Tag Archives: christian family

Lawrence Congregations Move Forward with Social Justice Ministry

… by Giles Bruce … posted Monday, May 5, 2014


What could happen if Lawrence were a city for justice?  That’s what Justin Jenkins, pastor at Velocity Church, asked at a recent meeting of local religious leaders who have come together to make Lawrence what they describe as a more socially just community.  The group, which had its orientation in March, includes leaders from 22 local congregations who have been gathering monthly to discuss what the tentatively titled Lawrence Justice Ministry might look like.  This month, several of the clergy members will be giving “City on a Hill” sermons in which they will outline to their congregations what the scriptures say about social justice.  The religious leaders hope the ministry can help show the difference between mercy and justice.  Mercy is what many of the congregations already do ~ feed the hungry, house the homeless.  Justice, they say, means transforming the system so those needs no longer exist.  “I can imagine a day that we don’t need LINK (the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen) anymore, that we don’t need the shelter anymore, that we don’t need Family Promise anymore,” said Matt Sturtevant, pastor at First Baptist Church.  Added Jenkins:  “There’s a difference between first aid, which is to save someone’s life, and actually treating the disease, which is a long-term solution.”  “It’s about looking at the causes instead of just the effects,” said John McDermott, pastor at Morning Star Christian Church.  The group started last year after the faith leaders began talking about whether they might be able to make a difference in solving injustices.  Congregations have been coming together in Lawrence and elsewhere across the U.S. for years ~ during the civil rights movement of the mid-20th Century, for instance ~ but this is the first time locally there has been this large of a unified effort focused on transformative justice, the group says.  The ministry plans to start a listening process in the fall to identify the major social injustices in Lawrence, with community meetings open to the public.  In early 2015, they will decide on the issue or issues most important to Lawrencians and begin working on solutions.  “We believe that having justice is a religious obligation,” said Moussa Elbayoumy, director of the Islamic Center of Lawrence.

JMM Response, for CC-RPC’s website (05/2014, based on Dec./2013 intx. with DART leader)

Dear ____ (regional leader of D.A.R.T. = Direct Action & Resource Training Center, which seeks to organize local coalitions like the one coming together here as the “Lawrence Justice Ministry”]:  Thank you for the time you invested to seek understanding of/with us [late last year, 2013].  Because getting forty men together to hear from the four of us [evangelical pastors] is highly unlikely and because of your own request for it, we provide this bare summary of our long talk, hoping it will shed light on ONE evangelical position (… not the only faithful one).   We trust that you will represent this/us well in communicating with the growing DART-Lawrence contingent.

Some evangelical pastors in Lawrence are taking a “Gamaliel Approach” to DART-Lawrence at this time, certain we cannot stand against the work of God, convinced that we would never want to do so, and actually praying that Jesus Christ will be honored through YOUR efforts toward increasing justice (Let it roll down like mighty watersAmos 5:24).  That said, we are choosing to stay out of THIS justice-related union at the present time, for these reasons, among others:

(1) As much as we love justice and are working for its spread in our community, we doubt that much positive progress can be made without very careful definitions of critical words like justice, peace, shalom, God, sin, and reconciliation.  Who is God?  How can we know Him?  Through what one name may we know Him?  What does this God say about justice … and injustice?  If injustice is a form of sin, how can sinners be forgiven-reconciled, by/with God and others they offended?  So an effective justice ministry which deserves full passion and support of Christian pastors and congregations should aim for initial foundational agreement concerning Who brings about lasting justice and how He does so through His redeemed, reconciled people.  All this demands clear allegiance to the Bible (the sixty-six books of the Old and the New Testaments) and the Triune God it reveals.  To support justice initiatives from our hearts and our wallets, we must know that we are working with brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, building on a foundation of inerrant Scriptures, pursuing compatible visions of Jesus’ eternal Kingdom.

(2) But as impressed as we are concerning the diversity of religious and spiritual leadership gathered around this need and opportunity, we wonder how two (or three, or four) who are so divided on spiritual foundations can walk together.  See, pursuit of true justice through long processes of reconciliation is a fundamental demand of the Christian gospel, but disciples of Jesus are not to be unequally yoked together with those who are not worshiping Christ as the exclusive Lord, way, truth, and life (John 14:6).  Paul equates “unbelievers” with lawlessness and darkness in his famous charge about unequal yokes (2 Cor. 6:14); who are we to say we know better today?  While it is in our nature to be just as polite, congenial, and neighborly as the rest of the gents in the room, several decades of history in Douglas County tell us that not all of the early D.A.R.T. participants have proven themselves to be friends of truth, life, and Jesus Christ.  This should be manifestly clear to everyone, as non-Christian religions are represented, along with cultic versions of Christianity and groups which long ago gave up on the idea that people are saved by grace alone through faith in the God-man alone according to the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone [and all of those terms must be defined Biblically/creedally as well].

(3) This leads us to sincere doubts about the nuts and bolts plan for justice pursuits through such an ecumenical endeavor:  Will this be yet another repeat of the “social gospel” agenda which forgets the gospel?  Might we expect a high priority for leftist-style wealth redistribution under the guise of love for the poor?  Will it be assumed that civil governments should play the primary role in bringing about this justice and equity (that is, members of religious communities will basically appeal to elected officials to “do justice”), instead of each person, family, and faith community acting justly within their sphere?  And will we see yet another wave of “gender-identity justice” become the dominant concern in our liberal community, just as previous pushes have enjoyed strong support from our most liberal congregations (“Christian” and otherwise)?  And will it ever occur to DART-Lawrence to consider that the deepest injustice of OUR lifetimes, in the United States has been the legalized killing of 55 million babies in the womb since 1973, leaving those dead plus millions of wounded would-be parents and siblings?  Yes, we know that a passion for eliminating legalized abortion in our community would be too controversial, not a topic to bring together Lawrence faith communities; it would be a non-starter.  But sometimes litmus tests are useful, and a number of us wonder how true justice can be pursued by those who cannot see this crime of the centuries for what it is.  God forgive us.

(4) We urge LJM members to recognize that many ministries already at work in our community, supported well by many of you, already have strong justice components (for the hungry and homeless, underemployed, “strangers in our midst” from other lands, “pregnant & scared,” etc.).  We are resolved to continue supporting these initiatives well, giving out cups of cold water and much more, always in the name of Christ, such that Jesus is front-and-center in the witness and in the gift … not a copilot, a side-thought, or a footnote in a bylaw or brochure.  Christian pastors & churches are to present to a lost world the message of Jesus with absolute clarity, in all its forms.  True words are ALWAYS necessary to explain our motivation for these acts of charity and justice.

(5) Finally, we urge great caution through mentioning the title of a culture-changing book, representatives of which will be coming to Lawrence in September, 2014:  When Helping Hurts.  The history of charity, help, & justice ministry is littered with kind deeds worked out unbiblically, such that helpers & victims are NOT seeing one another as we are (beggars before a generous God who makes known HIS paths of relational reconciliation).

It is not a little thing for us to claim the mantle or the spirit of Gamaliel, as his Acts 5 counsel was honest only if he ceased speaking ill of the followers of Jesus Christ in venues other than the Sanhedrin Council, and possibly joined hands with those Christian disciples after he could see the godliness of their lives and message.  We look forward to seeing positive developments through DART and LJM, and we will eagerly encourage our friends to join in on the public gatherings you propose which are in keeping with the priorities summarized above.  To use one of your own picturesque analogies, we understand that “the DART Bus” will be coming around the block more than once, such that there will be other opportunities for us to get on board!  Friends of justice that you want to be, we trust that those who hesitated to jump on during the first round will receive a hearty welcome and not be kept out in the cold nor pushed to the back.

And [Jesus Christ] is the Image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created … all things have been created by and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  He is also the Head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.  For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross. …” (Colossians 1:15-20).

Sincerely for Jesus, on behalf of a few evangelical pastors who are still learning & growing ~ JMM

Who Should/May Become a Communicant Member in a Reformed Congregation?

Some Reformed Presbyterian elders at a recent session meeting wondered together:  “What are the requirements for becoming a communing member of our church, from the Constitution’s perspective?”  The special focus was on the opportunity for and ability of children to become members who can partake in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  Below I offer some paragraphs from the very first portion of the RPCNA’s “Directory for Church Government” (Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America).  I offer these, highlighting the portions which seem most relevant to this discussion, then summarize my own perspective on this.  What do you think?  And for you parents out there, what does this “high bar” of expectation say about doctrinal instruction in your own homes? This matters greatly in the wider evangelical sphere as we hear reports that more and more parents are expecting churches (especially youth departments) to “fix” their rebellious children or to take care of their spiritual lives.  A typical parental response will be, when this plan goes bad:  “But we took them to youth group religiously!  Something must be wrong with that church.”  Well, there is always something wrong with every branch of Christ’s church in this world, but parents continue to bear the fundamental responsibility for the spiritual instruction of their children while those children are in the home.  Family times of worship are much neglected in this age, and in our general busy-ness, we imagine ourselves as doing well if we pause to pray before meals.  Oh, to do that, we must be eating together! The more precise debate about when a child who professes a basic faith in Jesus Christ should be encouraged to commune at the Lord’s Table is quite complicated.  The Bible does not clearly teach this commonly held maturity point, “the age of accountability.”  Further, the tradition many congregations have of inviting all 12-year-olds into a communicants class does not respect the fact that children mature (spiritually, intellectually, etc.) at different rates.  In fact, some 12-year-olds in churches are already quite clear that religion is not for them; a church info class might be useful in such a case, without the expectation of an interview with the elders at its conclusion.  The extreme ends of this debate will argue: (1) As soon as a child “prays the prayer,” he should commune.  BUT (2) haven’t we experienced enough of the damage from the “dumbing down” of Christianity to five basis assertions, or less? In practice, most RPCNA congregations have shown themselves to be quite comfortable with the concept that there can be: (1) baptized babies who don’t know anything about God; (2) converted/baptized children who have a simple (and real!) relationship with God through Jesus Christ but are NOT yet communicant members of their churches; (3) converted/baptized/communing children who have expressed their faith to their elders, answering some very important questions which indicate basic grasp of Christian doctrine & how that is lived out.  Perhaps that last category meshes with Jesus’ charge that His disciples should “count the cost” before expressing full allegiance to Him.  We are NOT interested in the modern manufactured category of those who are “Christians” (saved for heaven) but are not yet “disciples” (fully devoted followers of Jesus).  I hope some of the data below is an encouragement to all readers (adults & children), spurring us on toward a deeper understanding of God and a deeper walk of obedience. ~ JMM

Directory for Church Government … CHAPTER 1 (The Communicant Membership of the Church)

  1. Any person capable of forming moral judgments and of making decisions for himself may be received into communicant membership in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, upon credible profession of faith, baptism, and acceptance of the Covenant of Church MembershipCommunicant members have an obligation to present their children for baptism and to do all in their power to rear their children so that they will seek communicant membership in the church.
  2. In a regularly organized congregation it belongs to the session alone to admit to membership in the church.  In extraordinary circumstances, such as the organization of a new congregation, presbytery may assume this function or delegate it to a temporary governing body.  In the early stages of work in a foreign mission field, special powers may be exercised by the missionaries in this regard until such time as a congregation with a regular session can be organized.
  3. Classes should be conducted, under the oversight of the session, for baptized children as well as for prospective members for their instruction in the principles of truth maintained by the Church with a view to preparing them to be communicant members.
  4. Candidates for communicant membership shall be examined by the session in constituted court.  The examination shall seek to bring out the degree of the candidate’s knowledge of Divine truth, his personal sense of sin and need of salvation and his knowledge of and willing acceptance of the Covenant of Church Membership including the distinctive principles of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. The degree of knowledge necessary for admission depends, to a considerable extent, upon the capacity of the candidate and the opportunities which he has had for acquiring such knowledge. Children should be encouraged to memorize the Shorter Catechism and urged to read and study the Testimony and Confession of Faith as they come to years of fuller understanding.  No one should be admitted who is ignorant of the plan of salvation, or who gives no credible evidence of having been born again, or who assumes an attitude antagonistic to the principles set forth in the standards of the Church.
  5. When the candidates have given assent to the Covenant of Church Membership and when their examination has been sustained, they shall, if they have been baptized, be declared in communicant membership and may sign the Covenant of Church Membership.  After prayer on their behalf, the members of the session shall welcome them by extending the right hand of fellowship.
  6. Where there is no definite knowledge that a candidate has been baptized in a true church as defined by Synod (Chapter 25 of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church), this sacrament shall be administered.
  7. The new members should be publicly recognized.  This may be done by having them stand before the congregation to give public assent to the Covenant of Church Membership. …

Summarizing … candidates for communicant membership must/should … becapable of forming moral judgments and making decisions for themselves; … give credible profession of faith; … be baptized (either before candidacy or as a result of becoming a communicant member); … accept the Covenant of Church Membership(with its seven terms, below); … take a class (under elder oversight) to be instructed in the principles of the truth maintained by the Church; … be examined by the elders, such exam seeking to bring out the degree of the candidate’s knowledge of Divine truth, his personal sense of sin and need of salvation, and his knowledge of and willing acceptance of the Covenant of Church Membership (including RPCNA distinctive principles like matters of Bible-regulated worship and critical church/state concerns); … children wanting to become communicant members should be encouraged to memorize the Westminster Shorter Catechism (107 questions) and urged to read and study the RPCNA Testimony and the Westminster Confession of Faith as they come to years of fuller understanding.  No one should be admitted who is ignorant of the Biblical plan of salvation or who gives no credible evidence of having been born again or who assumes an attitude antagonistic to the principles set forth in church standards.

The seven vows of the Covenant of Church Membership (below) imply understanding of & some level of submission to concepts including:

  1. What the Bible is, its uniqueness, sufficiency, and authority in the candidate’s own life.
  2. Who God is in His Person, Biblical attributes, and Tri-unity.
  3. Who the candidate is as a creature, sinner, penitent, believer, saint, and servant of God.
  4. What the church is, and what THIS church is (according to the Constitution), and being part of this body.
  5. How God empowers our growth in Christ through several of the ordinary means.  Then, “I promise …”
  6. That his/her primary purpose in life from this time forward will be to seek God’s Kingdom and righteousness.
  7. That God’s grace will be necessary in the pursuit of these promises, and (s)he will be giving account to God.

Official Vows: Covenant of Communicant Membership

  1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule for faith and life?
  2. Do you believe in the one living and true God ~ Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ~ as revealed in the Scriptures?
  3. Do you repent of your sin; confess your guilt and helplessness as a sinner against God; profess Jesus Christ, Son of God, as your Savior and Lord; and dedicate yourself to His service:  Do you promise that you will endeavor to forsake all sin, and to conform your life to His teaching and example?
  4. Do you promise to submit in the Lord to the teaching and government of this church as being based upon the Scriptures and described in substance in the Constitution of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America?  Do you recognize your responsibility to work with others in the church and do you promise to support and encourage them in their service to the Lord?  In case you should need correction in doctrine or life, do you promise to respect the authority and discipline of the church?
  5. To the end that you may grow in the Christian life, do you promise that you will diligently read the Bible, engage in private prayer, keep the Lord’s Day, regularly attend the worship services, observe the appointed sacraments, and give to the Lord’s work as He shall prosper you?
  6. Do you purpose to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness in all the relationships of life, faithfully to perform your whole duty as a true servant of Jesus Christ, and seek to win others to Him?
  7. Do you make this profession of faith and purpose in the presence of God, in humble reliance upon His grace, as you desire to give your account with joy at the Last Great Day?

The Sacrament of Infant Baptism

Though Jesus gave His church two sacraments to unite us around His truth, there has actually been nothing more divisive within the church than baptism and the Lord’s Supper!  Some might think that a smart pastor would, therefore, stay away from such a hot topic as infant baptism.  I am NOT that smart pastor (!), and I suggest that many of our sacramental battles have to do with ungrounded assumptions about why some churches do what they do concerning the sacraments. As a matter of fact, I am as opposed as anyone to the grounds for some infant baptisms.  So please, “hear” me out:

Our View of Infant Baptism (why we do it, what it means, what it does not mean)

One caveat:  Though “to baptize or not to baptize” an infant may seem like a simple and clear choice or decision, it touches on many deep principles about the way we see the Bible, how the testaments fit together, how God works in salvation and in families, etc.  I am saying:  This discussion could take thirty hours, or thirty minutes! I will do my best under present limitations, while I always hope for more time later.

Rumors out there (most of them very bad, inaccurate, and unbiblical):

1.     Infant baptism guarantees the salvation of the individual, no matter what.

2.     Infant baptism removes the problem of original sin.  Conscious sinful choices which your child makes from now on will be the problem to be resolved (through faith, etc.).

3.     Infant baptism guarantees that God will save (or the ceremony obligates God to save) your child sometime in the future, through saving faith which God must send.

4.     Infant baptism being practiced in some Protestant churches today is just a sad leftover from our days of being attached to the Roman Catholic Church; we did not reform enough.

5.     Infant baptism guarantees that, if the child dies before he reaches the age of accountability, he will surely go to Heaven on the basis of our church’s symbolic actions.

6.     Infant baptism is not really baptism; it is just our term for Baby Dedication.

7.     Adults who were baptized as infants should get baptized again after their conversion.

So first … why we baptize infants:

  • God has always shown Himself willing and able to work in and through families and communities.
  • God’s covenants of old (with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, …) included the children of adults who were able to understand and agree to the covenants (for you AND for your children).
  • So the symbols of the covenants (like the rainbow, Passover, the Law, the Davidic throne) involved the children.
  • Example:  Circumcise ALL males, eight days and older.  Ishmael, Isaac, Jesus, and millions more were circumcised covenantally.
  • So in Old Testament times, family inclusion in the covenants and in the covenant signs was the clear expectation.  Children of Jews were treated differently than the neighbor children of pagans.  They were “special.”
  • This covenantal assumption was so strong in the ancient people of God that if He had a different expectation for His people in New Testament times, He would have had to make that change very clear.
  • Quite the opposite, God confirmed / reaffirmed this policy of family/household inclusion: Jesus’ invitation concerning the children (to be brought to Me; My Kingdom is made of such as these).  The Pentecost sermon (by Peter in Acts 2) = This promise is for you and for your children and etc. References to families/households baptized upon the conversion of a parent, inActs and other New Testament passages: Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), the Philippian jailor (16:32-34), Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:16); John 4:53Acts 10:211:14;18:82 Timothy 4:19.  God’s continuing concern for the oikos (= household) is most clear.  Especially of note is the label sanctified/holy concerning the children of even one believer (1 Corinthians 7:14).
  • There is NO account in the New Testament about the children of a convert being instructed to wait for their own baptisms until some later time.  Notice that baptism episodes in the New Testament record are of new converts and their children.  There are no examples of “church kids” getting baptized upon their own later profession of faith, or at the age of twelve, or even later as adults.
  • In a profound way, the infant baptism is an opportunity for parents to (re-) covenant with God:  You are our Godwe belong to Youwe are a Christian family.  The Christian way, faith, and life is not just for individuals in theirprivate lives, but for Christians in all of their relationships (at least in the family, church, and state).
  • Those churches which claim to want to obey the Bible strictly or literally … then do not find an explicit command in the New Testament for Christians to have their infants baptized … then do not baptize their infants … STILL have this sense that their babies are special/holy (different from babies in the pagan world) … so they invent a rite/ceremony called Baby Dedication (even though the New Testament commands no such thing).

When we baptize an infant in this church, we do not mean: … that his sin (sin nature) is being washed away (so that he is saved). … that God will surely save this baby through a future conversion. … that there is nothing further expected, to pray about, to work toward.

When we baptize an infant in this church, we do mean: … to symbolize the gospel, that God will surely save all of His people, cleansing them through the redemption in Jesus Christ (so the occasion of a covenant child’s baptism is his first opportunity to proclaim the good news). … that this infant of believer(s) is ALREADYa covenant child in the eyes of our Lord (so that is why we are putting the sign on him; this ceremony will not make him a covenant child; he is a covenant child, and so we give him the sign). … that this baby occupies a privileged place (in that he will be surrounded during his upbringing by the truths, people, and blessings of the Lord). … that the parent(s) commit to faithfully raise this child in the fear and admonition of God, according to Biblical patterns (see the specific vows we ask parents to take, below). … that the members of this congregation promise to support and help the parents in all of these good endeavors.

My assumptions going into the infant baptism; will you parents assent to these?

1.     You are resting in the Lord Jesus alone for your salvation … not on anything you have done, are doing, or will do in the future.

2.     Yet it is also your desire and commitment to be a family for God, living for Him, in faith, repentance, and obedience.  We recognize that this godly desire, too, is God’s good gift.

3.     You recognize that God works in families.  Your child already has a special connection to God by virtue of the fact that he “belongs” to you, and you belong to God.  Your child is set apart.

4.     Your child’s relationship with God today is not the same as his having saving faith, which we pray that he will know and enjoy in the future.

5.     Because of your child’s position in the covenant, you should give to him the covenant sign.  Now (in the New Testament times) that sign is water baptism, in God’s Triune Name, with understanding.

6.     You parents are communicant member of this church; that is the basis for having your child baptized in Christ and into this congregation.  Part of the infant baptism sacrament will involve you parents renewing your own Covenant of Church Membership.

So now, for the parents, do you reaffirm your own membership vows before God and these witnesses?  [YES].  Now, if it is your hearts’ resolve, respond to these covenant questions for your child:

RPCNA Constitution: The Covenant of Baptism

1.     Do you believe this child is a possession of God entrusted to your care?

2.     In this light, do you promise to provide for his temporal well-being, to teach him to love God and His word, the Bible, and to provide him with a God-centered education?

3.     Do you promise to teach him of his sinful nature, of the plan of salvation which centers in Jesus Christ, and of his own personal need of a relationship with Christ?

4.     To the end that he may grow in the Christian life, do you promise to pray for him, to train him to read the Bible, to pray, to keep the Lord’s Day, and to understand the nature of the Church, the value of its worship and fellowship, and his need to seek communicant membership in the church?

5.     Do you promise to lead him (by your example and parental discipline exercised in love) to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness in all the relationships of life?

6.     Do you make these promises in the presence of God, in humble reliance upon His grace, as you desire to give your account with joy at the Last Great Day?

Do you, the members of this child’s congregation, receive him into your fellowship, and promise to pray for him, and to help his parents as they bring up their children in the Christian way of life?