Discipleship at the Core
Nigel Coles’ thoughts on our ‘Core Convictions’ theme for this year.
At the end of the WEBA AGM on the 20th June, WEBA’s Senior Regional Minister Nigel Coles spoke briefly on the theme we’ve chosen for 2016 – Discipleship at the Core, with a focus on 1 Peter 1:16: “Be Holy because I am holy”. Because that talk was necessarily short, and because we believe it’s so important to understand this call to discipleship as we engage in God’s mission in this region, we’re making Nigel’s full set of sermon notes available here.
Upcoming opportunities to develop discipleship:
Be holy as I am holy … discipleship at the core.
Discipleship at the Core has been our theme for the four Network Gatherings during 2016. So far we’ve heard three different people speak from their hearts and conviction based on this particular theme, which is also one of our WEBA core convictions.
Tracy Cotterell, from LICC, at our Network Gathering in Cirencester , spoke about what this looks like on our own frontline. She reminded us it will be who are which provokes colleagues at work to ask the question ‘tell me what it is that makes you tick’?
Kathryn Hill, from Care for the Family, reminded us how Christians who maintain Jesus at the centre of their family life together are those who are rooted in the security of the King.
Derek Hills spoke in Bristol most recently about what discipleship looks like in local churches and particularly of how we don’t do what we say we’ll do … in terms of ‘making disciples’.
Gary will speak at our final Network Gathering to be held in Trowbridge, next Sunday and challenging us to think about when we start being disciples and how we grow, as such, in relationship with Jesus.
This evening I simply wish to highlight the most critical perspective … on what it means to have discipleship at the core of all we are and all we do, as a network of Baptist Churches here in the West of England … and that is God’s perspective.
Peter presents it very straightforwardly: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1:16)
1 Peter 1: 3-16.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 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. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
It was Tracy Cotterell, who highlighted John Stott’s final address when he was 86. In response to asking the question: ‘What is God’s purpose for his people? He said this:
‘Where my mind has come to rest .. .God wants his people to become like Christ’
“Be holy, because I am holy.”
‘Holiness’ is God’s word he uses to describe the kind of people he calls to follow Jesus.
‘Holiness’ is the very essence of the nature of our relationship with the One, true, living God.
‘Holiness’ is what marks us out from the crowd.
‘Holiness’ is what identifies us as the people of God.
‘Holiness’ is what alerts people around us to the reality of the one, true living God.
… and ‘holiness’ is an unfashionable, misunderstood and marginalised word and that’s just within the Church! Beyond the church there is next to no understanding.
Within the Bible ‘holiness’ features large. Not surprisingly, because it’s not simply a word.
Holiness is part of the very nature and character of God.
So when we hear the voice of the One, true, living God declare ‘be Holy, as I am Holy’ we need to pay attention. The temptation is to withdraw, as a result of our awareness we are unworthy, or to shrink from the challenge because we are aware it is beyond us, but both responses are a denial of the gospel Peter so eloquently reminds us of here in 1 Peter, which ‘has given us new birth into a living hope’ (1:3)
When we talk across WEBA of the need for discipleship to be at the core of all we are and all we do, we are merely reflecting this all-embracing call of God Himself to holiness.
Many of you will be aware there are two essential strands of meaning to the way in which ‘holy’ is used throughout Scripture …
i. The idea of something, or someone being separated out for God’s special use. ‘Holy’ temple, ‘holy’ nation, ‘holy’ day are just three of many examples. So when Peter reminds us we (disciples who together are the Church of Jesus Christ) are a holy nation, he is reminding us we are called ‘for’ God. As human beings who have responded to the all-embracing call of Jesus, ‘come follow me’, we have been called to holiness. We have been ‘chosen’ (1:2) by God himself for his ‘use’ and just as the temple, or the Sabbath, or anything else we need to be attentive to the ‘how’ we are of use. This is so crucial because God’s intended outcome, outlined in 2:9-10 – we have been called, for God’s purpose to declare ‘the praises of him’ and reveal his ‘wonderful light’.
ii. The description of something, which reflects the very nature and character of God. We worship a ‘Holy’ God; it is part of his very nature. Because God is Holy by nature, his acts are also holy, because what he does flows from who he is. ‘Be holy, because I am holy’ . ‘You cannot be serious!’ (Wimbledon starts next week & John McEnroe will be entertaining us from the commentary box this year, but even those of you not old enough to remember, will if you’re tennis fans, be aware he made this statement famous by challenging the verdict of the umpire. To be honest, that’s how I felt reading this for many years – surely Lord you cannot be serious, because this suggests I am to have your very nature, whereas I feel like Peter (the same guy who wrote this letter) when he said:
‘Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man’ (Luke 5:8)
But eventually I heard Jesus speak, as he spoke to Peter on that occasion, making it clear he was well aware of this fact, but he can change everything:
‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people’ (Luke 5:10)
Although we have very little time to explore it, this one word does highlight the essential requirement for us as churches together, as well as individual followers of Jesus, to ensure, as far as we are able our actions correspond to our words … in other words we practice what we preach.
I was talking to someone recently who told me they were stopped in the corridor at work recently and a colleague simply came out with one of the questions we all long to hear … ‘would you mind if I came to church with you’?
That question doesn’t usually arise out of the blue … knowing this person I’m aware they’ve working alongside each other for nearly ten years, had far less direct conversations about faith in Jesus than this Christian woman would have liked, or has hoped for, but (and this is a reminder to us all) faith is seen in what it does. We may need to adjust our timescales, but we need to maintain our praying for those we connect with, that they may see Jesus, because of us, rather than in spite of us.
Peter says (1 Peter 2:12) ‘Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us’.
‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have’. (1 Peter 3:15)
Living out our faith in Christ is what we call discipleship and God calls ‘holiness’ … so the first thing to underline is:
A. Discipleship will be our core … to the extent it is the core of our identity.
We are called to a new and living hope in Jesus.
Encountering Jesus changes us: we know that. The old poster ‘if you were arrested for being a follower of Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you’ is what Peter is talking about here.
If Jesus changes our heart, if God places within us a ‘new heart’ , then it follows that we shall look different. Old hard, attitudes will be softened, as a direct result of the work of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, the fruit of the Spirit of God will be more evident to other people. How do they recognize we have changed at the very core of our being?
By the attitudes we display and they encounter.
By the actions, which result from God’s action in our life.
By the words, which come from our lips as an overflow of our hearts.
A lot has been said about ‘Baptist identity’ in recent years and I do believe it’s an important issue, not simply because I’m a Regional Minister and in some senses represent the wider Baptist Union, but because I think we have something very precious built into the very DNA of what is designed as a network of Churches. ‘Network’ is increasing in its’ usage, but it is the best descriptor of the nature of the relationship between Baptist Churches dating back over 400 years now.
At the core of the essence, however, of our identity is our relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord. This means if we were to place ‘Baptist identity’ above our ‘Christian identity’, we would immediately deny our very nature.
This, by way of example, is the heart of reason why the Baptist Union Council could only make one decision, in relation to same sex marriage recently at our March Council meeting … if we were to remain true to the Biblical revelation of the nature and person of God.
To the extent we understand ‘who’ we are, God has made us holy, we shall accept how we are called to live accordingly. ‘For this very reason’ (1:5) live out your salvation.
We can se this individually too. My own Christian growth has been related my growing awareness of ‘who’ God has called me to be.
Do you know the story of what Michelangelo who said: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
That’s my story.
B. Discipleship will be our core … to the extent it is the core of our rootedness.
We are called to a new and living relationship with Jesus.
Every Baptist Church I’m aware of has a practice of taking communion together on at least a monthly basis.
Q: Why do we do this?
A: Because we’re prone to forget what Jesus has done and all we’re offered.
When I forget I am rooted in a relationship with a holy God, two things happen:
i. I focus on myself.
ii. I allow God to be eclipsed.
Sometimes this means I go into situations thinking it all depends upon me …I guess I’m not the only one. The problem is I end up getting stressed and the other person doesn’t get as clear a view of Jesus either.
This is why what we talk about as ‘church health’ is closely related to ‘church growth’.
I regularly have conversations with people, members of churches, who say they don’t feel they could invite their friends to one of their services. If that’s you and it describes how you feel about your church, then clearly something needs to change for God’s sake, or we shall continue to allow the void between church and British cultures to widen even more.
Let me tell you about Clare.
Clare is one of the nine people on our first Forge Training cycle.
She’s a member of one of our smallest Baptist Churches in WEBA, which on paper has five members – she and her husband, Guy, are two of them.
However, Clare has set up and established something called Breakfast@9 – one Sunday morning a month they have breakfast and do church at the level which is accessible for all ages. She also runs a parent and toddler group, which has run since before Messy Church was heard of called Messy Club. These two groups connect them with around 30 families, which equates to over 100 people. In a village environment that’s massive
Of the nine people on Forge Clare is typical.
The nine people who are part of our first tranche of training on Forge Leadership are all remarkable people.
Seven of the nine are women and I don’t what that says, but I think it indicates there are people in all of our churches who could help the brightness of the gospel be seen even more clearly, if they their gifts and capabilities were recognized.
None of the nine are accredited Baptist Ministers, but all of them are working through how we can reach the networks I am connected with for Jesus.
One of the frequent topics of conversation among these nine on our Forge Training weekends is … how can we close the gap between who we are ‘as church’ and where people are, not-yet Christians?
They are all very clear, who they are as people, how they act, what they say, what attitudes they display, has a profound influence on all their relationships.
By the way, we begin another cycle of training in 2017.
C. Discipleship will be our core … to the extent it is the core of our practices.
We are called to a new and living lifestyle for Jesus.
Before you start reciting your reasons (excuses) for not speaking up, or hiding your Jesus light under a bowl, let’s remind ourselves where the Church was
Peter was writing to:
Here’s how they were described:
They were entering into a time of intense persecution, which was more akin to that our brothers and sisters in places like Syria, Iraq and Pakistan experience, than what happens here in the UK, which doesn’t even rank on the scale.
They were ‘exiles’ because they are seeking to live ‘good lives among the pagans’ (2:12) and ‘scattered’ because they are being persecuted, as a direct result of their faith in Jesus Christ and driven from their homes, hence scattered ‘throughout the provinces’ (1:1).
Do you remember when coffee was … just coffee?
I’m now an expert in answering, but never simply ask for a coffee unless you want a long conversation …
Small, medium, large?
Filter, espresso, or instant?
Cappachino, latte, or flat white?
Full, semi, or skimmed milk, or no milk?
Sugar, sweetener, or none?
At the end of the day, it’s all coffee.
Peter reminds us in this letter we have been set free, but we do not have freedom of choice to change the core of who we are:
… how do we make discipleship the core of everything we do and all we are?
If we are holy, then we must live holy lives.
If we are ‘Christ’s one’s’, which the word Christian means, we must reflect his life in all we do.
In a world where holiness is misrepresented and unfashionable … how do we set the trend towards holiness?
Peter underlines for Christians who are up against it is to remind them who they actually are ‘in Christ’.
‘We are’, so much ‘in Christ’, but too often we are not seen to be who we truly are because of our actions and attitudes.
Discipleship is seen in what it does.
When Derek Hills spoke at the Network Gathering in Bristol, he reminded us how Socrates refused to have pupils – I want to have those who will come and live with me and practice.
This was and is the way of Jesus – we are called to live with him. His priorities and his life is shaped in us by imitation, not by receiving information in the brain, everything is lived out in shoe leather.
If we have a clear perspective on ‘what Jesus did’ it will prove to be the greatest of helps in answering ‘what would Jesus do’?
I hope you are excited by some of the things God is doing among us. I hope you can see how everything we are pouring our energy into is designed to facilitate our churches to become places where discipleship … people’s lives being shaped by the life and call of Jesus Christ … people who are becoming holy as God is holy … is at the heart of our WEBA purposes and practices.
Remember if anyone is to ask you to explain the hope, which is within you, it will be because holiness is seen in what it does.
Let us pray together, that we shall look more like the people God has called us to be.