Dating Reformed: Who should you choose to date?

Dating is for marriage. We’ve seen, I pray, that if you are not interested in marrying then you should have no interest in dating. And there can be something to be said for that. Singleness is a gift of God to all Christians in different seasons of life. For some this gift may last until glorification. Some are freed to peculiar ministries and show Christ to be sufficient in a different way when they choose not to marry. However, the ordinary pattern for the Christian is that they should pursue marriage as a good gift of God.

Once you come to the place where you are ready to be married the question becomes, “Who should I ask out then?” In some ways I think that how we have answered this question is the cause of a tons of problems that we have in our dating relationships. The significant thing about choosing who to date is that the criteria, in some ways, is pretty insignificant. What I mean is this: the criteria for who you should marry is much less than you might expect.

What is this criteria? First, the person must be a Christian of the opposite sex. The Bible is equally clear about both of these. We are to marry “in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:39). Marriage is at its essence the union between man and woman (Matt 19:4-5). Any desire to date to the glory of God must be done according to how God has ordained. God is shown to be glorious when He so satisfies our hearts that we obey His Word is glad submission, knowing that it brings more joy to us when we do things His way. We testify to His grace when we enjoy His gifts in such a way that highlights our delight in Him as their Giver.

A second criteria would be general theological agreement. Now what I mean by “general” is that you don’t have to be in full agreement on every single secondary or tertiary doctrine. Amillennialism you can date someone who holds a historical premillennial eschatology. There is some wiggle room here. With matters like that you’ll probably want to see an overall heart attitude to the Word of God and how they are reading it. Do they read the Bible to know the Lord of Glory better? Do they yearn for Scripture like they year for oxygen? If so, and if this Word is having its transforming effect in their lives, you can talk those finer details out as you go.

What I don’t mean by “general” is a kind of lower common denominator approach. Just to get really concrete, I am not sure that someone who would identify as a Calvinist could date a dyed-in-the-wool Arminian. Does that mean we think Arminians aren’t Christians? Of course not! But these two positions are light years apart. How are you going to pray for lost neighbors? What happens when one of you gets diagnosed with cancer? Each situation will be met by actions or thoughts that accord with what we believe about God and ourselves. Same goes with the topic of gender roles. Another quick area of doctrine that you might want to be in general agreement on is that of ecclesiology. Say what you will, but we all have a working ecclesiology. Questions about how central the life of the local church will be in our lives together, what church we could go to, and will be baptize our young children are all questions that will need answers. All of these questions can be easily answered if you are both members of the same church. Lindsey and I are both members of Third Avenue Baptist Church. That means two things. One, we both confess the same faith as those entrusted with helping to protect the “what” of the gospel. We both affirmed the same confession of faith. Two, that means we have both entered the church by a common church covenant. We both understand our lives as members of a church in a certain way. Praise the Lord for the local church!

A third thing to consider is basic life compatibility. You should have similar desires and goals for your futures. It is a bad idea to date someone who would never go overseas if you desire to do frontier missions. If the girl you like has no plans to be a mother you might want to think about that long and hard. To be sure, you don’t have to iron out all of the fine details just yet. There is room to wiggle. You want to look for a general pattern that you both think the Lord would have for you. If you are general agreement, go for it!

And that’s it. Like really that is it. “But what about if she likes to go hiking and take long walks on the beach?” you might ask. Brother, you have to consider if some of your criteria stems from a selfish heart that sees marriage as another way to serve yourself rather than a desire to see the Lord Jesus magnified in a covenant relationship that mirrors yours with His. Are you worried she isn’t pretty enough? Take some time to read this article by Scott Croft here.  True attraction will never be fostered by mere outward appearance. Love is sustained, not by butterflies in the stomach, but by enthrallment with the godliness of another fueled by an objective, permanent covenant made before God. Is she godly? That should be attractive. Physical attraction is good and romance is a gift from the Lord. But that romance will be better fueled by those things that are most beautiful.

How do you know who you should marry? If you are mature enough to do so and you find someone who has these qualities and they are increasing in you both, just pull the trigger. Don’t fall prey to a false piety that paralyzes you into think you must discover “the one.” Trust God’s providence. Ask those around you what they think. Then ask the girl out. Next time we’ll turn to the topic of initiation.

 

Part One: Dating Reformed: Why listen to me?

Part Two: Dating Reformed: What’s it all about?

Dating Reformed: What’s it all about?

Before we can get around to the practical “how to” of dating we have to first understand exactly what dating is. That may sound strange to you. It appears self-evident what dating is all about. We know what dating is….right? I’m not so sure. Dating is the process of seeing if the Lord would have you and the other person married. Put another way, dating is for marriage.

We’ll see that this perspective will change everything about the way we date. The Bible always tells us what God had done before it tells us what to do.Indicatives (what God has done/what is objectively true) fuel imperatives (what we do/how we subjectively appropriate truths). What dating is will have an unmistakable effect on what is done while dating. Where a dating relationship starts will determine, in large part, where it will end up.

So what is the purpose of dating? First we must answer the question: “What is the purpose of marriage?” Marriage is a divine institution, meaning that it is God’s idea and creation. We are not allowed to do with this gift what we will. Our gracious and all-wise Father has a design in marriage – a man and a woman coming together in an one-flesh union that depicts the gospel of Jesus Christ. Marriage is a parable. Marriage tells the heavenly story. Like our Lord Jesus, husbands lay down their lives for his bride. Like the church, wives joyfully submit to and flourish under their husbands godly leadership. In this union the free grace of God is displayed to the world. Marriage is a matrix in which we have the opportunity to show forth the sufficiency and glory of our great God in an unique way. Marriage is for holiness as well as happiness. Marriage is for God.

Dating is for marriage. The goal of dating, if the Lord wills, is marriage. That means a few things for us. First, if you are not ready to be married then you should not date. Practically if you could not see yourself happily married within about a year then you should ask yourself why. Are you too immature? Do you continually give in to sexual sin? Such things are not reasons to get married but are reasons to put off marriage under God gives more spiritual growth. Are you not ready to be married because you are scared or don’t want to be tied down yet? Are you pursuing your career right now and feel like a wife would just slow you down? Check you heart, brother. The normal expectation for the Christian life is that we would be married. Consider this a plea for young men; In the most gospel-centered way possible, grow up. If you are not ready for marriage then you have no business dating.

This also means that you should have a pretty good idea about the girl you want to ask out before you do. I am not saying that asking a girl out is to effectively “pop the question.” But I am saying that you should try to get as much information about the other person beforehand so that you could see, all things considered, yourself being fine to marry that person. How can you get to know these things without dating first? Ask about them from people that you know. Observe them (not in a creepy way) from afar. How do they serve the people of God? What do they obviously love? Is Christ fresh on her lips? This is a good time to make a plug for trying to date within the local church. It is easier to know what someone is about when you have already covenanted together in membership based on a common confession of faith and church covenant. You can ask other women in your church about her. Ladies you can ask elders if they know anything about the guy. Long story short, if you cannot see yourself potentially being married to a person then you should not date them.

You want to date in such a way that will maximize your time if the Lord would have you be marriage. Remember the end influences the means. If we are trying to show forth the glory of our Triune God in the one flesh union of marriage in the ways that God has ordained for us to do so, that will necessarily have an effect on how we spend that wonderful time called dating. If you don’t have marriage in your sights you will almost inevitably use dating in a way that dishonors God and hurts whoever you are dating. Don’t do it. But if you think you are ready, and others in your church affirm that, go for it.

Next time we’ll start getting into how that might look.

Dating Reformed: Why listen to me?

Even though I’m relatively new to the dating scene I’ve thought about it from some time now. A lot of what I have learned has been from negative example – both from myself and those around me. Now, fourth months into my relationship with Lindsey, I think it could be useful to jot down some thoughts on dating “reformed.” The title cut two different ways. Our dating needs to be reformed, meaning that how swaths of Christians have gone about dating has only served to bring reproach on the Lord Jesus. The other meaning refers to that wonderful summation of biblical theology commonly characterized as “Reformed.” One would think that those who have seen such glory, those who have seen the depths of their depravity and the heights of God’s love in Christ, would be those most God-honoring in their dating relationships. But we know that is not always the case. Unfortunately, none of us can live as well as we confess. The gospel continues to be good news. That is not the whole story though. Paul calls us to live lives worthy of the gospel in Ephesians. Not perfectly, but really, we can use our dating relationships in holiness and in hopes that it would be another matrix in which God would be magnified.

The gospel should have an effect on how we date. Jesus becomes Lord over all areas of life when we are converted and his saving grace pervades as many areas of our lives that sin once had dominion over. To get all of my cards out on the table, there is not a whole lot about dating in the Bible. You could even say that it is not addressed by the Bible at all. This will play a big role in discussions to come. What I am advocating is a heart posture. How do we think about dating? Just like we think about everything else. Dating should be unto the glory of God. I don’t doubt you would agree. However certain things necessarily follow from such a declaration. How do we glorify God? God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Or, for our purposes, God is most glorified in our dating relationships when our dating relationships show forth our superior satisfaction in Him. We are dating coram deo. Dating is not a gift that we are left to define for ourselves and do with it what we will. Our hearts, if we are to date well, must be enamored with the beauty and holiness of our Triune Savior.

Now please allow me to admit that I am the last person person who you would expect to write anything on how to approach biblical dating. Much like you, I was an enemy of God who hated His Word and loved His enemies. Relationships served as a god for me. My entire world was dedicated to the passionate pursuit of relationships in order to fulfill ungodly lusts and to provide something to delight in. I used women like they were tools in order to gratify myself. God stood only to give me what I wanted, when I wanted. But God intervened. Two thousand years ago my sin of dissatisfaction in God was punished on the cross of Christ. The wrath that was due my sin was satisfied by the eternal Son of God made flesh. Jesus never disobeyed, fully imaging His Father, and He exchanged my filthy rags for His righteousness before God. The Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see the beauty of Jesus and the heinous nature of my sin. The risen Christ saved my life from hell and lesser joys. God is my God and I am His adopted son.

Anything right that I do in dating is owing completely to the grace of God. I continue to do things wrong, to think wrong thoughts, and to desire wrong desires. By God’s grace though I think I can help you date better. This gospel changes everything, including how we date.

Lindsey is not my supreme treasure. I’m not hers either. The gospel I just explained has freed me to enjoy my relationship with her in a way that shows that God is God and that He is so much better. The blood of Jesus allows us to encourage one another in holiness and happiness in God. Lord willing, Linds and I may get to portray a picture of the gospel together in marriage. Until then it is my prayer (and I covet your prayers as well) that we would date “reformed.”

What will follow are a series of meditations on how to date in a God-honoring way. Consider this your invitation to swallow the meat and spit out the bones. Let’s see what God might have for us as we date in preparation for marriage, for our joy in His glory.

How then shall we contend?

We live in an age that is vehemently opposed to the truth of God’s Word. Indeed Christians in all generations have always found themselves in this situation. As long as there has been revelation to fallen people there has been heresy and idolatry. Man, in an effort to try and degrade the very glory for which he has been created, espouses false theology in homage to his false god. God is a God of specific truth and ideas are the hinge between eternal life and eternal death.

As Christians we are called to defend the faith. Jude says in his letter that he is writing to that church to “contend for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints” in verse 3. This ancient body of divinity did not originate in the minds of men but from the eternal, Triune God of the universe. The truth does not change because God does not change. His gracious self-disclosure, namely the Bible, is our only guide to faith and practice. Without that light, we live in utter darkness and sit completely without hope. We are given the joyful task to stand for orthodoxy- for the glory of God and the good of the world.

But I’m worried that often times what begins as an earnest attempt to be obedient to Scripture ends up as a display of immaturity. It is far too common to see brothers, and I see it in myself most often, contend for the truth in a way that does not commend the truth that they have been commissioned to contend for. Note what I am not saying. Speaking plainly and boldly is not arrogance. God’s Word is clear and so we must be also. Dogmatism where God has been dogmatic should be humble, not proud. I am in no way saying we should not care about what doctrines people hold nor should be speak in stark words to vindicate the truths of the gospel.

What I am saying however is that we must not miss the emphasis of Jude. Look carefully at what he says just before the second half of verse 3. What was his original intent for that letter to this embassy of God’s kingdom? “Beloved,” he writes, “I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation.” His original intent was not one of defense but offense. It thrilled Jude’s heart to wax eloquent concerning the glories of the gospel. God is infinitely glorious and created man so that they might find their everlasting joy in Him. Man has universally chosen to rebel against God, refusing to give glory due the name of the Lord and so His wrath rests upon every single person in the world. But God, in unspeakably wondrous grace, has punished His perfect Son in our place. This God-man’s perfect humanity and sacrificial death gained our acceptance before the Father when we respond in faith and repentance in the risen Lord of glory. All of this is in the context of the sovereign choice of the Father that took place in eternity past. All of this is by grace and by grace alone.

This was the emphasis of Jude’s heart. This is what he longed to write to this church about. His default was edification and the building of a positive theology from God’s inerrant Word. The situation, however, called for something different. False teaching had arisen among God’s people. These people, unsaved and unsavory, were claiming that one could “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” and so were denying the only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. False teaching had to be met with contention. Jude, for the good of these people in the glorification of God by His Word being treasured correctly, had to fight back to forces of unsound doctrine.

But it seems he would have rather talked with them about their common salvation. There are times when training in righteousness and rebuke are both absolutely necessary. Both are not equally happy though. We can truly find joy in standing for truth against the entire world if need be. But it does not compare with the joy of rejoicing together as a church in what the finished work of Christ has accomplished – our eternal enjoyment of God. Do you live to contend? Brother, I fear you may find yourself ill prepared for heaven. Contention, while vital for the kingdom of God, is temporary. Heaven will be a continual conversation about our “common salvation,” no contention or complaint.

So how then shall we contend? We must contend like Jude. His letter is perhaps most famous for its opening and conclusion. Jude might have been writing hard words, but he wrote them from a tender heart. He addresses this church as those who are “called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” in verse 1. The same brothers and sisters he is urging to contend for the gospel in their congregation are to be reminded that they were called and called effectually. It is not as though they know the truth on their own account. The sovereign Lord of glory appointed them for eternal life; they were those eternally “beloved” by God the Father. His Holy Spirit created life where there was only death. And even now their most significant identity is that of being those who are “kept for Jesus Christ.” Some translate it “kept for” and others “kept by.” Either way the emphasis is on the sovereign perseverance of God. This becomes the great theme of the letter.

Jude ends with one of the most beautiful, life-giving passages in the whole Bible. It is worth quoting in full: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” How sweet is the goodness of the Lord! How might we ever be said to be blameless? Only when our lives are hidden with Christ on high. How will we ever make it to Immanuel’s land? The Lamb’s glory must so transfix our hearts that we neither turn to the right or the left. God must keep us.

Brothers this is how we are to contend. We don’t contend for the joy of being contentious. We don’t contend all the time, to every person that we know personally or we pass by on the Internet. Check your heart in the mirror of God’s Word. We must adore writing concerning the common salvation we share more than we enjoy an argument. We should contend in a way that is firm for the truth, unapologetically and without worldly compromise. But we must also, by God’s grace, contend in a way that while lying prostrate in the dust wonders, “Lord why was I a guest?”

Ecclesiology Matters: Are multi-service and multi-site churches one church or multiple churches?

It is common for churches to extend past one Sunday morning service and even to more than one place where the church meets. Many of the men that I love most have churches like this. But the question must be asked, “Is this biblical?” Are multi-site/multi-service churches one church or actually a lot of different churches?

Given the New Testament definition of the church, these churches with multiple sites and services should be considered as many churches and not one church. They are more akin to a bishopric than to a single church. The NT word for church literally means “assembly.” Some may caution not to put too much into the meaning of a word but it is worth considering. The word for church itself denotes a gathering of people together in time and space. The church is more than its weekly gathering but the weekly gathering is when the church is most the church, if you will. The church is the congregation, as it is the assembly of people covenant together for mutual oversight and key exercising. It would be impossible for one to be apart of the same assembly with those with whom they never actually assemble.

The “one another” passages of the NT testament are also problematic to mult-site and multi-service churches (ex. Rom 12:16, 15:7; 2 Cor 13:11-12; Gal 5:13, 6:2; Eph 4:2, 25, 32, 5:21, et al.). These commands are given to local churches and mean to point us to specific others. We are not responsible for everyone in the same way as we are those who we assemble with. We are not to forsake the assembling together (Heb 10:25). How are we to follow this command with multi-site and services? Who are we to assemble together with? The whole congregation! Such churches would also undermine the command for shepherds to shepherd the flock of God under their care. Who is in that care? Those at all services and all campuses? This type of church seems to separate the teaching ministry from the shepherding elder authority, placing men over people that they do not know and do not live amongst.

Furthermore, there is no warrant for such churches in the New Testament. Every time we see the church mentioned in the book of Acts they are meeting together as one assembly. Some say that it would be impossible for such large numbers to meet together as one assembly. But the Bible says that is exactly what happened. “All were together” at Solomon’s portico (Acts 5:12). The smaller meetings of the early Christians were likely not smaller meetings of the church since their discipleship entailed going to the temple together (Acts 2:46). They had to be together, assembled, if they were to be a church. The church is a visible, definable body that assembles together to hear the Word, sing the Word, read the Word and see the Word in the ordinances. Individual bodies that do this are not parts of one church but in fact their own churches.

Jesus Himself gives the power to bind and loose to the assembly. The “two or three gathered” in Matthew 18:20 refer to the authority present when the people of a local church assemble together. So the essence of the NT church is their assembling together. It is the assembled congregation that wields the keys. That is why me and few friends from can’t baptized another guy in the river on a camping trip. Multi-site and multi-service undermine biblical polity.

 

Ecclesiology Matters: What’s the relationship between elder authority and congregational authority?

First, we must start by recognizing that both elder authority and congregational authority are clearly taught in Scripture. The congregation is given the final authority for exercising the keys in Matthew 16 and 18, are held responsible for their leaders in 2 John and for protecting the gospel in Galatians. Then on the other hand Hebrews 13 and 1 Peter 5 make it just as clear that the elders have authority which is exercised centrally in their teaching and preaching, that is to be submitted to by the congregation. So the elders have an unique authority and the congregation has an unique authority. The elder-led congregational model of church government does justice to both of these truths found in Scripture.

It’s important to keep in mind that the elders do not receive their authority from the body. The church is not a representative democracy. The congregation does elect its own leaders but it does so by identifying those that have been gifted by the Holy Spirit to be elders. The elders lead in the selection of elders by suggesting men from the congregation that they feel meet the qualifications spelled out in Scripture. All authority given in the church is given by God and is therefore a derivative authority.

Both the congregation and the elders have authority but they are different kinds of authorities and function in different ways. One way to distinguish these two kinds of authority is by breaking them up into two types of authority.

Elders have the authority of counsel. This kind of authority is akin to the authority that a husband has over his wife. He counsels and shepherds her to maturity even though he does not forcefully act. The leadership of the husband binds his wife’s conscious as he has been given the authority and the ability to lead her deeper into Christ. His authority is expressed mainly in the teaching and application of that teaching. The godly husband uses his authority to “woo” his wife as it were. He shows her the gospel and the gospel way of living so that she may do the same. Husbands “lead out” in the pursuit of Christ by teaching and example.

The congregation has the authority of command. This means that the congregation has final authority. It is the decision of the majority (2 Corinthians 2:6) that binds and looses. This type of authority is more like a parents authority over a child. Like the authority of counsel, this type of authority binds the conscience in the same way. And again, ordinarily, this type of authority is exercised by submission to the elders. Mature authority wielding is shown by trust in those God has placed as our authorities and so our default posture towards those God has placed over us in authority should be one of trust. The congregation acts as the emergency break were the ones at the wheel ever to go off of the rails. Only when the elders depart from the gospel should the congregation overrule them. Penultimately, moreover, the it is the congregation along with her elders that hold the highest authority on earth as she represents her dear King on earth.

Ecclesiology Matters: What is Baptism?

Baptism, especially for we who are Baptists, seems like a topic so elementary that it is barely worth looking into. Sometimes it seems like a smaller matter that, since it is not essential for salvation, is somehow unimportant. But the Bible says that baptism is important and given to us from the Lord Jesus Himself. We do well to soberly consider what our King has commanded His blood-bought brothers to do.

So what is baptism? Who should be baptized? What does this have to do with church membership and the Lord’s Supper?

Baptism is the “oath-sign” of the new covenant. Circumcision marked out the people of God under the Old Covenant and baptism is the sign of the New Covenant. However, baptism is the sign of the New Covenant. Baptism differs from circumcision in that baptism signifies the inward changed of the Holy Spirit. Baptism signifies that one has been born again of the Spirit and transferred from darkness and into marvelous light. That is why the image of life and death is used in passages like Romans 6:1-3. We were crucified together with Christ when we were dead in sin and the Spirit applied Christ’s work to us, making us alive in Christ’s resurrection. Baptism is given to those who have repented and believed the gospel. It is not wonder that many NT authors equate baptism with conversion. It is not as though baptism was necessary for salvation but the Bible knows nothing of a baptism that was not associated with when one was saved by grace through faith in Christ alone.

For this reason, infants may not be baptized. Unless one was to say that their infant was a regenerate, sin-hating, Christ-enjoying believer in Christ then there is no way to equate what the New Testament says baptism is with so-called “infant baptism.” The New Covenant community is not mixed like Israel of old. We must allow, as D.A. Carson puts it, for the New Covenant to be genuinely new. Sometimes even we who eschew infant baptism can be less than careful about guarding the purity of the church when we baptize children only slightly older than infants. As I hope to show later, we should not baptize anyone who cannot give a credible profession of faith and this may very well include young children who are unable to show that they belong to Christ and against the world.

The individual’s baptism is an individuals “going public” of their faith in Christ. It is not walking an aisle or signing a card, but baptism that is the God-ordained way to make it known that you no longer follow the world but instead have come to know Christ as Lord, Savior and Supreme Treasure. We see this in Acts 2. After Peter’s Pentecost sermon the people are cut to the heart by the Holy Spirit, given sight and cry out to know what they must do to be saved. Peter’s answer is to repent and be baptized. So baptism is what signified that a person had been saved and was coming out of the world. Going back to the issue of infant baptism, there is no way that this could be applied to an infant given this definition. Even if you said that your infant had become a Christian (which is very, very, very, very unlikely), they would have to “come out of the world” as new believers. There is simply no way to show that a infant has forsaken the world for Christ, the very thing that baptism is meant to signify.

Finally, but most overlooked, the church speaks in baptism. The local church alone has the authority to baptize, as it pertains to their peculiar authority to exercise the keys of the kingdom. The person speaks but the church speaks too! Baptism, for it to be regular, is to be done in the context of a local church and into church membership. Baptism is the way that the one is brought into the many. It is the initiating “oath-sign” of the New Covenant, the front door into the family meal. By baptizing someone, the church is affirming their profession of faith and giving them the Jesus jersey. Any candidate for baptism must be someone that is given the right to represent Jesus on earth as a part of the visible, local assembly. Baptized people should be afforded full membership privileges immediately- including voting and taking the Lord’s Supper. Those who would practice infant baptism necessarily separate the ordinances from one another, severing the two things that the local church uses to wield their God-given authority. There is no way to give this designation to infants. It would be unthinkable to say that the world should look to that infant to know what God is like. There is no way to affirm their profession of faith, no way to say that they can stand on their own two feet as someone who knows and can help to protect the gospel what and the gospel who. They don’t even know the gospel what or who!

The nature of baptism, what it says and how it functions in conjunction with membership and the rest of church life makes it impossible for an infant to be the rightful subject of baptism. While I would never question the motives of our brothers who do baptize infants, they are setting their churches up to be weakened by the perennial threat of nominalism and hypocrisy. They unknowingly propagate church unhealthy by their polity. There is simply too much at stake to disregard a biblical practice of baptism. We do so in love for a paedobaptist brothers and out of love for the glory of Christ among us.

Ecclesiology Matters: What does the Lord’s Supper have to do with church membership?

One theologian has said that the church is never as united as when it takes the Lord’s Supper together.

The Lord’s Supper is the commemoration of the once and for all sacrifice that Christ accomplished by which we were purchased from the wrath of God for the enjoyment of God. In the Supper we remember what Christ has done on our behalf and celebrate that He will return again. By faith, we commune with Christ, feeding spiritually on all that He is for us in the gospel.

But the Lord’s Supper is also more than that. Bobby Jamieson says that the Lord’s Supper “makes the many into one.” So when we take the Lord’s Supper we are seeing a visible line being drawn around the people of God. We are reaffirming our commitment to Christ and our commitment to one another. For most cases, those taking the Lord Supper will be members of the same local church (exception being for some visitors who are baptized members of other gospel preaching churches). By allowing someone to take the Lord’s Supper we are affirming them as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Ordinarily, the Lord’s Supper is a privilege of membership in the local church. So to admit someone to the Lord’s Supper is to reaffirm their profession of faith as a congregation. The church has been authorized to give the Lord’s Supper as part of their exercise of the keys. The keys are used in the exercise of the sacraments.

Bare bones, church membership is to receive baptism and to regularly take the Lord’s Supper. This puts organic Christian life into the objective, authoritative structures ordained by God (so it is much more).

Is this at all practical?

One may be tempted to think that none of this really matters. But lets take a look at one area in which thinking clearly about the Lord’s Supper and church membership is important: evangelism.

Our evangelism is helped when a clear, bright line is drawn between the church in the world. When the name of Christ is not taken to mean anything in particular, people are inoculated to the true gospel. The glory of Christ is veiled by a counterfeit when people are allowed to “represent” Jesus when their lives show no supernatural change. God is shown to be glorious in His people’s enjoyment of His sufficiency. That sufficiency is shown in happy holiness. So it detracts from the fame of God’s name when those who claim to follow Christ make sin seem glorious and not God.

We try to protect the name of Christ by only accepting those into membership who we give a credible profession of faith. This protects the name of Christ by also protecting God’s people. The health of church members will be stunted by those who do not love Christ and who live lives of sin. Sin, even just a little, ruins the whole lump. Church discipline keeps the church’s witness pure. The church demonstrates their zeal for the glory of Christ and the heinousness of sin when we discipline those whom we can no longer affirm as representing Christ. Effectively, it removes Christ’s name from those who live lives contrary to the gospel. When we recommend someone stop taking the Lord’s Supper, we are saying that we can no longer affirm that the play for “team Jesus” any longer. Church discipline is, with broken hearts and tears in our eyes, taking the team jersey back.

The church is most effective when it is most obviously supernatural. In God’s economy, it is the compelling community displayed in the church that attracts sinners to God. The power of the gospel, promoted by gospel polity, shows the beauty of God. It shows people that they do not belong to the people of God. In that way, it becomes easier to explain the gospel.

The Lord’s Supper helps us to do that.

Ecclesiology Matters: What is a local church?

A lot of our problem when we think about the church is that we try to work out what the church should do before we understand what the church is. Besides, no one who claims to be a Bible-believing Christian is going to argue that the church is not important. The devil is in the details, however. We need definitions. We have to look to the Bible to see what a church is according to God’s Word.

So what is a local church?

The local church is an embassy of the kingdom of God on earth. Jesus has the supreme authority in heaven and on earth. He has delegated final earthly authority, not to individual Christians or one representative, but to the local church. As this heavenly embassy, local churches have been given the authority by the Word of God to bind and loose on earth (see Matthew 18: 15-20). This means that it is the local church that affirms the who and what of the gospel. When the world wants to know what the gospel is, they should look no further than the local church’s confession of faith. When the world wants to know who speaks for Jesus on earth, they should look at the local assembly. The gathered, covenanted people of God who affirm one another’s profession of faith, submit to the leadership of the elder’s teaching and observe the gospel ordinances together. 

The church affirms who is a true gospel confessor by affirming their citizenship in the kingdom by extending them a visa, church membership and admittance to the Lord’s Supper. The local church is an assembly of blood-bought sinners covenanted together to oversee one another’s Christian lives under the authority of a body of elders and their teaching, as they bear witness to the character of God in the world. Only baptized Christians may be members of the local church because that ordinance is how we are affirmed and brought into the embassy!

The local church is not a country club to join but a body to submit to. Membership in this community points to membership in the larger body of Christ.

The church is the display of the manifold wisdom of God to a watching world (Eph 3:10). It is, as Mark Dever has put it, the gospel made visible. So the church’s purity is important. A congregation is to be characterized by sinners to be sure but only a certain kind of sinners – repentant ones. And these Christians submit to one another in covenant. Only those who have been converted can be given authorization to represent Christ on earth because God is holy. The church that is holy as God is holy tells the truth about God’s character and testifies to the power of the true gospel. The church’s unity also displays the supernatural power of God and the community formed around Christ as Supreme Treasure. The new covenant community is created by the accomplishment of Christ on the cross and brings those from all tribe, tongue and nation together under the same gospel confession and into the body politic. The universal church is the Israel of God, the local church being the visible manifestation of it.

The church is uniquely tasked with the mission to make disciples, baptize them into the name of the Triune God and teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded (Matt 28:18-20) Part of the congregations responsibility to “tend the garden” if you will is to bear witness to the world about the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. It is the church’s duty to make disciples and bring them into membership in the local church, spreading the glory of God as the waters cover the seas.

Ecclesiology Matters: Does Polity Actually Matter?

Polity is not essential to salvation.

However, that does not mean that polity is not important – even important to the gospel itself. Faith begets order. The gospel seeds sprout into the tree of the church. So the gospel must be first. Dr. Tom Nettles talks about  having a “theologically integrated ecclesiology.” By this approach, the best things about a church are the things that they have in common with all true gospel churches in all areas and eras.

However, there is a particular polity that comes naturally from the gospel. Polity is formed by the gospel and has a gospel shape. One cannot attempt to hold to the gospel but then leave polity in the realm of indifference. That approach always leads to pragmatism over the long run and will tend to lose the gospel over time. So to be serious about polity is to be serious about the gospel. Polity is what makes a local church a local church. It is what marks the institution God has given to make the gospel visible and reflect His character.

Simply put, God has not left questions of polity up for our invention. Polity is important even if just for the sole fact that God has told us in His Word what we are supposed to do and think about the church. We will function best, even pragmatically in the best sense, when we are obedience to the way that God has ordered things. It is interesting that we often check everything we usually do when trying to see what God’s Word has to say about a specific area of theology at the door when thinking about the church. We have been given a specific prescription for normative church government because the wise God of the universe has determined that His church is most glorifying to Him in their enjoyment of Him when they organize themselves according to His Word. God is wiser than man. But Polity is also important for the individual Christian. Polity gives the Christian life its institutional shape. The Christian is not to use the church only as a personal aid for discipleship and spiritual growth. Instead, the Christian’s identity is tied up in the local church. He is accountable to the members by virtue of covenant, not just because they have “let them into their life.”

Polity is created by the gospel. The gospel that demands true conversion and a life of faith and repentance necessitates the right use of the ordinances, membership and discipline. Church discipline shows how we view the gospel who and what. Polity also preserves and protects the gospel. Congregationalism protects the gospel by making members know the gospel and can spot true from false. Then, if the elders were to preach a false gospel, God has given His church the tools to remove that elder and protect the name of Christ and the well being of His sheep.

Have you ever been to a museum and seen one of those spectacular diamonds on display? These diamonds are not like other diamonds. They are so big and so clear! They are beautiful. People come from all around to see the diamond. Now usually these diamonds aren’t just placed on a table. They are held up by prongs or a kind of diamond holder. No one would come to see the diamond holder – it is not nearly as important as the diamond. But does that make it negligible? No way! Without it, the diamond would fall to the ground and shatter over time.

Polity is not the diamond, but it is the diamond holder. The gospel is the diamond. Without polity the diamond of the gospel, overtime is liable to fall. To be serious about the diamond holder, then, is to be serious about the diamond. The church will fulfill its mission to glorify God by enjoying Him forever by being rigorously careful about how it is governed.