Tag Archives: covenant symbolism

The Message of the Burning Bush (Genesis Series wrap-up sermon … on Exodus 3-4)

Consider Exodus 3-4. What happens there (as God speaks to Moses at the bush) soon after will produce everything that is written down in Genesis. Not a word of Genesis or any Scripture was set down as inspired text until after this close encounter between God and man at the bush. This incident should matter to us since (of course) it is true and real history, and because God deemed it vital enough to record it for us and for our children, forever. ALSO, as Lawrencians, the image of Mosesat the burning bush mattered to us in the past: See, the University of Kansas’ original seal (created one year after its 1865 founding) features this scene!

Burning bush Blog post

What is the meaning of “Moses and the Burning Bush”? KU’s first chancellor, Rev. R. W. Oliver, chose the seal in 1866 … [of] Moses, kneeling in awe before a bush which is engulfed in flames. The translation of the Latin: “I will see this great vision in which the bush does not burn” (Exodus 3). Fire symbolizes knowledge in many stories and myths. Moses is thought to represent the humble attitude of the scholar who recognizes the unquenchable nature of the pursuit of truth and knowledge. KU’s Integrated Marketing Campaign called for a de-emphasis of this seal, using it only for formal KU ceremonies and functions, no longer on brochures, letterheads, and business cards. Surveys of all KU stakeholders indicated widespread confusion about the meaning of the Latin and how this symbol fits for a modern university. [from the School’s website]

Frankly, that paragraph was NOT authored by Rev. Oliver and the founders! So we ask: Is that tidbit about “academic unquenchability and intellectual curiosity” really the core meaning of Moses at the bush?! Is that what the founders had in mind? Is that why God took pains to appear 3,450 year ago? Or is this modern take yet another example of philosophic dishonesty, to make it seem that we are honoring our past, even as we ignore it? Would Rev. Oliver, or Moses, or God Himself be welcome on campus, or in our fair city today, to speak their truth? Isn’t it better to say that the meaning of Moses and Burning Bush includes this?

There is a God (who claims to be the only God, and to be our Maker), so the atheists & agnostics & polytheists & pantheists are wrong) … He has a name (pointing to His self-existence, so “open theology” is wrong with its weak, learning, evolving deity) … God can speak (to us, intelligibly, so we can know Him and His will; so the Deists with their distant, uninvolved god are wrong) … and God is attentive to everything(so secularists of “the divided life” are wrong) … and God recalls old commitments and covenants sworn by Himself and by us (so all who deny His sovereign rights are wrong) … and God has the power and the will to act, to rescue, and to save His people. The same God with the same voice goes on to teach Moses that God made man and the mouth of man (as such, God acts as if He has the right to tell us what to say)! The same God goes on to teach Moses and us about His law, His perfections, His glory, His mercy, and His means of atonement.

The Gospel at the Burning Bush

2:23. Their cry for rescue came up to God. Where sinners find themselves, in bondage.

2:24. God heard and remembered His covenant. Not that God had forgotten!

2:25. God saw them andGod knew … their plight, His solution, and their future in Him.

3:1-6. God takes initiative in our salvation; we do not know what we need nor how to fix us.

3:7-12. God uses a deliverer to save: Our Deliverer always lives to do the Father’s will.

3:13-14. God’s name points to His absolute self-sufficiency (I am because I am) versus our total dependence.

3:15-22. Salvation is grounded in God (who is independent and unchanging); He saves us in order to keep His ancient promises. Deliverance always involves sacrifice and warfare (vs. Egypt, Canaan … in the heavens and in our hearts). The true riches will end up with God’s children … His Word & His gifts & His Kingdom.

4:1-9. Rescue requires miracles: plagues and signs … or many resurrections.

4:10-17. Those God calls He empowers: to believe, repent, confess, receive, grow, …

3:12. God kept His promise (He was with them and He saved them) … so we worship Him!

So in brief, what is the message of the burning bush which you, the nearby uni-versity, and your world must hear (again)?  Like a prophet … God is there and He is not silent (I am, I observe, I empathize, I speak, I will act).  Like a priest … God redeems and rescues through the sacrifice of a substitute (shown in the mercy and justice of the Passover), so that God is both just and the Justifier.  Like a great king … God has authority to call His people to holiness and to service ~ equipping them to pursue both: I will go with you, will share My name with you, will give you My law-word, will strengthen you, and will be your God!

COMMUNION MEDITATION: Because our children are asking …

The New Testament sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) are simple, by Christ’s design, so that even children can understand the basic truths which these signs, actions, and rituals are illustrating.  To quote Albert Einstein (in a limited sense), “If you cannot explain it simply, then you do not understand it well enough.”  Thus I have been impressed, over the years, with the ability of some to give excellent children’s talks which are very simple, yet meaty and profound for all who will listen.  Surely Jesus was encapsulating a world of truth as He proclaimed:  “The Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like little children” … but one simple application should be:  If only the professional scholars and theologians can grasp a doctrinal point, it may be that the truth claim has more of man than of God in it.  With just a few minutes, then, I ask you to consider two questions which children have asked, both of them deserving clear answers.

Last week, a child asked me:  “Pastor John, if God has always known everything, then why did He create Satan?”  I will interpret and extend his question to ponder:  Why did God create the angel Lucifer, knowing that Lucifer would lead an angel rebellion, become the devil, tempt our first parents, and produce the fall of all mankind and of the universe itself?  I did not claim that simple answers are easy ones!  A word for parents, teachers, and others:  Praise the Lord for such questions.  They could be evidence that the Holy Spirit is stirring.  Do not say:  “Shut up!  Stop asking silly or hard questions.  Just believe and behave.  Don’t think.  And above all, don’t go poking around behind the curtain, or you may discover that there is nothing there after all!”  So much better to respond with something, even an “I don’t know … but let’s dig into that issue together.”

This question (about God’s role in the origin of Satan) is a version of the classical query:  “How could there be a good and strong God in a universe with evil and suffering?”  Okay, this is an enormous subject, but here is a starting point:  Because the universe as it really is (with a Lucifer who would become Satan, with evil and suffering, with pain and sorrow and tears, and with sin under all of it) is the universe which God has allowed and even designed to bring the maximum glory to Himself, to display before Himself, His angels, human beings, and the universe the awesome collection of His own glorious attributes, and in this particular case, to show how He will defeat and destroy His and our archenemy, the devil and all his works.

Here is a second question asked by a child, much earlier than last week, and across many years:  “Father, why is this night different from all others?”  This, of course, is the classic and scripted prompting by children at the Seder (or the Passover), that annual memorial meal to remind Israel of “Exodus Night,” how the Lord delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt to bring them into the Promised Land.

Please recognize the connection of our first question with this second one, for if God really is good and strong, especially attentive to His chosen nation, then why did He allow them to be enslaved in the first place?  There are, of course, human reasons for why and how Jacob’s family ended up in Egypt, and it is clear that God held many Egyptians to be guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.  But God allowed, even designed, Israel’s captivity to glorify and exalt Himself in their eyes, and in the eyes of Egypt, Canaan, and the whole world up until this very day.

Recognize, as well, the connection of the Passover and the Lord’s Supper, as Jesus instituted this Christian sacramental love feast at a Seder.  The Bible strongly connects the minor redemption (of Israel from Egypt) with the major redemption (of all God’s children from their captivating sin).

Recognize, finally, the connection of the Seder, the Supper, the cross, and the first question.  God’s design of a universe where Satan, sin, and sorrow could (would) happen surely had in mind this ultimate and glorious solution, the death of God’s dear Son, as the answer to the very big questions, the solution for all of our needs, and the ultimate display of the glory and grace of God.

Mull over this sentence.  If it is true, enjoy its truth, and turn it into personal worship:  “God in His grace provided what God in His holiness demanded.”  God allowed and designed a fallen universe, filled with fallen people, millions of whom would come to know their Lord as a God of grace, mercy, and faithfulness.  There is a popular book with this subtitle:  “What if marriage is designed by God, not to make you happy, but holy?!”  Well, what if time, space, the universe, and all history are designed to glorify God in His fullness, as He really is?  Would not an eternity of informed worship justify 6,000 or more years of drama, if that is the kind of thing it takes for us to get to know God as He really is?  Yes, and the cross, with the sacrificed body of Jesus Christ, is at the center.

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?