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Historic Convictions

A Royal Priesthood: His church reflecting His kingdom to the world!

Today, I would like for us to spend our time considering Calvary’s Core Value #4: Historic Baptist Convictions.  This core value states:

We minister in accordance with historic Baptist convictions on believer’s baptism, regenerate church membership, the priesthood of all believers, and congregational governance.

Having these historic Baptist convictions does much more than distinguish us as Baptists.  We believe each of these convictions speak to a fundamental truth of Scripture – God calls and saves us to be His people reflecting His Kingdom to the world.  In other words, each of these convictions has a corporate component that is meaningful and powerful to both believers and non-believers alike. John Piper claims:

Church membership is a blood-bought gift of God’s grace.  More than most of us realize, it is a life-sustaining, faith-strengthening, joy-preserving means of God’s mercy to us.  I urge you not to cut yourself off from this blessing.”[1]

Consider the words of I Peter 2:4-10:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  For it stands in Scripture:

‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be  put to shame.’  So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.’

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

I’d like to draw our attention to a few observations from I Peter 2:4-10. First, we see where verse 4 tells us that Jesus is the “living stone” that was rejected by men, yet chosen by God to the salvation of all who would believe upon His name. Verse 5 goes on to remind us that as we come to Christ (the true, living stone) through faith, we become like living stones that are forming a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood that offers their lives as spiritual sacrifices to God. Now, it’s important to note that the Scripture is specifically addressing the fact that through Christ we come together as individual stones to form a spiritual house – with other stones!  We come together as individual priests to form a holy priesthood – with other priests! Verses 9-10 continue to build upon this integral communal aspect of our salvation.  The Scripture says:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Notice the pictures that Peter paints to describe what God has done. He first describes a chosen race, followed by a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and finally – a people for his own possession. Looking closely at these descriptions, we realize that they are all plural.  They all remind us that our salvation, although intensely personal, was never intended to be lived out alone. Unfortunately, for so many people, their Christianity is exclusively a personal experience. We recognize this trend as our culture grows more and more accustomed to this notion of autonomy and personalization. Even Worship has become intensely personal and the focus is all too often on an individual’s experience over the corporate benefit. Often, and sadly so, church involvement is determined by the perceived value of what each individual will “get out of it.”  This can be evidenced by minimal attendance and leaving one church when another offers what is perceived as “better options.” Far too many professing Christians fail to invest in the lives of others, and in turn, fail to let others invest in their lives.

I came across an interesting quote in my preparation for today’s message:

According to one recent Southern Baptist Convention study, the typical Southern Baptist church has 233 members, only 70 of whom are present at the typical Sunday morning worship service.  So where are the other 163 members?  Are they home sick, in a rest home, at college or on vacation, or in the military?  Maybe some are, but all 163 of them?  What do such churches convey about Christianity to the world around us?  What do we understand this to mean about the importance of Christianity in our lives?  And what is the spiritual state of those people if they haven’t attended church for months or even longer?  Is there nonattendance really any of our business?[2]

I believe the answer to be yes, and I pray by looking at our historic Baptist convictions, we will see why.

What I’d like to do for the remainder of this post is talk about each of the historical convictions below for just a moment, weaving a thread to show not only their Biblical Foundation, but also why they are important for our church now, and in the future.  As we look at each of these convictions I believe we will be reminded of just how important it is to share life together in the local church.

Let’s first consider believers baptism:

As a church we believe baptism by immersion is one of two ordinances, along with the Lord’s Supper, that is mandated by Christ for the church. We believe that Scripture is abundantly clear about this ordinance and the church’s duty to remain faithful in its observance. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus says in what is known as the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Here we see that baptism functions as personal identification (Romans 6). When we are baptized, we identify with Christ personally.  We are placed under the water and then raised out of the water, symbolizing the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ; dramatizing the cleansing we receive through Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Baptism also functions to initiate incorporation into the Body of Christ. Along with the personal identification we must see that “To be identified with Christ means to be identified with His body.”  Reflect with me on Acts 2:41, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” To what were they added?  The church!  They became part of the body of Christ that gathered there in Jerusalem.  They entered into their community and fellowship! Still further scripture is to be mined here. Let’s ponder I Corinthians 12:12-13, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” The reference here to baptism is not water baptism, but spiritual baptism whereby the Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ, but as one scholar said, “…even if the reference is to Spirit baptism and not water baptism, it shows that Paul associated baptism with incorporation into Christ’s body.”[3] Thus it’s imperative for us not only to recognize the personal component of our baptism and what it symbolizes, but also to recognize that when we are baptized, we are identifying ourselves with the body of Christ. Hopefully, one now sees not only why we hold believer’s baptism to be a historic Baptist conviction that identifies a believer with Christ and the church, but it’s beautiful and dramatic display of the gospel that is an indispensible act of corporate worship. Now let’s turn our attention to another historical conviction: Regenerate Church Membership.

John Hammet, a professor and prolific writer on the subject of Baptist Historical Convictions writes: “Regenerate church membership is meaningful church membership, involving only those with a genuine commitment to Christ and the congregation of Christ’s people.”[4] Compounding Dr. Hammet’s statement and showing solidarity for these convictions, Dever also affirms this notion as he reveals, “If you read the story of the early churches recorded in the book of Acts, there is no evidence that any of them meant to have anyone other than believers as members.  When you read the letters of Paul, it seems clear that Paul too wrote as if the churches were composed entirely of believers; thus he addressed them as saints—those whom God has specially chosen.  The church is the body of Christ, the local collection of Christians committed to Christ and to each other.”[5] The Scriptures give us great evidence that church membership is to only consist of believers and is to be meaningful. Here are a few evidentiary examples:

The Call of Believers to Serve and Care for One Another. (Galatians 6:10)

The Command of Church Discipline (Matthew 18:15-17)

– We discipline those we love

The Evidence of Excommunication (I Corinthians 5:9-13)

– Always for the purpose of restoration.

The Call for Christians to Submit to Leaders

– I Thessalonians 5:12-13, “We ask you, brother, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.

Clearly, we can see through the Scriptures that membership in a local church was never intended to be optional.

Next, I’d like for us to consider the third historic Baptist conviction listed in our core value: The Priesthood of all Believers. This conviction harkens back to our original passage of Scripture in I Peter 2.  Let’s reread verses 5, 9: “…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ….But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” The Priesthood of all Believers teaches us that through Christ we all have become priests.  What does that mean for us? Individually, it means that we no longer need “human priests”, as ordained in the OT, to be our mediator.  We have a great High Priest, in Jesus Christ, who intercedes for us.  We now come directly to the throne of grace knowing that we will find grace and mercy in our time of need. Corporately, this means we are distinct “living stones” that come together to form a spiritual house!  We are distinct priests who come together to form a royal priesthood.  We are distinct people who come together to form a holy nation! Why, you might ask? For the purpose of glorifying God by displaying and reflecting the Gospel of Christ and the beauty of our Lord! Relish this beautiful quote:

It is the church that is the body of Jesus Christ and the apple of God’s eye, not each of us in isolation.  It is us together not apart—in fellowship, in mutual love and caring, in worship, in witness, in teaching in works of kindness and service—it is us together, a spiritual house, that declares the praises of God to the world.  It is not enough to be a living stone in a decrepit, unattractive, cold and drafty, unwelcoming, largely useless house.  If you are a living stone, you care to be placed in the wall of a great house, standing unmoved and immovable in the storms of life, cheerily lit by a roaring fire and the light of beautiful lamps, where those who come are kept warm and well-fed, where the most intensely interesting conversation may be found, where many come to find life and peace and love, and where the atmosphere glistens with the glory of God.  No stone can make that so; only many stones together.

This idea of the “priesthood of all believers” leads us to the last distinctive: Congregational Governance. Christ exercises headship (Ephesians 5) through the members, as they all seek together to discern Christ’s will for the body.  Since all the members are regenerate and thus indwelt by the Spirit, all are able to receive guidance from Christ. We believe the church is comprised of believers constituting a “royal priesthood.”  Every believer has the Holy Spirit dwelling with them and therefore has the ability to discern the will of God. Therefore we come together with the responsibility to discern God’s will for the body. This is why we govern the way we govern.  There is no pope or bishop arbitrarily dictating the direction of our church.  The congregation alone determines God’s will and direction for each autonomous church.

When we put all this together, we begin to see how these historic Baptist convictions greatly affect the life of our church.  Each of these convictions has a corporate component to them.  Therefore we must:

  • Hold high church membership and participation within the local church
  • We must seek to equip every member to do the work of ministry because we are all priests, living stones put together building a spiritual house.
  • We must encourage every member to use his or her gifts in service to Christ.
  • We must exercise church discipline in order that the church remain pure and truly reflect the glory of God.

This can only transpire through Christ, for Christ alone purchases the church for us!  As we walk by faith we see just how much it cost Christ to make a spiritual house, a royal priesthood, a holy nation!  May it never be said of us that we minimized Christ’s sacrifice by minimizing our call to the local church.

Hebrews 10:19-25:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Application:

Christian:

  1. Commit yourself to a local church
  2. Open up your life to others (for your benefit and theirs!)
  3. Use your gifts to serve the body of Christ

Non-Christian:

Earlier I wrote that this historical conviction had power for both the Christian and the Non-Christian. While I confess that the brunt of this post deals more with the implications for the Christian, it’s important to me that I not only recognize the inclusive nature of this conviction that may seem elitist, but also offer you two reasons why this conviction is quite the opposite!

Reason #1: Regenerate church membership is not predicated on race, nationality, age, sex, education, or socio-economic status. There is but one requirement – The covering of your sins by the shed blood of Christ Jesus. Now, when speaking of joining your local church, there will be a question of baptism, but this leads me to Reason #2.

Reason #2: While Reason #1 reveals that regenerate church membership is as vast and diverse a group of individuals as anything one would see in any book/chess/exercise/movie/Kiwanis/etc. club, there is yet so much more to becoming a member of the local/universal church than can be seen in any of these other clubs, so any comparison between them would be guilty of a false analogy.  Regenerate church membership is best understood when compared to our families, yet even in this comparison, we must realize that while our blood families are such a blessing and hopefully a part of the universal church with us, there is still an argument that regenerate church membership is even MORE important than these closest relationships due to their eternal permanence through the shared faith in Jesus Christ. As you think about your own family, ask yourself these questions: Would I want just anyone to be a part of my life like my family is a part of my life – knowing all my strengths, but also all my weaknesses, mistakes, all the struggles I’ve had and still have, etc. Moreover, would I want just anyone holding me accountable for these struggles and weaknesses, offering me advice, disciplining me, holding me accountable? For the vast majority (if not all) of us, the answer would be an emphatic – NO! We truly value our families because they’ve been WITH us through the hard times, not just the easy ones. They’ve stood with us in our times of need, and pulled us out of despair in our times of selfishness. They’ve forgiven us when we’ve harmed them, and they’ve asked for our forgiveness when they’ve harmed us. They’ve let us into their lives just as we’ve let them into ours. We TRUST our families because we, even when we’re not on the best of terms, know that we love one another and desire the best for one another. There is a real relationship there, one that has proven that it exceeds the “good times” and isn’t predicated on “what can you do for me?” This is what it means to be a part of a regenerate church community. It means that you can fully trust your fellow brother/sister, your fellow sinner, your fellow redeemed heir to the throne of Christ! We must realize the importance and beauty and evangelical nature of limiting regenerate church membership to those professing believers that, like your own family, truly love us and desire the best for us in the eternal sense! What regenerate church membership offers is this – Family. Family in the truest and most wonderful sense of the word! Does this mean that church members never quarrel or argue? No, we are still sinful. However, just like any family, even though those times of strife do occur, we never ever lose our affection and our devotion to one another, because ultimately we know our hearts are dedicated to loving one another. Maybe you didn’t grow up with a sense of family as described above and never thought you’d know such a deep love, never thought you’d be able to experience such permanence in any relationship. The body of Christ, the church, is where you can finally experience both through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for all of our sins. We invite you, not to see from afar, but to come and commune with us, fellowship with us, worship with us. Come and be a part of your eternal family as we take part in revealing the Kingdom of Christ to the nations now and eagerly await His return!


[1] John Piper, “How Important is Church Membership”, sermon delivered July 13, 2008

[2] Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church

[3] John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, (p. 264)

[4] John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, (p. 82)

[5] Mark Dever, Nine Marks of Healthy Church, (p. 150)

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