As the Heritage Series and Celebration concludes several things stand out. It is no small thing to celebrate 150 years of ministry here in Visalia. It is also no small thing we continue in ministry here in Visalia. Over the course of 150 years, First Baptist/GateWay Church has found itself in several locations within the city. And significantly, with each move, with each generation, and with each cultural shift, we continue a connection that goes back to the first gathering of Christ-followers meeting in Jerusalem after Christ’s ascension to the Father.
We are reminded the First Century Church had very little, if any, resources. These believers had no buildings; no choir and orchestra or worship band; no children’s program; no A/C; no media; no paid staff; no lots of things we have today; and very significantly no Bible. Yet these early believers carried Jesus’ love to the far flung places of earth, impacted people and cultures, and changed the course of humans.
I wonder if the people who gathered back in 1868 had any idea of how things would look 150 years later. I suspect many wondered if they would still be together in 1869. I also suspect that many understood they were connected to a small band of believers gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem as recorded in the Book of Acts. These pioneers of Visalia were continuing the call of Jesus to go and make disciples, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching what Jesus taught.
Interestingly, the “church” of the First Century Christians ceased to exist hundreds and hundreds of years ago. This isn’t difficult to understand given they didn’t have anything which leads me to think the focus, values and mission were not tied to resources, buildings or programs. All that they were was concentrated on relationships; first with Jesus Christ then with one another. Their connection was all they had and all they needed. This wasn’t a movement to create institutions or acquire real estate. It was all about walking together in a manner worthy of the high calling of Jesus Christ, to His glory and honor and that all may know Him as Lord and Savior.
In 150 years we have been in many locations within the City of Visalia. This part of our Heritage points to conclusion that it is not about the buildings. The church is not a building. The church is us. The building is the place where church gathers together to honor Jesus and to love one another that we may engage a ready world. I have never met anyone who founded our church. Clearly I never knew anyone in the First Century church. Yet I am connected. And in growing that connection, I am connected with the Christ-followers meeting together at 1100 S. Sowell St. Praise be to God, we have resources at GateWay. Let us use them fully. This Is Us.