Verse 14 is my focus today…read it again from The Message translation: “If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you’re not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favorable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?”
Who’s welcome at the Table? Table fellowship, here, is the primary point of focus, but it could easily be the pews of the church, the outings of the church, the mission of the church…you can think of others I’m sure. The question is “Who is really welcome?” Paul’s confrontation of Peter is direct and to the point. Why? Because the “truth of the gospel” is at stake. The “truth of the gospel” is directly linked to table fellowship – Jew and Gentile believers on equal terms…One church not two. Was there to be one table where Jews and Gentiles could eat together as brothers and sisters in Christ or would it be necessary to maintain two separate tables symbolizing the separate cultural identity of the Jewish Christians?
The truth of the gospel mandates the formation of a new community in which there is no division between Jew and Gentile – a community in which Jews and Gentiles eat at one table in the love, and as we will see in tomorrow’s passage, “the faith of Christ Jesus”.
I came across the following story the other day in my reading…I think it has the right contemporary today-view of the community of faith we might claim in the church…
COME AS YOU ARE: FAITH PROMISE CHURCH
Founded in 1995, Faith Promise Church in Knoxville, Tenn., has grown steadily over the past 20 years. It started out with a launch team of 200 and now serves over 5,500, having opened its first multisite campus in the fall of 2010.
Through the years, the church has opened additional locations throughout the greater Knoxville area, and recently launched two additional sites. Today, the church has a thousand more members than at this time last year—a 22 percent growth rate.
“Moving into a multisite model has enabled us to go from addition to multiplication,” explains Senior Pastor Chris Stephens. “Instead of giving one or two invitations a week at one location, we give 13 invitations at six locations.” (This includes the five physical locations, a partner campus in Costa Rica and an Internet campus.)
Obviously, by serving and reaching more people, the opportunity for spiritual growth increases exponentially. For instance, last year the church performed a record number of baptisms (on Easter Sunday alone, the attendance was 12,752, and they baptized 288 people that weekend). This year they have almost broken last year’s baptism record with five more months still remaining in 2014 as of this writing.
Stephens describes Faith Promise as a “come as you are” church. “It doesn’t matter what your skin color is, how you dress, how much money you make, what kind of car you drive,” says Stephens. “We welcome everybody.”
Of course, not everyone adheres to an unconditional culture of love and acceptance. At Faith Promise’s newest campus, some members of the congregation were flustered when a cross-dresser named Tom began attending. Though they insisted that Tom be kicked out, Stephens refused, saying, “We’re gonna love whomever God sends through the door.”
Ultimately, about half of the congregation left, which was fine by Stephens. “Tom got saved,” says Stephens. “And now we’re back at numbers bigger than ever before.”
As for plans for the future, the church’s biggest challenge has been maintaining leaders—especially as the church branches out to multiple locations, thinning out volunteers. The church, however, has become very intentional about developing next-generation (18- to 25-year-old) leaders.
“We’ve opened the door and they’ve flooded in,” notes Stephens. “They’re spreading their wings.” Spreading their wings and growing the church.
FAITH PROMISE CHURCH
Senior Pastor: Chris Stephens
Growth in 2013: +875 (22%)
Fastest Growing: 22