Thursday, February 15, 2007

Thinking About Covenant Affirmation Sunday

Membership. Church membership. Regenerate church membership. Each sentence carries a massively different meaning. In God's estimation, what are the prerequisites for church membership?

There are two types of people the New Testament does not know. First, a non-Christian who is a member of a local church. Second, a Christian who is disconnected from the covenant relationships of a local church. Is today's church following the same pattern as did the New Testament church?

As I reflect on the fact that this Sunday will be the first Covenant Affirmation Sunday for Grace Church, I am struck by the awareness of several truths.

This Sunday is costly. "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (emphasis mine). And, as Nathan will expositorily exult in this Sunday, "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep" (emphasis mine).

When Christ undertook to purchase His bride, He did so at the greatest possible cost to Himself. "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (emphasis mine) "And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,' and he was called the friend of God" (emphasis mine).

Oh that God would make Grace Church a people who "always carry about in the body the dying of Jesus that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh."

Under shepherds are fallible but the Chief Shepherd is not. Under shepherds are saved sinners at best, and falsely professing saved sinners at worse. In either case they are fallible. They will make mistakes. They will wrongly discern situations, and yes, even the condition of souls. It is unconscionable that any minister would admit into the church's membership a person who's conversion is suspect. But we all know that it happens. Why? Sometimes it is because they have what the bible calls a "heart trained for greed." More often than not, I fear, it is because they are altogether indifferent to the condition of the souls of their people. "Do you believe Jesus died on the cross?" "Uhh huh." "Do you believe He rose from the dead?" "Uhh huh." "Did you ask Him into your heart?" "Uhh huh." "Congratulations, brother! You're saved." However popular this tactic may be, pleasing to the Lord it is not.

For those of you who are being recommended for membership in Grace this weekend, I hope you have felt loved as your pastors took time to read and hear from each of you individually about your conversion and your growth in grace. We are thankful for His work in your life, and pray that your involvement in Grace will only serve as a catalyst toward your personal holiness and Christlike humility.

Sometimes, a pastor, even when working as a careful soul-physician, will triage a person's spiritual condition, diagnose apparent Christian conversion, and prescribe church membership as the next step of God-honoring obedience...and be dead wrong. The carelessness of the physician is not the cause for the tumor. Even when great pains are taken to smell as it were the Balm of Gilead rising from a person's soul in love to Christ, his senses can, and sometimes will, deceive him. Under shepherds are fallible.

But there is One Shepherd, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, Who sees all, knows all, and will reckon to each the appropriate praise. Yes, God will praise man; at least some men. "Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts, and then each man's praise will come to him from God" (emphasis mine). God is no respecter of persons. He will not inappropriately praise any man. Is Christ the ground for all your hopes? Though a man, even perhaps a godly one, may perceive your soul's condition wrongly, God will not. Hope in Christ.

There's the admonition for us all. For those joining Grace this Sunday, please, please, please do not find any of your affirmation in the fact that you are being affirmed as a member of the church. But may your church membership give you even greater cause to hope only in Jesus Christ for the fulfillment of all of God's promises to you, even eternal life! For those not joining, hope in Christ! For those of other congregations, hope in Christ. For those who have stumbled upon this blog, hope in Christ!

Consider one another more important than yourself. This was the Apostle Paul's word to the Philippians. But it wasn't rooted in will-power, or a call to be a do-gooder. It was, and is, a clarion call to look to Christ. "Who is He in yonder stall, at whose feet the shepherds fall? 'Tis the Lord! O wondrous story! 'Tis the Lord, the King of glory! At His feet we humbly fall; crown Him, crown Him Lord of all! Who is He that from His throne rules through all the worlds alone? 'Tis the Lord, the King of glory! At His feet we humbly fall; crown Him, crown Him Lord of all!"

God came. The greatest Missionary of all-time, Who traveled the greatest distance, and dwelt among the lowest of dregs is Christ Jesus -- the Lord of Glory! The Second Person of the Trinity tabernacled among us! "Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession" (emphasis mine). "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, Who although He existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men." If our eyes are appropriately fixed on Christ, we will appropriately consider others as more important than ourselves [notice it is not a command to consider others "better" as we are all equally depraved]!

May God shower grace upon Grace so that we see ourselves as a temporary Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) for sinners. By God's wise design there will inevitably be tares among the wheat. Maybe God will be gracious and protect us from tares covenanting as members at Grace until our 1000th Covenant Affirmation Sunday? Maybe He has ordained that it be our first? The certainty remains that every member of Grace is at best a saved sinner. "Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands -- remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." Remember! Remember that you too were once separate from Christ. Remember that you were a stranger to the covenants of promise. Remember that you were once having no hope. Remember that you were once without God in the world.

The more we remember from whence God snatched us, the more we will be appropriately sensitized to "save others by snatching them out of the fire." Grace, let us gather for worship, and let us scatter for evangelism! Go out and "compel" them. "As though God were entreating through us, we beg you on behalf of God, be reconciled to Christ!" (emphasis mine).

As I think about Covenant Affirmation Sunday, I'm thinking (and praying) about a church that is given the necessary grace to respond to the greatness of God by living with all of our might to glorify Him by treasuring His Son and spreading His eternal joy. May God make it true of Grace!

So what is Covenant Affirmation Sunday? Good question.

Covenant Affirmation Sunday is a way to approach church membership biblically. Because we are covenanting together as "one body in Christ," the motto is, "Join at your own risk." Holding up a biblical standard...all biblical standards...holding up Christ, the biblical standard, and affirming together His covenant love for us as His body and bride, and our covenant love for Him and one another. Pharisees, we do not want to be, holy, we do! Our prayer is, "God make us as holy as saved sinners can be." Why pray for less? Why expect less? God does not.

So, Covenant Affirmation Sunday is an opportunity for each prospective member to corporately affirm his or her covenant love to Christ and His body.

Please pray for Grace!

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