I love to cook, and Cheryl loves to bake. It is very in line with our personalities. I am the creative, the visionary, the experimenter. She is the administrator, the precision expert, the details person. Cooking is more an art. Baking is more a science. You can resurrect a flat stir fry by tweaking the balance of salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami. A little splash of soy or lime, and you have raised the dead. With baking, if you miss an ingredient, there is only one recourse: throw it out and start over.
Frankly, I don’t have the heart for it. Cheryl almost never makes mistakes, but I’ll never forget the gut-wrenching feeling of watching an entire tray of mouth-watering cupcakes go into the garbage because she left out the baking powder. For this reason, I can’t watch most TV baking challenges.
There is a strong Greek verb, apotíthēmi (sounds like apple-teeth-of-me), that captures the essence of the title well: Unceremoniously dump the cupcakes. Change the diaper. Ball up the paper. Smash the clay on the wheel. Peter writes, “rid yourselves (apotíthēmi) of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pet. 2:1-3, NIV). Throw it out (the old culture with its negative heart patterns) and start over (be born again in newness of life and appetite).
This chapter’s opening paragraph lays the foundation for four beautiful discipleship metaphors that cast the vision for a healthy discipleship community: newborn babies (my health), living stones (mutual health), royal priests (ministry health), the people of God (missional health). But first, there must be an apotíthēmi. Just as you can’t decorate a cake baked without a sweetener, you can’t build a kingdom community on a culture infused with the wrong ingredients.
Prior to the Passover, the people of God were instructed to remove all yeast from their homes (Exodus 12:15). Yeast, elsewhere in scripture, is often representative of sin (eg. 1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus exhorts his disciples to beware of the particular “yeast” of the Pharisees (Legalism), Sadducees (Compromise) and Herod (Pride) (eg. Matt 16:6). This is a mission-critical warning for the nascent church. The more you “cook” with a fermented culture, the more convoluted it will become, and the more ingredients will be wasted in a dinner that is destined to disgust.
It’s instructive that in 1 Peter’s passage context of discipleship/culture, he doesn’t focus on sins of sexuality or idolatry, like other vice lists (eg. Colossians 3:5). Instead, these cultural non-starters are all sins of relationship. When I was in a previous church, we had the opportunity to start up a brand new ministry for pre-teens. One of the first things we did was decide on our core values. What rules would govern our decision making and planning? The youth leaders crafted a statement to be reiterated at the beginning of every youth night: “Everyone is priceless, and no one sits alone.” Practically, anything we do that makes someone feel like they don’t belong, doesn’t belong.
That’s why My Health and Mutual Health are the first two phases of Formission. Before we create anything else, we need to rid ourselves of cultural fermenters and begin to live out of our catalytic core values. We value positive communication. To break that down:
“We flat-out refuse to build, plant, strategize, disciple, plan or even meet unless we are going to do it hopefully, openly, and in a spirit of trust.”
Nothing tasty has ever resulted from a recipe of cynicism, competition, politicizing or polarizing. Follow the time-tried formula of equal parts trust, hopefulness and clarity and you can bake just about anything.