As I pen my first letter to you in my new role as interim president of Bethlehem College and Seminary, I’m reminded of Paul’s prayer for the beloved saints in Philippi:
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3–5).
The Greek term koinonia (“partnership”) in this passage could also be rendered fellowship or participation. While “fellowship” in popular Christian usage may refer to any meeting or activity with other believers—a chat in the church hallway after the service, a get-together at Starbucks, or a small group potluck—this understanding falls short of the New Testament’s cultural context. As D. A. Carson explains in his book Basics for Believers, during New Testament times “the word commonly had commercial overtones”—a shared venture, in which relatives or friends would combine their resources and talents to start a fishing business, a bakery, or some other partnership. Carson writes:
The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision…. Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment.
Your generous partnership and your prayers are vital to this good work of gospel ministry at Bethlehem College and Seminary. I invite you to pray whether you may be called to make a new gift to The Serious Joy Scholarship such that our students may graduate and launch immediately into life and ministry without a burden of student loan debt. Through May 31, your contributions will be matched dollar-for-dollar during our “On The Double” Matching Gift opportunity.
In my first weeks as interim president, I seek to refocus our faculty, staff, and ministry partners on a glorious “vision that calls forth our commitment.” From its inception, Bethlehem College and Seminary’s stated mission has been “to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” God’s inerrant Word is the supreme authority over all that we do here and offers us needed encouragement, endurance, instruction, and hope, as the apostle reminds us: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
How do we seek to spread a passion for God’s supremacy in all things? By teaching students. This is my seventeenth year as a Bethlehem faculty member and, by God’s grace, I’ve taught hundreds of college and seminary students who are now living and serving Christ all over the globe. Several of my former students are now trusted faculty colleagues—Professors Matt Crutchmer, Lewis Guest, Zach Howard, Lance Kramer, and Dieudonné Tamfu. Other former students include my church’s preaching pastor and school trustee, Pastor Steven Lee; the middle school pastor who invests in my children’s lives, Pastor Ben Katterson; and fellow trustees Thomas Barclay, Greg Morse, and Pastor Jonathan Parnell. Another seminary graduate who now faithfully pastors a small church in the Midwest recently shared this encouraging testimony with me:
It was Bethlehem that helped me see the value of God’s Word and expository preaching. I just finished preaching through Philippians, and in my last sermon I recited the whole letter from memory…. God is using Bethlehem to make an impact for God’s kingdom; may it continue until the King returns.
Thank you, Lord! These sorts of testimonies remind me why I love this school and why I’m eager to continue teaching classes of eager college and seminary students while working alongside a world-class faculty and staff that is “all in” on our commitment to make a disproportionate impact in the world through education in serious joy.
At our upcoming commencement service on May 19, which we hope you will attend, we will confer degrees on seventy-two graduates in our college, seminary, and evening programs, launching them forth without the shackles of student loan debt. We will also graduate five seminary apprentices at our Cameroon extension site. This rising generation of Christian hedonists will fill pulpits, staff ministries, influence workplaces, season the academy, and raise children in God-centered homes. I look forward to hearing testimonies from them in five, ten, or twenty years about how God might be pleased to work in and through them for his glory, their joy, and the eternal good of their families and churches.
You may be wondering how we are doing in light of the school’s recent leadership transition. I’ve spent many hours meeting with current and former students, faculty, staff, and ministry partners recently to pray about and process the news that President Rigney resigned and is taking a new role at New Saint Andrews College. It is difficult and sad to part ways with Dr. Rigney, who has been a beloved colleague, friend, and teacher. This season of transition provides an opportunity for us to give thanks to God for Dr. Rigney’s longtime ministry at Bethlehem and to trust God for fresh grace and wisdom as we continue the good work he’s given us to do. Please pray for our students, faculty, and staff that we would know more of God’s presence, power, and provision as we seek to finish this school year well. As the apostle writes, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:11).
I’m reminded of Nehemiah’s wise and faithful words to the weary residents of Jerusalem:
And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work” (Nehemiah 2:18).
I fully believe that God’s hand is upon us for good, and so we strengthen our hands to carry out the good work of teaching students to treasure Christ in all things, to grow in wisdom over a lifetime, and to glorify God in every sphere of life. We want to see our college students become mature adults who are ready to witness for Christ with wisdom and wonder for the rest of their lives. We aim for our seminary apprentices to be mature shepherds ready to shepherd God’s people with biblical clarity and Christ-exalting affection for the rest of their lives. And we offer evening degree programs for working adults to grow as disciples of Christ while studying our sovereign God and sacred book amidst the demands of daily life.
We treasure the truth that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” and we pray that your “hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2–3).
Thank you for your prayers and support! May our generous God supply every need of yours and ours according to his riches in glory in Christ.
Yours in Christ,
Brian J. Tabb, Ph.D.
Interim President and Professor of Biblical Studies