Wednesday, January 25, 2006

THE MYSTERY OF THE LORD'S SUPPER

Is the Lord's Supper merely a memorial? Is it just a remembrance of what Christ did for us? Or is it a means of grace, in which we truly partake of Christ?

THE REAL PRESENCE OF CHRIST IN THE LORD'S TABLE

The following is from Robert Letham:

"Christ does not come down to us in his body and blood. Instead, we are lifted up to him by the Holy Spirit. Christ, being the eternal Son of God, is of course, everywhere. Moreover, he has permanently united himself to the human nature assumed in the incarnation. In that sense, the person of Christ is present with us as we eat and drink. Yet, on earth, the Son of God was not restricted or confined to the humanity he assumed, but was simultaneously filling all things, directing the universe even as (according to the flesh) he walked the dusty roads of Palestine. So, at the right hand of God, the Son fills and directs the universe (Col. 1:15-20), now unbreakably united to his assumed humanity, while in terms of that same humanity he is limited and in one place. Yet that humanity is never separate or apart from the divinity, the eternal Son of God with whom and in whom it is one undivided person. Thus, in the sacrament the Holy Spirit unites the faithful to the person of Christ as they eat and drink the signs, the physical elements of bread and wine. There is an inseparable conjunction of sign and reality. As truly as we eat the bread and drink the wine, so we feed on Christ by faith." (The Lord's Supper, 28-29).

Calvin also says:

"Now if anyone should ask me how this takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare. And, to speak more plainly, I rather experience than understand it. Therefore, I here embrace without controversy the truth of God in which I may safely rest. He declares his flesh the food of my soul, his blood its drink [John 6:53ff.]. I offer my soul to him to be fed with such food. In his Sacred Supper he bids me take, eat, and drink his body and blood under the symbols of bread and wine. I do not doubt that he himself truly presents them, and that I receive them." (Institutes, 4.17.32)

The website of the OPC says,

"In his rich mercy, God "made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:4-6). It is from this position that we come to the Lord's Table, and "they that worthily communicate in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, do therein feed upon the body and blood of Christ, not after a corporal and carnal, but in a spiritual manner; yet truly and really, while by faith they receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death" (Westminster Larger Catechism, answer 170).

SO WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

The Lord's Table is mysterious and beautiful. Yet here we usually have a rationalistic mindset. We don't think about the fact that Scripture says that we reign with Christ right now, and that we are already seated with Him in the heavenly realms. How is this so? Because the Holy Spirit transcends across eternity and unites us to Christ in heaven.

The apostle Paul makes no bones about it. If you partake of the Table unworthily, you are held guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. He says that the bread we break is a participation in the body of Christ, and the cup we drink is a participation in the blood of Christ.

The Table signifies union with Christ and union with one another. The early church participated in the Supper every time they met for corporate worship. What a privilege it is to partake of this with your local corporate body of believers, and to enjoy the body and blood of Christ!

WHAT THE LONDON CONFESSION SAYS

My confession, The London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, also uses appropriate language when it says in 30:7 that,

"Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually receive and feed upon Christ crucified and all the benefits of his death; the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses."

In other words, Christ is really and truly present by virtue of our union with Him in the Table. This is a holy mystery to be reverenced.


***SOMETHING SERIOUS TO CONSIDER***

The Lord's Table is much like our relationship with our spouse. What do you think will happen to my marriage if I neglect having union with my wife? It will certainly suffer. However, if I participate in the God-ordained means of having that union strengthened, then we will grow in our relationship to one another.

It is likewise with the Lord's Table. How often we partake of the Lord's Table demonstrates the degree of our union with Christ. God has ordained that this holy ordinance be a means of grace to strengthen our union with our Lord. To neglect it puts our souls at risk, and to scorn it puts our souls in danger.

For Further Reading:
Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin's Doctrine of the Lord's Supper by Keith Mathison

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

MANATA/BRISBY BAPTISM DEBATE

Sweet! Guess what everybody? I am debating my good buddy Paul Manata from www.presstheantithesis.blogspot.com on the subject of infant baptism right now on my blog. I've always wanted a public debate with him on this issue, so I suppose this is pretty public. Go to my post, "Baptists Can't Be Reformed . . . Can They?" and click on the comments section, then scroll down. Get out the popcorn and beer. Grab your spouse and your non-covenant children and get ready for some good entertainment. Who will win? Only you can decide. Enjoy!

Friday, January 06, 2006

PART 2: WHAT IS A TRUE CHURCH?

As we finish this short two-part series on the faith once for all delivered unto the saints, which we must earnestly contend for, I thought it fitting to answer the question, "What is the true church?" Everyone is saying that they are the real church. Roman Catholics say they are it. Eastern Orthodoxy says it is it. Mormons say they are the only ones, and the so-called "Church of Christ" cult says it is.

Where must we go? To the law and to the testimony. What saith the Scripture? As we examine this, may the Lord lead us by His Word and Spirit to seek Him and find Him in the true, holy, universal and apostolic church.

The following article will help us as we examine the Scriptures.

WHAT CONSTITUTES A BIBLICAL CHURCH?

Is a church that ordains homosexuals a real church? How about three families meeting in a living room? How do we decide what a true church looks like? Here are some biblical answers. The public’s attention was recently drawn (August, 2003) to the national meeting of the Episcopal Church in which the election of an openly homosexual bishop was confirmed by both the House of Bishops and by the House of Deputies (made up of both “clergy” and “laymen”). Soon after this action the leaders also approved as “an acceptable practice in the church” the blessing of same-sex unions. I’m sure that the readers of this publication simply shake their heads in amazement, thinking: How on earth can these people claim to be a Christian church while despising the Lord of the church and endorsing the breaking of his commandments? Good question. But it implies a larger question: What constitutes a biblical church? How do we recognize a true church of Jesus Christ? And if we can come to define the church biblically, what will we then conclude about the Episcopal Church and others like it? Having asked those questions I’m led to consider another circumstance concerning which we could ask the same questions. Many families today gather on Sunday mornings with another couple of families to worship, share instruction from the word, and encourage one another in the faith. They have left traditional churches for various reasons having usually to do with doctrine, family-fragmenting programs, or Christian lifestyle issues, and now they meet very informally with a few others of like mind. Does such a meeting constitute the church of Jesus Christ? Since we know that the church is God’s agency for advancing his kingdom and is mandatory for Christians, it is important to know what are the essential ingredients of the true church. In this article we will attempt to define those minimum requirements. Our objective is that we will each know what the true church looks like so that we can be part of such a local body or work to see one established. As we go to Scripture to answer our question we discover that the church is viewed there both as an organism and as an organization. Christ’s church is a living, spiritual reality (organism), and apart from this spiritual life no amount of organization can create a true church. At the same time, the Lord has organized this organism so that it has recognizable structural features, and these organizational elements are essential to the health and effectiveness of the church. Understanding both of these characteristics of the Christian church is they key to deciphering the claims of those groups who claim to be churches of Christ. And more practically, such knowledge is essential for your family and mine as we seek to please the Lord by being a part of his church. THE ORGANIC ELEMENTS: A SPIRIT-FILLED CHURCH Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph. 2:19-22) The church is where God lives by his Spirit The fundamental nature of the church of Jesus Christ is that it is an organism, a living reality created by the Holy Spirit of God invading and indwelling people. What brings people together in the church is not, first of all, a human decision to create a social group. It is the decision of the sovereign God to give his Spirit to a variety of people and thus unite them with one life force. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1Cor. 12:12,13). Those in whom the Spirit lives are thus joined into one spiritual body. They are “living stones” joined to the Living Stone, Jesus Christ, and thus constitute a “spiritual house” (1 Pet. 2:4,5). Paul asked this question of the Corinthian Christians when they were threatening the unity of the church: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16) In his first letter John writes of his desire that his readers “have fellowship with us.” He then goes on to describe the basis of that fellowship: “and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn. 1:3). Christian fellowship is fellowship with the triune God himself through his own Spirit. This is the starting point for understanding what a true church is. It is “a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” And because this is so, the church is also one holy, catholic church. One holy, catholic church The Nicene Creed, one of the ancient Christian statements of faith, recited by the church through the centuries as a statement of essential Christian beliefs, includes this statement: “We believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” This important phrase provides a good summary of the nature of the true church. We can find each of the four respective characteristics of the church within the passage from Ephesians quoted at the beginning of this section. We will now look at the first three (one, holy, catholic) since they express the organic nature of the church, and we will consider the fourth (apostolic) when we look at the organizational dimension of the church. The church is one. In the context of the passage we learn that the two previously incompatible groups, Jews and Gentiles, have had the “wall of separation” removed “that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity…. For through Him [Christ] we both have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:14, 16, 18). The one Spirit has created one body, one Christian church, in the world. One of the tragedies of church history is the divisions that have occurred as Christians have separated from one another and formed an ever greater number of “denominations” and other sub-groups of Christians. Some of these separations were necessitated by the egregious sins of the previous church, as when the Reformers of the sixteenth century departed the Roman Catholic church. But having established the legitimacy of separation, Protestants have since seemingly run amok with their proliferation of splinter groups, each generation finding yet another reason for separation. While I myself would argue that separation is a biblical concept and justifiable at times, I would also acknowledge that the multiplication of Christian groups greatly tends to obscure the truth that there is, in fact, only one Christian church in the world, and it is made up of all those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, whatever their particular affiliation denominationally. Some church groups seek to define the oneness of the church in terms of organization rather than organism. The Catholic church views unity as a matter of submission to the pope, the supposed earthly head of the church. Many contemporary Protestant groups have sought unity through organizational mergers and cooperation. But the unity of the church is not something that men can create if it has not already been created by the Spirit of God. Christians ought indeed to seek to express their unity outwardly and even organizationally, but at root that oneness must be a spiritual reality. The church is holy. Our passage describes the building which God is creating through the work of Christ as “a holy temple in the Lord” (v. 21). It makes sense that what the Holy Spirit creates would be itself, by definition, holy. To be holy means to be separated unto God by being separated from sin. This is the aim of God in Christ for the church. “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love…” (Eph. 1:4). The living stones we read about in 1 Peter are being fashioned into “a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ” (2:5). Holiness is the result of both the justifying work of Christ, in which we are declared righteous through the imputed righteousness of Christ, and of the sanctifying work of the Spirit, “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5). Those the Spirit causes to be born again have a new nature that longs to be conformed to the character of Christ through obedience to his commandments. Our problem with the Episcopal Church is that it is not holy. It is the opposite, promoting wickedness and perversity, calling evil good. Such actions are manifestly not the work of the Holy Spirit but the work of the wicked one, the devil. By their fruit you shall know them. The church is catholic. The word “catholic” simply means universal, and the intent of the Nicene Creed is to affirm that the church of Jesus Christ is worldwide. This affirmation is closely related to that which declares the church to be one. As the Holy Spirit indwells people throughout the world he is creating one body of Christ which includes all kinds of people in all kinds of places. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). We should not hesitate to use the word “catholic” when reciting the creeds. The fact that the Roman church uses the word to describe itself is no reason to avoid the term. We don’t avoid the term “church of Jesus Christ” just because the Mormons call themselves The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We should never allow good terms to be co-opted by those who may misuse them. It is a good thing to affirm this: “We believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” Love: the mark of the church As the Holy Spirit creates the church through his regenerating work in individuals, these transformed people live transformed lives, individually and corporately. We have already noted that the church is a holy people. As individuals Christians desire to love and obey God. But the holiness of the church is also seen in how Christians live together. One mark of the true church is that its members love each other, this love being manifested in community and ministry. Love manifested in community. Just before his death, Jesus gave his disciples the foremost commandment: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn. 13:34). So important is this commandment that Jesus makes the success of the church’s entire enterprise hinge on it: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (v. 35). God himself has demonstrated what love looks like and what, in turn, he calls believers to do. “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn. 3:16). Jesus sacrificed himself for his people, and that is what they must do for one another. Love is putting others ahead of oneself. If a brother is in need, love reaches out to meet the need (v. 17). The early church was characterized by the spontaneous, generous meeting of needs among the saints. Those who had extra of this worlds goods would sell them in order to have something to give to those who lacked (Acts 4:32ff.). Of course, this generous spirit is manifested not just in tangible things. It is also demonstrated in a spirit of forbearance and forgiveness. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). The attitude and actions of love among God’s people create a harmonious and joyful community which itself becomes proof of the supernatural origin of the church. Jesus prayed for his church: “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (Jn. 17:23). Many have been drawn to Christ more by the demonstrated unity in love exhibited by Christians than by the words of truth they have spoken. Nothing short of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit can produce the loving community that the church is called to be. Love manifested in ministry. Another result of the work of the Holy Spirit among the members of the church is the mutual ministry that occurs there. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit… But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Cor. 12:4,7). Each believer has been given some means of serving other saints by which he can contribute to the welfare of the church as a whole. Some are teachers, others are exhorters. Some are administrators, others meet practical needs. Some speak a prophetic word of challenge, others offer a tender hand of mercy. Some have extraordinary faith, others are prayer warriors, others are generous givers. As each believer exercises his gift the body of Christ grows to maturity. “Speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15,16). This mutual service is the result of the Spirit working in each person for the good of the whole body. Now before moving on, let’s summarize this section in this way: The true Christian church is characterized by a quality of life that evidences the presence of the Holy Spirit. The qualities that show the church to be a living, spiritual organism are unity, holiness, and love. Those traits are what the Spirit produces in the body of Christ, and they are thus the first proofs that a gathering of people is a true church. But the church is an organism that is also organized. Let’s now turn our attention to this feature of the biblical church. THE ORGANIZATIONAL ELEMENTS: AN APOSTOLIC CHURCH And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42) We have dealt with the concepts of the church being one, holy, and catholic, but we are now ready to consider that it is also apostolic. This is the fourth term we saw used in the Nicene Creed, and it has the support of Scripture. Ephesians 2 says, “You are… members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (vv. 19,20). The true church is an apostolic church because it is built on the foundation of the doctrine and practices of the apostles. Jesus hand-picked the twelve disciples to be with him and to become the leaders of the early church. (After Judas Iscariot was lost, the Lord added Paul to the apostolic number.) He equipped them with his Spirit in order to be able to teach the word and organize his church (Jn. 16:13; Acts 2:1ff.). If the apostles are the foundation of the church it is only because Jesus himself is the “chief cornerstone.” The Lord worked through the human agency of the apostles to fulfill his promise to build his church (Matt. 16:18). This is why Paul could write so forwardly about his authority and the need for the early Christians to obey his words and follow his example (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:37; Phil. 3:17). A biblical church is not just a shapeless collection of people oozing the Spirit of God. The apostolic church has certain definite structural features which can be described in connection with these key terms: authority, fellowship, sacraments, and discipline. In Acts 2:42 (quoted above) we find this general pattern (apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread). We have added “discipline” as an outgrowth of these three and something that is very evident in the New Testament. (We are not neglecting “prayers” and will explain how we see those fitting in the pattern of the apostolic church.) Church authority: the Bible and the eldership We read that the early church devoted themselves to the apostles’ doctrine. Two expressions of God’s authority are in view here: the supreme authority of the Bible itself and the men to whom God delegates his authority to rule his church. The supreme authority of the Bible. In the early days of the church there was no New Testament. The authority of the apostles was supreme since they were the hand-picked and Spirit-equipped spokesmen of Jesus. During their lifetimes the apostles showed that they regarded the Old Testament as authoritative for the church (cf. 2 Tim. 3:15-16). In time the teaching of the apostles themselves was written down and became the scriptures we know as the New Testament (cf. 2 Pet. 3:16): the four gospels, the history book called Acts, the letters to churches and individuals, and the prophecy of Revelation. So the church since that time has had as its supreme authority the 66 books we know simply as the Bible. This is the standard for faith and practice in the Christian church. No church can claim to be a church of Jesus Christ unless the people adhere to the written word of God as the ground of their beliefs and practices. This adherence to the Bible cannot just be a shallow claim to honor “the good book.” A true church is characterized by a deep commitment to the verbal, plenary (every word) inspiration of a Bible that is inerrant in all that it teaches, a commitment that is expressed in devotion to the study and application of every part of the scriptures. Preaching, teaching, group study, and personal study will be a hallmark of any church that honors the authority of Christ as expressed in his word. The authority of the eldership. We have already made note of the authority of the apostles, but they are no longer with us. So can any man claim a position of authority in the church today? The answer is an unequivocal “yes” because the apostles themselves, in the New Testament, left us with a pattern for the ongoing leadership of the church. Whenever Paul started a new church, he saw to it that elders were appointed. No New Testament church was considered complete until it had a plurality of elders in place (Acts 14:23; Tit. 1:5). And in two of his latest letters Paul wrote instructions for how the churches should go about recognizing men to set apart as overseers of the flock, thus seemingly preparing the churches for the end of the apostolic era and providing a pattern for church leadership through the ages (1 Tim. 3:1ff; Tit. 1:5ff). The eldership replaced the apostleship as the human authorities in the churches. Elders do not have nearly the authority the apostles did, but their authority is real (Heb. 13:17). A true church of Jesus Christ will have a group of elders leading it. (You never see one elder over a church in the New Testament.) These men will oversee the life of the church. They will be the primary teachers of the flock, they will oversee the church’s doctrine, they will be in charge of the meetings of the church, they will be responsible for the church’s sacraments, they will minister counsel and healing to the flock, and they will administer discipline when needed. Church fellowship Much of what is in view in the word “fellowship” is an expression of the organic, Spirit-directed body life of the church. Christian fellowship begins with the fellowship each believer has with Christ through the Spirit (1 Jn. 1:3). One of the characteristics of Spirit-directed Christians is that they love to be together. “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:46). Believers can’t get enough of each other and find excuses to be with other believers often. Much of this is spontaneous and informal. However, Christian fellowship is also expressed in structured meeting times, and these regular meetings are one of the marks of the biblical church. It is evident that however much New Testament believers may or may not have been together through the week, they met together regularly on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10). While the apostles did not give detailed regulations for these meetings, a certain pattern is evident. These meetings where characterized by (1) observing the Lord’s Supper, (2) Scripture reading and teaching, (3) praying, (4) singing, (5) mutual encouragement, and (6) testimonies and ministry reports. (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 14:26; Acts 14:27; 1 Tim. 4:13; Heb. 10:24,25) It appears from 1 Corinthians 14 that while the meeting was very orderly (v. 40), it was also one in which the men of the congregation were encouraged to contribute to the direction of the meeting (v. 26). While a meeting on the Lord’s Day seems to have been the norm, the elders would seem to have the authority to call the church together for other important occasions (Acts 14:27). In any case, neglecting the regular gathering of the saints was considered to be a great sin. “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24,25). So a true church will be marked by regular Sunday meetings which all the members of the church attend, meetings designed for worship, instruction, encouragement, and for sharing the Lord’s Supper. At this point we will note that the fourth element of church life mentioned in Acts 2:42 was prayer. This can be taken in two possible ways. First, it may simply refer to the natural and pervasive overflow of the hearts of believers to their Lord when they gather together: it was a part of their corporate life which was highlighted in this verse, perhaps because of the amount of time devoted to the practice. Second, the reference to prayer may be a reference to the formal meetings of the church. “Prayer” could be a way of describing Christian meetings, much as Paul went to a place “where prayer was customarily made” by the river in Philippi to find the gathered believers (Acts 16:13). In any case, whether it means the church meeting or simply the practice of Christians addressing God in praise and petition, prayer is a vital part of a biblical church. Proper use of the sacraments In issue 44 (“The Lord’s Supper”) we discussed the term “sacrament” and why it is a good word to use when referring to the ordinances of Christian baptism and communion (or the Lord’s Supper). These two are the sacraments which Christ gave his church to represent and communicate spiritual realities through physical signs. We discussed how these ordinances belong to the church, not the family, and are properly administered in the context of the church under the authority of the elders. Baptism is the initiatory rite of the church. The first duty of every convert is to be baptized (Matt. 28:19; Acts 9:18; Rom. 6:3). Although salvation is certainly not contingent upon the physical act of baptism, no one has the right to call himself a Christian unless he has been baptized and thus marked with the name of God and identified with Christ and his people, the church. A true church is made up only of baptized persons. We cannot see the heart to know for sure if someone is born again or not, so our recognition of who is a Christian cannot rest upon such supposed knowledge. Membership in the church is an objective reality and is based upon baptism: if you are properly baptized, you are regarded as a Christian, part of the body of Christ. Now if you don’t act like a Christian, then you must be called to repentance, to live up to the meaning of your baptism. But if you are baptized you are not treated as a pagan but as a Christian who has fallen away from the meaning of his baptism. As we saw in our previous article, it appears that the central reason for the church gathering on the Lord’s Day was to “break bread” together, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7). Communion should thus be observed weekly. While we would not go so far as to say a church is not a true church if it does have weekly communion, we would say that the less often a church partakes of the sacrament, the less it is exhibiting its fellowship with Christ. The sacraments should be administered carefully under the authority of the elders. It is a serious thing to misuse the sacraments. People in Corinth were sick and some had died as a direct result of their abuse of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 12:29-30). A true church will make use of both sacraments regularly and with a high regard for their spiritual significance. The exercise of church discipline After the Reformation it became common to describe “the marks of a true church.” For example, the Scots Confession describes a church of God as being characterized by “the true preaching of the Word of God… the right administration of the sacraments of Christ Jesus… [and] ecclesiastical discipline uprightly ministered, as God’s Word prescribes, whereby vice is repressed and virtue nourished.” We have already discussed the place of the word and the sacraments. The exercise of church discipline is a natural expression of the authority of Christ in the hands of the elders as they apply the word of God and guard the sacraments from misuse by false professors of Christ. A true church will practice “ecclesiastical discipline” as it becomes necessary, namely when a professing Christian refuses to repent of sin. The key Scripture passages on the subject are found at Mathew 18:15-18 and 1 Corinthians 5. Both describe a process that results in a person being cast out of the church and treated as an unbeliever. This excommunication involves being cut off from the sacrament of Lord’s table and from the fellowship of believers. The aim is the restoration of the unrepentant sinner, the protection of the church, and the honor or Christ. True churches do not wink at sin. They deal with it in terms of the cross. Those for whom Christ died will sin, but they will want to stop sinning and they will repent when confronted with sin in their lives. It is only those who refuse to repent who end up excommunicated from the church. That desperate measure is only the final step taken after lesser means have failed to bring repentance in the offender, means like instruction, informal admonition, and formal public rebuke. A biblical church will love Christ and the sinner enough to take sin seriously. To conclude this section on the organizational dimension of the church, we can summarize it this way: the true Christian church is characterized by a structure that adheres to the precepts and patterns given in Scripture by the apostles. This structure includes a strict adherence to the Bible, a plurality of elders, regular meetings, a proper use of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline. Just as the Holy Spirit produces the organic elements of life in the body of Christ, so he will produce a desire to follow the apostolic pattern for organizing the church. There is no conflict between these two dimensions of church life. Some might argue that having structure in a church stifles the work of the Holy Spirit, but just the opposite is true. The structure the New Testament prescribes for the body of Christ enables the life of the Spirit to thrive and grow among the saints. A church in which faithful elders teach the Bible, oversee meetings where the saints encourage one another and celebrate their union with Christ in communion, and deal with unrepentant sin in the lives of the members — this is a church in which the members will be united, holy, and growing in love for one another. A truly spiritual church will also be a biblically structured church. SO IS THIS A REAL CHURCH? So how do our original two examples hold up when scrutinized in the light of the Bible’s definition of the church as a spiritual organism and an apostolic organization? The Episcopal Church falls seriously short when measured by the biblical definitions of the church. It is no longer an apostolic church since (1) it has set aside the authority of the Bible in its official act of elevating a sodomite to a high office in the church and condoning same-sex unions, (2) it has as leaders unfaithful men (and women!) who teach that evil is good, and (3) it refuses to exercise church discipline upon unrepentant sinners and instead encourages them to sin. In the Westminster Confession of Faith (A.D. 1646) we read, “The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan” (XXV, 5; cf. Rev. 2:9; 3:9). The official creed of the Episcopal Church is sound (The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion), Christian baptism is administered and the Lord’s Supper is still observed in the congregations, and there is still sound Bible teaching in some of the churches, but the denomination as a whole has fallen so far as to become no church of Christ. It is a fallen Christian church which needs to repent and become an apostolic church once again. So what about the three families meeting in a living room on Sunday morning? While a family would be far better off in that living room than in a church that has become a synagogue of Satan, that does not make the home meeting a biblical church. This group lacks a plurality of qualified elders to guard doctrine, oversee the sacraments, and exercise church discipline — and that is a very serious lack indeed. Also, due to its small size, it lacks the rich diversity of spiritual gifts that a church needs to be healthy. Again, far better to be in such an informal group than under wicked elders, but we must not pretend that fathers are church officers or that two or three families gathered constitutes the church of Christ. We need to be careful here. The family is indeed a building block of the church, fathers do serve a priestly function in their families, and two or three families gathered can truly enjoy the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the reality of true fellowship in Christ. Further, a true church can in fact exist before it has elders in place as is evidenced by Acts 14:23, where Paul and Barnabas returned to churches they had previously organized, and it reports: “So when they had appointed elders in every church…” (cf. Tit. 1:5). There were churches before there were elders. On the other hand, these churches were very much under apostolic authority from their inception, having been planted by an apostle! So they never existed apart from the oversight of God-ordained authority. We conclude then that the home meeting may indeed be the seed of a new church, but it does not yet constitute a biblical church because God-ordained authority is an essential ingredient of the church, and since the time of the apostles this means the oversight of a plurality of qualified elders. (In an ideal world such small groups would be daughter churches under the oversight of elders from an established congregation, the new group being, in effect, a part of the original church until the new work meets the standards of an apostolic church on its own.) CONCLUSION: PURSUING THE BIBLICAL CHURCH This is a difficult time to be a follower of Christ. There are so many groups claiming to be the Christian church, yet most fall far short when measured by biblical standards. What’s a Christian family to do? Should they be part of an established church that is seriously compromised on matters of biblical authority, or which has a decent creed but its leaders and members live like the unregenerate world around? Should they simply meet with other families of like mind and accept that there is no safe church available to them? Each father will need to make his own judgment before the Lord, but let me offer some final thoughts to guide us in our choices. The important thing is to make it your life aim to be part of a biblical church and under church authority. Don’t be content with anything less, even though you may spend a lifetime seeing your desire fulfilled. One man may choose to be part of the best available church he can find and work within that church to bring it closer to biblical standards, being patient with slow progress and keeping the long term in view. Another man may choose to be a member of the best available church in order to be officially under authority and yet be minimally involved in church life, perhaps attending only Sunday mornings. He then meets with likeminded families for fellowship at another time in the week. Yet another man may not have any acceptable church available and may choose to help start a new church by gathering several families, but he will seek to find some elders who will oversee the group in its formative stages. Still another man may choose to move his family to a place which has a biblical church that he and his family can join. He rightly reckons that having a good church for his family is more important than his job or any other earthly consideration. We need to trust that God will honor us as we honor him by honoring his church. And we need to encourage ourselves by keeping before our eyes the vision of a biblical church: one filled with God’s Sprit, united in love, holy in conduct, submissive to the Bible, honoring the eldership, observing the sacraments in orderly and edifying meetings, and maintaining purity through discipline. May the Lord fulfill the desire he has placed in your heart.

HERE IS THE FAITH ONCE FOR ALL DELIVERED UNTO THE SAINTS, part 1

It is important that we contend for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints. Just what faith is it? I think the following article is very helpful in this regard. Although I would have some reservations regarding the Sabbath (since I believe the apostle Paul is clear that we have the freedom to work on Sunday or not), I think the article below is excellent. Enjoy.


What Is A Reformed Baptist Church?
Jim Savastio, PastorReformed Baptist Church of Louisville
INTRODUCTION
Since the late 1960's a group of churches calling themselves Reformed Baptist have begun to spring up throughout the United States, Great Britain, and other places around the world. The elders and members of these churches have been asked time and again such questions as, "What is a Reformed Baptist?" "What are you trying to reform?" Many find themselves tongue tied in trying to answer such questions quickly and easily. Some simply say, "We are what Baptist used to be!" This statement is certainly true. However, for most modern believers and unbelievers, that statement explains little. The purpose of this little booklet is to seek to answer the question, "What is a Reformed Baptist Church" in a way that is both brief and substantial. In answering that question three things will be discussed. First of all there is a need to address the difficulty of the question. Secondly, a definition of the terms will be given. Thirdly, the key distinctive of Reformed Baptist Churches will be articulated.
THE DIFFICULTY OF THE SUBJECT
The answer to the question, "What is a Reformed Baptist Church" is difficult for two reasons: First, it is difficult to answer in the first place because the terms reformed and Baptists are often seen to be at odds with one another. Many theologians, from Reformed and Baptist camps, would say that such a title is a misnomer. They would say, "It is not possible to be both reformed and artistic! Though Baptists have been and can be Calvinistic they are not and cannot be Reformed." The reason for this charge is simple: Reformed theology is almost always associated with paedo-baptism (infant sprinkling). Many who are Reformed view this perspective as the sine qua non of Reformed Theology.
Secondly, the subject is difficult because there exists an ever widening gulf between churches that call themselves Reformed Baptists. The term has not been copyrighted and thus there exists no definitive statement regarding who can lay claim to the title. No two Reformed Baptist churches walk in lock step. There are churches who call themselves 'Reformed Baptists' and all that they mean by that is that they hold to the so-called five points of Calvinism and they immerse believers. There are 'Reformed Baptists' who believe in pastoral oversight as an integral part of the life of the church and there are other 'Reformed Baptists' who say that pastoral oversight is an abuse of power. There are 'Reformed Baptists' who hold to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 and there are those who hold to but a few of the articles. While most Reformed Baptists hold to a biblical and puritan view of the Lord's Day Sabbath, there are some 'Reformed Baptists' those who reject the doctrine as legalistic. You will furthermore find Reformed Baptists churches who differ in regard to their understanding of the exact application of the regulative principle of worship (the conviction that the bible alone dictates the worship of the church). You will find difference in who is invited to the Lord's table, differences in bible translations, hymnals, and the structure of prayer meetings. The list could go on and on.
We must, therefore, explain the parameters of this study. Though the term, 'Reformed Baptist' is not copyrighted or patented (we could perhaps wish it were to avoid confusion!), I must define what I mean when I am using the term. The heart of this study will center around churches that adhere to the 1689 Confession in practice as well as in theory. This will settle beforehand such controverted issues as the so-called 'Law and Grace Debate', the issue of the Regulative Principle, and the doctrine of the Lord's Day Sabbath. To adhere to the Confession in practice as well as in theory is to have such doctrines clearly delineated in the Word of God.
A DEFINITION OF TERMS
Two questions will be answered under this heading. What do we mean by reformed?, and what do we mean by Baptist?
What We Mean By 'Reformed'
We have taken the name 'reformed' purposefully and for two reasons. First of all it helpfully explains something of our historical and theological roots. There is a body of theological beliefs that is commonly referred to as the Reformed faith. Such biblical truths as sola fide (justification by faith alone ), sola gratia (salvation by God's grace alone), sola scriptura (the bible alone is the basis for faith and practice), and soli deo gloria (the fact that God alone is to receive glory in the salvation of sinners) are the hallmarks of the Protestant and Reformed Faith.
The Reformed Faith is perhaps best known for its understanding that God has, before the foundation of the world, chosen certain sinners for salvation. Eph. 1:3ff is a prominent text which underlies this biblical conviction. The Reformed Faith teaches that in time Christ came and died for the sins of the elect. It teaches that in conversion the Holy Spirit works in harmony with the decree of the Father and the death of the Son by applying the work of redemption to the elect.
When we say that we are reformed we are saying that we embrace as biblical that system of theology known as the doctrines of grace. Truths which speak of the total depravity of man, the unconditional nature of election, the limited or particular nature of the atonement, the irresistibility of the effectual call, and the perseverance and preservation of the saints. In this 'Reformed' tradition are the great names of Church history. John Calvin, John Knox, John Bunyan, John Newton, Matthew Henry, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Adoniram Judson, William Carey, C.H. Spurgeon, A.W. Pink, and a host of others held tenaciously to the Reformed Faith. We must underscore however, that we hold to these truths not because Calvin and these other great men of church history held to them, but because Jesus and the apostles so clearly taught them.
Out of this theological understanding came great reformed confessions and creeds--the Synod of Dort, The Westminister Confession of Faith, The Heildberg Confession and Catechism. Our own Confession of Faith is deeply rooted in these historic Reformed Documents (in most places it is a word for word copy), which is why, historically and theologically, we lay hold of the title Reformed.
But we also use the term 'Reformed' in a second way: We are seeking to reform ourselves and the churches of our generation back to the bible. Every announcement that I have heard concerning the reformation of the church in recent days has been to move it away from its biblical and historical roots to that which is man centered. There is a reformation going on in our day. It is an attempt to change the nature of the church from the House of God to the House of Entertainment. Sinners are being coddled rather than convicted. God's power and majesty are things of a by-gone era!
Reformed Baptist are making it their aim and ambition to come more and more in line with the Word of God. In this sense Reformed Baptists are not static churches. We do not claim to have arrived. We want to go back again and again to the scriptures. We do not want to do things because the puritans did them or because other Reformed churches do them, we want to do what we do because we see it in our bibles. 'To the law and to the testimony' must be upon our banners!
As modern day reformers, Reformed Baptists are calling on all churches everywhere to repent from their man-centered ways, their man pleasing worship, and their shallow theology. We will, if need be, stand as a lone 'voice in the wilderness' calling the church of Jesus Christ to its biblical beauty and uniqueness. We say with no sense of carnal pride that much that goes on in the name of church growth and innovation is an insult to the Spirit of Grace and the Word of God. It is our desire to see all churches have 'zeal for God's house eat them up.'
What We Mean By 'Baptist'
The name Baptist is a form of verbal shorthand for us to convey certain truths. First of all we are stating the biblical truths concerning the subjects and the modes of baptism.
When we speak of the subjects of baptism, we refer to the truth that baptism is for believers only. We as Reformed Baptist have a great debt to our paedo-baptist brethren. Their writings have shaped us and guided us again and again. We count them as our dear brethren. However, the bible is not silent about the issue of baptism. The fact that baptism is for believers only is the clear and indisputable teaching of the Word of God. The subjects of baptism are not discovered in Genesis (though it is my contention that a correct understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant proves believers baptism and demolishes infant baptism), but in the Gospels and in the Epistles. I assert as clearly and as plainly as I know how that there is not one single shred of evidence in the pages of the Old or New Testament to support the notion that the infants of believers are to be baptized. Every single biblical command and every single biblical example as well as every doctrinal statement regarding the nature of baptism proves that it is for believers only.
By 'mode' we are referring to the fact that baptism is properly and biblically administered by immersion. The common Greek word for immersion or dipping is the word used in our NT. The argument that the word has been found on one or two occasions to mean to pour or to sprinkle is surely special pleading. There are perfectly good Greek words meaning 'to sprinkle' and 'to pour'. In fact there are numerous occasions in the Septuagint (The Greek translation of the OT) where the words for immerse and sprinkle are used in the same context but with their distinct and separate meaning intact (the instances of the priest dipping his finger in blood and sprinkling an object).
The name Baptist secondly is meant to convey that only those who are converted and baptized have a right to membership in Christ's church. This is often referred to as a regenerate membership. A careful reading of the NT epistles shows that the apostles assumed that the readers were 'saints', 'faithful brethren', and 'cleansed by Christ.' Sadly, most Baptist churches of our day are more concerned with having a 'decisioned membership' and a 'baptized membership' than a regenerate membership (Jer. 31:31ff). It is the duty of the pastors and people of true churches to ensure according to the best of their ability that no unconverted person makes their way into the membership of a church.
THE DISTINCTIVE MARKS OF A REFORMED BAPTISTS CHURCH
Someone may be saying, I understand all of that, but what practical difference can be seen in Reformed Baptist Churches?
Reformed Baptist congregations are distinguished by their conviction regarding the sufficiency and authority, in addition to the inspiration and infallibility, of the Word of God. What do I mean by all that verbiage? All true Christians believe in the inspiration and infallibility of the Word of God. All true Christians believe that the bible was 'breathed out' by God and that it is infallible and without error in all of its parts. To deny this is to lose your soul. But while all true Christians believe this, they do not seek to regulate the life of church in every area by the Word. There is a common belief, whether it is clearly stated or not, that the bible is not a sufficient guide to tell you 'how to do church'. Is this not behind much of what we see in the modern church growth movement? It is founded by and large upon a belief that the bible is silent regarding the nature and purpose of the church. It is for this cause that many feel the freedom to 'reinvent the church'. For some reason they seem to argue God has no principles in His Word concerning the corporate life of his people! The clarion cry of the day by the Christ appointed shepherds of sheep needs to be that of the prophet Isaiah, "To the law and to the testimony if they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them."
Reformed Baptists have a conviction that the bible and the bible alone tells us what a church is (see 1 Tim. 3:15). The bible and the bible alone defines the offices of the church. The bible tells us their number (two--elders and deacons), their qualifications and their function( See Acts 20, 1 Tim. 3, Titus 1, Heb. 13, and 1 Peter 5). The bible and the bible alone tells us what worship is and how it is to be given (see John 4:23,24). The bible tells us who can be a member and what is required of members. We have plenty of conservative churches who believe the bible, but not enough who are defined by the bible!
Reformed Baptist churches are distinguished by an unshakeable conviction that the church exists for the glory of God (Eph. 3:21, 5:26, 27 and 1 Timothy 3:15). Because the church exists for the glory of God, the worship of God and the Word of God are central to its life. We have seen far too much in our own day to indicate that the measure of a church is seen in what it has to offer man--does it meet felt needs, is it fun, is it relaxing, is it entertaining, is it a place to meet people, etc. We believe that churches need to be far more concerned with the smile of God than with the smile of man. The church is God's house and not man's. This does not mean that it is to be a dull, grim, unfeeling, insensitive place. The place where God dwells is the most glorious place on earth to the saint and it is an oasis to the thirsty soul of a sinner seeking the grace of God. That being said however, the place of God's dwelling is solemn and holy. "How awesome is this place--it is no other than the house of God and the gate of heaven," were Jacob's words in Genesis 28. It is this conviction that explains the reverence and seriousness with which we approach the worship of God.
Reformed Baptist Churches are distinguished by their conviction that the local church is central to the purposes of God on the earth. Ours is the day of the para-church. We live in the day of the independently minded Christian who floats from place to place without ever committing themselves to the church. This 'Lone Ranger' attitude is not only spiritually dangerous it is thoroughly contrary to the revealed mind of God.
While many have rightly diagnosed the failure of the church to do its mission the answer is not to abandon the church but to seek its reformation and its biblical restoration. The church alone is the special dwelling place of God upon the earth (Eph. 2:22). The great commission of the church is fulfilled as preachers of the gospel are sent out by churches to plant new churches by means of conversion, baptism, and discipleship. If you want to be where the special presence of God is, then find a biblical church made up of true believers!
Reformed Baptist Churches are distinguished by their conviction that preaching is foundational to the life of the church. How is God most often pleased to save sinners? How is God most often pleased to exhort, challenge, and build up his saints? How is Christ most powerfully displayed to the mind and heart? It is through the preaching of the Word of God (1 Cor. 1:21; Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 4:1ff)!
Therefore, as Reformed Baptists, but more particularly as serious biblically minded Christians, we reject the trends of our day toward shallow teaching, canceled preaching services, the giving of services of worship over to testimonies, movies, drama, dance, or singing. The Word of God is to be central in the worship of God. Paul warned of the day that would come when professed churchman would no longer tolerate sound doctrine. He stated that according to their own desires they would heap up for themselves teachers who would tickle their itching ears. The apostolic command thundered forth to Timothy in the midst of such mindless drivel, "Preach the Word!" (2 Tim. 4:1ff).
We abominate lazy preaching and unfaithful shepherds who will not feed the sheep. The condemnation of the Word of God is clear to such :"Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD to the shepherds: "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?" (Ezekiel 34:2)
Reformed Baptist churches are distinguished by the conviction that salvation radically alters the life of the convert. It is tragic that such a thing needs to be mentioned. We live in the day of decisionism. The idea is that you pray a certain formula prayer and that you are therefore declared to be saved. It matters not whether you break with sin or pursue holiness (Heb. 12:14). You can live like hell and go to heaven! What a bargain! Many popular bible teachers declare this as the great defense of the grace of God. We see it clearly as a 'turning of the grace of God into licentiousness' (Jude v. 4). When Paul describes the conversion of the Ephesians in chapter five he uses the greatest antonyms in the human language--you were darkness but now you are light in the Lord. Paul asks the rhetorical question in 2 Cor. 6:14--what fellowship has light with darkness. The Jesus we proclaim is a great Savior. He does not leave His people in their lifeless condition. We proclaim the Jesus who came to save his people FROM their sins (Matt. 1:21). We proclaim the biblical truth that if anyone is in Christ he is a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17). We proclaim the Jesus who came to make a people zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). We reject as unbiblical the modern notion that a man can embrace Christ as Savior and reject his Lordship. The word of God nowhere teaches that Christ can be divided. If you have Christ at all, you have received a whole Christ--Prophet, Priest, and King.
Reformed Baptist have a conviction that the Law of God (as expressed in the Ten Commandments) is regulative in the life of the new covenant believer. See Jer. 31 and 1 John 2. Paul says in 2 Cor. 7:19, "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, keeping the commandments of God is what matters." We assert to this antinomian age of Christianity that makes no demands that God's way of holiness has not changed. The law written on the heart in creation is the same law codified in the Ten Commandments on Sinai and is the same law written on the hearts of those who enter into the New Covenant.
Among the laws of God none is so hated as the thought that God requires believers to give of their time to worship him and to turn from worldly pursuits. The Presbyterian pastor and bible commentator Albert Barnes once wrote, "There is a state of things in this land that is tending to obliterate the Sabbath altogether. The Sabbath has more enemies in this land than all the other institutions of religion put together. At the same time it is more difficult to meet the enemy here than anywhere else--for we come into conflict not with argument but with interest and pleasure and the love of indulgence and of gain." We agree with John Bunyan who said, "A man shall show his heart and life, what they are, more by one Lord's Day than by all the days of the week besides. To delight ourselves in God's service upon His Holy Day gives a better proof of a sanctified nature than to grudge at the coming of such days." We are so addicted to our pleasures, our games, and our entertainment that the thought that we would have to give them up for 24 hours to worship and to delight in God is seen as legalistic bondage. Far from bondage, God's people love His law and meditate upon it to the delight of their blood bought souls.
Reformed Baptists are distinguished by a conviction regarding male leadership in the church. Our age has witnessed the feminization of Christianity. God created two sexes in creation and gave to each different corresponding roles. While the sexes are equal in Creation, the Fall, and in Redemption God has nonetheless Sovereignly ordained that leadership in the home, the state, and the church is to be male. It is our experience that those whose minds have been unduly influenced by this generation find our worship, leadership, and family structure to be jarring. When the bible speaks of husbands and fathers leading the home (see Eph. 5,6, and Col. 3) it is not culturally conditioned. When the bible speaks of men leading in prayer, teaching, preaching, and serving as elders and deacons we must bow with submissive and dutiful hearts. Culture must not carry the day in the church of Jesus Christ!
Reformed Baptist Churches are distinguished by a conviction regarding the serious nature of church membership. We take seriously the admonition of Heb. 10:24,25. We take seriously the duties and responsibilities of church membership. In other words, membership actually means something in Reformed Baptist Churches. There ought not to be a great disparity between Sunday morning and evening and mid week. The same membership is expected to be at all the services of the church. It is impossible to share in the life of the church in the manner which God intended and to willingly absent yourself from its public gatherings. We recognize that few churches would make such a demand, but biblical churchmanship presupposes such a commitment to God, your pastors, and your brothers and sisters.
In closing let me seek to apply these things to our hearts. First of all a word to my fellow Reformed Baptists. Let us see the importance of our distinctives. I urge you not to surrender them to the pressures to conform to modern Christianity.
To those who are considering joining such a church, I encourage you to count the cost. Realize that you are committing yourself not only to a local body, but to these distinctives as well. If you are a Christian your only excuse for leaving a church committed to such principles is to find one that is more biblical--not less.
To our children I would say that our greatest desire is your conversion to Christ. But after that great transformation we long to see you embrace these biblical truths and to exceed us in your biblical convictions and practices!
This then is what we mean when we say that we are Reformed Baptists. If these truths have echoed in your heart as biblical, it is our desire that you will seek out a safe place for the feeding and nurturing of your never dying soul.