March 30, 2009

The Family of Christ

Then His mother and brothers came to Him, but they could not meet with Him because of the crowd. He was told, “Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see You.” But He replied to them, “My mother and My brothers are those who hear and do the word of God.”

Luke 8:19-21 (HCSB)

Yesterday, Sunday afternoon, my two oldest sons were late on their homework and were diligently seeking to finish their work before Monday. However, a kink was thrown into their plans: the evening service at our church was scheduled to celebrate communion. I explained to the oldest boy that Christ commanded us to celebrate the Lord's Supper until He comes again and that our church practiced communion at set times but with less frequency than my own desire. There was no way any of us were going to miss out on obeying the Lord's command when given opportunity. Without delay, the three of us packed into the car and joined my wife with the other three children for worship.

Over the last two years, during previous celebrations of communion, I was in the practice of whispering to my youngest son, who is now a 9-year-old, what the Lord's Supper means. The Lord's Supper is a memorial celebration performed as a communal confession of the atonement of Christ worked upon the Cross. The fundamental reality of the body broken and the blood that Jesus Christ, the sinless one, voluntarily poured out on behalf of our sins is powerfully represented in the bread and the cup. The accompaniment of the visual practice with the audible Word has a powerful effect upon the observer of this second of the great Christian ordinances.

But participation in the second of the great ordinances commanded by Christ for His church to practice in its worship is reserved for those that have been born again and witnessed to that regeneration through participation in the first of the great ordinances commanded by Christ for His church: baptism. Previously, my youngest son had requested permission to participate in the Lord's Supper in our church. He understood the meaning of the Lord's Supper and his Christian faith prompted him to desire to participate in this great communal confession. Unfortunately, he had not yet followed Christ in the first public act of a Christian believer: baptism by immersion. He was definitely part of my family, but not yet visibly part of the family of Christ, and Jesus Christ had set certain standards for membership in His family, standards over which we have no authority to dispense or alter.

In our age, as in previous days, there is a thoroughgoing antinomianism at work with regard to the commands of Christ. This is true with regard to personal ethics and with regard to communal ethics, ecclesiology. Indeed, whole churches have bought into ecclesiological antinomianism. They dispense with the commands of Christ in mission and in communion. Mind you, many individual members do so out of ignorance, but disobedience is still disobedience, whether performed by churches or by individuals, who have been misled by churches. The family of Christ is identified not by blood kinship, but, according to Jesus, it is composed only of those who "hear and do," that is, "hear the Word" and "do the Word." The antinomian confesses that he or she has heard God's Word, but then refuses to carry out God's Word.

Antinomians, whether individuals or organized into communities, have the fundamental problem that they say they know Christ but then dispense with His commands entirely or alter His commands to their own liking. This hypocrisy is usually excused through some type of man-made theological innovation: for instance, in the doctrines of baptismal regeneration, covenantal infant baptism, sprinkling or pouring rather than immersion, etc. More closely to home, this hypocrisy is often propagated by those who hold (correctly) to the Reformation doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone. The problem these sincere Christians have is that they seem to forget that true discipleship is not just properly confessed in word, it is also properly confessed in deed, both personally and communally.

The Great Commission of Jesus Christ explicitly includes the practice of baptism, and the ordering given by our Lord and subsequently practiced by the apostles was that baptism succeeds faith but precedes further instruction in our Lord's commands (Matt. 28:18-20: 1-going, 2-making disciples, 3-baptizing, 4-teaching all things commanded by Christ). "Baptism," of course, means "immersion" in the original Greek, so proper Christian baptism occurs after conversion and is by immersion. As with the Lord's Supper, the visual act of Christian baptism accompanied by the confession, "Jesus is Lord," is a powerful memorial to one's personal faith in the God who is Jesus, who died and rose again. This is the way Jesus intended it to be and those who dispense with His commands by attenuating the Great Commission or by altering its order will stand before God to give an account of their disobedience.

Baptism is the first act of the public Christian life and thus should be obeyed before one is able to participate in the other commands of Jesus Christ for His churches, including the Lord's Supper. Again, note the order laid down by Jesus: 1-going, 2-making disciples, 3-baptizing, 4-teaching all things (inclusive of the Lord's Supper) that Christ has commanded. When I explained this to my son, he accepted the biblical order of close communion, a logic confessed in my own denomination's Baptist Faith & Message. However, it took some time before he was able to overcome his fear of standing before the church to request entrance into the church covenant and the right of participation in the Lord's Supper.

I praise God that my son overcame human frailty by the power of the Holy Spirit and obeyed Christ by requesting public baptism in the name of his Triune Lord. I praise God that I was prompted last evening to remember His command that we participate in the Lord's Supper until He comes again (Matt. 26:26-29 and par.; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). After the service, I asked my oldest son, "Aren't you glad we obeyed Christ and came to see your brother profess Him as Savior?" His reply, of course, was in the affirmative, though the homework still remained to be done.

I praise God that my family of blood kin includes members of the family of Christ, too. I praise God that He has given us the grace of salvation, a grace confessed visibly and necessarily in the grace of obedience. I praise God that He has led our church to recognize that baptism is to precede communion and that it is a confession and not a magical rite that is disconnected from the individual human will. (I also praise God that He has led our church not to affirm those improperly baptized, for to affirm an error is to participate in that error.)

Oh, Lord, help us to hear your Word clearly, and do your Word diligently! And where we have erred, please illumine the Bible so that we may understand correctly and empower us by your Spirit so that we may live correctly! I thank you that You have led my son into Your family, whose Father is so much superior to his earthly father. Your ways truly are effective. Your truth truly is invincible.