by Randy Bushey
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children (Deuteronomy 6:6,7).
The fulfilling of this Old Testament command was the impetus behind the founding of Bethel one century ago.
A little more than 20 years after the first shingled home was built in North Bay, three families on the 300 block of Fisher Street (Thompsons, Poidevans, Vroomans) began to meet in their homes during the early years of World War I.
They conducted Sunday school for their 3 children, subsequently adding the Lord’s Supper for 6 adults.
Our new building on Tackaberry Drive, erected in 2015 and occupied in 2016 marks the centennial of our church’s history.
As we enter the new year – the first full year in our Tackaberry facility – we’ve been reflecting on our history, recognizing that by many metrics 2016 has been a significant year of growth in the gospel’s impact.
Would those founding mothers and fathers from 100 years ago even recognize us today?
Our Sunday School – Bethel’s oldest, continous ministry – has been joined over the decades by strong ministries for children and teens: AWANA, Bethel Repertory Company, and Youth Group. Each is purposed with declaring the Gospel of Christ in young lives. In that way, today’s programs parallel what was initiated at the outset.
The Lord’s Supper, although attended by many more, continues to be observed in a simple, Christ-focussed, cross-centred way much like we understand of the prototype during those early war years and dating back to the practice of the early church.
That first home-based Sunday School outgrew the residences in which it was held, necessitating the construction in 1922 of a children’s clubhouse at 333 Fisher St. The old Orange Hall (Fisher & McIntyre – pictured) was acquired in 1942, and subsequently destroyed by fire in 1963.
The following year, Bethel’s congregation took what was then a significant step of faith, venturing to a new part of town: Widdifield. The work of Gospel proclamation continued at the corner of O’Brien & McKeown – the building being sold next month. The 1960s and early 70s marked years of growth, evangelism by the Lord’s people, and continued commitment to Bible preaching and living.
And like every faith community, ours has had a history of ups and downs – cycles of growth and breakthrough, followed by regression and spiritual decline.
Thankfully, the faithful, providential hand of the Lord has been evident in sustaining us, and finally moving us forward
And now we stand together on the brink of our 2nd century.
When will the return of Christ bring our work to its conclusion?
Until then, what are we to guard against? What spiritual threats are we to protect ourselves against?
What sins, if left unchecked, will ensure spiritual setback and inflict damage to the health of this local Body?
It all gets linked to one thing.
The New Testament church at Ephesus was one of the most fortunate local churches to have ever existed. Not only were 2 NT letters written to it (Ephesians and 1 Timothy), but it hosted the Apostle Paul for almost 3 years.
Did ever a church boast such a lineup of pastors, apostles, and Bible preachers? In addition to Paul and Timothy, the Apostle John ministered there, as did Apollos, and Pricilla and Aquila.
And yet, near the end of the 1st century, the Lord Jesus commanded: To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love (Revelation 2:1-4).
By this time, the church was in its 2nd or 3rd generation. Jesus commended the church on its perseverance, orthodoxy in practice, its hard work and standing for the truth.
And yet His stinging rebuke: You have forsaken your first love.
And that, in simple form, is what we need to vigorously defend against as a priority: losing our first love for Christ, which will invariably result in waning love for each other.
Bethel today has some obvious parallels to that Ephesian church of long ago. Our reputation is of perseverance; for a century, we’ve been proclaiming the Gospel in our town.
We’re recognized in our community and around the province as orthodox, hard-working and committed to the truth of Scripture.
But all of that is largely meaningless if we retreat from loving Christ.
Here are 3 symptoms of a Christ-loving retreat – and we’ve experienced them all before.
Blaming others for personal periods of spiritual dryness.
Takeaway: As empowered by the Spirit of God, may we recommit to a culture of low judgement and high grace.
And together with those believers who launched Bethel a century ago we pledge to recognize the authority of God’s Word, the power as supplied by the Holy Spirit, and our purpose being to honour God’s Son as we reflect His glory in this dark world.
*Bethel’s history of the early years from When Your Children Ask, a history of Bethel Gospel Chapel, by Donald E. Carney.