[Below is an overture that I just sent to the clerk of our presbytery (Ohio Presbytery) for consideration at our meeting this Saturday.]
To our Esteemed Senators, February 4, 2012
We, the members and representatives of the Ohio Presbytery, do greet you in the strong Name of our Lord and King, Jesus Christ. We also send you our deepest regards and express our great appreciation for your faithful service to the people of Ohio.
Nevertheless, it is with great grief that we write to you today. For we understand that the lives of unborn children are lost daily because you delay in bringing to the floor the legislation known as Heartbeat Bill.
The Word of God clearly indicates that it is the duty of public magistrates to do all that is within their power to protect and preserve the lives of the people under their authority. While it is your duty to uphold justice for all who reside within the boundaries of this state, it is especially incumbent upon you to maintain the cause of those citizens who are the weakest and most frail.
We, the elders and ministers of Christ’s church, wish to remind you of this charge that God has bestowed upon you. Moreover, we send this message to you today as a public rebuke for your dilatory acts on this vital piece of legislation.
On this the fourth day of February in the year of our Lord 2012, we call you to repent of your slothful attitudes in regards to this bill and your negligence towards those children who are daily being killed. We do summons you to show this penitent spirit by ceasing to delay the vote on and passage of the Heartbeat Bill.
You must remember that the King of Kings holds the men of earth accountable for their actions. He will by no means permit the guilt of bloodshed to go unpunished. Therefore it is incumbent upon you, our senators, to fulfill your divinely appointed calling by seeing to it that innocent blood is no longer spilt.
You may be assured that the Judge of the earth is good and abundant in mercy. When men turn from evil and do what is right in His eyes, He prolongs their days and feeds them with gladness. He promises kindness to those who fear Him and restores the fortunes of those who seek his face.
Be it then resolved in your hearts that you heed this admonition and uphold the commandments of God. Cease to sin against Him any longer and do that which is right.
With deepest affection,
The Members and Representatives of the churches belonging to Christ in the Ohio Presbytery
In the New Testament we find that the Christians were first known as "Followers of the Way" The New Bible Dictionary supports this when it says that "The Way" is the oldest designation for the Christians.
Such a name pinpoints the essence of Christianity. Christ said that he was "the way, life and truth." Throughout the Bible you find references to the way of the righteous and God leading his people in the way. It is natural then that Christianity should be known simply as "the Way."
From these we find that this term has two meanings. First, it has to do with the way of living. The early Christians believed that God reveals the way life is to be lived in the Scriptures. For instance, the Bible tells us that there is a way (to live) that seems right unto a man, but its end is death. On the other hand, those that trust in the Lord with all their heart, relying upon his word as their guide for life and faith, walk in the "right way" or find the "way of life." In the morally lax culture of Rome, the Christians' irreproachable ethics was certainly an unmistakable trait.
Yet the second meaning may overshadow the first. Christians confess that the sole way of salvation lies in Christ. The only way to the Father is through Christ (Jn. 14:6). This exclusivity would have stood in stark contrast to the pagan culture of the day. Where multiple gods are held up as viable ways to eternal life or happiness, Christianity's exclusivity would was a notable feature. Sometimes Christians would even be called atheists because they rejected the Roman gods.
In our day, where paganism is lurching out again, Christians must remember their roots. We are still people of "the Way." Therefore we must understand the necessity of being dogmatic in belief and definitive on ethics. We must resist giving in to pressures of pluralism and stand out as a singular people.
"To be or not to be," for many people who profess to follow Christ, that is the question when it comes to membership in a local church.
Years ago a group of elders asked me to create a list of reasons why it was important for a Christian to be a member of a particular, local church. The church had many regular visitors who professed to follow Christ but were reluctant to fully assimilate into their fellowship. The elders wanted to urge them to make this move so they asked me to create a list of reasons that they could use to present to their "surrogate sheep."
The following material lays out the list of Biblical reasons that I came up with at that time and addresses some of the common objections to church membership.
The Biblical Mandate
As with all things, one must make their decision on whether or not to join a particular church based on what the Bible says. Certainly I will admit that there is no one verse that says, "And Jesus said, 'Make sure you become a member of a local church.'" But neither is there a verse like this regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. Like the Trinity, we must consider the whole of Scripture's teaching and the logical implications of specific verses.
In looking at the Scripture we see that we should become members of a local church for at least four reasons.
I. To be associated with Christ and his people.
In the Old Testament those who wished to be associated with Yaweh became members of the nation of Israel. Gentiles who were converted made their affiliation undeniably clear by coming to dwell alongside the rest of the children of God. In the New Testament the people who wish to be associated with God become members of the Church. A convert visibly identifies himself with those who are a part of Christ's visible body.
The Bible also makes it clear too that Christians, from the very beginning, became members of particular churches to make this reality visible. Oftentimes these churches met in certain people's homes (Acts 18:7; Gal. 1:2; Col. 4:15; Philemon 2; Rom. 16:3-5; Extensive archaeological evidence also points to the fact that there would be many of these individual churches in various metropolitan cities).
There is a very important reason for this visible affiliation too. In order to partake of the full benefits of God (as will be enumerated below), there must be a way of identifying those who are a part of that family. Publicly professing one's faith in Christ through membership is the means to that end.
The Bible also says you are saved if you "Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that He rose from the dead" (Rom. 10:9-11). While believing in the heart is an individual matter, confessing with your mouth is a corporate matter. It is a public declaration that is witnessed by God, his people, and the unbelieving world. While one can certainly make this confession each day in the market place, it is ultimately made within the context of a church body. This, of course, is the nature of a vow. One stands before God and his people and says, "I take Jesus as my God."
Of course, a confession with one's mouth must be backed up by one's life. One could easily confess that he is a police officer. But if he does not belong to a specific police department or precinct, his confession is meaningless. So too a Christian must not only confess with one's mouth, but he also must back up his confession by formally aligning himself with those who are distinctively Christ's people.
II. To come under the care and authority of the elders
Christ has charged certain men with the duty of shepherding and protecting His flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). Correspondingly, the Bible requires Christians to submit themselves to these authorities because they are the means by which Christ manifests His care (1 Peter 5:5). The only way to fulfill these obligations is through a particular church where those elders can have people to govern and lead.
As well, the term "church" in the original language means "called out ones." This denotes the Christian's duty of holiness. The elders and church body provide the means of encouragement and accountability in this endeavor.
III. To take part in the sacraments
Baptism and the Lord's Supper are for those who have made a credible profession of faith. The Table of the Lord is for those who demonstrate a life of repentance and are in good standing with the Lord (1 Cor. 11:27-32). As the elders help to determine who is in good standing it is necessary to be under their charge in order to partake of the elements.
Likewise, elders are in charge of determining who may undergo the rite of baptism and seeing to it that it is rightfully administered (1 Cor. 4:1). Moreover, as baptism is a sign of entrance into Christ's Church (capital "C" meaning universal church), it is also the sign of entrance into the local covenant community.
IV. To be united in full fellowship with the brethren in Christ and enjoy all the rights and privileges of the church
The local church supplies the grounds for the healthy, necessary, and rightful expression of...
1. One's gifts for the mutual edification of the body (1 Cor. 12:12f); If one is not united to a local body, it makes it hard to contribute to the welfare of Christ's overall church. The local church provides the context for the full use of one's gifts.
2. Mutual care, encouragement, joy and love for the spiritual family members (Gal. 6:2, 1 Cor. 16:1f, 1 Thes. 4:18, Jn. 13:34-35). While someone may contribute to some degree to the welfare of the wider body of Christ without being united to a particular body, he cannot fulfill this obligation to the degree that they are called upon to do so with out it. It is as you are with a local body on a regular basis that you come to know people's problems intimately and grow in concern for those people. The Lord also commands us to give financially to the Lord and His work. The local church provides the proper place for such an act. Pastors can then be paid, deacons can have the means to provide for the welfare of those in need, and missionaries can be supported.
3. Aid in the mission of the church in its witness to the world (Phil. 1:5; Matt 28:19-20). In order to accomplish the church's mission the church needs organization of people, resources and efforts. If people neglect membership, then its task is hindered.
Along these lines too is the Christian's duty to participate in the election of officers, calling of pastors, and other administrations of the church (e.g. budgets). Voting in the church can only be done in and through membership. Appeals and complaints can best be facilitated through membership too (no one is going to listen to someone gripe about the church if he is not a member of that church).
While the Bible is clear about the how important it is to become an active member in a local church, many people still object to the practice. Since so many objections exist, it may be important to address some of them.
Objections to Church Membership
I. Churches are muddled theologically
It is true that all churches contain a mixture of truth and error. Some are so corrupt that they have ceased to be true churches of Christ and have become synagogues of Satan (Rev. 3:9). But that the fact that there is some theological imperfection is not a reason to avoid membership in a church that at the very least holds to the central elements of the gospel.
That theological impurities exist in the church actually serves as an argument for church membership. The way to combat this imperfection is to become a member and do one's part to teach and work for the greater purity of that church. Standing outside of it does nothing to move it any closer to Scriptural fidelity. Rather it serves to increase the corruption as there is no one to stand against it.
II. Churches are full of corrupt people and practices
Jesus said that he came not for the healthy, but for the sick. As well, he told us that the church would be a mixture of wheat and tares. For that reason it should be obvious that the church will be chuck full of sinners, both who are redeemed and unredeemed. But this should not stop us from being a part of a church.
Rather, as stated above, the fact that there are sinners in the church should be an argument for membership. It is through the local church that one can work for purity through the exercise of church discipline. Certainly excommunication requires the ability to cast someone out of the church. That can only occur through if there are churches to be cast out of. (Of course, the one cast out can claim to be a Christian, but outside the official affiliation with a local church, his words are void of meaning).
III. "I'm a part of the universal /invisible Church"
This is one of the most popular objections, and it is one that I used myself when I was in the non-committal camp. But as was stated above regarding the OT converts joining Israel, the invisible/universal church is supposed to be visible to some degree. As one has stated, "The invisible Church presently manifests herself in visible congregations of professing believers."
This is why the Apostle Paul commended Phoebe to the church in Rome (Rom. 16:1-2). It wasn't enough for Phoebe to be a random Christian in Rome going around claiming to be a part of the universal church. Paul wanted her to be received into a particular house church in that city. He wanted her to make visible the invisible reality.
Another refutation of this objection comes from a pastor I once overheard on the radio (sorry, I can't remember who it was). He was talking about this very thing and he gave an example of a personal encounter he had with someone who said that they were a part of the invisible church. His reply went like this, "O that's great! I'm sure that when you are sick or on your deathbed it will be comforting when your invisible pastor comes to call on you to comfort you."
I know that I sounded pious when I used such high theological language regarding my membership in the invisible and universal church. But in all reality, it was a theological platitude born out of ignorance of the Scriptures.
IV. Jesus doesn't believe in denominations.
Yes, there is a church on every street corner, and they are all completely different churches (the Baptist, the Reformed, the Presbyterian, the Methodist the Anglican, the Independent; the Non-Denominational etc. etc. etc.!). When one looks at all the varied assortment of churches one can easily become disillusioned and say, "Doesn't the Bible say we are not to have factions, and doesn't Paul rebuke the Corinthians for saying, "I am of Apollos' and 'I am of Paul.' (1 Cor. 3:4f)
First, let me say this: Those who typically refrain from attending and joining a church for this reason actually refute themselves. Choosing to go your own way and have church in your own little manner only makes the faction all the more worse (I am of me!). Certainly this is not the cure as it does not do anything to bring anyone closer together.
Next, we need to dispel a myth. People who use this argument often think that organizational unity is Biblical unity. We can just look at the Catholic church for an example of this. The Catholic church claims superiority over the Protestant churches because it has its "oneness" in tact and the Protestant churches are manifold. But a quick look at the church will reveal that though the Catholic churches have the same name, they are hardly unified. It may be said that the unity of the Catholic church is in name only. Theologically they might have one official catechism, but its priests are not altogether united on it.
Even so, erasing the names of Protestant churches does nothing to heal the differences between us. I'm still going to baptize my babies and believe in predestination, and my Baptist brother will still do the opposite.
So what do we make of denominations? First let us remember that we Protestants confess that there is "one, holy catholic church." Yes, ONE! Though we go by different tags and differ at some points, we still all belong to Christ. Our unity is not so much to be thought of structurally as it is spiritually. Though we hold distinct practices and areas of belief, we are united together under the headship of Christ through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit and upon the fundamental truths of the gospel.
The other day I, a hard core Presbyterian, was sitting in at at Brethren church here in town watching a video with a Baptist minister presenting. It was great! None of our churches would hire any of the other pastors due to our doctrinal distinctives. But despite all of our differences, we are all brothers in Christ united together on the most essential things of God.
The second thing we need to remember is that denominations are healthy in that they help keep some semblance of the unity and connectional nature of the church. The Bible displays a church that is united. The house churches were individual churches, but they were united to the church in their region (e.g. the church in Rome, the church in Asia Minor, etc.). Then all the regional churches are united as one (Acts 15). Though denominations are separate entities, they do help to preserve the this biblical unity to some degree. Those who avoid such structure, again, just add to the disunity.
The third point is that denominations are bound to creep up because we are still ignorant sinners! While we agree on the essentials of the gospel, we so frequently err when we go beyond that.
What I'm saying is that denominations, like wars, are "necessary evils." We would all agree that war is evil. It stems from sin and involves needless death and evil. But sometimes war is necessary to protect life and preserve peace. Likewise, denominational factions are wrong. They are a result of brothers not being able to agree on the Scripture's teaching. But they are evils that help Christians stay united to some degree and live under Christ the Supreme Head of the Church.
Almighty and Everlasting God,
We thank you that you are one who is slow to anger and quick with his merciful embrace. For we are sinful people, ever reliant upon your patience and steadfast love.
On this day we remember the waywardness of our nation, how we love the shedding of innocent blood and are bent on evil. Yet, O God, we come before you because our own, individual sins, and we confess that we have repudiated your law.
We grieve that our nation has legalized that which you find to be an abomination. Yet we bewail the impotence of your church in the matter and the silence of her ministers. And we pray that you would forgive us.
We mourn the fact that children are not wanted by our culture, but we lament with great sadness that we your church have not wanted them either. And we pray that you would forgive us.
Our hearts fail because all around us children are considered an inconvenience to one’s pleasures and material profits. Yet we confess the guilt of our own hands in the same matter. And we pray that you would forgive us.
We pray O God that you would pardon us for these and for our many other transgressions. And we would ask that this same grace would work within us, causing us not to conform to our culture, but enabling us to be a witnesses to it. May your Spirit quicken our hearts so that we might be salt and light for this world and a power to resist and overturn it.
For this we ask in Jesus name, Amen.
Many, if not most, suicides occur as a result of the person seeing no real reason to live. They lose the drive to live because they do not see any reason to continue living. That is why, when considering the subject of “How to prevent suicide,” it is important to consider not just man’s origins, but also his meaning and purpose.
Again, this is where the Bible is so informative. The Bible emphasizes that each moment of life has a grand purpose, superseding any earthly or temporal connection. Life was given in the beginning by God for the purpose of serving God. We were fashioned for Him and for His pleasure.
So, no matter what may occur on earth—be it the loss of a loved one, a loss of a job, or some other ill turn of events—one ought to see that his life is not tied up in these fleeting and fickle things. His life is to be found in the Creator. Man was designed to live eternally and in harmonious communion with the Almighty.
This lively and eternal prospective radically differs from the prevailing philosophy of the day. Most people in America are taught and embrace (be it consciously or not) the evolutionary and materialistic perspective that has been handed down from Darwin. According to this worldview a person’s life has but one end: the grave.
It is easy to see why this angle worldview enhances the possibility of suicidal tendencies, particularly when one is afflicted with the dark and gloomy thoughts that accompany a depressed spirit. One can, in that cheerless moment, easily come to believe that it is better to end one’s life sooner than later.
The most optimistic in this camp will say that life should be lived for the benefit of others or that life’s meaning is what you make of it. Yet even there one must confess that, despite great feats or pleasures, it is only a matter of time before the death bell tolls. One may still wonder if there is any use in delaying the inevitable.
Certainly the “Let’s make the best of it” philosophy is quite dire. It only serves to highlight the real means of preventing further suicides. Young people need to hear that life does have eternal and meaningful purpose. They need to understand that God has designed them to forever enjoy the bliss of His majesty and benevolence. They need to know that they are a part of a grand story and that God has given them a particular role in that story. They need to understand that they were designed to serve Him and commune with Him all the days of their lives.
When such principles are grasped, one may see that each day is worth living. No matter how dark the day may seem or how useless one may appear in the eyes of men, he or she has a relation to the divine and is called to fulfill their divinely appointed purpose in that day.
[The above article is the fourth in a series on How to Prevent Further Suicides.]
 Materialism is the belief that matter is the only thing that exists. It holds that there are no immaterial things such as a person’s soul, spiritual beings, etc.
My anonymous institutional church antagonist decried the fact that I would dare promote the Biblical form of church government known as Presbyterianism rather than just preach Jesus, like the great ministers of old did.
May we let the record show that he is wrong in his condemnation: Samuel Miller was, like Johnathan Edwards and George Whitfield, a powerful preacher. He was used by God during the Second Great Awakening to stir many souls to faith and repentance. Yet his preaching was not limited to evangelistic messages. He diligently advocated for a proper church government too, as can be seen in his thorough work An Essay, on the Warrant, Nature and Duties of the Office of the Ruling Elder, in the Presbyterian Church.
It ought to be noted that this work was not just a continuation of his Scripture expositions, it was an extension of his work of "preaching Jesus." Miller understood that if Christ was going to be honored with godliness there must be proper modes of discipline exercised. To put it another way, "Effective discipline was a spiritual function of shepherding that must be carried out only through a plurality of elders who alone were authorized to perform it." (Samuel Miller: Discipline on the Frontier).
It may be also noted that the Great Trumpeter of God, John Knox, was one who wrote the Book of Discipline. This work was nothing other than the first Presbyterian church order. After having broken away from the Catholic Church and being wholly devoted to the teaching of Scripture, developed this book as a way to assist the church's reformation and maintenance.
Time does not permit me to speak of the Princeton Seminary men, Thornwell (whose preaching you can sample by clicking the icon on the right entitled, "Judgments, A Call to Repentance"), Dabney and others. Only let it be noted that all of these were not only dedicated to "preaching Jesus", but also dedicated to upholding the polity He instituted in His Word for the better maintenance of the godliness.
I've been listening to a great series on Presbyterian Ecclesiology* and I thought I'd link to it for your benefit. While I would differ on a few points here and there from Rev. Morecraft, I find the series quite instructive overall. So far, he has done a smash up job explaining how the church is to be connectional in nature and that each local church is to be ruled by a plurality of elders (rather than by one professional pastor). I look forward to getting through all 22 of the lectures.
What I most enjoy is how he walks through the Scriptures pertaining to his points. I remember when I was being examined for the ministry: One of the questions I was asked was, "Why are you a Presbyterian?" The texts that Morecraft cites do a fine job summing up why.
*Ecclesiology is just the fancy word for "the study of the church."
In the last article I argued that preventing further suicides necessitates a vigorous promotion of the Christian view of man. God created man in His image and, as a result, man has inherent dignity and personal worth. This, in turn, boosts an individual’s self perception and lowers one’s possibility of taking his life.
Unfortunately this notion, which can help to boost any depressed soul, is not advocated in our day. The contemporary philosophy that receives acclaim is the evolutionary view of man, a view which robs man of his glory and personal nobility.
The Darwinian worldview advocates that man is essentially a cosmic accident. He is a descendent of a germ that materialized by molecules randomly bumping into each other. To put it another way, man is nothing more than a product of random happenchance, having no real distinction from the grass that we mow down with our lawn mowers.
While there might be a few strands of DNA that separate us from grass, Darwinism cannot deny that there is no essential dignity that distinguishes us. According to their own reasoning, a few molecules came together in just the right way. Some of those molecules became grass; some of them became you.
With such a worldview it is easy to see why one can come to believe that taking one’s life is ok. Man is nothing more than a blade of grass that can be mown down at will.
As a matter of fact, the existentialist philosopher Albert Camus has even given excellent insight into just how dreadful his own materialistic worldview really is. Camus said, “The greatest question that mankind faces is not if one should take his life, but when.”
The good news is that not everyone who holds the materialistic/evolutionary construct sees the logical consequences of their line of reasoning. For this we can be quite glad. The bad news is that some, like Camus, do see the implications of their beliefs.
Without dignity and inherent worth nobody has any reason to continue living one minute. This is why it is detrimental to society for our schools, television stations, public officials, museums, etc. to promote the materialistic, evolutionary worldview. In promoting this perspective they become accomplices to the acts of suicide.
If we wish to bring the number of suicides down, it is imperative that the evolutionary worldview be repudiated wherever possible. The Christian view of man be embraced, and our young people ought to be given the foundational principles that coalesce with prolonging life.
[This is a series on preventing further suicides. To view the other articles in the series click here.]
Suicide cannot happen unless one’s perception of one’s self has been denigrated. A depressed spirit and the feeling that one’s life is worthless are the incubators of suicide. As a result, the only sure way to prevent someone from taking their life is to help them realize their life is immensely valuable.
This is why the Christian notion of humanity needs to be advanced. The Bible expresses that man is unique among creation, possessing inherent dignity and worth. This is owing to the fact that man bears the image of God. When man was created in the beginning he was set apart from all other material and immaterial things because he was endowed with the likeness of God.
This likeness has been defined variously, and certainly it entails many diverse things. At the very least it indicates that some of God’s attributes are reflected in man. It should be obvious that man does not possess these attributes in the same way or degree that God does. But, in a much more muted fashion, man expresses some measure of the divine being. These qualities include, but are not limited to, things like compassion, rationality, love, and hatred.
As well, man’s nature points to the divine as man is not just a physical being. God distinguished him from the rest of the created things by giving him an immortal spirit.
Much more could be said on the matter. However, this should be enough for now to make the point clear: Man, as the image bearer of God, possesses inherent worth and a profound dignity.
Indeed, this is what gives credence to the Bible’s command not to murder (see my earlier post). The Bible forbids this because the unjust taking of a human life amounts to an attack on God Himself. Since man bears the image of God, seeking to snuff out that image is virtually equal to an attempt at snuffing out God.
Embedded within the fifth commandment is the fact that man’s dignity far surpasses any plant or animal. Each individual’s worth is so immense that one ought to do all they can to protect and preserve themselves and their neighbors.
Affirming the Christian perspective of man then, provides a sound basis for personal self-esteem. While depression will certainly occur among young people, and not all suicides can be prevented even among Christians, a definite diminishing can occur when young people come to terms with the substantial grandeur of their personal constitution.
Our latest newsletter is hot off the presses. Articles include: Being Reformed--so cool, yet so clueless; Origins of Reformed theology; Directives Against Gluttony.
Check it out here.
Kindled Fire is dedicated
to the preaching and teaching ministry of
Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.
Get Biblical Counsel
Join the conversation!
Matt's Original Hymns
This is Matt's book. You should buy it.