Agree in the Lord

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have laboured side by side with me in the gospel” (Phil 4:2-3).

Where there are people, there will be disagreements. Some of these will be major, others minor, and the disagreement might even include whether it is a major or minor disagreement! Within the church, though we are united by Christ, disagreements remain over theological, political and moral issues.

The enemy can easily come in and sow strife among the people Jesus prayed would have unity (John 17:11). How can we maintain unity and ‘agree in the Lord’ while disagreeing on particular issues?

Love one another – Assuming you’re both Christians, you are children of God. Remember 1 John 4:20-21.

Pray for one another – Not just that the other person would agree with you, but that you’d both be humble enough to listen.

Keep the Bible open – Present your case and engage with their Biblical arguments. Don’t sidestep or ignore the verses they use. Engage with them. The Bible is our rule of faith and life; not our experience, feelings or traditions (not that they are irrelevant).

Take emotion out as much as possible – You may be emotional and hold a viewpoint strongly, but aim for gentleness in speech, and be charitable with one another. It is easier to sin, lack love, refuse to listen and lack humility when we are emotional. (James 1:19-21). Instead of being emotional, be curious why they think that way.

Don’t gather supporters – It hurts the church when we divide into factions. Don’t complain about one another but go to the other and listen. (And don’t assume what others tell you is accurate!)

Agree in the Lord – Continue to labour side by side in the gospel.

Difficult and simple passages

It’s self-evident that some Bible passages are easier to understand than others. John 14:6 is clear: Jesus is the only way to the Father. The reader is left with the question of whether they will believe it.

But other passages require more work before we can understand. Some verses in today’s sermon (1 Peter 3:19-21) are an example, and so is a passage some think is related, Gen 6:1-4. Numerous questions could be asked, but we’ll restrain ourselves to, ‘who?’ Who are the sons of God, the daughters of man, and the Nephilim?

Genuine Christians disagree here. Let’s think it through:

First, some think the sons of God are fallen angels, the daughters of man are human women, and the Nephilim are hybrids from their sexual union. But nowhere in the Bible are angels sexual beings (not even fallen ones). It’s humanity who is condemned for sinfulness, and the flood punishes humanity, not the fallen angels.

Second, some think the sons of God are great kings who take multiple wives, the offspring continuing the cycle of violence and harems. But ‘sons’ isn’t used for a group of kings elsewhere and polygamy isn’t explicit.

I prefer the third option: the sons of God are the seed of the woman, the daughters of man are the seed of the serpent, and the Nephilim aren’t offspring, but are there at the same time. Until now the two lines have been distinct, but now they intermarry. This has a devastating impact on their godly influence. This is the best view given Gen 3:15 and the subsequent narrative.

Why does this matter? It reminds us that the Bible can be hard to understand, and we should study it in community. But it also makes us grateful for the simple passages that proclaim our salvation. Praise God for them!

The dignity of life

Our society is confused about life. The confusion is showcased in the debates surrounding the two bookends of life: its beginning and end. But the confusion doesn’t end there.

In considering the beginning of life, Thursday saw the NSW upper house pass a bill that would enforce a 150m “safe zone” around NSW abortion clinics. Not safety for the unborn child. Not even safety for the expectant mothers. It’s not a “safety zone”, but a “silencing zone”, where the voices opposed to abortion cannot speak for fear of prosecution. Our society is closing their ears to the reality of when life begins to make their lives easier.

On the other side of the pendulum, debates continue around euthanasia. “Dignity” is the objective, with our society under the tragic belief that dignity is lost when control over one’s body is lost. Pain is the enemy, with no possibility that good can come out of it. Instead of being a precious gift, life becomes a burden.

In between isn’t immune from the confusion either. The uncertainty of what life is about, our purpose, has led to a culture in crisis. Instead of seeing that “man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”, our society has no clue. People live for sex, pleasure, power, leisure, travel, entertainment, success, popularity and money. Anything but what we’ve been made for.

Life is about glorifying God and enjoying him. From its beginning to its end. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). God is the one who formed us (Ps 139:13), and the one who determines when we’ll take our final breath (Ps 90:15). What a tragic world we live in, with people who don’t know the God they’ve been made to glorify.

Who is my neighbour?

This past Thursday was ‘International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia.’ The day can be used, according to the Bendigo Advertiser, ‘to push the recognition of human rights for all people irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.’ Rainbows and colour were used to raise awareness, and to show you were an ‘ally’.

The previous day was the beginning of Ramadan, the holiest month in Islam. Until the 14th of June Muslims will celebrate the month they believe Mohammad received his revelation from Allah. They will fast from both food and drink during daylight and some will travel to Mecca (the Hajj) and will strive to do good.

It’s been an important week (and will be an important month). How are followers of Christ to respond? Where do we begin?

First, we show love. Our instinct might be to disparage, mock, feel anger or threatened, but God calls us to have compassion for the lost. Some desire rights and validation, others to earn their way to paradise. How tragic both groups cannot see their greatest need.

We have much to disagree with them about, but they have been made in God’s image and likeness (Gen 1:27). Tragically this is too-easily forgotten by Christians. We see them as enemies instead of lost; problems instead of people.

Second, love leads to gospel words. One group finds their identity in their sexuality/gender identity, the other strives to earn their acceptance before God. Both groups need the gospel, just as we did. They need to know that their acceptance and identity can be found in Christ, who suffered for sinners like them and us!

These are our neighbours (Luke 10:25-37). It is no accident. So will we love our neighbours with the gospel?

Thanks Mums!

It doesn’t take a genius to see that motherhood is a monumental task. Early mornings, late nights, interrupted sleep are all part of the normal experience. Add to that the natural tendencies of your child’s personality, at least part of which will undoubtedly prove to be challenging. Motherhood is a monumental, difficult task. So today, mothers, thank you for your work!

It’s a painful task. “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen 3:16). Of course, we all know the process of giving birth is painful. Yet these words could also be applied to the lifetime of motherhood. Children make foolish choices in friends, dating, marriage. The pain involved in motherhood can at times be beyond what you think you can bear.

And, tragically, being unable to become a mother brings its own pain and heartache. We see the pain illustrated in 1 Sam 1 with Hannah, and while she was eventually graciously given a child, that is not always the case.

Motherhood is a monumental task, and full of pain. But, praise God, it’s also full of joy and laughter, because children are a blessing from our God (Psalm 127:3). Children are very skilled at conforming their parents into the image of Christ, which is painful, but reason for joy. Their smiles, laughter, successes and personalities are blessings from God, filling our lives with fun.

And thankfully, we worship a God who is in control of all circumstances, the painful and the joyful. All things occur according to the counsel of his will (Eph 1:11). He’s called you to this task, and has been with you the whole way. You’ve been a tool in his hand, and he has equipped you to do his will.

So thanks mums! Have a very happy Mother’s Day.

One temple, body and flock

The Bible uses many images to describe the church. Last week we saw the church as a spiritual house (1 Pet 2:5). Given the audience of the letter (1:1) this is describing the universal church: all Christians joined together in one building.

But Paul uses the same image in 1 Cor 3:16, where the audience is a local church. The church (the people, not the building) are God’s temple, where God dwells.

Another image in 1 Cor 12:12 is the body. While we often think of the body of Christ as an image of the universal church (as Eph 4:12, 16), here Paul speaks of the local church. It was in the local church of Corinth that believers were either envious of gifts or dismissive of those without particular gifts. It was the local church joined together as the Christ’s body.

Yet another image is the flock. Jesus speaks of having one flock in John 10:16. Those who believe in Jesus are part of the universal church, his flock. Yet the image is also found in 1 Pet 5:2, speaking to elders of local churches.

Notice that each local church is not just part of the temple, body, and flock. We are the temple, body and flock. Yet there aren’t many temples, bodies and flocks, but one. What a mystery! Each church is distinct, yet wonderfully united.

So how do we join the church? It depends which church you mean. We join the universal church through faith in Christ and repenting of sin. But each local church has its own way of determining whether someone is part of them or not.

Here, we join through church membership. We’re overjoyed if you feel like this is your home and family, but if you haven’t already, we hope you’ll really join us through church membership.

What are we promising?

A number of people have asked what we’re signing up to when we become members. When the Session is satisfied that the applicant is qualified to be a member (e.g. are baptised and professed faith in Christ, understand the core beliefs of Christianity and the Presbyterian Church’s understanding of the sacraments, and that there is a consistency between their profession and life), they are asked these questions before the congregation:

  • Do you believe in one God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
  • Do you repent of your sin, and with a humble and grateful heart put your trust in the mercy and grace of God and in Jesus Christ whose sacrifice on the cross takes away your sin?
  • Do you promise to share regularly with your fellow Christians in worship on the Lord’s Day?
  • Do you promise to be faithful in reading the Bible, and in prayer?
  • Do you promise to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength and to give a God-honouring proportion of your time, talents and money for the Church’s work in the world?
  • Do you promise to confess Christ before others, to serve him in your daily work, and to walk in his ways all the days of your life?
  • Do you acknowledge your dependence upon the Holy Spirit to equip you and to enable you to be faithful to this your confession?
  • Do you promise to submit to the authority of the Session as the exercise pastoral oversight of the congregation?

Why not join the membership classes? Once they’re complete you can decide if you want to take the next step and formally join us.

Enabling church discipline

Today, church discipline is as rare as membership. That’s not surprising, because you can’t have discipline without membership. Last week we saw that membership clarified leadership and submission. Discipline is the ultimate, and sadly needed, expression of that leadership. And as uncomfortable as it makes us, it’s thoroughly biblical.

Jesus institutes church discipline in Matt 18 (v17 “and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector”). He’s not talking about the Global Church, but the local church. This must be a defined group – one that has formally joined together in love, taking unrepentant sin seriously.

Paul calls for discipline in 1 Cor 5 where a man in the church was having sex with his father’s wife (v2, “let him who has done this be removed from among you”). How could he be removed unless it was a defined group? Even if becoming part of this group was less formal than our way, the concept is there.

Notice the purpose: v5, “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” He’s cast out so he’d see the severity of his sin and the hopelessness of being outside the church. They want him back. And this seems to happen in 2 Cor 2:6-7 (“this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him”). Again, for a majority you need a defined group.

Yes, sadly leaders sometimes abuse church discipline. They could be harsh, unfair. But abuse of a biblical concept is no reason to reject it. If you don’t trust the leaders, then certainly don’t become a member – but if you can trust the leaders, what’s stopping you?

Submitting to those who give an account

‘Submit’ is an unpopular word in our culture. It’s an attitude that has infected the church, making the word ‘dirty’ and controversial. But it’s in the Bible, so we need to listen. It’s also relevant to our exploration of church membership.

The New Testament raises the issue of submission to church leaders several times, such as Hebrews 13:17 (“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account”), 1 Peter 5:2 (“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you”) and Acts 20:28 (“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers”). How should they be understood?

This is helpful both for the flock and the leaders. Are leaders responsible for every Christian they meet, or only for a specific group? Should the flock listen to every leader of every church, or just of their own local church?

This is where formal membership is important. How do the leaders know who the flock are? Does it include someone who attends the church twice in a row? The person who attends but makes no real contact with them? What’s a reasonable answer? Our way of solving this dilemma is church membership.

One thing Christians do in becoming members of a church is voluntarily submit to the leadership of that church. Relationships of responsibility and submission are made clear. Plus, members are given particular rights, including the ability to choose new leaders when there is the opportunity (Acts 6:1-6).

Last week we saw that membership helped identify who were genuine believers. Now we see it clarifies who is in a flock under particular shepherds. Are you willing to submit yourself to Christ’s under-shepherds?

Being counted as a member

Church membership classes are coming soon. Church membership isn’t often thought about today. You might wonder why it’s necessary. “What benefits come from being a church member?” “I’m already a Christian, why do this extra thing?” “Is it even in the Bible?”

It’s the last question which is key, as I’m sure you agree. You might be suspicious of the concept because the term ‘church member’ isn’t in the Bible. But over the next few weeks I’m hoping to show that the concept is there, even if the term isn’t. You might not agree with every argument made, but my hope is that the weight of all the verses and arguments will convince you, not only to become a member if you’re not, but to see the goodness in it.

This week, consider the reality of verses like Acts 2:41 (“And there were added that day about three thousand souls.”) and Acts 4:4 (“The number of men came to about five thousand.”)

They were keeping count of those who joined the church. Two things had to happen to do that: 1 – a person had to present themselves as a believer (no doubt by being baptised as they are converted); 2 – the leadership had to accept them as genuine believers (they wouldn’t let those they didn’t think genuine in).

The method for how this was done isn’t prescribed, but a form of church membership in this new movement is implied. It even shows up in Acts 5:13, where the people were scared to “join” the church (a word that is more than just “showing up”, but “sticking to”, “uniting with”).

Are you willing to both join the church and be recognised as a member? We’ll build on this topic in the next few weeks.