tremendous desire to see the Bible translated into English so all could know this glorious truth, cost him his life.

Powerful, powerful stuff. Dangerous stuff for pastors, if we’ve grown comfortable and complacent and cushy.

In all this, we saw clearly that the Emergent Church and the New Perspective and other slithery talk like them are not new. The concepts that drive them to play their word games, to remain foggy on truth, to have no corners of conviction or commitment, to proudly display their pretentious superiority of ambiguity is not only Erasmus-like; it’s also Arian-like (see last year’s conference bio sketch). McLaren (I name him, not Piper), Wright and others just ape Arius and Erasmus. There really is nothing new under the sun. The problem with this is they are misleading 1,000s of 20-somthings who can’ see past 1975.

Oh that we would die to self and live to Christ. Oh that we would die to our wishy-washy notions with no corners and live to the four-cornered edginess of the gospel of Christ for His glory’s sake.

Thankfully, we’ll have about a 4 hour break before our minds are filled once more from Ajith Fernando this evening.

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