Sunday, February 26, 2017

Thoughts on Households and Church Membership

Acts 16:31-33 (NKJV)
So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.

This morning we have the privilege of welcoming a number of households into membership at Trinity Church. At such times it is always profitable to recall why we do this membership thing. This morning I would like us to consider why we administer membership vows to the Head of Household rather than to each individual member of the household. Why do this?

The point is certainly not that only the Head of Household is important; nor is the point that in order to be a member of the church you have to be an adult. May it never be! It is important to remember that the Head of Household is taking a vow not only for himself or herself but for his or her entire household. In other words, if you have been baptized and you are part of a member household, then you individually are a member of this congregation. You receive the loving care of Christ, the kindly fellowship of the covenant community, and the gracious accountability of the elders and deacons. You are part of the body, an integral member of the covenant community, and to be treated as such. So as we bring these families and individuals forward, all those who have been baptized join us as members of the church.

If they are all individually members of the congregation, then why have just the Head of Household take the vows? The reason is this: to emphasize that God has created a covenantal world. What this means is that not all the decisions which affect us personally and legally are decisions that we ourselves make. All of us were born to parents that we did not choose; we were born into a country we did not choose; we were born subject to laws and statutes we did not choose. Not only is this the case, we all were born in sin, subject to the wrath of God, because of the rebellion of our father Adam. He was our representative, the one whose sin determined the course of our lives. God created the world in such a way that we have representatives whose choices affect us for good and for ill.

And praise God that this is true – for were it not, none of us could ever be saved. Why not? Because we are saved not because of anything we have done but because of Christ. We have His righteousness credited to our account. Though we have not personally been righteous, God in His grace and mercy looks upon us in Christ and treats us as holy and beloved. Because we are part of His house, under His loving headship, we receive innumerable blessings.

So household vows emphasize three things: first, the critical role that the head of household has for the spiritual vitality and health of the entire household. Second, the incredible blessings that come to the entire household when that household is subject to the Lord Jesus Christ. And third, the need for faithfulness from every member of the household so that, in the future, additional healthy, robust, and godly households can be established to the glory of God.

Why baptize babies?

Romans 6:3–6 (NKJV)
3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.

In our exhortations, I have been exploring various traditions that our elders have established to guide our corporate worship. Since we have the privilege of baptizing a baby later this morning, I thought it beneficial to use our exhortation to explain our rationale for this action. Why do we baptize babies? I've written on this elsewhere, but consider a few more thoughts.

In Biblical Theology sacraments are visible words. Even as God communicates to us in His written Word, the Bible, so He communicates to us in visible words, in covenant signs and seals – what we call sacraments or ordinances. One of the earliest covenant signs was the rainbow – God placed the rainbow in the sky as the sign of the covenant that He made with Noah. The rainbow visibly proclaims God’s promise to Noah and to us that He will never again flood the earth. So every time we see the rainbow, God invites us to believe His promise and trust Him. In other words, the rainbow isn’t our word to God but God’s word to us, God's promise to us (Gen 9:12-17).

What is true of the rainbow is also true of other covenant signs: they are primarily God’s Word to us, not our word to God. Paul emphasizes this in Romans 6 by using the passive voice to describe baptism. He writes that the Roman Christians “were baptized” (passive) into Christ and “were baptized” (again, passive) into His death. So why the passive voice? Because, first and foremost, baptism is God’s act, God’s word, not my act, my word.

We do not baptize ourselves; we are baptized by another. In baptism, God speaks to each of us individually – He claims us as His own and assures us that, so long as we trust Christ, we are cleansed of our sin as surely as water washes our bodies and are anointed with His Spirit as surely as the water makes us wet. While the preaching of the Word holds that promise out generically, baptism makes that promise personal. Today, God speaks to Piper and assures her that His promise is reliable for her; even as He spoke to you in your baptism and made the same promise to you.

Robert Rayburn illustrates this powerfully while explaining why it is that we have ministers of the Gospel perform the baptism:
The reason why no one [but the minister] baptizes someone in our churches… is so that it be absolutely clear that baptism is not our act; it is Christ’s…. Suppose we were to have an infant baptism here next Lord’s Day: and suppose on this moment alone of all the moments in the history of the Church since the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ this was a sacrament by sight and not by faith: Just as the minister was prepared to begin, with a loud, tearing sound the roof of the building parted; and lo and behold, the Lord Christ Himself descended to where I am standing right now. There were seraphim hovering above His shoulder. We were all on our faces before the glory of God, but He told us to arise. He took the baby in His arms and He pronounced the Divine Triune Name over the child and made the promise of His Gospel and covenant to this child by name and then by name summoned him or her to the life of faith and godliness and consecration. He then spoke a word to this child’s parents about the sacred stewardship He was now entrusting to them and how they would answer to Him for this child’s faith and this child’s life on the Great Day. Then He spoke a word to this congregation about your responsibility and then a word to the minister about his. Then He blessed the child and poured water on its head and ascended back into Heaven and with a loud crash the ceiling came back to where it was before and everything was as it was.

Let me tell you a few things that would be inevitably true. One is that that child, though he or she would be too young to have any personal recollection of that moment, would remember his Baptism forever and better than he would remember any other event in his life because scarcely a day would pass without his parents telling him what happened in the church when he was three weeks old and what the Lord Christ said and demanded and promised. He would live as he grew up—at 3, at 4, at 6, at 8. at 12. at 18, at 26—he would live under the specter and under the mercy, the glory of Baptism. His whole life would be colored and shaped and formed by it. That’s what Baptism is. That’s exactly what happens in the Baptism of a child or adult when it happens in this church. The only difference is that it is by faith that you see it and not by sight.

Baptism is an invitation to trust God’s Word; it is a call to faith; a call to believe God’s promise in Christ personally. Consequently, it is fitting to apply it not only to believers but also to their children – for God graciously names our children as His own and summons them to trust Him along with their parents.

And note that baptism does demand something of us. Paul declares that baptism unites us with Christ’s resurrection such that we also should walk in newness of life. We should walk. Whether we were baptized as an infant, a child, or an adult, God speaks to us through our baptism, unites us to Christ, and calls us to trust Him, to love Him, and to walk in newness of life by the power of His resurrection. We are to respond to His grace with faith and obedience.

So reminded that in baptism God has claimed us as His own, has put His Name upon us, and summoned us to walk in newness of life, let us confess that we often respond to His Word with unbelief, that we have despised our baptism and forgotten the call that He has issued to us in it, and that we have need of His forgiving and cleansing grace as even our baptism signifies. And, as we confess, let us kneel as we are able and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession in your bulletin.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Need for Converted Wallets

Malachi 3:8–10 (NKJV)
8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. 9 You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. 10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.

Martin Luther once remarked that every Christian undergoes three conversions: the first of his mind, the second of his heart, and the third of his wallet. Of these three, it may well be that we find the conversion of the wallet to be the most difficult. Charles Spurgeon writes, "With some (Christians) the last part of their nature that ever gets sanctified is their pockets."

In the last few weeks we have explored various traditions that our elders have established to guide our corporate worship. As we continue in this vein, let us address our practice of presenting our tithes and offerings before the Lord. Each week we sing a song about giving as we bring our tithes and offerings to the front of the sanctuary. Why do we do this?

Consider just a few of the many reasons: first, presenting our tithes and offerings to the Lord in worship reminds us that God lays claim to our wallets. God is the owner of all we possess and appoints us as His stewards to manage all our wealth in a way that honors Him. And Malachi insists that one of the ways we honor Him is by giving Him a tithe, or ten percent, of our increase. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse. Alongside such tithes are offerings, free-will gifts above and beyond the tithe which can be the fruit of vows we have made, an expression of gratitude for the Lord’s generosity, or an effort to help others who are in need. Presenting our tithes and offerings reminds us of God’s claim on our wallets.

Second, presenting our tithes and offerings reminds us that worship is not confined to Sundays. What are our tithes and offerings but a token of the work that we have done throughout the week? The tithes represent the fruit of our work – all of which is done to the glory of God. There is no division between “secular” work and “sacred” work – all our work is sacred, performed in the presence of God to the glory of God. Presenting our tithes and offerings reminds us of this.

Finally, presenting our tithes and offerings to the Lord reminds us that all we are able to achieve in our employments is a gift from God. As David prayed after collecting supplies for the construction of the Temple, “But who am I, and who are my people, That we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, And of Your own we have given You” (1 Chr 29:14). Of Your own we have given You – it is God who gifts us with intelligence, with opportunity, with ingenuity, and with skill to get wealth. So we are to give Him thanks – and one way we do so is by giving Him a portion of the wealth He gives us.

Presenting our tithes and offerings weekly reminds us, therefore, that God lays claim to our wallets, that all our work is to be done to the glory of the Lord, and that all we are able to achieve is a gift from Him. But it is not enough to know why we do this; it is also important to consider how we are to do it.

So how are we to bring our tithes and offerings to the Lord? The other Scriptures we sing as we present our tithes give us sound counsel. First, Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 urges us to give generously. “Cast your bread upon the waters,” it says, “...give a portion to seven and also to eight.” These words counsel us to spread our wealth abroad. In Jesus’ words, we are to make friends by means of unrighteous mammon that we may be received into the heavenly dwellings. The tithes and offerings presented here are to reflect a pattern of generosity that characterizes the entirety of our lives. Like the Good Samaritan, we are to help those who are in need. We are to give generously.

Second, Paul urges us in 2 Corinthians 9:7 to give “not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Even as God has freely given to us, He wants us to freely give to others. We are to give, not because compelled to do so, but because we recognize God’s generosity to us. He has saved us from our sin; He has provided for our daily needs; hallelujah, what a Savior!

So reminded of why we present our tithes and offerings to the Lord and how we are to do it, let us confess that Luther was right – our wallets do stand in need of conversion. Let us confess that we are often stingy, and often give only grudgingly. And, as we confess, let us kneel as we are able and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.