Church Membership and the Lord’s Supper

(The following essay is part of a paper I wrote in 2001 as pastor of my first church. I am republishing it here because the issue and importance of church membership and the Lord’s Supper is as important today if not more so than it was then.)

In the PCA, membership vows require a person to not only make a simple profession of faith in Jesus Christ, but to promise to follow Him in a couple of specific ways: serving the Lord in the local church to the best of his ability (time, talents, and treasure), and submitting to the government and discipline of the church, as that is expressed by humble, godly elders of the local congregation.

Elder Accountability

This oversight responsibility (otherwise known as accountability) is seen in a special way at the Lord’s Table. Scripture, presents elders with the responsibility of excluding those from the Table who are unworthy partakers (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 5), a process called suspension from the Lord’s Supper, or Excommunication.

Yet, if you are a church which does not have or practice membership, in such a case, what is a person excluded from? You would find yourself in the midst of a logical impossibility.

By taking the position that it takes, our denomination is not saying that “church membership” is a requirement for salvation (as if we had to “do” anything besides believe), but only this: church membership is the normal, regular way that a Christian expresses his faith in Christ in a visible way. Like baptism, giving to the poor, and other expected responses to those who have been saved by Grace through Faith alone, joining a church is a central part of what it means to be a thankful and faithful disciple of Christ.

Calvin, quoting Augustine and others, said this: If you will not take the Church as your Mother, you may not take God as your Father. (For more on church eldership and church discipline, read T David Gordon’s article at the PCA website here.)

 What Are the Sacraments?

This raises a good question: what are the sacraments, and what do they have to do with a simple profession of faith? Continue reading

In Defense of Suburban Living (part 3)

The suburbs are really little cities, and in my last essay, I explained how my town really is an idea with at least three elements. The first is its historic element; in my case, my town, Old Sewell, was once a little town, with a mayor, I’d guess, and a unique identity.

No longer. Old Sewell is now just a few streets with what was once a downtown, but now only has a few shops, and nothing more. It has been engulfed in the larger municipality known as Mantua Township.

But rising out of the ashes of Old Sewell is the Mighty Sewell Post Office, which has lent the name of Sewell to lots of other little towns in the municipality of Washington Township due to a dispute over naming rights that goes back more than a hundred years. This is the second element of the “idea of Sewell.”

The last element gets to the point of the series, namely: making a defense of suburban living.

It is this truth: as far as I’ve been able to tell, Sewell is made of what most people would call neighborhoods, subdivisions, or developments. There are between twenty to fifty of these, depending on how you count them.

But where others see neighborhoods, I see cities. In fact, I call them little cities. Continue reading

In Defense of Suburban Living (part 2)

The suburbs as an idea have taken a beating over the years. Which is ironic; in a society where sin and transgression have all but been eliminated from our cultural lexicon, we certainly haven’t eliminated the Ten Commandments, we’ve just altered them a bit.

Here are five that come to mind: 1) Thou shalt not hurt little children; 2) Thou shalt not poison the environment; 3) Believe whatever you want (as long as it doesn’t affect me); 4) Thou shalt worry and fuss about baby animals (but not about little human beings called fetuses); and of course: 5) Thou shalt not live in the suburbs.

Last time I posted on this subject, I made the point that density, proximity to work and employment, and dependence upon the automobile don’t by themselves make a place bad, or disadvantageous. They are factors of city, but not necessarily negative ones. Continue reading

In defense of suburban living (part 1)

As a church planter, I am responsible for organizing a new congregation. In fact, my actual title is “organizing pastor,” and that includes more than just preaching on Sundays.

One area in which I’ve had to pursue competency and skill is that of “understanding my context,” sometimes described as “knowing my mission field.” That is, knowing and understanding the place in which I have been called to organize a new congregation is an important skill.

My place is a classic expression of the suburbs. (In fact, I’ve been told that the entire state of New Jersey can be classified as suburban, though driving through some parts of the Pine Barrens would cause even the most rigid statistician to question that designation.)

Which raises the question: what are the suburbs? Continue reading

Let’s Get Together…in Person

Amazing how Neil Postman’s book, published in 1986, called Amusing Ourselves to Death, is more real today than anyone could have possibly imagined. If you haven’t read it, I’d encourage you to do so. And in the spirit of this video, buy a copy of the book–that’s a thing made of paper, by the way–and then let’s get together to talk about it.

PS Thanks to @JimLeary for this link.

Imagine a World where Knights Exist

I’m finally reading Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. I saw it on the shelf of my high school library, in Spanish, believe it or not, and decided someday I wanted to read it in Spanish, and wouldn’t read it before I read it in Spanish.

Well, my spanish isn’t making much progress these days, so I decided to break down and read it in English. Making matters worse, my available reading time seems small lately, so succumbed, and am “reading it” via audio CD.

So reading Don Quixote–or more accurately, listening to it–I have been reminded how remarkable great literature is to capture the imagination, shape culture, and articulate the big ideas of humanity.

For example in a recent movie, Don Quixote is referenced in this way: Question: “What are you reading?” Answer: “A book about a knight who lives in a world that no longer believes in knights.” Reply: “Sounds like our world.”

Church planting, and pastoral ministry, sometimes feels like that: being a knight in a world that no longer believes in knights. May God help us recover our imagination of what the church should be, could be, and, in fact, whether we believe it or not, really IS.

Is God Anti-Gay? reflections on Sam Allberry’s book (part 1)

I’ve come across a book recently which I’ve appreciated, by author Sam Allberry; and its title is a question: Is God Anti-Gay?

The answer the author proposes is “no”: God is no more anti-gay than He is “anti-sinner.” But Allberry, in the course of his writing this little booklet, touches on a number of other important aspects to this topic which I’d like to explore here, as well as raise a few critiques, which I hope will be constructive.

First, some background. The seventh commandment (“thou shalt not commit adultery”) is the command that addresses mankind’s sexual behavior, or as it has been called God’s Law of Sex. In this law, we see implicitly several important truths, especially this one:

God is not opposed to sex; nor is he opposed to sexual desire. These things are not wrong; in fact, so far from being wrong, they are gifts of God to be celebrated and enjoyed.

But here’s the rub: sex, and sexual desire, are to be celebrated and enjoyed according to His Word, and not merely according to our own way of thinking. He created sex, and sexual desire; He is therefore entitled to govern sex and sexual desire by His Revealed Word. Continue reading