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A Communicant Church Membership Course

George W. Marston

Contents

  1. The Church
  2. The Primary Doctrines of the Church
  3. The Sacraments of the Church
  4. Church Membership
  5. The Communicant Church Membership Questions

Foreword

This course is designed for two groups of persons: those desiring to become communicant members of the church, and those desiring a deeper understanding of their communicant church membership. When the course is being studied by the first group, it is recommended that the second chapter be used first. Four tools are essential to a profitable study of this course:

  1. The dictionary. Thoughts are expressed by words. It is impossible to grasp the thought unless we understand the words. Therefore, make a diligent use of the dictionary and other sources of information concerning the meaning of the words used in this course.
  2. The Catechism for Young Children, An Introduction to the Shorter Catechism. In this course we refer to this catechism as "C.Y.C."
  3. The Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly. In this course we refer to this catechism as "S.C." If possible, get a copy of the catechism with Scripture references attached.
  4. Last, and most important of all, the Bible. Look up the Scripture references and make a study, from the standpoint of the Bible, of the various subjects considered.

I. The Church

Since this is a course for those who are thinking of becoming communicant members of the church and for those who desire a deeper knowledge of communicant church membership, it is well for us to consider first the question: What is the church?

A. The Nature of the Church

The word "church" is used in several different senses:

1. It is sometimes used to describe a building which has been set apart for the worship of God. The word may be used in this way, but the building is actually God's house. (Psalm 84:10; 122:1.)

2. It is sometimes used to describe the mystical body of Christ which consists of all who are truly united to Christ by the Holy Spirit working in them saving faith. This great body is called the invisible church because its outline is not distinct. It is impossible for men to declare infallibly who does and who does not belong to it. The invisible church is not an organization but an organism, a living thing. The relationship between Christ and the members of the invisible church is likened in Holy Scripture to that which exists between a vine and its branches, or between the head and body of a man. All its members are parts of the mystical body of Christ. (I Cor. 12:13, 27; Eph. 1:22, 23; 5:23-27; Col. 1:18, 24; Matt. 7:21-23; 25:1-12; John 15:1.)

3. It is sometimes used to describe those in every nation, together with their children, who profess faith in Christ, obedience to His laws, and have united with a church organization. This great body is called the visible church. The visible church differs from the invisible church in the following ways: It does not necessarily contain all who are truly saved. It does contain some who are not truly saved. It is made up of a number of organizations, embracing the membership of every true church and denomination. (Rev. 5:9; Acts 2:39; Mark 10:14; Acts 2:47 [ARV]; Matt. 7:21-23; 16:18; 25:1-12; Eph. 3:10; Phil. 3:6; Gal. 1:13.)

The visible church has a very important place in God's plan:

(a) He has entrusted it with the defense and proclamation of the truth (I Tim. 3:15).

(b) He uses it to interpret, to explain the meaning of Holy Scripture. In accordance with the promise of our Lord, the Holy Spirit was given to the church on the day of Pentecost. He gave direct revelations only to the apostles and other proper organs of revelation, but throughout the ages He has to a greater or lesser degree guided the church in its efforts to interpret the Scriptures (John 16:13-16; I Cor. 2:12). Therefore, while the church is not infallible and has erred, nevertheless we should give due respect and consideration to the creeds and confessions of the church as the product of its guidance by the Holy Spirit.

(c) He has committed to the visible church the administration of the ordinances of public worship, i.e., preaching, prayer, singing of praises, and the sacraments (Rom. 9:4).

In brief, God has ordained the visible church, entrusted to it the oracles, the gospel ministry, and the ordinances of divine worship, for the "gathering in of the elect from the children of the church and from the world, and the perfecting of the saints when thus gathered" (A. A. Hodge, Commentary on Confession of Faith, p. 426; cf. Eph. 4:11-13).

4. The term "church" is sometimes used to describe a denomination, e.g., the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. A denomination consists of a group of churches, all of which hold to the same interpretation of the Word of God. Many denominations today are under the influence of Modernism, which is unbelief, and, as a result, disregard their doctrinal standards. Historically, however, the difference between Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc., was that each of these denominations held to a certain interpretation of the Word of God. Now while we of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church respect other denominations who hold to their interpretation of the Bible, and are ready to fight for their right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, we embrace that interpretation of the Word of God which is set forth in the Westminster standards.

These standards were the work of men who were noted for their piety and scholarship. They were not men of dead orthodoxy, but men mighty in prayer, who were willing to live and die for their Lord. The Westminster standards are the result of a five-year period of intensive prayer and Bible study by this body of men, who labored from 1643 to 1648. They have been the standards of many denominations holding to the Reformed Faith. We have embraced them because we believe they most truly set forth the teaching of the Word of God, the whole counsel of God.

5. The term "church" is sometimes used to describe a particular church (Matt. 18:17; Acts 14:23). A particular church is an organized body of believers, together with their children, in a given place (Eph. 1:1; 6:1).

B. The Government of the Church

1. The church is governed by Christ. He is its King. The church is His spiritual kingdom. Church members are His subjects. He rules us by His Word and Spirit. As it is the duty of a citizen to obey the laws of the land, so it is the duty of those who are citizens of Christ's kingdom to obey His laws. (Acts 10:36; Isaiah 33:22; Rom. 3:31; 6:15; John 14:15; 15:14; Rom. 7:22; Psalm 40:8; Luke 6:46.)

2. The officers of the church act as Christ's representatives. A king rules his subjects by means of officers who are appointed or elected to represent him and to enforce his laws. The Lord our King rules His church by officers whom He has commanded to be elected for this purpose. These men act as our representatives in that they are elected by us. They are Christ's representatives in that they govern us according to His laws. (I Tim. 3:1-13; Acts 6:1-7.)

3. The officers of the church are the elders. These are divided into two classes:

(a) The ruling elders, who are elected from and by the local congregations (I Tim. 3:1-7).

(b) The ruling and teaching elders, commonly termed ministers or pastors, who are distinguished from the others not by any extra-governmental authority, but by being authorized also to teach or preach (I Tim. 5:17).

Note: There are also deacons, who do not share in the government of the church, but who are chosen to serve in the special work of ministering to the poor and needy (I Tim. 3:8-13; Acts 6:1-7).

Questions

  1. What are the different senses in which the word "church" is used?
  2. What is a better name for the building in which we worship?
  3. What is the invisible church?
  4. What is the visible church?
  5. What place does the visible church have in God's plan?
  6. What is a denomination?
  7. Why are there denominations?
  8. What is our attitude toward other denominations?
  9. What is the history of the Westminster standards?
  10. What is a particular church?
  11. How is the church governed?
  12. Who are the officers of the church?

II. The Primary Doctrines of the Church

We are living in an age which is either hostile to doctrine or indifferent to it. The word "doctrine," however, is a scriptural term meaning "teaching" and occurs no less than forty-seven times in the New Testament alone. Doctrine is as indispensable to Christian living as the bones are to the body. There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of doctrines: those which have to do with matters of faith and those which have to do with matters of practice. The former deals with things which we are to believe, and the latter with things which we are to do. In this chapter we are going to deal particularly with the primary doctrines of the Christian faith, which are the primary doctrines of the church. Since this is so vast a subject, we must content ourselves with brief statements, quotations from the catechisms and Scripture references.

A. The Bible

1. The Bible is the Word of God (II Tim. 3:16; I Thess. 2:13).

2. The Bible was written by holy men of God who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (II Pet. 1:20, 21). God gave to these men direct revelations and preserved them from error in recording these revelations. God also enabled them to remember infallibly the things which they had seen and heard, and preserved them from error in the use of such ordinary sources of information as historical documents (John 14:26; II Chron. 12:15). (See The Christian Faith in the Modern World by J. Gresham Machen, chapter 5.)

3. The Bible also teaches:

(a) The way of salvation in Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

(b) What man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man (S.C. 3; John 5:39; 20:31; 14:15). In this chapter we shall briefly consider what man is to believe concerning God. The duty which God requires of man is briefly this: to believe the gospel and obey His commandments (Mark 1:15; John 15:14). The Ten Commandments[1] should be learned by those who take this course.

4. The Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. Man needs a rule, an infallible guide, in these matters (Jer. 10:23; Acts 2:37). God alone is able to tell us infallibly what is true and false, and what is right and wrong. Therefore His Word is the one infallible rule of faith and practice. (S.C. 2; Luke 16:31; Gal. 1:8, 9; II Tim. 3:16, 17; Acts 17:11.)

5. The Bible is a means of grace. A means of grace is a channel whereby the blessings of God flow from God to His people. The Holy Spirit, through the Word, produces and confirms saving faith, and bestows upon believers all the blessings of salvation. Therefore, we should attend to the Word diligently and prayerfully. (Heb. 4:12; Psalm 19:7; 119:105; Rom. 10:17; Matt. 4:4; John 17:17; II Cor. 3:18; Psalm 1:1-3.)

B. God

1. There is only one God. (C.Y.C. 6; Deut. 6:4; I Cor. 8:4, 6; I Thess. 1:9.)

2. This one God exists in three persons. "There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory" (S.C. 6). Although the doctrine of the Trinity is indeed a deep mystery, nevertheless it is plainly the teaching of Holy Scripture. (I John 5:7; John 1:18; Heb. 1:8; Acts 5:3, 4; Deut. 6:4; John 10:30; 15:26; Matt. 28:19; II Cor. 13:14.)

3. "God is a Spirit and has not a body like men." (C.Y.C. 9; John 4:24; Luke 24:39.)

4. "God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth" (S.C. 4). (See Job 11:7; Psalm 90:2; 147:5; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17; Job 42:2; Rev. 4:8; 15:4; Deut. 32:4; Ex. 34:6.)

5. God is sovereign. He planned all things according to the counsel of His own will. He created the worlds by His sovereign power. He rules and reigns in heaven and on earth. The earth, the sea and the sky, the elements, are subject to Him. Every living thing, insect, fish, bird, beast and man, is subject to His sovereign rule. It must be noted in passing, however, that man is a free moral agent. By this we mean that man is free to act within the limitations of his nature. He makes his own decisions and is responsible for all his actions. How God can be sovereign and man a free moral agent is another deep mystery, but both facts are clearly taught in Holy Scripture. (Eph. 1 :11; Acts 4:28; Rom. 11:36; Heb. 11:3; Jonah 1:4, 15, 17; 1 Kings 17:4; Dan. 4:35; Prov. 16:4; Luke 22:22.)

C. Man

1. Man's Original Estate.

(a) "God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures" (S.C. 10). Man as he came from the hand of his Maker was perfect (Gen. 1:27, 28, 31; Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24).

(b) "When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death" (S.C. 12). Notice, please, the word "covenant." A covenant is an agreement between two or more parties. There is, however, a striking difference between God's covenants and man's covenants. Man-made covenants are not binding unless those concerned consent to the terms. In God's covenants, however, the terms are made by God and do not require the consent of men to be binding. Those who keep them are rewarded and those who break them are punished. (See Gen. 2:16, 17; S.C. 12; Hos. 6:7 [margin]; Rom. 7:10; 10:5.)

2. The Fall.

(a) "Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God" (S.C. 13; Rom. 5:12; Gen. 3:6).

(b) "Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God" (S.C. 14; Gal. 3:10; James 4:17; I John 3:4). "The sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created, was their eating the forbidden fruit" (S.C. 15; Gen. 3:6, 12, 13; Rom. 5:17).

3. The Result of the Fall.

(a) The Fall affected all men. Adam in the covenant of works was acting as a representative for all mankind. "The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression" (S.C. 16; Rom. 5:12, 14; I Cor. 15:22; Rom. 5:18).

(b) The Fall brought all mankind into an estate, a condition, of sin and misery.

(1) All men, because of the Fall, bear the guilt of Adam's sin, lack original righteousness, have natures that are wholly corrupt, and do therefore sin. (S.C. 18; Rom. 3:10; 5:18, 19; Psalm 51:5; Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9; Matt. 15:19, 20.)

(2) "All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever" (S.C. 19; Gen. 3:8, 24; Rom. 8:7; Eph. 2:3; Gal. 3:10; Job 5:7; Gen. 3:17; Rom. 6:23).

D. God's Plan of Salvation

1. To save a certain number. Out of this mass of hell-deserving sinners, God, in His eternal counsel, graciously chose certain unto salvation. The elect are not few, as some would suppose, but "a great multitude which no one could number." The rest God ordained to deserved condemnation. (S.C. 20; Acts 13:48; II Thess. 2:13; Eph. 1:4, 5; Rom. 9:18; Rev. 7:9; Rom. 9:21, 22; Jude 4.)

2. To save them by a mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. (I Tim. 2:5, 6; Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24.) A mediator is one whose task is to settle the difference between two persons or parties. Mediators are often employed in strike settlements. Sin put enmity between God and man (Rom. 8:7, 8). It has caused God to turn His back upon man and man to turn his back upon God (Isa. 55:7; 59:2). The work of Christ as a mediator is to take away the enmity between God and His people.

(a) The Mediator's Person.

(1) The only mediator of God's elect is "the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever" (S.C. 21; Acts 4:12; Gal. 4:4, 5; Matt. 16:16; John 1:1, 14; Heb. 2:16; I Tim. 3:16; Rom. 9:5; Col. 2:9; Heb. 13:8).

(2) "Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin" (S.C. 22; Heb. 2:14; Matt. 26:38; Luke 1:31, 35; 2:52; Heb. 4:15).

(3) It is the mediator's person which fits Him for His work. Being truly God and truly man, He is qualified to act for each in the work of reconciliation (Heb. 2:14-18).

(b) The Mediator's Work. Christ, as our mediator, does the work "of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation." (S.C. 23, 27, 28; Acts 3:22; Heb. 5:5, 6; Psalm 2:6.)

(1) Christ does the work of a prophet, "in revealing to us, by his Word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation." As a prophet Christ acts for God. (S.C. 24; John 1:18; 14:26; 15:15; 16:13, 14; Heb. 1:1, 2.)

(2) Christ did the work of a priest, "in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God." Christ does the work of a priest in making continual intercession for us. As a priest Christ acts for His people. (S.C. 25; Heb. 9:26, 28; I John 2:2; Heb. 2:17; 7:25.)

(3) Christ does the work of a king, "in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies." As a king, Christ, through the Holy Spirit, acts for Himself. (S.C. 26; Psalm 110:3; Isa. 33:22; Psalm 76:10; 89:18; I Cor. 15:25.)

Christ subdues us to Himself through the work which the Holy Spirit does in us: in regeneration, conversion, sanctification and glorification. We shall discuss these terms under the blessings of salvation.

E. The Blessings of Salvation

Christ, the mediator, has secured for His people the blessings of the new covenant[2] (Heb. 12:24; 8:6, 10, 12; 9:14, 15). The blessings of the new covenant are in this section referred to as the blessings of salvation. These blessings may be divided into three groups.

1. Those of which God's people partake in this life.

(a) Regeneration is an act of God whereby spiritual life is implanted in the heart of the elect sinner who is spiritually dead. This act is sometimes described as a change of heart; it is the initial step in the purging or destroying of the old nature and the implanting of a new nature, both of which are involved in a change of heart. (John 1:12, 13; 3:3, 6, 7; Eph. 2:1; Ezek. 36:25, 26.)

(b) Conversion is an act of the regenerate sinner, whereby he turns from his sins to God, through the Lord Jesus Christ. There are two aspects of conversion: repentance and faith. These are God-given graces. Repentance is an act whereby one turns from his sins with hatred and loathing, and turns to God for His remedy for sin. Faith is an act whereby the repentant sinner turns from trusting in anything else to trusting alone in Christ for salvation. (Acts 15:3; I Thess. 1:9; Acts 11:18; Eph. 2:8; Jer. 31:18, 19; Luke 18:13; Acts 2:37, 38; Rom. 3:20; 4:5; Titus 3:5; Acts 16:31; John 1:12; Acts 4:12; S.C. 86, 87.)

(c) "Justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone." As we examine this statement we notice the following points: Justification is not a work but an act, not an act of man but of God, not something which we deserve but an unmerited favor. Justification is not an act which affects our nature, but our standing with God. It is a judicial act whereby God declares us to be right with the law, all the demands of the law upon us and all the claims of the law against us having been satisfied. This means that He has forgiven our sins and treats us just as if we had never sinned. The basis on which a just God is able to treat as righteous, men who are in themselves unrighteous, is "the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone." By the righteousness of Christ is meant His perfect obedience to the law in our behalf. By His life and death He fully satisfied all the demands of the law upon us and all the claims of the law against us. He perfectly kept the law for us. He paid the penalty for our law-breaking. This righteousness of Christ is received by faith alone. It is imputed to, laid to the account of, the believer, and is the basis on which God justifies us. (S.C. 33; Rom. 3:24; 8:33; Eph. 1:7; II Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9; Rom. 5:1, 18, 19; Gal. 2:16; Rom. 4:6-8.)

(d) "Adoption is an act of God's free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God." All who truly believe in Christ, who trust in Him alone for salvation, have received adoption. (S.C. 34; Eph. 1:5; Gal. 4:4, 5; John 1:12; 1 John 3:1, 2.)

(e) Sanctification is a progressive work whereby the Holy Spirit changes the believer's nature, character and conduct, making him more and more like Christ. In Holy Scripture this work is described as the putting off of the old man and the putting on of the new man. The believer, by the grace of God, cooperates in the work of sanctification, making diligent use of the means of grace, obeying the Word and striving against sin. (II Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:22, 24; Rom. 7:24, 25; 8:13; Phil. 2:12, 13; II Cor. 3:18; John 17:17; Eph. 6:13ff.; James 4:7.)

(f) The benefits which in this life accompany or flow from regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption and sanctification are: "assurance of God's love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end." (S.C. 36; Rom. 5:1, 5; I Pet. 1:8; Prov. 4:18; Phil. 1:6; John 10:27, 28.)

2. Those which the believer receives at death.

The souls of believers are at death made perfect in holiness, and immediately pass into heaven, there to enjoy the glory, i.e., the honors, privileges and blessings reserved for them. Bodies of believers who are asleep in Jesus rest in the grave until the resurrection. The perfecting of the believer's soul at death is one aspect of Christ's kingly work in subduing us to Himself. (S.C. 37; Heb. 12:23; Luke 23:43; II Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23; John 14:1-3; I Thess. 4:13-16; Rev. 14:13.)

3. Those which the believer receives at the resurrection.

At the resurrection the bodies of believers who are asleep in Jesus shall be raised in a glorified condition. The bodies of believers who are alive at the time shall also be gloriously changed. The bodies of risen believers shall be like unto the glorified body of our risen Lord. The perfecting of the believer's body is the final act of Christ's kingly work in subduing us to Himself.

At the resurrection risen believers shall be openly acknowledged, acquitted and rewarded before the judgment bar of God. Henceforth they shall be forever with the Lord and enjoy the blessings which God has reserved for His people in the new heaven and the new earth. Their condition shall be one of perfect blessedness. (S.C. 38; I Thess. 4:13-17; I Cor. 15:42-44, 51, 52; Phil. 3:21; I John 3:2; I Cor. 15:54-57; Luke 12:8; Matt. 10:32; I Pet. 1:7; Rom. 8:33, 34; Matt. 25:21; I Cor. 3:11, 12; II Cor. 5:10; Psalm 16:11; II Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:7.)

Questions

  1. What does the word "doctrine" mean?
  2. What are the two kinds of doctrine?
  3. What is the Bible?
  4. Who wrote the Bible?
  5. What does the Bible teach?
  6. What sort of a rule is the Bible? Why?
  7. How is the Bible a means of grace?
  8. How many Gods are there?
  9. In how many persons does this one God exist?
  10. What is God?
  11. What are the attributes of God?
  12. What does God's sovereignty mean and include?
  13. What do we mean when we say that man is a free moral agent?
  14. What was man's original estate?
  15. How did our first parents fall?
  16. What was the effect of their sin upon the whole human race?
  17. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
  18. Who is the only mediator of God's elect?
  19. In what three offices did Christ perform His work as a mediator?
  20. State briefly the work of Christ as a prophet, as a priest, as a king.
  21. How does Christ subdue us to Himself?
  22. What are the three kinds of blessings which Christ has secured for His people?
  23. What are the blessings of which we partake in this life?
  24. What are the blessings which the believer receives at death?
  25. What are the blessings which the believer shall receive at the resurrection?

III. The Sacraments of the Church

"A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers" (S.C. 92). "The sacraments of the New Testament are, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper" (S.C. 93). It is essential that we have a clear understanding at least of the primary facts concerning the sacraments lest, by our partaking, the sacraments be profaned and we merit condemnation (I Cor. 11:27, 29). We are devoting so much time and space to this subject because there is a lamentable ignorance of the sacraments on the part of church members, even in Reformed circles.

Baptism

A. The Scriptural Warrant for Baptism

1. The scriptural warrant for adult baptism is evident and undisputed. (Matt. 28:18, 19; Acts 2:38; 8:36, 39; 10:47, 48; 16:30, 33.)

2. The scriptural warrant for infant baptism, though disputed by some, has always been recognized by the greater part of the Christian church. The biblical basis for infant baptism is primarily the fact that in this dispensation baptism has taken the place of circumcision (Col. 2:10-12; Matt. 28:19, 20). As, in the old dispensation, adult converts from the world were circumcised so, in the new dispensation, adult converts from the world are baptized; likewise, as, in the old dispensation, children of believers were circumcised so, in the new dispensation, children of believers are to be baptized (Gen. 17:10-14; Luke 18:16; Mark 10:14-16; Acts 2:38, 39).

B. The Manner of Baptism

1. We baptize by immersing the individual in the water, or by pouring or sprinkling water upon the individual. The mode of baptism is not of great importance, but we feel that baptism by pouring or sprinkling is more scriptural for two reasons: first, because there is no New Testament instance of baptism which demands immersion;[3] and secondly, because cleansing from sin is often symbolized in Holy Scripture by sprinkling (Heb. 9:13, 14; 12:24; I Pet. 1:2; Ex. 24:7, 8).

2. We baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, in accordance with the command of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:19). Baptism into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost is God's sign and seal of the many relations which do or shall exist between the God-chosen recipient and each member of the Trinity, i.e., covenant relationship with the Father, vital union with the Son, communion with the Holy Ghost, and through the Holy Ghost with the Father and the Son. The significance of baptism as a sign and seal will be discussed in this chapter. (Gen. 17:7, 11; Acts 2:38; I Cor. 6:19; 12:13, 27; Rom. 8:16; II Cor. 13:14; John 16:13, 14, 15.)

C. The Meaning of Baptism

1. Baptism is a sign. Sprinkling with water signifies, represents, pictures for us, cleansing from sin.

(a) Baptism signifies to us the cleansing work of Christ.

(1) It represents that cleansing from the guilt of sin which Christ secured for His people by His shed blood (Rev. 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:18, 19). This work, together with His act of obedience to the law of God, is the ground for our justification.

(2) Baptism represents that cleansing from the power and pollution of sin which the Holy Spirit brings to pass in the lives of God's people (Titus 3:5). There are three aspects to this work: regeneration, sanctification and glorification.

(b) Baptism signifies to us the covenant of grace, or the new covenant and its blessings.

The covenant which God made with Abraham and his seed we call the covenant of grace (Gen. 12:1-3; 17:4-14). At the Lord's Supper, the Saviour made mention of a new testament or covenant (Matt. 26:28). The blessings of the new covenant are set before us in Heb. 8:10, 12; 9:14. These are exactly the blessings secured for us by the cleansing work of Christ. The covenant of grace and the new covenant are one. True, the covenant of grace in the old dispensation had some features which applied only to Israel as a nation but, in essence, the two covenants are one. They set forth the same Saviour and the same way of salvation. They contain the same blessed promise, "I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Gen. 17:7; Jer. 24:7; II Cor. 6:16; Rev. 21:3). Those who believe in Christ are said to be Abraham's seed (Gal. 3:29); Christ wrought His work of redemption that the blessings of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles (Gal. 3:13, 14; Eph. 2:12-14). The new covenant is simply a later edition, a more complete statement, of the covenant of grace. In Gen. 17:11 we are told that circumcision was the sign of the covenant of grace. Now since baptism has taken the place of circumcision in this dispensation, it signifies to us the covenant of grace or the new covenant.

(c) Baptism signifies membership in the visible church. In the old dispensation circumcision was the badge of membership in the theocratic kingdom, which was the visible church in that dispensation. In this dispensation baptism has taken the place of circumcision and is therefore the badge of membership in the visible church. This is also implied by I Cor. 12:13. It is worthy to note that children of believers were members of the visible church in the old dispensation. They received the badge of church membership when eight days old (Gen. 17:12). Now the right of children of believers to belong to the visible church has never been annulled. Indeed, the Lord Jesus said, "Let the little children to come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:16). (See also John 21:15.) It is evident that children belonged to the apostolic church (Eph. 1:1; 6:1). Who, therefore, can deny to the children of believers the right to receive the sign, the badge, of church membership?

(d) Adult baptism signifies three kinds of blessings:

It signifies those blessings which the recipient professes to have received, namely, regeneration, conversion, justification and adoption; those which the recipient is now receiving, which we shall sum up under the term "sanctification"; and those which the recipient is to receive in the last day, namely, glorification.

(e) Infant baptism signifies the same blessings as adult baptism:

It signifies the blessing of regeneration which the recipient may or may not have received as yet (Jer. 1:5; Luke 1:15), and the blessings of conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification which he will receive in God's good time if he is a true child of the covenant.

2. Baptism is a seal or pledge.

(a) In the old dispensation, circumcision was a seal (Rom. 4:11). Since baptism has taken the place of circumcision, it is also a seal. Baptism is like a notary's seal or a wedding ring. It is God's pledge that His promises will be kept.

(1) Adult baptism is God's pledge that the blessings signified by this ordinance have been in part, and shall be fully bestowed upon the recipient who is a true believer (Gen. 17:11). In this ceremony the recipient also pledges that he will be faithful to the vows which he takes, namely, to submit to Christ as his teacher, to obey and serve Him as his Lord and Master as long as he lives. (See A. A. Hodge, Manual of Forms, page 25.)

(2) Infant baptism is God's pledge to bestow upon the recipient who is a true child of the covenant the blessings signified by this ordinance. In receiving baptism for their child, the parents pledge that they will be faithful to the vows taken on this occasion, namely, to bring up the child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Eph. 6:4; A. A. Hodge, Manual of Forms, pages 13, 14.)

3. Baptism is a means of grace. A means of grace is a channel whereby the benefits of salvation flow from God to His people. The means of grace are three: the Word, the sacraments and prayer. Baptism is a means of grace, a channel, whereby the blessings signified and sealed are conveyed and bestowed by the Holy Spirit upon believing recipients. In brief, by baptism believers are strengthened in their faith and, in consequence, bring forth the abundant fruits of faith in their lives (Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27).

Being a sign, baptism brings to mind, both in the case of the adult convert from the world and in the case of the child of the covenant as it comes to years of discretion, the blessings of the covenant. In both cases, being God's seal or pledge, it assures the heart of the blessings which it signifies, and thus strengthens the faith. It constrains the recipient, whether child or adult, to obedience and attendance upon the other means of grace, and thus results in his growth in sanctification.

D. The Qualifications for Baptism

1. Adult baptism.

a. A credible profession of faith, in other words, one which is believable and trustworthy. To make such a profession one must be able to give:

(1) A satisfactory testimony concerning his repentance for sin. Repentance does not save but none can be saved without it. To repent is to be sorry for one's sins, not merely because of the havoc they have wrought in one's life or the lives of others, but because they are grievous in God's sight. To repent is to turn from one's sin with hatred and loathing, to turn to God confessing one's sins, asking His forgiveness and receiving His remedy. (II Cor. 7:10; Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38.)

(2) A satisfactory testimony concerning his faith in Christ. In order to present such a testimony one must give evidence to the following:

(a) That he has a knowledge of the gospel. He needs to know certain facts concerning Him of whom the gospel speaks: who Jesus Christ is (Isa. 7:14; John 1:1, 14; I John 5:20: Matt. 16:16; John 11:27; Matt. 27:54); why He came to earth (Matt. 1:21; Luke 2:9ff.; Matt. 20:28; Gal. 4:4, 5); what He did to save His people (Isa. 53:6; Gal. 3:13; I Pet. 2:24; II Cor. 5:21; 1 Cor. 15:3). He also needs to know how this so great salvation is obtained: by the Holy Spirit working in us saving faith (S.C. 31; Eph. 2:1, 8) and by our accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Saviour (Acts 16:30, 31; John 1:12).

(b) That he assents to the truth of the gospel. It is impossible to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ unless one believes the facts about Him. Thus, it is essential to faith in Christ that one believe in: the inspiration of Scripture, the virgin birth, the miracles, the substitutionary atonement and the bodily resurrection of Christ. Unless one believes these facts he cannot consistently regard the Lord Jesus Christ as a worthy object of saving faith.

(c) That he is trusting in Christ alone for salvation. To have faith in Christ one must more than know and believe the facts concerning Him. One must trust in Christ. To trust in Christ is to place one's reliance upon the work which Christ wrought by His life and death: to atone for his sins, to make him a child of God and to bring him into heaven. We must trust in Christ alone to save us. One cannot be saved by trusting both in his own good works and in Christ. Salvation is by faith in Christ alone. (John 4:50, 53; Isa. 53:5, 6; 1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24; Rom. 4:5; Titus 3:5; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; John 3:18, 36.)

(3) Satisfactory evidence that he is living a life which is in accord with his profession of faith (James 2:20).

b. A promise of obedience.

(1) Such a promise requires obedience to Christ and His laws (John 14:15; 15:14; Matt. 28:20); a life of obedience is the test of a sincere profession of faith (Matt. 7:21; James 2:20).

(2) Such a promise requires obedience to all lawful authority, whether it be that of the state, the home or the church. (Deut. 6:13; 10:20; Rom. 13:1-7; Ex. 20:12; Heb. 13:7, 17.)

c. An understanding of the meaning of the sacraments.

d. Some knowledge of the duties and privileges of communicant church membership, in order that God may be glorified and the church and individual may profit thereby. In the apostolic church there were instances where adult converts were baptized immediately after their conversion, having received only brief instruction (Acts 8:26-39; 16:30-33). More intensive instruction followed baptism (Acts 2:41, 42). On the other hand, in the post-apostolic church it was customary to have catechetical classes for converts before admitting them to the church. This is also the practice on many mission fields today. Not having the power to discern at once the sincerity of a convert's profession as the apostles did, we would do well to follow the practice of the post-apostolic church and some missionaries of today, delaying baptism until after a period of catechetical instruction and opportunity to test the sincerity of the convert's profession by his manner of life.

2. The qualifications for infant baptism are:

a. A credible profession of faith by the parents, parent, or another acting as a parent. The covenant promises are addressed to believers and their children. We recognize one as a believer who has made a credible profession of faith (Gen. 17:12, 13; 17:7; Acts 2:39; 8:36-38).

b. A life of obedience on the part of the parents, parent, or another acting as a parent. This means that the parents must be church members in good and regular standing. Church membership is evidence that one has made a credible profession of faith; good and regular standing in the church is an evidence of obedience in a denomination which is faithful in the exercise of church discipline. Those who are not church members in good and regular standing are not eligible for the sacraments, and therefore cannot present their children for baptism.

c. Communicant membership on the part of the parents, parent, or another acting as parent in the particular church in which the child is to be presented for baptism. The parents should be communicant members of the particular church in which the child, by virtue of his baptism, becomes a non-communicant member. Unless the parents are subject to its authority, the church has no opportunity of fulfilling the obligations which it assumes in infant baptism, i.e.: to see that the child exercises the privileges and duties of non-communicant church membership.

Questions

  1. What is baptism?
  2. What is the scriptural warrant for adult baptism? Infant baptism?
  3. What are the various modes of baptism? Which one do we prefer? Why?
  4. In whose name do we baptize, and what does this action signify?
  5. What is the meaning of baptism?
  6. What is a sign? a seal? a means of grace?
  7. What does baptism signify to us?
  8. What does adult baptism signify to us?
  9. What does infant baptism signify to us?
  10. In what sense is baptism a seal?
  11. What does adult baptism seal or pledge?
  12. What does infant baptism seal or pledge?
  13. How is baptism a means of grace?
  14. What is necessary in order that baptism may be a means of grace?
  15. What graces does adult baptism convey under these conditions?
  16. What graces does infant baptism convey under these conditions?
  17. What are some of the qualifications for adult baptism? infant baptism?

The Lord's Supper

One of the distinctive features and precious privileges of communicant church membership is that of coming to the Lord's Table. Before we do so, however, we should have a clear understanding of the primary facts of this institution lest, by our partaking, the sacrament be profaned and we eat and drink condemnation unto ourselves.

A. The Meaning of the Lord's Supper

1. The Lord's Supper is a sign. It signifies, represents, pictures for us certain spiritual truths. The bread represents Christ's body broken for us (I Cor. 11:24). The wine represents Christ's blood shed for many for the remission (forgiveness) of sins (Luke 22:20; Matt. 26:28).

(a) The Lord's Supper signifies to us Christ and His salvation.

(1) It is a memorial of His death upon the cross. The Saviour said, "Do this in remembrance of Me." The Lord's Supper is a memorial service designed to remind us of His death for us and of its meaning.

(2) It is a feast of the soul upon Christ and the benefits which He secured for us by His death. As He took the bread in His hand, our Lord said, "Take, eat; this is My body," and as He took the cup, He said, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood" and "Drink from it, all of you." The Lord's supper is not a physical but a spiritual feast, not a feast for the body but for the soul. We do not feast on the bread and the wine, but upon the One whom they represent to us. While with the mouth we partake of the bread and wine, in our souls, by faith, we feast upon Christ and the benefits which He secured for us by His life and by His death upon the cross.

(3) It is a fellowship with Him and with one another. His presence at the holy table is symbolized by the bread and the wine. He was physically present in the upper room. At every observance of this institution, He is spiritually present to those who partake by faith. We also have fellowship with Him as we lift our hearts to Him in prayer, confessing our sins and making our petitions. We have fellowship with one another as we partake together of this sacrament.

(b) The Lord's Supper signifies to us the new covenant, or the new testament (Matt. 26:28; 1 Cor. 11:25). A testament is a will drawn by one for the benefit of others. This testament is a will drawn by God for the benefit of His people. The provisions of this will are set forth, for example, in Heb. 8:10-12; 9:14. According to this will, God has promised His people new hearts, sonship, forgiveness of sins and peace of conscience. These blessings we describe under the following terms: regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification.

2. The Lord's Supper is a seal or a pledge (Matt. 26:28). A seal makes a document binding. The Old Testament was sealed with blood (Ex. 24:7, 8). The New Testament was sealed with blood (I Cor. 11:25; John 19:34). The blood of Christ seals to us the provisions of the New Testament, because it signifies to us His death. The provisions of a will are not binding, its benefits are not received, until the death of the testator, the one who made the will. The blood of Christ, because it signifies to us the death of Christ, seals to us the provisions of the New Testament. It assures us that these provisions are ours.

Now since the wine represents the blood of Christ, which is the seal of the New Testament, the Lord's supper is, by virtue of the significance of the wine, a seal or pledge.

Thus the sacrament of the Lord's supper is like a notary's seal or a wedding ring; it is a pledge that the promises made will be kept. It is God's seal or pledge to the true believer that the blessings of regeneration, conversion, justification and adoption are already his, that the blessings of sanctification are being made his, and that the blessings of glorification shall be his in the last day.

3. The Lord's Supper is a means of grace to believers, a channel whereby the blessings signified and sealed are bestowed by the Holy Spirit upon those who partake in a worthy manner (I Cor. 10:16; John 6:53).

(a) The Lord's Supper is a means of grace in that it signifies spiritual truths. The Holy Spirit therefore may use it to bring to the minds of elect sinners the truths of the gospel, and further to instruct the saved concerning the benefits which Christ secured for them by His death.

(b) The Lord's Supper is a means of grace because it is God's pledge that the blessings signified are now ours in part and shall be ours in full. Thus our hearts are assured and our faith is strengthened.

(c) The Lord's Supper is a means of grace because through it the Holy Spirit actually bestows the blessings signified upon those who, by faith, spiritually feast on Christ and His benefits. Sanctifying graces are bestowed upon believers who partake by faith, e.g., assurance of sins forgiven, peace of conscience, power for holy living.

B. The Requirement for Partaking of the Lord's Supper in a Worthy Manner

Question 97 of the Shorter Catechism asks, "What is required for the worthy receiving of the Lord's Supper," and the answer is: "It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord's Supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord's body, of their faith to feed upon him, of their repentance, love, and new obedience; lest, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves."

1. The requirement is that we examine ourselves (I Cor. 11:28) in respect to the following matters:

(a) Our knowledge to discern the Lord's body (I Cor. 11:29).

(b) Our faith to feed upon Christ (II Cor. 13:5; John 6:57).

(c) Our repentance (Lam. 3:40).

(d) Our love (I John 4:8).

(e) Our new obedience (I Cor. 5:8).

2. The reason for this requirement.

(a) "It is dangerous to neglect the duty of self-examination." If we come to the Lord's table unworthily, we expose ourselves to the judgment of God (I Cor. 11:29-31; see Paterson on Shorter Catechism, Question 97).

(b) If we partake of the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner, we are in danger of invoking the wrath of God upon the whole congregation (I Cor. 11:30).

(c) By celebrating the Lord's Supper unworthily, we defile the Lord's table, count the holy body and blood of the Lord common, and thus dishonor Christ Himself.

Questions

  1. What is the meaning of the Lord's Supper?
  2. What is a sign? a seal? a means of grace?
  3. What does the Lord's Supper signify? the bread? the wine? the institution as a whole?
  4. What truths concerning His death does it signify?
  5. What is the new covenant or the New Testament? What are its promises?
  6. What does the blood of the New Testament seal to the true believer?
  7. What does the Lord's Supper seal to the true believer?
  8. Under what conditions is the Lord's Supper a means of grace?
  9. What graces are conveyed to those who partake thereof in a worthy manner?
  10. How are we to prepare to come to the Lord's table?
  11. Why should we so prepare?

IV. Church Membership

The two kinds of members in a particular church are: non-communicant and communicant. Non-communicant church members are children of believers, received into the visible church by infant baptism and thus subject to its discipline and oversight, and entitled to many of its privileges and blessings, but not permitted to come to the Lord's table. Communicant church members are those who have appeared before the session and have given evidence of a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, consistency of character and understanding of the Lord's supper, and have therefore been publicly received into the full privileges and responsibilities of communicant church membership.

A. Some Reasons for Church Membership

1. Non-communicant membership. The children of believers should become non-communicant church members:

(a) because it is the will of God, who has ordained that they receive baptism as the sacrament of reception into Christ's church;

(b) in order to benefit from the guidance and discipline of the church (Rom. 9:4, 5). (See chapter III for the further unfolding of this subject.)

2. Communicant membership.

(a) A non-communicant member of the church should become a communicant member:

(1) in order to accept publicly the promises and assume the obligations of the covenant of grace signified by baptism;

(2) in order to enter into the full privileges and duties of communicant church membership, i.e., to come to the Lord's table, to have one's children baptized, and to take an active part in the government of the church. These privileges are restricted to communicant church members in good standing (I Cor. 11:29).

(b) An adult convert who was not in infancy received into the church by baptism should become a communicant church member:

(1) Because this is a scriptural way of making a public profession of faith in Christ. The believer is commanded to profess publicly his faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9, 10; Matt. 10:32, 33);

(2) Because every true church and denomination is a God-appointed organization for the benefit of the invisible church. Therein members of the invisible church have fellowship and worship together, thus practicing the communion of the saints. Thereby, members of the invisible church are nourished upon the Word, proclaim the gospel both at home and abroad, and care for the lambs of the flock (Eph. 4:11-13);

(3) Because believers are commanded to partake of the sacraments. As the use of the sacraments is restricted to communicant church members in good standing, it is obviously the will of God for adult converts from the world to become communicant members of the church (I Cor. 11:29).

B. The Requirements for Church Membership

1. Non-communicant church membership.

(a) A credible profession of faith by the parents, parent, or another acting as a parent. Only children of believers are eligible for non-communicant membership. We recognize one as a believer who has made a credible profession of faith.

(b) A life of obedience on the part of the parents, parent, or another acting as a parent. This means that the parents must be church members in good and regular standing. Church membership is an evidence that one has made a credible profession of faith; good and regular standing in the church is an evidence of obedience in a denomination which is faithful in the exercise of church discipline.

(c) Communicant church membership on the part of the parents, parent or another acting as a parent in the particular church in which it is desired that the child become a non-communicant member. Unless the parents are subject to its authority the church has no opportunity of fulfilling its obligations to the child, i.e.: to see that he exercises the privileges and duties of non-communicant church membership.

(d) Infant baptism which is the badge of church membership. (See chapter III C, 1 c.)

2. Communicant church membership.

(a) A credible profession of faith, in other words, one which is believable and trustworthy. To make such a profession one must be able to give:

(1) A satisfactory testimony concerning his repentance for sin. Repentance does not save but none can be saved without it. To repent is to be sorry for one's sins, not merely because of the havoc they have wrought in one's life, or in the lives of others, but because they are grievous in God's sight. To repent is to turn from one's sin with hatred and loathing, to turn to God confessing one's sins, asking His forgiveness and receiving His remedy (II Cor. 7:10; Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38).

(2) A satisfactory testimony concerning his faith in Christ. In order to present such a testimony one must give evidence to the following:

(a) That he has a knowledge of the gospel. He needs to know certain facts concerning Him of whom the gospel speaks: who Jesus Christ is (Isa. 7:14; John 1:1, 14; I John 5:20; Matt. 16:16; John 11:27; Matt. 27:54); Why He came to earth (Matt. 1:21; Luke 2:9ff.; Matt. 20:28; Gal. 4:4, 5); what He did to save His people (Isa. 53:6; Gal. 3:13; I Pet. 2:24; II Cor. 5:21; 1 Cor. 15:3). He also needs to know how this so great salvation is obtained: by the Holy Spirit working in us saving faith (S.C. 31; Eph. 2:1, 8) and by our accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Saviour (Acts 16:30, 31; John 1:12).

(b) That he assents to the truth of the gospel. It is impossible to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ unless one believes the facts about Him. Thus, it is essential to faith in Christ that one believe in: the inspiration of scripture, the virgin birth, the miracles, the substitutionary atonement and the bodily resurrection of Christ. Unless one believes these facts he cannot consistently regard the Lord Jesus Christ as a worthy object of saving faith.

(c) That he is trusting in Christ alone for salvation. To have faith in Christ one must more than know and believe the facts concerning Him. He must trust in Christ. To trust in Christ is to place one's reliance upon the work which Christ wrought by His life and death; to atone for his sins, to make him a child of God and to bring him into heaven. We must trust in Christ alone to save us. One cannot be saved by trusting both in his own good works and in Christ. Salvation is by faith in Christ alone. (John 4:50, 53; Isa. 53:5, 6; I Cor. 15:3; Gal. 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24; Rom. 4:5; Titus 3:5; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; John 3:18, 36).

(3) Satisfactory evidence that he is living a life which is in accord with his profession of faith (James 2:20).

b. A promise of obedience.

(1) Such a promise requires obedience to Christ and His laws (John 14:15; 15:14; Matt. 28:20); a life of obedience is the test of a sincere profession of faith (Matt. 7:21; James 2:20).

(2) Such a promise requires obedience to all lawful authority whether it be that of the state, the home, or the church. (Deut. 6:13; 10:20; Rom. 13:1-7; Ex. 20:12; Heb. 13:7, 17).

c. An understanding of the meaning of the sacraments. (See chapter on the sacraments.)

d. Some knowledge of the duties and privileges of communicant church membership in order that God might be glorified and the church and the individual might profit thereby. In the early church it was customary to have catechetical classes for converts before admitting them to the church. This is also the practice on many mission fields today. There is need for such instruction in every church, not only for adult converts from the world, but also for the children of the covenant, before they are admitted to communicant membership in the church.

e. In the case of the adult convert from the world, adult baptism is also required. (See chapter on the sacraments.)

C. The Privileges of Communicant Membership

1. To enjoy the peculiar advantages which the church offers for the worship of God in its customary services on the Lord's Day. The salutation, the public prayers, psalms and hymns, the offering, the reading and preaching of the Word, and the benediction, are all means of worship. The church also offers such splendid opportunities for service as ushering, teaching of a Sunday school class, etc. We have been saved to serve. (Psalm 122:1; 65:4; 84:4; Eph. 1:2; Acts 4:23-31; Psalm 92:1-3; Eph. 5:19; Matt. 5:23, 24; Neh. 8:8; II Cor. 13:14.)

2. To be taught what we are to know concerning God, and what duties God requires of us. We must know God's answer to these questions, "What is truth?" and "What is good?" The Lord Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Truth is in order to godliness. It is the church's task to instruct its members in these matters (Matt. 7:21-27; John 8:32; Acts 8:30, 31).

3. To partake of the sacraments. "A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers" (S.C. 92). The sacraments are baptism and the Lord's Supper. It is the privilege only of communicant church members in good standing to partake of the Lord's Supper and to have their children baptized. By means of the sacraments God teaches us certain truths and bestows upon us certain blessings. Unless one understands the meaning of the sacraments, and partakes in a worthy manner; there is no blessing to be had from partaking of them, but, rather, condemnation (I Cor. 11:27, 29).

4. To enter into the missionary work of the church both at home and abroad (see section 3 under "The Duties of Communicant Church Membership").

5. To enjoy the guidance of the church in spiritual matters, e.g., in problems of Bible interpretation and Christian conduct (Matt. 2:1-6).

6. To obtain aid in time of want. "Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a murmuring against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said,... 'Seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business' " (Acts 6:1-3). (See also Rom. 15:1; Gal. 6:2; James 2:15, 16; I John 3:17, 18.)

7. To have a voice in the government of the church, i.e., election of pastors, elders, deacons, and the business of the church. A church is like a democracy in that the officers of the church are elected by the people. They are Christ's representatives in that they enforce Christ's laws. They are the representatives of the people in that they are elected by the people for this purpose (Acts 6:1-5).

D. The Duties of Communicant Church Membership

1. To keep the Christian Sabbath. "The sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God's worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy" (S.C. 60). (Lev. 23:3; Heb. 10:25ff.; Isa. 58:13, 14; Matt. 12:11, 12; Mark 2:27.) Keeping the Christian Sabbath calls for church attendance, physical rest, performing works of necessity and mercy, personal Bible study and prayer, reading good Christian literature, training the covenant youth, and other hallowed activities.

2. To come regularly to the Lord's table and to present the children of the covenant for baptism as soon as is reasonably possible (I Cor. 11:24; Gen. 17:12; Luke 2:21).

3. To take an active part in spreading the gospel and thus building up the church. "Those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word." "You became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.... The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (Acts 8:4; 1 Thess. 1:7-9; Acts 2:41, 47).

4. To support financially the work of the particular church and the denomination, as long as they are in accord with the Word of God. The Bible teaches us to give freely (II Cor. 9:7), sacrificially (Mark 12:41-44; II Cor. 8:1-3, 7, 9), systematically (Mal. 3:8-10; II Cor. 8:12; I Cor. 16:1-2).

5. To give obedience, in the Lord, to the officers of the church. A church is like a monarchy, a country ruled by a king. It consists of a king and his subjects. Christ is the King. We who are members of the church are His subjects. He rules us by His Word and Spirit. His laws are enforced and law-breakers are censured by the ruling and preaching elders, whom He has appointed to do this work in accordance with the provisions of His Word. This work of law enforcement we call church discipline.

The purpose of church discipline is: to vindicate the honor of Christ, to maintain the purity of the church in both doctrine and life, to reclaim the sinner, and to warn others lest they also sin.

The various kinds and degrees of censure for breaking God's law as set forth in Holy Scripture are: admonition, rebuke, suspension, and excommunication.

Some Scripture references on this subject are: Matt. 18:15-18; I Cor. 5:9-13; Gal. 6:1; I Tim. 5:20; Titus 1:5-13; 3:10; I Thess. 5:12-15; II Thess. 3:14-15; Heb. 13:7, 17.

Notice, please, that unless one is hindered by a work of necessity or mercy, failure to attend the Lord's table or the regular services of the church makes one liable to church discipline (I John 3:4; I Tim. 5:20; Titus 3:10).

6. To comfort and help our brethren, to the best of our ability, when they are in need. "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep"; "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Rom. 12:15; Gal. 6:2). (See also Gal. 6:9, 10; James 2:15, 16; I John 3:17-18.)

7. To engage in daily Bible reading and prayer,[4] and in the case of heads of families, to establish and maintain the family altar. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). (See also Matt. 26:41; Deut. 6:6, 7.)

According to the S.C. 99, "The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called the Lord's Prayer." Paterson indicates three things from this statement:

1. We need to be directed in prayer (Rom. 8:26).

2. The Word of God is an infallible rule to direct us in prayer as well as in other matters (I John 5:14).

3. The Lord's Prayer has been given to us especially for this purpose (Matt. 6:9). Herein we have fundamental principles to be observed in prayer (see S.C. 100-107).

Questions

  1. What are the two kinds of members in a particular church?
  2. Why should the children of believers become non-communicant members of the church?
  3. Why should non-communicant members become communicant members?
  4. Why should adult converts from the world become communicants?
  5. What are the requirements for non-communicant church membership on the part of the parents?
  6. What are the requirements for communicant church membership, on the part of non-communicant members? On the part of adult converts from the world?
  7. What is involved in a credible profession of faith?
  8. What is involved in a promise of obedience?
  9. What are the other requirements for communicant church membership?
  10. What is required of the adult convert from the world, which is not required of the non-communicant member?
  11. What are some of the privileges of communicant church membership?
  12. What are some of the duties of communicant church members?

V. The Communicant Church Membership Questions

When one desires to become a communicant member of the church there are two things which he must do. In the first place he is required to appear before the Session and give satisfactory evidence of: his faith in Christ, acquaintance with Christian doctrine, understanding of the sacraments, personal piety and knowledge of the privileges and duties of communicant church membership. In the second place, he is required to appear before the church to make a public confession of his faith and take certain vows.

On this occasion these or similar questions are asked of the applicant:

  1. Do you believe the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, to be the Word of God, and its doctrine of salvation to be the perfect and only true doctrine of salvation?
  2. Do you confess that because of your sinfulness you abhor and humble yourself before God, and that you trust for salvation not in yourself but in Jesus Christ alone?
  3. Do you acknowledge Jesus Christ as your sovereign Lord and do you promise, in reliance on the grace of God, to serve him with all that is in you, to forsake the world, to mortify your old nature, and to lead a godly life?
  4. Do you agree to submit in the Lord to the government of this church and, in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life, to heed its discipline?

(See the Directory for the Public Worship of God, chapter V, "Public Profession of Faith in Christ," in the Book of Church Order of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.)

Sad to say, these questions are sometimes answered without an understanding of their meaning and implications. Such action is harmful both to the church and to the individual; hence, we are concluding this course with an analysis of these questions. As we examine them we see that they require of the candidate certain affirmations and vows. We shall consider first the affirmations and secondly the vows.

A. The Questions Require of the Candidate Certain Affirmations

An affirmation is a declaration to the effect that one believes a certain statement to be true. The affirmations required have to do with three subjects:

1. Concerning the Bible (see Question 1).

a. That the Bible is the Word of God.

Some regard the Bible as the product of literary evolution. Others say that it merely contains the Word of God. Those who would become communicant members of this church, however, are required to affirm that it is the Word of God.

This means that, while the writers of Holy Scripture made full use of their natural faculties, at the same time, God so guided them in their recording of the revelations which He gave to them or to others and in their preparation and writing of the historical portions of the Bible, that they were preserved from all error and were fully enabled to set forth the truth. Because they were thus inspired, the Bible is the very Word of God (Luke 1:1-4; II Tim. 3:16; I Thess. 2:13). Because the Bible is the Word of God, all its doctrines—for example, the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement and bodily resurrection of our Lord—are true, and it is the only infallible rule of faith and practice.

b. That its doctrine of salvation is the perfect and only true doctrine of salvation.

The Bible doctrine of salvation is as follows: In His eternal counsel, God decreed to permit the Fall and all its consequences. Then, from the mass of hell-bound sinners whom He foresaw, He elected unto salvation a great multitude which no man can number. More than 1900 years ago the Father sent the Son to earth to make atonement for their sins. The Son, in coming to earth, took unto Himself a human nature that He might suffer and die in their stead, purchasing for them all the blessings of salvation. At the time appointed of God for their salvation, the Holy Spirit irresistibly applies to them the redemption purchased by Christ in the work of effectual calling whereby he convinces them of their sin and misery, enlightens their minds in the knowledge of Christ, renews their wills, and persuades and enables them to embrace Jesus Christ as freely offered in the gospel. These the Father immediately justifies and adopts. These the Holy Spirit sanctifies, progressively changing their hearts, characters, and conduct as they make diligent use of the means of grace. At death the souls of believers are made perfect in holiness and immediately pass into glory. At the resurrection the bodies of believers shall be made perfect and shall be reunited to their souls. Believers shall then be openly acknowledged, acquitted and rewarded in the judgment. Henceforth they shall enjoy an eternity of bliss in the new heavens and new earth. (For Scripture references and further details see chapter II, sections C, D and E.)

The Bible doctrine of salvation is one of grace (Eph. 2:8). All other religions teach salvation by works, that men must save themselves by their own efforts. Christianity, however, teaches that salvation is of the Lord: that it is wrought by the Lord and bestowed by Him as an unmerited favor upon His people. (Rom. 4:5; Titus 3:5.)

Concerning this Bible doctrine of salvation the candidate is required to affirm two things:

(1) That it is a perfect doctrine of salvation.

(a) This means that it is without error. All other doctrines of salvation are the product of the mind of fallen man and therefore bound to be erroneous; i.e., all of them assume that man has the right to declare the terms on which he is to be saved. The Bible doctrine of salvation, however, is a revelation from the God of all knowledge and therefore neither does nor can contain error.

(b) This means that it is complete. Nothing is lacking. It takes into account every effect of the Fall and is designed to remedy them all. It is designed to save the elect for time and eternity, to save both the soul and the body. It has in view not only the salvation of man but the re-creation of all things, the establishment of a new heaven and a new earth (Acts 3:21; Rom. 8:21; II Peter 3:13).

(2) That it is the only true doctrine of salvation.

Some say that the Bible sets forth only one of many true doctrines of salvation. They would say that Islam and Buddhism also have true doctrines of salvation. Those who would become communicant members of this church, however, are required to affirm that all other doctrines of salvation are false; that the Bible doctrine alone is true; that men may he saved only through Christ. The Bible is very clear and emphatic on this point (Isa. 45:22; John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

2. Concerning conversion (see Question 2).

There are two things involved in conversion, namely, repentance and faith. This second question requires the applicant to affirm repentance and faith. Hence it has to do with the subject of conversion.

a. He is required to affirm his repentance; in other words, to confess that his sinfulness has caused him to abhor and humble himself before God.

To repent is to recognize the grievousness of our sins in the sight of God, and to abhor ourselves because of them. To repent is to humble ourselves before God: confessing our sins, casting ourselves upon His mercy, and invoking the divine remedy.

Repentance is not an act which occurs only once at the time of conversion, or which is in order only after we have committed some great sin. It is an attitude toward self and God which should prevail constantly in the life of a true child of God.

b. He is required to affirm his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; in other words, that he trusts for salvation not in himself but in Jesus Christ alone.

To trust is to have confidence and reliance. Trust is the most vital feature of faith. One may know and give mental assent to certain truths without actually believing them. It is only when one trusts in them, places his confidence in and relies upon these truths, that he may be said actually to believe them.

One of the sharp distinctions between a Christian and all others is that the latter trust in themselves for salvation; i.e., in their good works, while the former trusts in Christ alone.

A Christian trusts in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. He does not trust both in Christ and his own good works, but relies solely upon the work which Christ wrought by His life and death to save him for time and eternity.

To affirm one's repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is to affirm that one has experienced a genuine conversion; that by the grace of God he knows true sorrow for his sins and has come truly to trust in Christ alone for salvation. Sad to say, the names of many unconverted sinners are upon the communicant rolls of many churches.

3. Concerning the lordship of Christ.

An applicant for communicant church membership is to be asked this question: "Do you acknowledge Jesus Christ as your sovereign Lord?" (see Question 3). This question requires of the applicant an affirmation concerning the lordship of Christ. By the lordship of Christ is meant His sovereign right to rule His creation and His creatures because He, in respect to His divine nature, is God and the Creator. It is also His sovereign right to rule believers because He is our Redeemer. We are not our own. He laid down His life to purchase us for Himself (Psalm 24:1; Daniel 4:35; Matt. 28:18; I Cor. 6:20; 15:25).

The lordship of Christ is denied by the unregenerate whose state is one of rebellion against divine authority and by the nominal Christian who affirms it with his lips but denies it with his life, living to please himself.

In order to become a communicant member of this church, however, one is required to affirm that Jesus Christ is his sovereign Lord. So to affirm is to assert that Jesus Christ is his Lord, Master, and Sovereign; that he is one of Christ's subjects; that his life does not belong to himself but to his King and that His law is the rule of his life.

B. Questions 3 and 4 Require the Candidate to Make Certain Vows

A vow is a solemn promise or pledge. These vows are to be made in humble reliance upon the grace of God. No man can begin to keep them in his own strength.

1. That he will serve the Lord with all that is within him.

This is a promise to serve the Lord. God created man to serve Him. As a result of the Fall men refuse to act as God's stewards but seek to rule the world for themselves. When men are saved, however, they are again called to be God's stewards, to subdue and rule the world for Him.

This is a promise to serve Him with one's whole being; to devote the body and soul, the intellect, will and emotions to those tasks which the King has appointed His subjects in the realms of both secular and spiritual endeavor. It is our duty in the secular realm to subdue the earth and develop its resources. It is our task in the realm of the spiritual to proclaim the gospel, to instruct the covenant youth and to perform many other spiritual labors in the home and church. (Gen. 1:26, 28; 2:15; Rom. 5:10; 6:6; 8:7, 8; Psalm 100:2; Deut. 11:13; Luke 10:27; I Cor. 10:31; II Cor. 6:14-17; James 1:27; 4:4).

2. That he will forsake the world.

This is not a promise to isolate oneself. God does not desire that His people live in monasteries nor does He require them to separate themselves utterly from sinful men (John 17:15; I Cor. 5:10). Unless the Christian has some contact with the unsaved, he cannot perform his duty of demonstrating Christianity and proclaiming the gospel to them.

This is not a promise to refrain from all the pleasures which the people of the world enjoy. Some of those pleasures are not sinful and the Christian may enjoy them as long as he does so to the glory of God and is careful to observe the principles of Christian love, expediency, and temperance (I Cor. 10:31; Gal. 5:1, 13, 14; 1 Cor. 8:13; 10:23; Gal. 5:22, 23).

This is a promise to forsake the sins which are practiced by the unsaved. The term "world" is sometimes used to describe the "unsaved." Many of the practices of the world are sinful; these must be forsaken by those who would become communicant members of the church (John 17:15; II Peter 1:4; 2:20; II Cor. 6:14-17; James 1:27; 4:4).

This is a promise to forsake those sinful standards of conduct which are held by the world. The standard of conduct for the Christian is not public opinion or the practice of the majority, but the Word of God (I John 4:5, 6; II Cor. 7:10; John 17:17; II Tim. 3:16-17).

3. That he will mortify his old nature.

In the act of regeneration a new nature is implanted in the elect sinner's heart. However, a remnant of the old nature remains. This remnant is popularly known as "the old man." In Scripture it is described as "the carnal mind," "the flesh," and "the lust of the flesh" (Rom. 8:6-13; Gal. 5:19-21).

The applicant is required to promise to mortify his old nature. The word "mortify" does not mean to embarrass but to put to death. One of the aims of the work of sanctification is the gradual destruction of the old nature. This is the work of the Holy Spirit but it is also a work in which the believer is to cooperate by making diligent use of the means of grace and by actually battling against the lusts of the flesh (Rom. 8:13; John 17:17; Phil. 2:12-13).

4. That he will lead a godly life.

A godly life is one which is patterned according to the law of God—one which is lived after the example of Christ. An unthinking man might say, "I care nothing for the commandments, my concern is to live as Jesus lived." What he has failed to see, however, is that the life of Christ was marked by a perfect keeping of the law.

A vow to live a godly life is a promise to endeavor to keep God's commandments, not just some, but all of them. By this promise the candidate binds himself to perform his whole duty to God and to man. In the main, the duties which he assumes by this vow are those required of all men, but by this act he freely assumes his responsibilities.

It is necessary in this day to stress the fact that by this vow the applicant pledges, among other things, that he will come regularly to church and faithfully perform all other duties which are essential to the keeping of the Christian Sabbath. Granted that works of necessity and mercy are permissible on the Lord's day, nevertheless, these commandments must be kept just as strictly as the others by those who would live a godly life.

5. That he will submit in the Lord to the government of this church.

This church governs its members in spiritual matters through the elders whom God has commanded the people to elect for this purpose. The law of this church is the Word of God as interpreted by our standards. The elders are required to govern the church in accordance with the principles set forth therein. They are forbidden to make laws or "to bind the conscience by virtue of their own authority." All their decisions must be based upon or be agreeable to the Holy Scriptures.

An applicant is required to agree to submit in the Lord to this government. This phrase "to submit in the Lord" means to submit only to that which is in accord with the Bible. Christ's subjects dare not obey commandments which are contrary to His Word (Acts 5:29). If the Session should require one to do that which is contrary to the Word of God, it is his solemn duty to refuse. However, insofar as the government of this church is in accord with the Holy Scriptures, it must be obeyed. To submit to it is to submit to the rule of Christ; to reject it is to reject His rule. Christ exercises His lordship over His subjects through the church that is governed according to His Word.

6. That in case he should be found delinquent in doctrine or life he will heed its discipline.

This church disciplines its members if they are found delinquent in doctrine or life. To be delinquent in doctrine is to hold views which are contrary to the Bible. To be delinquent in life is to live in any way which is contrary to the Holy Scriptures. To be found delinquent in doctrine or life is to be declared guilty by the court of the church, which is the Session, after due process of law or upon one's own confession.

This church disciplines those whom it finds delinquent, in accordance with the express commandments of the Word of God (I Cor. 5:9-13; Gal. 6:1; I Tim. 5:20; Titus 1:13; 3:10; I Thess. 5:12-15; II Thess. 3:14; Heb. 13:7, 13; see chapter 2, section D, paragraph 5, for development of this subject).

The applicant is required to agree that in case he should be found delinquent in doctrine or life he will heed the discipline of the church. This means that he promises under such circumstances to receive willingly the correction and admonition of the church and humbly and prayerfully to submit to whatever scriptural censure it may impose.

In the introduction of this chapter we pointed out that the communicant church membership questions must be answered intelligently. In conclusion we would emphasize the fact that they must be answered sincerely. The candidate must really mean it when he makes these affirmations and vows. To assent with mental reservations is hypocrisy. To assent without actual intent to fulfill the obligations is to lie.

Let each candidate realize that these affirmations and vows are made before God and the church. The Almighty will visit the insincere with His wrath but the sincere will He bless through the very affirmations and vows which are made upon this occasion.

Questions

  1. What kind of statements do these questions require of the candidate?
  2. State the affirmations and vows required.
  3. What is the candidate required to affirm concerning:
       a. The Bible?
       b. His conversion?
       c. The lordship of Christ?
  4. What does it mean:
       a. To serve the Lord with all that is in one?
       b. To forsake the world?
       c. To mortify the old nature?
       d. To live a godly life?
       e. To submit in the Lord to the government of this church?
       f. To heed its discipline?
  5. How are these affirmations and vows to be made?


Endnotes

[1] God gave His people three kinds of law at Mount Sinai: civil laws, ceremonial and sacrificial ordinances, and the moral law which is summed up for us in the Ten Commandments. The civil laws are no longer binding upon us, except for such portions as have been made the law of the land. The ceremonial and sacrificial ordinances, the purpose of which was to set forth the Lord Jesus Christ in type, shadow and symbol, were blotted out by the work of the cross (Col. 2:14). The moral law, however, is still in force. The Ten Commandments are, by their very nature, permanent. They are absolutely essential to a right relationship between man and God, and between man and his fellowman. The moral law is a ground of eternal condemnation to the unsaved (Rom. 3:19; 6:23). The moral law is a rule of conduct for all men (Rom. 3:31; 6:13: I John 3:4: Matt. 15:19; Psalm 119:9, 105).

[2] The term "new covenant" will be explained in the next chapter.

[3] It is true that there are several instances of baptism which at first sight might seem to demand immersion, e.g., Mark 1:10; Acts 8:38, 39. A close examination of these passages, however, leads one to the conclusion that in both instances the individual might have walked down into the water and received baptism by sprinkling or pouring. This seems especially obvious in Acts 5:38, 39, where we have an account of the entrance as well as the exit from the water. There is no distinction made here between Philip and the eunuch; both are said to have gone down into the water and both are said to have come up out of the water. Now no one would claim that Philip was immersed on this occasion, and since the same statement is made concerning both, there is nothing in this passage to demand that the eunuch was immersed. A more logical explanation of what took place would seem to be that both Philip and the eunuch walked down into the water where Philip baptized the eunuch by sprinkling or pouring, after which they both came up out of the water. Paterson, in his commentary on the Shorter Catechism, says, regarding the manner or mode of baptism, "When we consider the way in which the thing signified by baptism is expressed (Tit. 3:5, 6: Heb. 10:22), and that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is expressly called baptism (Acts 10:44, 45, compared with chapter 11:13, 16); when we consider the divers washings of which the apostle speaks in Heb. 9:10; or, as it is in the original, divers baptisms; referring probably to the various liquids which were used, viz., water, and oil, and blood, into which it is not very likely that the people and various things were plunged; and that Christ speaks of a baptism of blood, with which He was to be baptized; when we consider also the instances of the administration of this ordinance by the apostles (Acts 2, where we read of 3,000 being baptized in one day); the baptism of the jailer and his family, and of the Apostle Paul (Acts 16 and 9:18); the one in prison, and the other in a private house where it is probable they had not much water and as probable that the administrators would not have brought them forth to the nearest water—the one at midnight, which was dangerous, and the other in the weak state in which he then was, after three days' fasting (Acts 10:47, 48); and, moreover, when we consider that the yoke of Christ is easy and His burden light; and that His religion is adapted for all parts of the world—the coldest as well as the hottest; and for all constitutions—the weakest as well as the strongest; when we consider all these things, we must conclude that baptism may be administered by sprinkling as well as by plunging—nay, that sprinkling or pouring is moat agreeable to the general tenor of Scripture" (pp. 309-310).

[4] According to the S.C. 98, "Prayer is the offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies." Notice, please, the five things concerning prayer set forth in this statement taken from Paterson on the Shorter Catechism:

  1. Prayer is the offering up of our desires to God (Psalm 62:8).
  2. We are to pray only for those things which are according to the will of God (I John 5:14).
  3. We are to pray in the name of Christ (John 16:23).
  4. In praying we are to make confession of sin (Dan. 9:4).
  5. Prayer should include thanksgiving (Phil. 4:6).


The Rev. George W. Marston (1905-1994) was a minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. This book was first published 1940, slightly revised 2002. Bible quotations were changed to the New King James Version from the King James Version. Published by the Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 607 N. Easton Rd., Bldg. E, Willow Grove, PA 19090. A Grateful Acknowledgment: The writer desires to express his deep appreciation to Professor R. B. Kuiper of Westminster Theological Seminary for his counsel in preparing this course, and to Mrs. Howard Corliss for her secretarial work.

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