Building on the Cornerstone was the title of Regional Team Leader, Nigel Coles’ message to churches at Webnet’s 2023 Summer Gathering and AGM. The transcript of his message is below:
We live in turbulent times. The displacement of people on a global scale is unprecedented. We have not returned to equilibrium following the global pandemic. The climate crisis threatens the future of the world as we know it. Add in the economic crisis, the water crisis, the cost-of-living crisis – when we do so we can more readily understand the outlook for the people of God throughout most of history in which the biblical narrative is set.
I want to read to you a passage of scripture from 1 Peter 2: 4-10 and as we listen to the words Peter writes let us remember he was writing to people like us, the people of God. Then, the followers of ‘the way’, followers of Jesus Christ were scattered, as a result of persecution. Their lives and very existence were under threat.
However, Peter doesn’t focus on their context, rather he lifts their eyes to focus on the One, True, Living God. He threads three key themes throughout his letter, and they form a core for us in terms of how we are called to respond in our own cultural context:
He calls us ‘to be holy in all you do’.
He calls us to live ‘hopefully’: recognising our living hope is in God himself.
He calls us live out faithfully the life God has given us, whatever the cost, or suffering, in the light of the suffering of Christ himself.
4 As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him – 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8 and,
“A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
To thrive in uncertain times, we need a solid foundation
… hence the metaphor of the cornerstone in a building.
Peter knew Jesus’ parable from the Sermon on the Mount:
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7
Jesus is our rock, our cornerstone in a day of relativism and other isms:
Post-modernism: you have your truth, I have my truth.
Expressive individualism: it’s all about me.
Secularism: belief need have no foundation, there is no God.
Peter reminds a scattered people they can stand secure on the cornerstone, which is Jesus Christ and so can you and I.
I have the privilege of knowing I’m not alone, I’m working as a part of the best regional ministry team across our Union. Our commitment to you all who represent our Webnet churches this evening, on behalf of our regional ministry team, our staff team and our trustees is a commitment to build solely on the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ our Lord.
We are not naïve and are very aware of the challenges which face the church across the UK. As Baptists we are not immune – take a look at any graph or set of statistics and the overall direction is one of shrinkage, whether that be members, attenders, baptisms, or churches. Yet I am looking forward to our future as the people of God – because we can rely on him and crisis precedes renewal.
Our challenges are not of the magnitude the first-century church was facing. Neither are they as significant as elsewhere. I was talking recently with Valerii Antoniuk and Igor Bandura – two of the key leaders for the Ukrainian Baptist Union
Of their 2300 churches, 250 of them are currently in Russian-occupied territory; they’ve lost 500 Pastors over the first year of the war for various reasons (mostly due to those who’ve left the country) and seen two seminaries destroyed.
Yet they said to me: “When God leads us through evil days his grace makes the difference. From one perspective we are in difficulty, but from ours, we are simply called to live the real Christian life. We like to think of ourselves as people of hope. We have baptised over 3000 people since the war began, his love is bigger still, that is why we hope”.
“in his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade’ 1 Peter 1
To thrive in uncertain times, we need to live aligned with our core convictions.
A cornerstone was essential not solely for a strong foundation, but also clear alignment by which to build.
Both the angle of the walls, as well as the level of the stone courses would be extended from the cornerstone.
Peter recognises our problem, however: we are ‘living stones’, not bricks of standard size. He recognises we can respond (or otherwise), so he calls us to be holy, to be obedient, to live as foreigners to and exiles in this world.
It is a call to stand secure on the rock of our salvation and to build life in the light of his grace and truth.
Both are essential for us all and they explain:
- why we are wanting to be clear in clarifying our basis of faith cannot simply be assumed, but has not departed from our historic Baptist basis,
- why we recognise there is an absolute accord between the authority of the incarnate Word of God (Jesus Christ) and the written word of God (the Bible)
- why we cannot adopt beliefs as our own, which rely more on our culture exegeting scripture than the other way round.
So, as we engage with each and every item we shall address this evening as representatives of our churches, as we seek to live out our living hope, in Christ as churches and as we seek to stand firm on the cornerstone as individual followers of Jesus, may we fix our eyes on Jesus and ask for the empowering of the Holy Spirit.