Below is the text of a Bible study, offered to the church leadership at First Pres, prior to a gathering at which we discussed the future of the church in light of declining attendance patterns.
Earlier this week, the Gospel Coalition advertised a special podcast entitled, “How to Raise an Alien Child.” Hey, I thought, now there’s a class I could teach. I often wonder if my children are from another planet.
The real reference being made in the title of the podcast was to 1 Peter 2:11-12:
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.
So, the promotion for the “raising an alien child” podcast proposed:
“As Christian parents, our greatest hope for our children is that they would grow to know, love, and serve God with everything they have. But those who grow to know, love, and serve God with everything they have don’t blend in.”
We’ve called this meeting tonight a “leadership gathering,” but I would rather call it, “how to raise an alien church.” How to be the church in such a way that we stick out, not to call attention to ourselves, but to call attention over and over again to God.
Let’s look at another text that might show us how. Let’s look at the Book of Revelation, chapter 1, beginning in verse 1.
Here, as John introduces his revelation—his “apocalypse”—he indicates the purpose of the church in proclaiming God’s good news in Jesus Christ:
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.
The sequence is significant: God to Jesus to his angel to John to his servants, i.e. us, “those who hear and keep what is written in the book.”
John gets more specific as he addresses the seven churches in Asia.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia:…
Seven is a symbolic number of completeness, so he is addressing not just “seven” churches literally but all churches. And what he says to all the churches is this:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,…
The “seven spirits” denotes the completeness of the Holy Spirit before the throne of God, so the Holy Spirit is the One who empowers the churches, with God and Jesus Christ, to do our work.
…and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Taken altogether, who are we? We are the free (from sin) citizens of God’s kingdom. Even more specifically, we are priests. In the former days, God’s people needed a priest who would stand between them and God in the temple and showing God’s presence to us. Now, though, “the entire people of God have unmediated access to God’s presence because Christ has removed the obstacle of sin.” (Beale, The Book of Revelation, NGTIC, 2013). We show God’s presence to the world, by what we do, what we say, how we live, how we treat each other, how we speak of God, how we speak of creation and God’s people.
Wherever God leads us tonight, whatever we decide to do, by the Spirit’s leading, we must remember that we are called to be an alien church. An odd church. A peculiar church. An alien church. If it’s easy, if it’s comfortable, if it’s conventional, if it causes us to blend in, then it probably isn’t of God.
One last comment from Psalm 105, which recounts the story of God. You remember this part: Joseph leads his family to Egypt during the famine. Once the 12 tribes have made a home in Egypt, they get comfortable there until a king is born (Exodus 1) who doesn’t know Joseph, and things begin to turn on the Israelites.
The psalmist’s choice of words in Psalm 105 is significant: The Lord made his people very fruitful in Egypt. Then He turned the hearts of his peoples’ enemies (the Egyptians) to hate the Israelites. (105:24-25)
The point is simple. The Israelites were happy enough in Egypt. They had homes, food, and security. God had to kick them in the pants to get them to leave Egypt and head towards the Promised Land.
Tonight, I would submit to you that God has sent the Finance Team, rather than Pharaoh, to kick our pants a little.
But, before we get there, let’s pray…