September 14, 2008, Monaca First Presbyterian Church

Not the best Sermon I have ever written. Sounds a bit discombobulated. May God bless my incoherence.

First Monaca Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) September 14, 2008

Scripture Lesson Exodus 14: 19-31

Sermon “Baptized Unto Moses” Benjamin P. Glaser

Moses in the verses preceding our Scripture Lesson this morning has been negotiating with Pharaoh over the release of the Israelites from the hand of bondage in Egypt. They have gone through all ten of the plagues, the rivers have turned to blood, the frogs have come and gone, the outbreak of gnats and flies has ceased, the livestock of Egypt have died, boils have appeared, hail has rained down from heaven, locusts have eaten their food, darkness has come and gone, and finally the firstborn of all of Egypt and those who had not sacrificed the Paschal Lamb and placed its blood on the door frame have had their first born die at the hands of the Angel of the Lord. Only after all this has Pharaoh released the Israelites from their bondage and allowed Moses to lead them out. However Pharaoh in chapter 14 has reconsidered through the hardening of his heart by God so that, as verse four says, “Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD.” It is at this point where we come to what we have read this morning, that is the crossing of the Red Sea and the fullness of what we can learn from the events of that day and what came after it.

But before we get to that it is important when we come to texts like this that seem too far-fetched or too much like myth to believe in our supposed more enlightened times that we appreciate what kind of God it is that we are given the delight to worship. We cannot treat these events as having no real meaning for us in the 21st century living in America reading them as we would Aesop’s Fables or the stories of the Brother’s Grimm. As if they are some type of legend only meant to teach some kind of moral lesson. We must comprehend that the Holy Scripture’s speak as one unified voice displaying for us the Almighty majesty of the God whom we have the pleasure of coming to worship this Lord’s Day. The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians chapter ten says,” For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were [punished] in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. “ In other words these events have a very important thing to teach us, because as the chosen people of God passed through the Red Sea many moons ago we too who have been chosen in Christ and have been baptized by the Holy Spirit, pass through the cloud as Paul says to be on our way to the Promised Land. But just as the Israelites who were saved by God from the attacking Egyptians, they were also punished for their refusal to submit to God’s Will and God’s Law given to them by Moses at Sinai.

The people in the Exodus event all perform actions that occur not for any other reason but for the Glory of our Almighty God alone who is the sovereign and the supreme ruler over all of His creation. Nothing happens but for the Glory of God and only according to the purposes of God. We would think that the Israelites having seen this work, this parting of the seas that had been done through Moses, would have followed to the letter what Moses tells them to do. However we know it takes but a few days after witnessing the awesome power of Almighty God for the Israelites to fall away and construct an idol of their own making, bowing down to worship an inanimate object that has no power, no glory, no holiness because they had already forgotten the salvation God had provided for them in their rescue from the hand of the Egyptians. Refusing to submit to the Grace God had provided for them in the Law given to Moses. Of course it easy for us today to look back at the Israelites with disdain and contempt, but how we follow the same pattern. Falling for the wiles and the snares this world provides for us, trusting not in the power of our Almighty God who has rescued us from our own sin, instead trusting in the weak, powerless, and falsity that is the world.

This fight we have with God is as old as humankind itself. This fight is this old because we refuse to humble ourselves before the Lord our God. Why do we do this? Why do we who know that our omnipotent God, powerful enough to free His people from bondage, to part seas, destroy the most powerful Army on earth, Our God whom alone we can cleave, to save us from ourselves, why do we continue to deny him in this way? We are reminded of the words of David in Psalm 18:27 “The humble O Lord, thou wilt save; and the eyes of the proud wilt thou cast down:” We must be humble before God. We must recognize our fallen nature, our inability to save ourselves. That is what we do when we ask forgiveness for our sins. We recognize that we have fallen short of the Glory of God and that we need his help in reaching that Glory because we cannot do it. Romans 3:9-18 says, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit”; the poison of bees is under their lips”; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” We are utterly incapable of coming to God, He must come for us. As He has sent Moses to bring the Israelites from Egypt so to He has sent Christ to bring us to Him. Submitting ourselves to His Law as the Israelites are called to submit to Moses and the Law God has given him.

We must not look at submission as a burden but must look at it as the exact opposite. Submission is the glorious reality that we do not have to rely on ourselves for our own salvation. For I know if I had to rely on my own will to get me to the promised land I might go backwards let alone go forward towards the Promised Land. So we must look at this call to submit to the will and Law of God not as a yoke that we have been made to bear but that the yoke has been lifted from us so that we may be with Christ in Paradise. You see Christ died so that we do not have to. So that death could lose its sting and we could have victory over our foe. It was so that fallen humanity which cannot even come close to reaching the perfection that God requires of us could be with our Father in Paradise. There is a glorious reality in understanding that God has shown us any mercy at all. We who dishonor him at every step and deny his calling have been given this magnificent gift that is Jesus Christ so that we may have a right relationship with our creator. We shall not deny His will should we? We cannot allow the Devil to deceive us to believe that we can be the author of our own salvation or that we can of our own power perfectly follow this will. The Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter Eighteen puts it this way: “I. Although hypocrites, and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions: of being in the favor of God and estate of salvation; which that hope of theirs shall perish: yet those who truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God: which hope shall never make them ashamed.”

It is God’s will that we submit to Him, that we stop resisting His will, that we allow Him to have complete control of our lives. Submission requires humility because it requires that we acknowledge that God is more capable of directing our lives than we are ourselves, and it also requires that we acknowledge that God has a greater right to direct our lives than we do. God is in opposition to our foolish pride. He demands our complete submission to His Word and to His Word alone. This is what the first commandment is all about. We shall have no other Gods before him. Humanity cannot serve both God and Mammon. We must only serve Him that created us not just because that is what God commands in Scripture but also because we are incapable as fallen humans to perfectly follow the Will of God in and of our own ability. The devil tries to get us to resist God’s Will by telling us that we can know better than God, that is what the words to Eve in the Garden were all about and that we have a right to do as we choose with our own lives, the sin of the time of the Judges chapter 17 verse 6, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The fact is all sin is rebellion against God’s will and submission is part of true repentance towards God. We resist the devil by submitting to God, and submitting to God is the same as drawing near to God; therefore, when we submit to God the devil flees from us because he does not want to be near God. When we humble ourselves before God by submitting to His will, we acknowledge that His rights and abilities are greater than our own, and He rewards us by exalting us. God may exalt us in differing ways. He may deliver us from temptation, trial, suffering, or whatever difficulty we are experiencing, or He may strengthen us to bear up under our circumstances. Furthermore, He always exalts us by strengthening us in our faith. The Almighty Father has called us to completely deny ourselves and to follow him. However we should not look upon this as a burden but as glorious freedom. We are as babes in arms leaving ourselves to completely trust in our safety, our feeding, and our protection entirely on the Almighty. Submission is not a burden it is a release from the weight of sin. Let it go. Let God take your anxiety. Let God take your worry. Do not fear this World for if God is for us who can be against us?

As we come to the end of our morning service here on the Lord’s Day and as we begin to prepare to go out from this place into a world that has denied Christ crucified, a world that wants nothing to do with the free offer of Grace given by Jesus Christ, with the Law that he has given to us, we remember Christ’s words in Matthew chapter 5 starting at verse 13 going to verse 20 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Brothers and Sisters know that just as we who are sinners in need of a savior from our bondage to sin as the Israelites were in need of saving from their oppression in Egypt we have been brought forth from that bondage, passed through the Red Sea which is our baptism in Christ, being cleansed by the Blood of the Lamb, having the weight of the Law taken off our back so that we can now submit to the Law of God out of Love and worship to the Lord our God who has died for us on a cross so that we may partake in His Righteousness and that our righteousness may surpass that of the Pharisees who though they followed the Law could not do so with perfection, but those of us who are in Christ Jesus we have been brought forth from the Wilderness of Sin to the Promised Land that is Jesus Christ. All those in Christ will be like the Israelites who are in Moses, and they will pass safely to the other side as the Israelites did. However all those who are not in Christ will be like the Egyptians, and will be swallowed up in the furious wrath of God in the torment of the sea.

To God Alone Be the Glory of This Day and Forevermore. Amen.

Session-Controlled Communion: Another View

Restricted Communion in One OPC Congregation
William Shishko

Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 3, no. 4 (October 1994)

“…or be admitted thereunto.”

So ends the Westminster Confession of Faith’s chapter on the Lord’s Supper (XXIX). The Westminster Standards do not teach that people admit themselves to the Lord’s Supper, but that they are to “be admitted” to it. “All ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with (the Lord), so are they unworthy of the Lord’s table, and cannot, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto.” (section VIII, emphasis mine). We demonstrate our allegiance to this confessional standard by not admitting covenant children or new Christians to the Lord’s Table until they have publicly professed their faith in Christ, c.f. OPC Directory for Worship, V:4. We also apply this standard by the step of church discipline known as “suspension,” cf. OPC Book of Discipline, VI:B:3.

But how do we apply the confessional standard “…be admitted thereunto” with respect to visitors at a service when the Lord’s Supper is being observed as part of our worship? A warning is read, c.f. OPC Directory for Worship, IV:C:2, and the elements are distributed indiscriminately by Session members across the pews, etc. The decision is left to the visitors (adults and children) as to whether or not they may partake of the elements. They “admit themselves thereunto.” Over against the old Scottish tradition which took the confessional standard so seriously that “communion tokens” were issued to those who were permitted to come to the Lord’s Supper, the hallowed American tradition is that “it’s left up to the individual.” Which tradition is closer to the pattern of both the Scriptures and the Reformed confessions?

Over a decade ago the Session of the OPC, Franklin Square considered this question, and came to the conclusion that what is commonly called “restricted communion” was decidedly more in line with the standard implied in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Larger Catechism #173. We were struck with the fact that our church visitors were treated with a different standard than our own covenant children, who often knew more about the Gospel than many visitors! We were also convicted that the traditional American practice of “letting people make the decision for themselves” eviscerated any upholding of the discipline of other churches (a situation we would periodically face). From that time we have applied our conviction with this practice:

1. The week prior to the Lord’s Supper (which is observed monthly) we announce in the church bulletin that: “The Lord’s Supper will be administered next week as part of our morning worship service. The Lord’s Supper is for those who have been baptized in the Name of the Triune God, have publicly professed their faith in Christ, and are members of an evangelical church. Those visiting with us who desire to partake of the Lord’s Supper should speak with one of the church elders before doing so.” A similar announcement is placed in the bulletin on the Sunday of the Lord’s Supper.

2. Regular visitors (who have not already done so) speak with one of the elders either during the week prior to the Supper, or on that Sunday morning. We try to have one or more elders available near the entrance of the church so that visitors may consult with an elder. In most cases we know enough about the churches people come from so that individual elders may represent the Session by either giving permission to visitors to partake of the Lord’s Supper with us, or asking that they refrain from partaking with us “this time.” We see even the denial of permission to partake of the Lord’s Supper as an opportunity for ministry.

3. The standard warning is given prior to the administering of the Lord’s Supper, along with a statement such as this: “In order to preserve the integrity of our oversight of the Lord’s Table, if any of you visiting with us have not spoken with one of the church elders regarding your participation in the Lord’s Supper, we would ask that you refrain from partaking today.”

4. During the actual distribution of the elements the session members withhold the respective plates from those who have not spoken with of the session members.

I hasten to point out that this system is not “foolproof.” We frequently have many visitors, and it is difficult to enforce this as we would like. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that people do not actually come up to the communion table to be served, and also because the plates with the elements must, of necessity, be passed down entire pews from person to person. It would be far better if the elders gave the elements personally to each person “admitted” to the Lord’s Supper…but that’s hard to do in a congregation of over 200 people seated in pews!!! It’s also sometimes difficult to discern whether the congregation the visitor is from is genuinely “evangelical.” The term itself is becoming meaningless in our day. But, as with every other area of church discipline, we keep on working to be faithful to the standard of the Word of God. Our view has been to give a judgment of charity and admit persons who profess to be members of churches that are in some way conformed to a biblical pattern of doctrine and life.

What are the responses to this practice? Some take umbrage and (in true New York fashion!) let the elders know it. Others are more or less bothered by it, or are simply unfamiliar with it, and submit (the OPC is different than other evangelical churches in a number of ways, isn’t it?). Still others will say that even if they didn’t fully understand why we do things this way, they appreciated the care we had to preserve the integrity of the Lord’s Table. I’d like to think that’s the response that is the most genuinely sensitive to the administration of holy things in an unholy world.

How does your Session grapple with the phrase “…or be admitted thereunto”? Ponder the question and honestly ask yourself if the American evangelical pattern most of us are familiar with really squares with our confessional standard and the historic practice of the Reformed churches. For further reading on the question, see Professor John Murray’s thought provoking little article entitled “Restricted Communion” in his Collected Writings (Banner of Truth), 2:381-384.

Rev. Shishko is pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Franklin Square, New York

Session-Controlled Communion & 1st Corninthians 11

Last evening my wife, our two little daughters, and I had the pleasure of going to our usually Lord’s Day evening service at North Hills RP Church here in Pittsburgh. We had not been there for a couple of weeks due to car troubles, birth of Mackenzie, being out of town, etc… So it was with a little surprise that we went last night to find out that North Hills was having communion. Also another surprise (actually I had forgotten) that North Hills practices what is called “Session-controlled communion” which means that anyone wanting to take communion at North Hills must meet with the Session and be approved prior to taking the elements at North Hills. As it is with many church doctrines that the mainlines and the more conservative denominations have kicked to the wayside and plain-just forgotten the Presbyterians used to be known for this. While those like NHRPC do not hand out tokens like in days passed they take very seriously the dangers associated with taking the Eucharist with laxity and disregard for its holy nature. The rationale for session-controlled communion can be found in Paul’s warning in 1st Corinthians 11 following the words of institution that we all use. Paul says:

The Lord’s Supper

23For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.

Paul clearly is teaching here that a person must examine himself/herself before taking the elements and if they do not and take the elements unworthily they will do harm to themselves. Also implicit in this warning is a call to the Elders of the church at Corinth. For as I am sure Paul directed the Elders at Corinth part of the understanding of the role of the Elder in Paul’s day and in the Presbyterian system in our day is that they are responsible for the spiritual health and welfare of those under their care (cf: 1 Tim 3:5, Titus 1:7). Therefore not only does the individual have a responsible to guard themselves but the Elders have a heavenly call to guard the sheep from hurting themselves much like the Elders would protect them from any other danger. This is why many call for quarterly communion so that all can be protected properly. However as I believe that the Scriptures call for weekly communion and because of this if you are to have both session-controlled communion and weekly communion it is imperative for the session of the local church to be active in the preparation for the worship service each Lord’s Day and that includes introducing themselves to any visitors and letting them know what the policy is at the local church (not just about communion but other things as well).

What is the policy of your local congregation? How do you think this would work at a local level in your denomination?

Let me know what you think.

Sermon for May 18th, 2008

For my 200th Post here is the Sermon I am giving tomorrow morning. Here is the audio of the sermon (let me know if it works and how it sounds). The text is Matthew 28:16-20.

Linway United Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) May 18, 2008

Scripture Lesson Matthew 28:16-20
Sermon “Baptizing and Teaching” Benjamin P. Glaser

Jesus in our Scripture lesson today is preparing to leave the Apostles and He is meeting with them here at a mountain in Galilee before his Ascension so that He can advise them what it is they are to do after He is no longer with them in the flesh. He tells them to go out and preach and teach and convert followers to Christ and to baptize them accordingly. One of the commands that Jesus gives them is that they are to make disciples among all the nations and it is here that I would like to focus your attention. If you could I would like you to get out your pink slip provided in your bulletin or open your Bible to the Scripture lesson in Matthew 28:16-20 and I am going to read again this short passage right now and I want you to think over it as I read it and as I preach this morning, especially verse 19 and I want you to think about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in light of this passage.

As a young child I was fascinated by how things worked. I would take apart my toys with screwdrivers and other tools to ascertain how exactly these things operated. I can remember one particular incident with my sister’s easy-bake oven. I had taken the little oven from her room and was sitting on the floor of my room and as I sat there with a screwdriver and a hammer I took the cover off and exposed the electric motor that operated the oven and as I sat there with the oven in various stages of unity I had the bright idea of plugging in the oven to see if it would become hot enough to melt some of the metal matchbox cars I owned. Well to make a long story short, it does and I have the scars to prove it. What I discovered that day, apart from the fact that a toy that it is made to cook actually gets hot enough to melt metal, is that I did not have the technical know-how to operate an easy-bake oven properly, of course one could say I just did not have the good sense to not take apart a working oven. One need not be anything more than a 6-year old to take things apart but to know how things work I needed more than just the tools of the trade I needed to have the know how. If one wants to become an electrician or a carpenter or a plumber or any type of trade you cannot just pick up a hammer and a nail and announce to the world that you are a carpenter. They’ll put you away. There is training you must go through, an apprentice time one must undergo, certifications you must receive and in many areas a union you must join to seek work as a carpenter. So why is it that we believe that all one needs to do to be a Christian, a follower of Christ is to just say, “Hey God I’m one of yours” and then go about your normal life claiming to be a follower of something and a member of something you have not studied or sought teaching about? Well this morning I want to talk with you about why it is we are called to do as apprentices to the Master who is Jesus Christ do and seek to study and know God’s word to his people given to us in His Word, the whole counsel of God not just the stuff we like, and why it is important in our day that when we are challenged by the ways of this world, when you are confronted at work by unbelievers who want to compromise your faith, when you are moved at school to violate the Laws of God that you have more than just a “well it’s a faith thing” answer as if faith is one way or another divorced from learning. One of the pitfalls we have made as a church is that we have somehow come to believe that Faith is antithetical to knowledge, that “science” or “truth” for that matter and “faith” have separate areas of responsibility. In other words we have moved from a place where we once believed as a Christian community that faith in Jesus Christ had a real knowledge component and that knowledge deeply affected our relationship with Christ to the place where “church” and “faith” are for our spiritual life and “science” is for our physical life. This over-reliance by most in the Church on science to answer questions that Scripture already has is an entirely different problem that we do not have time to get into this morning but there is a vibrant and rabid anti-intellectual movement within our community as believers in Christ and it is killing the church in America as it has already killed the church in Europe. The Apostle Paul in his writing to the Corinthian church in the first letter chapter 3 is confronting the same problem we have today in the church, the Corinthians have not moved passed where they were when he last saw them, beginning at verse 1“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” What Paul is saying here is that there is more to the Christian life and the understanding of Christ but since you have chosen to continue in ignorance and apathy I cannot feed it to you because if I do you will be damaged. If we choose not to move past our infancy in our understanding of Christ how can we do as the Apostle Peter demands of his readers and for us today saying in his first epistle chapter 3 verse 15 that we must be able to “[give] an answer to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…” It is not enough and it is not fair to Christ to give some convoluted and contrived answer to your unbelieving co-worker for the reason why you will not look at porn on their computer screen. As a disciple of Jesus Christ you need to be able to not just tell them why you will not scan their screen but to witness the Gospel to them so that they might believe as you have. This is what Christ is calling the Apostles to do and it is what he is calling us to do today not just in the church but in every area of our life.

One can hardly think the Apostles are ready for such a challenge. I mean was it not less than a week earlier that when their Master, Jesus Christ, had been arrested at Gethsemane that they had fled and hid in the wilderness so as to not be arrested themselves. Are these not the same Apostles that include Peter who had denied that he even knew whom Christ was? Or Thomas who doubted all that he had seen until he actual touched Christ’s physical wounds. How capable really are they to go and teach anyone anything? For one they are not exactly people who we would think would be much good at preaching and teaching. The majority of them barely have an elementary level education, they have not studied under the Rabbi’s or spent their days reflecting and studying the centuries of writings. These are mere fishermen, tax collectors, and a rag tag group of nobodies who have been chosen by Jesus Christ to go out into the world and teach and preach. How is it that Peter is to go and argue against the Jews and the Greeks who have had years of training in rhetoric, public speaking, apologetics, and philosophy? How can Stephen, who is soon to be martyred, stand up and counsel the Pharisees and the Sadducees as to the error of their ways and do so with conviction and confidence? They do so because they have an answer for the faith that is within them, the can do so because most importantly they believe what they are saying contains the words of Life, it is intrinsically what Christ himself had taught them so why should they not be ready to face the struggles and attacks of those who hate Christ? I am sure some of you are saying to yourself, “Well I am not Peter or Stephen” or “I have not had the luxury of sitting at the foot of Jesus” so I cannot hope to come to be able to do such things. Well you may not, like Stephen, ever be called in front of a Church court under the threat of death or you may never be walking around what is modern-day Syria and Turkey defending the faith against Greek philosophers and Jews like Peter. And you would be right to say you could not come to the knowledge that Peter or Stephen had if you do not take the time and the effort to become an apprentice, a disciple of Jesus Christ. Look again at verse 18 through 20, “And Jesus came up and spoke to [the Apostles], saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The word “disciple” as Matthew and others throughout the New Testament use it has a much deeper meaning than we usually inscribe for it. We could just as easily think of a disciple as a “pupil” or a “student”. The real meaning behind what we hear and what we read is that as disciples of Christ we are not meant to be just a follower, like one who follows around a band, the Apostles are not called by Christ to go out and create a sort of Jesus Christ groupie movement, but to go out and teach all that Christ had instructed them, all that the writers of the Older Testament had taught them and see to it that those who through a profession of faith had been moved by the Holy Spirit to proclaim faith in Christ are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. But their discipleship did not end with baptism it had just begun. In the Reformed faith we believe in baptizing infants not just because its pretty and cute but because we believe that in baptism we are bringing this child into a community of faith where the child will be brought up not only by believers but so that the child can become a believer, and not just that, we as a church make a promise that we will teach this child more than just their ABC’s of faith but that we will disciple them, making them students of Jesus Christ. The meaning of being a disciple of Jesus Christ calls us to be students of Christ, Christ is our teacher in the fullest sense of that word. Just as Christ taught the Apostles more than the basics so we should seek to know Christ at a much deeper level than just the nuts and bolts of faith. None of us after learning our ABC’s in kindergarten were able to obtain our High School diploma and go straight into college. There was much more involved in us receiving our High school diploma than just being taught our ABC’s and this is where we are as a church today. We have through the last 100 years or so dumbed down our religious life to the point that we are satisfied with our ABC’s, we are content with just coming to church on the Lord’s day and going home and not allowing the worship of Almighty God to crack through the insulated life that exist outside these four-walls, creating a compartmentalized faith that leaves Christ and his message for two hours each Sunday and maybe a prayer hear and there during the week. This is where Christ’s word to his Apostles strike us to the heart today in this very Service of Worship this morning. Why is it we are here? Are we here to be discipled or are we here to fulfill some kind of social responsibility? Why do we make ourselves get out of bed on Sunday morning when the rest of the world sleeps in? These are all questions we must answer for ourselves and these are questions that can only be answered if we seek ought to know them. Brother and Sisters in Christ I am here to tell you this morning that we are called as disciples of Jesus Christ that we are called to defend our faith and give not only ourselves a reason for being here but to give one to our unbelieving neighbors and family. Because if you cannot answer for the faith and hope that is within you why should anyone else believe either?

But before we trudge off to do the 37 other things we have planned for the Lord’s Day let us remember one thing. Today the session and the members here at Linway have brought these seven young people into the body of the visible church; you have brought these kids into the body of Christ. They are yet apprentices; their learning process has just begun. It is the job of this Church family to lead them and to teach them, discipling them in the way of the Christian Life, in how to properly understand the God whom we worship on the Lord’s Day, teaching them how to observe the Laws of God, teaching them how to observe the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and so on and so forth. The primary teacher in their lives will be and should be the Church. While none of us will ever be the master, because Christ is the Master, we must strive not only to bring ourselves into a deeper and more complete understanding of the faith we confess to believe we must not only exemplify that faith to them through the works of our lives but also through the words we confess.

To God Alone Be the Glory, Amen.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race; Paul’s "Opinion"

It may take me till August to get through the Pastorals but I promise I will eventually do it. So here we are with the next section of 1st Timothy, 1 Tim 2:7. (No one can say the Pastorals lack good and full verses). Now it may seem off that I am choosing to isolate verse 7 of this chapter but I want to do so as to group together verses 8-15 for a full discussion on a very controversial passage in most circles. So without further ado here is 1st Timothy 2:7.

For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Paul here is reminding both Timothy and the readers/hearers of this letter that he was appointed for three specific works by Christ on the road to Damascus. He was to be 1) a Preacher, 2) an Apostle, and 3) a Teacher of the Gentiles. Now to be sure while these offices are interrelated for Paul they are significantly different for Paul’s ministry imparticular. For one Paul derives his authority to preach the Gospel from where? His time with Prof. Gamaliel, graduation from Jerusalem Theological Seminary, and ordination by the Presbytery of Tarsus? No! Paul receives his authority to preach from Jesus Christ himself!!! Paul is a full apostle with the same rights and privileges of the 12 Apostles present at Pentecost. This is vitally important when reading Paul’s letters and listening to those who challenge Paul’s authority, both at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 and today when “Professors” dismiss Paul’s “personal thoughts” as mere opinion and conjecture which has no more weight than my own discretion. This is bubkus pure and simple. Who are we to challenge the words of an Apostle sent by Christ himself? Well simply to put it in words a 3rd grader could understand, Paul is an Apostle and we are not so it may be a good idea to listen to the Apostle’s “opinion” and not our own.

Also worth thinking about is Paul’s use of the word “this”. For what is it that Paul has been appointed to teach and preach? To use Paul’s own words in 1st Corinthians 15:1-19:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead. But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

The Tabernacle and the New Testament Church

It is a hallmark of Reformed Worship that we believe that when two or more are gathered in the Name of the Father, Christ is with us. What we often fail to realize though when expressing this truth is how this ties directly into the relationship between the Israelite tabernacle and the New Testament, post-Easter and Ascension Church. Paul teaches us in 1st Corinthians 10:1-6 that God in Christ dwelled among us now as He did with the Jews in Sinai, in the Wilderness. Just as God fed the Israelities with spiritual food and spiritual drink God today feeds us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Tabernacle was God’s house in the wilderness of Sinai. He commanded the Israelites to build this house as he instructed them so that God may have a proper place to dwell with his people. Just as God dwelled in the tabernacle of Sinai in the time of Moses, we are today still in the wilderness and God through and in and by his Church dwells among us. The Church can expect the presence of God, manifesting himself in Worship if we properly conduct ourselves in his Worship. But how do we do that?
Well first before I answer that question we have to ask ourselves what is the Church? Well the Church at its most basic is the bride of Christ. And what does Scripture say is one of the duties of the Bride to their Groom? To submit themselves to his authority and to serve him in love and gratitude. This use of the motif of the Bride and Groom is deeply rooted in Paul’s theology and in the imagery Christ uses when describing his own relationship to the Church and his disciples. For example Jesus in the questions from Matt 9:14-16 to those who wondered why John’s disciples fasted and the Pharisees fasted says,

“The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with
them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from
them, and then they will fast.”

So here we have an example of Christ using this archetype for the Church by comparing his disciples, those who follow him (i.e.- Christians), to his Bride-to-be. Now that Christ has died and arisen from the grave and ascended into Heaven his “marriage” to the Church has been consumated in this act. So we are to look at worship primarily as the relationship between Christ and his Bride, the Church.

In this context we look at the ancient Tabernacle as being the example of what the particular church should be, not just a place of wood and stone (it is worth noting that a storefront or Middle School Gym is just as much a Tabernacle as a 15th Century cathedral or a sanctuary built in 1953) but a place where God comes to dwell with His people. The Church is God’s special dwelling place, just as the Tabernacle was for the ancient Israelites.