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Why We Are Presbyterian, Part 3

Why are we Presbyterians?  Because we are Covenantal vs Individualistic.  Much of American Christianity is individualistic.  I attend a church or become a part of a church not with a sense of  community or commitment but with the ideas of a consumer.  Does the church have wholesome activities for my family?  Does the church meet my needs, emotionally or physically?  Unfortunately we are a lot more American than we are Christian when it comes to church membership and church participation and even what the church should look like.

Joshua Harris in his book, Stop Dating the Church quotes Mark Dever, the Pastor of Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C., “Do you want to know that your new life is real?  Commit yourself to a local group of saved sinners.  Try to love them.  Don’t just do it for three weeks.  Don’t just do it for six months.  Do it for years.  And I think you’ll find out, and others will, too, whether or not you love God.  The truth will show itself.”

Being a part of a local body of “saved sinners” is hard work.  As John states over and over in his epistles, we must love one another.  That is difficult to do in the best of circumstances.  We sin.  It is not a matter of IF we will sin against one another but WHEN we will sin against one another.  That makes us no different than any other family.  What makes Presbyterians different than many other groups of Christians is our commitment to Church membership, our commitment to the body of Christ (Christ’s bride) and how that affects our lives every single week as we gather for worship on the Sabbath Day.  We are not a loose group of individuals gathering for worship Sunday Morning and Sunday Evening, we are a covenant community that is committed to one another.

We view the body of Christ as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”  Some are hands.  Some are feet.  Some are eyes and some are ears.  But every single part of the body is needed.  What an injury to the body of Christ when parts are missing week after week and what an affront to Christ that we would rather be elsewhere than with His Bride.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “I know there are some who say, ‘Well, I have given myself to the Lord, but I do not intend to give myself to the church.’  Now why not?  “Because I can be a Christian without it.’  Are you quite clear about that?  You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient?  What is a brick made for? To help build a house.  It is of no use for that brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house.  It is a good-for-nothing-brick.  So you rolling-stone Christians, I do not believe that you are answering your purpose.  You are living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live, and you are much to blame for the injury you do.”  

Mark Brown and Larry Wilson speak of the Church as a covenant community in their booklet, Why Join a Church?

“The Old Testament teaches that believers should join a church.  In the Old Testament, being an Israelite was not principally a matter of race or nationality.  Rather, an Israelite was a person who belonged to God’s covenant community.  God commanded circumcision as a sign of that relationship, as a token of union with him and membership in his covenant community, Israel (Gen. 17:7, 10-11).  The New Testament identifies this old covenant community, when Moses brought it out of Egypt, as “the congregation [church] in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38).

If you were an alien, you had to receive circumcision to become a member of Israel before you could celebrate the Passover (Ex. 12:43-45, 48).  In other words, you had to “join the church” before you could come to the Passover meal.  If you were not circumcised, regardless of your background or faith, you were to be excommunicated from the people of God (Gen. 17:14).

Can you see the parallel with the New Testament?  Baptism is New Testament circumcision (Col. 2:11-12).  It marks your addition to the new covenant community, the church (Gal. 3:27, 29; 6:15-16; Phil. 3:3).  The Lord’s Supper is the new covenant Passover (Luke 22:7-8, 14-15, 20; 1 Cor. 5:7).  Just as a person had to be circumcised to become a member of Israel before he could celebrate the Passover, so a person now has to be baptized to become a member of the church before he can take the Lord’s Supper.  This is precisely the pattern which the apostles followed.  Those who “were baptized” and “were added” to the church roll were the ones who participated in “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:41-42, 47).”

We call the proclamation of the Word, the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and prayer, means of grace.  These are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation (see Westminster Larger catechism question 154).  Why would we separate ourselves from the means of grace that God has given to us for our good?  Christ has given us these outward and ordinary means to not only draw us to Himself but to strengthen us in our faith and to help us avoid sin.  Too many times we have a “take it or leave it” attitude.  Does it not seem sad at best, blasphemous at worst, that millions of those who claim to bear the name of Christ would show up at 11am this next Sunday if you promised them a million dollars, or a brand new car, or super bowl tickets, but when they are offered by Christ every single Sunday something far more precious than what the world has to offer many could care less.

When we become members in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church we take five membership vows that speak to our commitment to a covenant community of believers.  Vow #5 states, “Do you promise to participate faithfully in this church’s worship and service, to submit in the Lord to its government, and to heed its discipline, even in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life?”  I have stated many times before that I really appreciate this vow because not only do I have a responsibility to be accountable to the church, but it also states that others have a responsibility to hold me accountable to faithful participation in the life of the church.

Part of my job as your Pastor is to hold you accountable to “participate faithfully in this church’s worship and service”.  I come to all of the members of Faith Bible OPC in love to remind you of our commitments to one another.  May we remember that we are a part of a covenant community not merely individuals who gather for worship.  When you are not participating faithfully in this church’s worship and service we are missing an arm or a leg and you are disregarding Christ’s bride.  May we, no matter how difficult it is to change our habits, cling to a Biblical view of the Sabbath where we devote one whole day in seven to the “public and private exercises of worship.”  I often close an email with the words that “I hope to see you on Sunday”.  That’s not really true.  Because we are members of a covenant community, and because of our love for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, I EXPECT to see you on Sunday.  The times I don’t see you on Sunday my heart is heavy and I miss you as if I had lost my arm.

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