Church Membership

Harmony & Unity

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Unity and Harmony

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Unity and Harmony are major themes in the Bible. The Triune God, existing for all time in perfect unity and harmony creates an orderly, harmonic, universe governed by natural laws. He then creates two humans, united with God and each other in love. After the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 we see that one of the results of sin is the breaking of that unity. God, who cannot be united with sin, who cannot work harmoniously with creatures that are now so badly out of tune, are separated. The unity between the man and the woman is corrupted as they blame each other for what went wrong. Their children go further into disunity as Cain kills Abel because his sacrifice was accepted by God, but Cain’s was not.

All along the way we see God interjecting, graciously holding back the full effects of the sin – warning and protecting Adam and Eve, warning and protecting Cain…. The world, in only a handful of generations, descends into an absolute cacophony of chaos. Genesis 6:5 says that by the time of Noah, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” causing Him great grief, bringing His judgment upon the world. In His grace, He saves one family, delivers them from the judgement, and makes a covenant with all mankind that He will never flood the world again. He gives them a promise, a warning, and protection.

The mud wasn’t hardly even dry yet when in Genesis 9 we see disunity and disharmony creep back into the world as Noah gets drunk, his son disrespects him, and the curse of sin rears its ugly head. We learn here that the problem of sin isn’t just in the world but in the heart. We sometimes think that everyone else on earth is the problem. If they would just disappear, if there was just us, just a few people of our own choosing, then we’d be able to live right. But no, the problem of sin is deeper than that. The solution to our disunity and disharmony with God and each other isn’t merely to change circumstances – the change must come inside us.

The pattern of disunity and disharmony continues throughout the scriptures, with ebbs and flows of times of unity and harmony and division and warfare. Sometimes humanity unites together, but they do it to spite and rage against God. Sometimes a group of people turns their hearts back to God, but they are swiftly attacked or corrupted and fall away.

God knows that the problem of sin is a problem of the heart and shortly after Noah died– perhaps 2 years – He calls a man named Abram out of his messed up, pagan world, to be the father of a chosen nation. This nation would be special to Him. It is not that they were better or worse than any other. God simply decided to give grace to one man and to one particular nation, eventually to be called the people of Israel, the Jews, through whom He would work His full plan of salvation.

He makes a covenant, a promise, with Abram that he will be the father of a great nation and that through his family all the nations of the earth would be blessed. He gives to Abram and his decedents a certain piece of land where they could flourish and prosper. But Abram’s heart is still a mess with sin. He lies, cheats, and disobeys, but God still keeps his promises and the nation of Israel is born.

This nation would be God’s greatest illustration to the rest of the earth for how He would work and bring about His salvation from the problem of sin. He would show Himself to be greater than any other power, any other nation, any other false-god as He works great miracles to deliver His people from their slavery in Egypt, the most powerful, pagan nation in the world.

Today people say, “All our problems would be solved if we could just have a great leader. Just one great person we could all follow.” God proves that wrong as He raises up Moses, one of the greatest leaders of all time, and Israel continuously rebels against him, eventually even missing out on entering their own Promised Land.

People say, “We need more order, more rules, a perfect set of laws to govern people. If we only had a stronger government, harsher penalties. If only it was written in the laws that people had to be generous, kind, obedient to their parents, respectful to each other, then we’d have peace on earth. If God would inflict punishment on all the bad people, force them to do what is right, then we’d have peace on earth.” God proves that wrong as He brings His people to Mount Sinai, gives them His Law, and they spend the next few hundred years discovering new and terrible ways to disobey every single part of it. God curses their disobedience with death, poison, war, famine, sickness, plague, corruption, even being totally removed from their land for an entire generation, and yet they continue to disobey. There is nothing that motivates them to obey for any length of time. Why, because the problem of sin isn’t solved by Law. All law does is show us what we’re doing wrong – it doesn’t motivate us to do right, it doesn’t solve the problem of sin, of disunity, of disharmony with each other and God.

Along with the Law, God institutes the method by which people would be made right with Him. The penalty, the consequence, the payment for sinning against God is death, and therefore every human since Adam has had to die. But, God would make it so that it would be ok, for a short period of time, that another being’s blood could stand in the place of the sinner.

Just as when they were in Egypt a spotless lamb would be killed and the blood smeared on the doorposts so that the angel of death would pass-over, so it would be written into the law of Israel that in order to atone for their sins, in order to gain freedom from the wrath of God for one more year, there would be a time of sacrifice. Each year, on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the High Priest would enter into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle (or Temple) and atone for all the sins of Israel. To “atone” means to “cover”. The separation between God and man would be covered over as the High Priest, clothed in white linin, killed a bull calf, who would die in the place and take the punishment of the sin of the other priests and himself. Then, he would enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle some of the blood on the mercy seat, the throne of God, and on the floor before the ark of the covenant, the symbol of God’s promises to His people. He would then cast lots over two live goats. One would be killed as a sin offering for the nation, and the blood would again be taken inside and sprinkled as before. He would then take the live goat, place his hands on its head and confess the sins of the nation. This live goat, called the scapegoat, would be sent into the wilderness, symbolizing that their sin had been not only covered by the blood but carried away.

Consider our own visceral, instinctive reaction to this. We today in North America keep death and blood far from us. We fear both and therefore do everything we can to avoid them. But here it was, right in front of everyone. The bleating of the little calf as it’s led to the altar, the knife in the hands of the priest, the blood spilling on the ground and his white robe, his hands covered in it as he spreads it and sprinkles it, the smell of death.

Our natural reaction is to recoil when we hear about or see something like this, and that’s a good thing. It affects us on a deep level. We cut ourselves, or see someone hurt, and see blood and we know it’s a big deal and need to do something.

This is the feeling we are meant to have when it comes to sin too. It should cause revulsion, disgust, urgency in us. The suffering of the animal shows us how sin brings suffering. Its blood and death show the penalty for our sin, and how seriously God takes it. And it shows how serious the solution to sin must be.

What does it take to reunite God and mankind? What does it take so that we are once again harmonious with Him? What does it take to repair our broken relationships with each other? What does it take to bring unity to a destroyed marriage, the rift between child and parent, broken friendships, enemy nations?

Humanity gives all the same answers… “wipe out the bad people”, “a powerful leader”, “more laws”, “more consequences”, “more education”, “better technology”… but those are topical, external solutions that don’t actually solve the real problem.

The solution is the gospel, the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned”. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Hebrews 9:22 says, “…under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Our sins have not only brought physical death into the world but spiritual death. Division, disunity, the corruption of disharmony everywhere. The just wrath of God, the perfect judge, is upon us, and He demands our sins be paid for. Why? Because He is cruel? No, because He is just. He not only gives us the grace we don’t deserve, but He gives us what we want, justice. All sins must be perfectly paid for, accounted for, atoned for, made right. No one will get away with anything.

A calf’s blood would not suffice for a human sacrifice. The only one who can die for a human must be a human. But everyone has their own sin problem. Their blood can only pay for their own sins. Their punishment can only be for their own sins.

So, what must be done? A human must come who does not have to die for His own sin. Someone must come who has never and will never do anything wrong. He must be tempted in every way, but still, live a perfect life. And this perfect being must willingly offer Himself in place of sinners.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is a being of infinite worth. He has always been in unity and harmony with God. There has never been a moment of disunity, disharmony, or rebellion in Him. And so, for a time, God sent Him, and He chose, to set aside His infinite glory and take on the form of a servant, to tabernacle, to take on the tent of the flesh of humanity, so He could live as One of His creations – and then be willingly sacrificed for them. His blood would be shed just as the Passover lamb’s, just as the bull calf’s was. This was the only way for God’s demand for atonement, to cover all sin, to repair everything that went wrong, to make amends, to be accomplished, the only way that perfect justice could occur.

The only way we could be saved from Hell, a place of punishment and permanent separation, permanent disunity from God – the place where the disharmony of sin would be paid for through suffering – the place where sinners deserve to be, would be for someone else to take that punishment for us. Someone would have to take the wrath of God.

It was not the Romans nor the Jews who put Jesus on the cross, it was God the Father. Jesus, the one who walked on water and calmed storms with a word, had the power to come down from the cross at any time. But His mission, the culmination of His life and Mission was to take the punishment we deserve. So He went through Hell, took the beating, the humiliation, the stripes, the crown of thorns, the nails, and the cross – shedding His own blood.

And then, according to Matthew 27:45-46, from midday to midafternoon, an unusual darkness fell over the land. As the shadow descends over Jerusalem so the shadow of sin fully descends upon Jesus. For the first time ever, the perfect unity, the perfect harmony of the Trinity is broken as God the Father places the weight of the humanity’s wickedness on His perfect Son, and can no longer commune with Him. Jesus cries out with the words of Psalm 22, “’Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

Within a few short hours, Jesus would be dead, sin completely atoned for. Then the earth would quake and the temple curtain would be torn in two from top to bottom showing that the separation between God and man had been repaired. The earthquake also broke open tombs and cemeteries all over the city and some of the dead rose, showing that consequence of sin was changed as well. Three days later, after being crucified and stabbed through the heart, Jesus Himself would rise, proving that He had, in fact, conquered Hell, sin, and death, and had now made a way for anyone who would believe in Him to be once-and-for-all saved.

The unity and harmony of the Trinity were renewed and the invitation was given that anyone could be part of that harmony if they would admit they are sinners and ask forgiveness of God, accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on their behalf, believing in Him alone for salvation.

Now, instead of enforcing the law through external punishment, God would change our hearts, our consciences, our motives, to line up with His, so that the motivation for good would internal. Instead of waiting for some human leader to rise and solve our problems, we would look to Jesus as our Lord. Instead of putting our faith in increasing our knowledge, or better medicine, or better technology, we would put our faith in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, who affect a change at the very core of our being.

Conclusion

Now, when we feel far from God, we don’t have to wait for the Day of Atonement or shed blood, we can simply pray, “God, forgive me. Jesus already did everything, so please bring me back to you.” and He does.

Now, when Christians feel like we are out of step with the world, like aliens in a strange culture, confused by our culture, we can understand that it is because we are no longer resonating at the frequency of sin and sinners, but are being tuned to the harmonies of the kingdom of God.

Now, when we want to repair our broken relationships we no longer start with new rules, promises, bribes or threats, but we turn to God, asking Him to do the work on our hearts, realizing that our issue is sin and only He can fix it.

Our unity, with God, as Christian couples, Christian families, with our Christian church both locally and globally, is a miracle given to us by God and represents so much of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Which is why pride, arrogance, argument, division, and disunity brings such dishonour to God and His people. He died so we could be reunited with Him and each other.

My encouragement to you this week is to read the Word in the light of the message of the Gospel of Unity and Harmony. Read 1 Corinthians again and see how their disunity from God and each other brings shame to them and the name of Christ – and then look inward at your own heart to how you are disunited, disharmonious with God and others. Repent of it, ask God’s forgiveness and forgiveness of those you have divided from, and, as an act of worship and thanksgiving to your saviour, do everything you can to restore unity and harmony between you, God and others.

 

Church Membership and Being a Good Church

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Church Membership

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When we are saved by Jesus, He gives us a lot of gifts. One of those gifts is to become a member of His church, a family of believers spread throughout the world. All believers, everywhere are part of the Kingdom of God, the Body of Christ, the Universal Church both living here and in heaven. If you are a Christian you are part of God’s family. The church isn’t intended to be seen merely globally though, it’s most accurately seen and experienced locally as individual believers from the same geographic area choose to meet together to worship Jesus, fellowship with each other, learn and be discipled, and do good works to spread His love in their own neighbourhoods. Certainly, each church should be thinking about their global impact, sending and supporting missionaries and charities in countries that need help, but for most Christians, most of their impact, most of their work, most of their learning, most of their worship, most of their evangelism, is done at their home church.

The letters of the New Testament, though universally applicable, were mostly sent to individual churches: the church in the city of Corinth, in Philippi, in Rome. When Jesus gave John his great Revelation, he addressed it not to the universal church, but to seven specific, local churches. When God works, He doesn’t usually do it on a grand, global level, but instead chooses to work mostly through individuals like you and me in a local church just like ours. That’s the common, normal way God enacts His will in the world. Even the great, global impacts that we’ve seen some ministries have are part of a local church.

If you’ve read Purpose Driven Life, you’re reading a book written by a local pastor in Lake Forest, California. If you’ve listened to the band Casting Crowns, you’re listening to a youth pastor’s band from First Baptist in Daytona Beach, Florida. The Emotionally Healthy Spirituality book we’re going to do came from a ministry built over some years in a church in New York City.

Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century, became a Christian when he was driven to a Methodist Chapel during a snowstorm. A substitute preacher, with not much training, was simply reading the book of Isaiah. He came to Isaiah 45:2, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else.”, stopped reading, pointed straight at 15-year-old Charles and shouted, “That young man there looks very miserable! Look! Look, young man! Look now!”. God worked a miracle in Spurgeon’s heart, he was saved, became a preacher, and went on to plant many more churches.

It’s not just preachers and writers that have great impact, of course. God sets up preachers and teacher for training others – it is the rest of the church that gets credit for doing most of God’s work in the world. The deacons who visit the sick and serve those in need. The small groups who meet to pray and to share. The ministry leaders who care for children, teens, and seniors. The old married people who take newlyweds under their wing. The families who adopt and foster kids in tough situations. The musicians, artists, and actors who point people to God through their art. The mothers and fathers raising Godly children, and the countless others who go to work every day and serve God’s will there, working hard, having meaningful conversations, and sharing God’s love. That’s how God usually works. Though believers like you.

We talked a little about that last week when we talked about how our church helps us change our lives for the better, and in a lot of our sermons last year on the Body of Christ. The church is an important place, a vital place, for believers to be.

Keep You From Church

But not all believers want to be here. It’s the truth that growing Christians want to be with fellow believers but backslidden and sinning Christians tend to run away from other Christians. My wife was given a Bible a long time ago and I found these words inscribed in it: “This book will keep you from sin, and sin will keep you from this book.” Turns out it’s a quote from DL Moody. I could adapt that to say, “The church will help to keep you from sin, and sin will help to keep you from the church.”

People that are working on their sins, want to learn more about God, grow in righteousness and be trained for ministry flock towards the church and it’s ministries. Those who are fill of unrepentant sins, have unforgiving hearts, are prideful, selfish, or bitter, tend to avoid coming under the leadership of the elders, avoid meeting with other Christians who try to get into their business, avoid places where they might hear something they don’t like. They stay on the outskirts of the church, and are often used by Satan to start church fights and splits. If you are full of guilt and shame, because you are refusing to repent before God for your sin, then you’re not going to want to be around a bunch of people who are worshipping Jesus, saying they have been forgiven, and are trying to do good – because it makes your shame and guilt feel all the more acute. When your heart is messed up with sin it’s easier to be with sinners than Christians.

It breaks my heart that more people aren’t availing themselves of the blessing of being part of a godly, local church. There are so many lonely, confused, addicted, afraid, stressed out, falling apart people out there that are either running all over the place trying to find something to help – or have simply given up and are just trying to medicate or entertain the pain away until they die.

There are people that long for intellectual stimulation, to serve their community, a place to find their purpose, a group of people that sees the world differently than anyone else and knows something they don’t know. They long for the presence of God, the healing and forgiveness that comes from Jesus, even if they don’t know it. Sometimes they do turn to God in their desperation, but most often they refuse Him when He shows up and invites them to turn to Him in their times of distress. Sometimes they do turn to God, and start to pray or are driven to read God’s Word, hoping that something the Bible will help – not realizing, or refusing to believe, that so many of their needs can be met by not only talking to God, but being with His people and joining a good, Godly church.

And of course, there are far too many people who call themselves believers who have divorced themselves from the church. Whether because they had a bad experience or because of their own pride, they now refuse to be part of a church, choosing to stay home and watch tv preachers, listen to podcast, and chat with people online – all the while growing in bitterness and being led astray by lies because there’s no one there to correct their thinking.

It’s sad because sitting at home alone isn’t usually where miracles happen. They happen when you submit yourself humbly to Jesus and choose to live your life with the people of God.

Blessed to Be Your Pastor

I believe we are a good, Christ honouring church, and that most people here work hard to ensure that we stay that way. We’ve gone through a lot together and I can say that the furnace of affliction has refined this church and that God is preparing us for something special in 2018. You are an open church, willing to accept people that are different than you. You are a patient church, showing love when frustrations and difficulties have come. You are a humble church, being willing to do all kinds of things without requiring recognition or reimbursement. You are a generous church, giving more than expected, taking care of each other’s, showering blessings and help on people who share their needs. You are a church that does the hard things to seek unity, having extra meetings, holding people accountable, and being honest with one another even when it’s hard. You are a good church, wanting to make sure God is honoured by what is done here. You are a Biblical church, consistently showing your love for God’s Word.

I am beyond blessed to not only be your pastor, but to have me and my family be the recipients of so much of your God-given grace. That tells me that God is showing you love, working in your heart, and doing good works in you. That He is fulfilling His promise that the good work He has started in you will be carried on to completion (Phil 1:6). It tells me that you are trying to be sensitive to His Spirit. Yes, we’ve had some struggles, and I know that each of you has their own separate and very real trials – but here you are, worshipping, giving, and being attentive to God’s Word and His people. Here you are, looking forward to small groups and study groups. Here you are, serving, training, loving and caring for people. I’m blessed to be your pastor. Anyone who distances themselves from you guys is crazy, because you are being the hands and feet of Jesus.

Membership Covenant

And so, we come to that part of the year when we read our Church Membership Covenant again. This is the document that every single member of this church has agreed to. If you’re not sure if you’re a member, then you probably aren’t, because it requires baptism, meetings, and voting. It’s a big commitment here.

Last week someone said that they appreciated when I share my own struggles during the sermon and I said that I’ve learned that whenever you are working with a group and are starting a project, ministry, prayer group, small group, or whatever, that it’s really important to set the bar upfront. People will look to the leader to see how things are supposed to be. This is how hard we will work. This is the quality that’s expected. This is how we will talk and act. This is the level of openness and honesty expected. This is the level of risk we’ll be taking. I strongly believe that, so I try to set the bar high.

But it’s not me that chooses where the bar is set, I’m just following the example and commands of Jesus. It is He that sets the bar. He’s our saviour and our model. When we want to know how respectful, kind, honest, open, hard-working, risk-taking to be, we read His word, witness His example, and listen to what He says. That’s all I try to do – imperfectly for sure, but that’s what we’re all shooting for, right?

And that’s why we have a church membership covenant. It’s our man-made, human way, to hold each other accountable to the bar that Jesus has set for us. He sets the bar, then we follow Him, and work together to help each other to keep following. There’s lots of reasons we have this document, Why Our Church Has a Membership Covenant, but this year I simply want to take time to read it and remind us as to what is in it, what we’ve agreed to and to remind us to hold each other accountable to it.

A good church reminds each other of what the bible says and holds each other to it in love. This is simply a summarized way to do that. Is it a perfect document? No. But we here believe that it’s helpful. Here’s what it says:

Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and on the profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, in the presence of God, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ.

We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this Church in knowledge, piety and godly living; to promote its spirituality in sustaining its worship, ordinances, discipline and doctrine; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the Church, its work against sin and injustice in the world, the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel throughout all nations.

We agree to promote family worship and maintain private devotions; to educate our children in the teaching and practice of our faith; and to seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances. We strive to walk circumspectly in the world, to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements and exemplary in our deportment; to avoid all idle talk, backbiting and unrighteous anger; to practice temperance in all things; and to be zealous in all our efforts to advance the Kingdom of our Saviour.

We agree to strive to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

We covenant to watch over one another in brotherly love, to remember each other in prayer, to aid each other in sickness and distress, to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech, to be slow to take offence, always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the commandments of our Saviour.

Taking Responsibility

That’s quite a list, isn’t it? Hard to live up to, right? This is why we thank God for grace and give grace to one another. Just as none of us will live up to the standard of being Christlike, or be perfect as God is perfect, or perfectly follow God’s word, until we finally get rid of this mortal flesh and receive our new bodies, so none of us will live up to this bible-based set of standards. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t supposed to try.

Being a Christian means taking responsibility for our own sins, our own attitudes, our own decisions, and our own actions. We own up to them. A lack of studiousness and godly living isn’t anyone else’s fault but our own. A lack of passion in worship or discipline isn’t because life is so hard, it’s because we’re sinners. A refusal to share the gospel with others, refusal to lead our family in a godly way, refusal to use our money properly, isn’t because our work is too busy, our kids are too much trouble, and our bills are too high – it’s because we’ve made poor, selfish, choices.

A Christian admits this. First we admit it to Jesus. We pray, “Jesus, I’m a sinner. I’ve messed up so much. The effects of the sin in my heart, my own selfish, stupid choices, have rippled out of my soul and affected everyone around me. Most of all, my sin has torn me away from you. Please forgive me, help me, heal me, put me on the right path, and help me stay there.” We admit to Jesus that we are sinners, and then we ask for His help. But it doesn’t stop there.

As we talked about last week, as James 5 says, we “confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, that [we] may be healed.” We need to bring others into the loop. This membership covenant helps us do that. It helps us see how we fall short of God’s standards, and helps us to see some things we need to ask our church to help us with.

But it does something else. As Galatians 6:1-2 says, it helps us to bear one another’s burdens, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

This covenant drives us to confessing our sins to Jesus. It gives us a list of ways we can grow and ask others to help us. And agreeing to it gives others permission to hold us accountable. It gives them permission to say, “Hey, are you reading your bible? Are you praying? How’s your marriage? Are you resting? Are you working hard? Are you serving others? What are your needs?” or “Hey man, you’re thinking some wrong things about God and we need to talk about that.” Or “You haven’t been to church in a while, you’re not giving or serving, and that’s not spiritual healthy – what’s going on?” Hey, you are stealing – not doing your taxes honestly, taking cable from the neighbours, illegally copying music or movies, ripping people off – and the God’s Word says you need to stop.”

By becoming a member of the church you are agreeing that the elders, deacons, and other members have permission to ask you hard questions and hold you accountable. This is how we keep sharpening each other (Prov 27:10). We do it as 1 Corinthians 13 says we should do it, full of love – but sometimes that love means doing the hard thing like confronting the sin. This is how we remain a good, godly, Christ-honouring, church. This is how we all grow closer to God and more like Jesus, together.

Conclusion

I’m going to try to bring the membership covenant up more this year to keep it in front of us, but  my encouragement to you is to keep this document in your bible, use it to spur yourself and others on. Read it in your small group, your family devotions, and go over it in your private study time. Use it to spur your prayer life, your conversations with other believers, and to motivate you to help others.

Resources for Every Stage of the Christian Life (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 93)

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We do a data dump of the best resources for every stage of the Christian life. Whether you are a new believer, have some years in the church, or are a longtime elder, you’ll find something to challenge you!

Podcast Audio:

The Resources:

Pilgrim Theology – Michael Horton

ESV Study Bible

NIV Life Application Study Bible

Reformation Study Bible

John MacArthur Study Bible

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin (Abridged and in Modern English) by Tony Lane & Hilary Osborne

Podcast: The Briefing by Albert Mohler

Podcast: Mortification of Spin

Podcast: Renewing Your Mind by RC Sproul

Vodcast: Look at the Book by John Piper

40 Questions About Interpreting The Bible by Robert Plummer

Knowing God by JI Packer

Core Christianity by Michael Horton

Gospel and Kingdom by Graham Goldsworthy

What Is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile

The Peacemaker by Ken Sande

The Hour that Changes the World by Dick Eastman

Podcast: The Whitehorse Inn by Michael Horton

Website: Monergism.com

Preachers: Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, Martin Lloyd Jones, RC Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper…

Biographies: Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas, Confessions of St Augustine, William Tyndale, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, D. Martin Lloyd Jones.

Ligonier Ministries Resources: Tabletalk Magazine, “Connect”

The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World by Stephen Nichols

Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Why Our Church Has a Membership Covenant

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Sermon Text:

When we become Christians we enter into a new family called the Church of Jesus Christ. When we put our faith in Jesus, God takes us out from under the condemnation we find under His Law grants us forgiveness through Jesus, and then makes us a part of His Kingdom.

All believers, everywhere are part of the Kingdom of God, the Body of Christ, the Universal Church both living here and in heaven. If you are a Christian you are part of God’s family. The church expresses itself in two ways, the universal church and the local church – and Christians are meant to be a part of both, committing themselves to a local, Christian church. And as part of God’s family, one way you express your love for your Heavenly Father, is to be with His church. And I’m talking about more than just the commands we read. In scripture it says that one of the ways we know we are saved is because our heart changes towards other believers. It says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” (1 John 3:14)

Growing Christians want to be with fellow believers – backslidden and sinning Christians tend to run away from fellow believers. Those that are working on their sins tend to want to sit under good teaching and share their struggles with others. Those who are full of the unrepentant sins of unforgiveness, bitterness, pride, or greed tend to avoid other believers, avoid coming under the leadership of elders, or try to split up and start their own churches. A Christian full of hate, shame or ungodly fear will find excuses to avoid church and other believers. Growing, humble Christians do the hard, sacrificial work of seeking unity and mutual love.

I love the local church, especially this one. This is a really, really good church. There is much love, care, interest, honesty and joy here. It breaks my heart that more people aren’t part of a good, healthy church, because it is the number one way in the world that God chooses to do His will.

It’s fine to sit at home and listen to sermons or chat with people online, but miracles happen when people choose to get off the couch and spend time with their fellow believers on Sunday and during the week.

I haven’t always loved the church. I grew up in a church and didn’t know any other way, but when I was sent to my first year of post-secondary school at age 17, I didn’t bother going to church. And as a result, it wasn’t long before started suffering with loneliness, depression, anxiety, and fear. I sat alone the basement of my rented home, avoided people, didn’t make any friends, didn’t go to school, lost touch with God, and felt like garbage.

I’m convinced that if I would have gone to church, it would have been different. In fact, I know that’s true because since then I have attended church and, when facing trials and pain, I have been ministered to, held accountable, corrected, befriended, and pointed to Jesus.

This was because there were people in the church that were taking the words of Jesus seriously. Their hearts were full of love for Him and others and they were willing to step into my life and help me. They listened to the voice of God inside them and obeyed, and my life is better because of their obedience.

I want to start this morning, and this year, by reading our church membership covenant, which outlines a lot of ways that we have agreed to help each other here. This is the document that every person who is a voting member of this church has agreed to. If you’re not sure if you are a member, then you probably aren’t, because it requires baptism, meetings, and voting. It’s quite a commitment. Let me read it to you:

The Membership Covenant

Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and on the profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, in the presence of God, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ.

We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this Church in knowledge, piety and godly living; to promote its spirituality in sustaining its worship, ordinances, discipline and doctrine; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the Church, its work against sin and injustice in the world, the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel throughout all nations.

We agree to promote family worship and maintain private devotions; to educate our children in the teaching and practice of our faith; and to seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances. We strive to walk circumspectly in the world, to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements and exemplary in our deportment; to avoid all idle talk, backbiting and unrighteous anger; to practice temperance in all things; and to be zealous in all our efforts to advance the Kingdom of our Saviour.

We agree to strive to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

We covenant to watch over one another in brotherly love, to remember each other in prayer, to aid each other in sickness and distress, to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech, to be slow to take offence, always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the commandments of our Saviour.

Arguments Against Church Covenant

This morning I want to take a look at why it’s important that we have a membership covenant because it’s not without some controversy. There are a lot of people out there that see a church membership covenant as unbiblical. They see it as a way of saying the presence of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God are not enough – that somehow we need a human document, a new “man-made law” to tell people how to behave. And they are right in being concerned.

A lot of abuse has occurred as a result of human documents that go beyond what scripture says. It is from these sorts of documents that we get things like abuse of power, public shunning, excommunication, and all manner of strange cultish practices that manipulate and exploit people.

In true cults you’ll see some horrible things they have to agree to like giving up your money, family and friends, and agreeing to all manner of abusive punishments. But churches aren’t immune to extreme things in their covenants. Even today in some Baptist churches you’ll read things like “no drinking, no smoking, no gambling, no dancing, no R rated movies”. You’ll see punishments for missing church, not tithing, or not following through on areas of service. And a lot of that not only smacks of legalism, but even cultism, and it is certainly unbiblical.

The letter to the Galatians is written to people who were confused about this kind of thing. Teachers had come through to the church and taught that Christians needed to follow the Law of Moses and Jewish traditions in order to be truly saved. (Gal 3:1-14)

This is something the Bible is completely against. Scripture is clear that we are saved by grace through faith, not by anything we can do. It says in 2:21, “…if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2:19-21)

In other words, the very thought that keeping some sort of human law can make you saved, or keep you saved, or get you more saved, in effect, nullifies the work of Jesus on the cross. It’s like saying, “Jesus only died for some of my sins, I have to do the rest. I need to do extra works to make up for what Jesus didn’t do. I need to be extra good because Jesus wasn’t good enough.” What a terrible, ungodly way to live that is, and the scriptures are dead-set against it. Jesus had a lot to say to the Pharisees who cared more about their rules and traditions more than the word of God. He calls it “vain worship”. (Matthew 15:7-9)

And so, rightly, some Christians really shy away from anything that even smacks of that way of thinking.

1. A Set of Standards

That being said, there is certainly a place for covenants between people in this world. The legal world uses them all the time as ways to make sure people follow through on their promises. If you buy a house or car, you’ll sign a legal document. At the bottom of your receipt from many stores you’ll find their return policy. A lot of employers, sports organizations and social clubs make contracts with “moral clauses” which dictate what kind of behaviour is expected of the employee, player, or member even when they are not at work.

One example is in the NHL’s “standard player contract”, which is set by the Players Association and cannot be modified, there is a “morality clause” that states a player must “conduct himself on and off the rink according to the highest standards of honesty, morality, fair play and sportsmanship and refrain from conduct detrimental to the best interest of the Club, the League, or professional hockey generally.”

There have been more than a few players suspended and even terminated from their teams, not because of anything they’ve done during the game, but because of things they have said or done off the ice. Perhaps one of the most famous was when Sean Avery made a rude comment about his ex-girlfriends and was then suspended and kicked off his team.

But what about a church? Just because lots of people in the world do it, doesn’t necessarily make it appropriate for Christians. Well, one reason that these companies and organizations put dress and morality codes into their contracts is because they want to emphasize the importance of making sure the public image of the group is represented by its members.

If we use Christianese terms, a church would do it to promote Christlikeness and avoid hypocrisy. There is a great importance in making sure who we say we are, who we identify with, and how we live, are all in alignment. We need to practice what we preach.

  • James 1:26 says, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”
  • 1 John 5:2-3a says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.”
  • When Jesus was talking to those Pharisees He called them “hypocrites” saying, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me…” (Matthew 15:8)
  • When Jesus is teaching us how to tell a good teacher from a bad teacher, His answer is, “… you will recognize them by their fruits.”, meaning their deeds. (Matthew 7:16)
  • He says later that we can know what is in a person’s heart by their words, “…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” (Matthew 12:34-35)

The Bible is clear that how we live matters a great deal. If we profess to be a Christian, but our life doesn’t change, then that likely means that we don’t really have the faith we say we do. If we say we have repented from our sin and want to follow God, but continue to look the same, sound the same, do the same things, enjoy commit the same sins and refuse to submit our lives to God, then we shouldn’t take much comfort in our faith, because it’s not real.

A good church covenant gives reminders of some of the ways the Bible tells us that our lives are supposed to change in order to line up with our new faith. It is not a list of dos and don’ts that change with culture and are meant to micromanage people’s behaviour, but a general document meant to give an outline of what a godly life looks like. When we sign a church membership covenant, we are saying that we agree to seek to live by not a bunch of man-made, but the standards of what the Bible says.

You might think, why can’t we just say, “Why can’t we all just agree to do what the Bible says?” Well, we are. The covenant is a summary of some of those things. It’s not exhaustive, but is a general outline that makes it easier for everyone to look at and understand, but leaves room for individual differences.

A good church covenant should be general enough that every believer could sign it, regardless of their work, family, or cultural situation. Whether you are a farmer or an astronaut, have children or don’t, are a young, single man, or a widowed, senior citizen, the covenant should be something you can agree to. It tells everyone who reads it what kind of ethics we believe in. Just as our Statement of Faith tells people what we believe, our Membership Covenant tells them how we live.

2. Accountability

So, the first thing a good church covenant does is give a brief summary of the sorts of standards that God has set for His people. The second thing it does is allow us to obey the command to hold each other accountable.

A lot of people inside and outside the church can quote Matthew 7:1, even though they don’t know it comes from there. It says, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Some can even go a bit further: “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” And they stop there thinking that it says that no one is allowed to call out anyone else on their issues. We use it as a defense against anyone getting into our business and an excuse not to have to deal with anyone else’s. But we need to keep reading!

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

Is Jesus telling us to ignore each other and never make a judgement as to the rightness or wrongness a person’s choices? No. It says, “Be careful how you judge! Don’t be a hypocrite. Examine yourself so that when you go to your brother or sister who is in error you will see clearly enough to help them.”

Let me lay down a few more scriptures about the importance of judging others and holding each other accountable, just so we can understand this better:

  • Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” How can we restore someone caught in sin unless we make the judgement that they are sinning? How can we rescue them if we don’t get involved? How can we each other’s burdens, if we don’t judge them to be burdonsome?
  • James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” The Bible says we should share our sins with one another so we can pray for help and be healed. We can’t do that if we ignore one another six-and-a-half days a week.

Here’s some from the positive side:

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up….”
  • Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
  • Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Each of these are encouragements to get proactive. It’s not just about waiting for someone to mess up so we can fix them, but proactively encouraging, sharpening, and stirring each other up as we meet together regularly. “Hey, are you reading your bible? Are you praying? How’s your marriage? Are you resting? Are you working hard? Are you serving others? What are your needs? I’m learning this about myself, or God, or my family, and it has helped me; let me tell you about it.”

How about: “Hey man, you’re thinking some wrong things about God and we need to work on that.” Or “You haven’t been to church in a while, and you’re not giving or serving, and that’s not spiritual healthy – God’s Word says you need to come back.” Or “Hey, you are stealing – not doing your taxes honestly, taking cable from the neighbours, illegally copying music or movies, ripping people off – and God’s Word says you need to stop.”

The second thing a good membership covenant do is give us permission to each other accountable.

3. Church Discipline

These two things together, standards and accountability, give the church a way to engage in what we call “church discipline”.

God has given a governing structure to His church and calls some people to be leaders and elders who are meant to be examples, protectors, overseers and teachers to their fellow believers. Many churches call them “elders”, but they are also called “bishops” or “presbyters” or “pastors”. To become one means meeting a long list of biblical qualifications (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9) and taking on the very difficult task of shepherding a group of people.

In Ephesians 4:11-14 it says that God,

“…gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

In Acts 20:28-30 Paul tells the Ephesian elders,

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”

In 1 Peter 5:2-3 the elders are told to

“…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”

On that note of being “subject to the elders”, Hebrews 13:17 tells Christians to

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

You see, it’s a two-way street. The elders of the church are given the responsibility to live exemplary lives worthy of imitation and stick close to Jesus. With the grace God gives them they are to protect and guard the church from false teachers, false practices, and spiritual dangers, knowing that will be held to account for how they lead.

But, unlike the laws of Israel, a Christian elder has no physical influence – no police force, no military, no weapons – with which to do their job. The history of the church is replete with examples of elders who got this terribly wrong.

The only way for elders to do what God has asked of us is for those who are part of the church, who have committed themselves to worshipping, serving, giving, and caring for a local body of believers, to accept that discipline willingly. Becoming a member and agreeing to the membership covenant is a way of giving permission to the elders to do that.

 

It might sound harsh, but it is intended to be a wake-up call for someone whose heart is growing far from God, who is falling for dangerous temptations, is filling with bitterness, is creating a split in the congregation, or whose soul is in danger.

Signing the membership covenant allows the elders to follow the scriptures which tell us to get involved in these sorts of issues. Just so you know I’m not making this up, I want you to see it in scripture.

  • Matthew 18:17 Jesus says that if you have a problem with someone and it’s not getting any better, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”
  • 1 Timothy 5:20 tells elders, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”
  • Titus 3:10 tells elders, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him…”

And there’s more.

Of course we can’t bar the doors, tie them to a chair, or lock them up. The whole point is that we trust in God’s power, not our own. Agreeing to a membership covenant not only allows each person in the church to hold each other to account, but gives permission to the elders to do church discipline if they must.

Conclusion

That’s enough for one day. Let me conclude with this: At our church, one tool we use to try to help each other follow God is our membership covenant. Is it perfect? No. Is it biblical, God honouring and helpful? Yes, I believe so. And I think it’s something we should be looking at more often so we can grow closer to God and each other, and more closely follow His word.

Should I Become a Church Member? (Carnivore Theology Ep. 68)

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Church membership is a controversial topic for a lot of people. Let’s talk about the historical, biblical, practical and emotional aspects of becoming a church member.

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