September, 2016

Officer Nomination Form

Officer Nominations Form

Covenant Children and the Fifth Commandment

Which is the fifth commandment?

The fifth commandment is, Honor your father and your mother; that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God gives you. (WSC 63, WLC 123)

When the Westminster Divines wrote the Larger and Shorter Catechisms for the instruction of the members of the church, they sought to explain what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man (WSC #3). Included in these catechisms is one of the best expositions on the Ten Commandments. In this exposition, the Divines examined the Ten Commandments from positive and negative angles, asking both what is required and what is forbidden. And in the Larger Catechism they outline some of the particulars of each commandment.

Looking at the particulars of the fifth commandment, the Divines explain what is meant by “father” and “mother.” What might be surprising is that the Church has consistently understood “father” and “mother” more broadly than just one’s natural parents. Relying on the way the Bible uses these familial terms and our understanding of covenant theology, we see that by “father” and “mother,” the commandment includes all superiors. The general scope of this commandment is the “performance of those duties which we mutually owe in our several relations, as inferiors, superiors, and equals” (WLC #126).

Scripture uses “father” and “mother” for more relationships than just that of the natural parent. These terms are used to designate rulers (Gen 45:8), military officers (2 Kings 5:13), prophets (2 Kings 2:12), teachers (Ps 34:11), church leaders (1 Cor 4:15), and elders (1 Tim 5:1).[1] This is similar to how our language has often used the terms. We can refer to the Founding Fathers, the early Church Fathers, the Church as Mother, and so on. Wilhelm à Brakel notes thirteen different ways to understand the full scope of “father” and “mother.” His distinctions range from natural parents to elders in the church to teachers and even master craftsmen.[2] So while this commandment certainly includes one’s natural parents, it is far broader in scope.

This is important as we consider what the fifth commandment means for us as a covenant community. Part of how we understand the church is that we are a community of people who live under the benefits and obligations of a covenant with God. And God has ordained that this covenant extends from generation to generation (Gen 17:7, Deut 7:9; Acts 2:39). Our children are part of this covenant and thus members of the church. The commandments of the covenant are for the adults of this covenant community AND for the children.

This is why Paul addresses the children in Ephesian 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Then he quotes the fifth commandment. Not only does Paul expect the kids to receive this command as those under the covenant command, but he expects them to see the title of “parents” as broader than just natural parents. This is reflected in our congregational baptism vow: “Do you as a congregation undertake the responsibility of assisting the parents in the Christian nurture of this child?” Simply put, the fifth commandment and our understanding of the covenant community means that the children of the church have an obligation to submit to the authority of the adults in the church. And the adults in the church have an obligation to exercise proper authority over the children of the church.

What does this practically look like? The “fathers” and “mothers” of the church must nurture the children of the church. And “father” and “mother” is broader than just those who are biological parents. William S. Plumer gives some helpful examples. We should provide for our children, protect them, and educate them “suitable to their talents and circumstances.” It is essential we provide for their religious and moral training. The children should be governed well. And we must set a good example for them to follow. Finally, we should pray fervently for them.[3] In sum, we all must own the responsibility to instruct, care for, and exhort our covenant children. If a child needs correction, then with love and tenderness, you should do so. And if you are a parent, you should encourage this assistance from the other “fathers” and “mothers.”

And children should receive this instruction. They must obey and respect all those whom God has placed in authority over them, just as they would obey and respect God. Kids must consider that if they reject that authority, they not only sin against that “father” but ultimately against God. And kids should also consider the blessings God bestows upon obedience children. There are good things to be had.

Our church has been blessed with many children. And that is a great joy and privilege. We must be good stewards of these covenant children. That means getting involved in one another’s lives and receiving the assistance in the Christian nurture of these children. When we are faithful in this, then we can expect God’s continued blessing on our kids.

[1] John M Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2008), 584.

[2] Wilhelmus Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 4 Vols. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), 3.187.

[3] William S Plumer, The Law of God: As Contained in the Ten Commandments Explained and Enforced (Harrisonburg, Va.: Sprinkle Publication, 1996), 350–64.

John Flavel’s Double Table – Some Final Takeaways

At the conclusion of Flavel’s Double Table[1] there are “Six Benefits of Walking by These Rules.” This is Flavel’s final summation of the blessings that will come if the people of God will utilize the instruction in his Double Table. These six benefits can be broken into two broad categories: three are external and three are internal.

The external benefits refer to those which are oriented outward to the world. The first benefit is that our holy religion would shine before a darkened world. If the members of the Church were to follow the rules of this table, Flavel argues there would be a “lustre upon religion before the world, and [it would be] glorious in the eyes of such as now despise it.” Flavel quotes the apostle Paul from Titus 2:10, “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” The Greek word behind “adorn” is kosmeō. This is where we get our word “cosmetic.” It means to make beautiful. A holy life makes the doctrine of God look beautiful to the outside world. Not only that, but Flavel’s second benefit argues that lives which avoid these sins and labor to do these duties will “allure and win the world over to Christ, and wonderfully prosper and further the design of the gospel.” This isn’t to imply that on our own we can actually “allure” or “win” people to Christ. Only God’s gracious election through the person and work of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit’s regeneration of a sinner’s heart will ever convert someone. But God works through ordinary means. And in his mercy and grace, he chooses to work through his church as a means of his grace. God condescends to us in such a way that our lives are really and truly used to “allure” and “win” others to Christ. Conversely, our failures and sin not only defame God but they inhibit the advance of the Gospel. This is seen in Flavel’s third benefit. Our doing good will stop the mouths of all detractors. If we are blameless and innocent before God, then there is no true accusation that can ever be hurled against Christ and His Church. Peter instructs the church that “by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Pet 2:15). This just makes good sense. If we avoided offenses with those outside the church or refused to be idle or gossip; if we treated our worship like it mattered; if we truly loved one another, then the unbelieving world would have no grounds to accuse the church. If we practiced real fellowship and upheld the unity of the church; if we worked for the Great Commission; if we were generous, served one another, and thought of others more highly than ourselves, then the unbelieving world would not only have nothing bad to say about the church, but they would long to participate in such a community.

I saw this clearly in a conversation with my waitress at the local diner. She no longer attends church because she was made to feel like an outcast on account of her simple clothing. She felt the cold stares because she didn’t have expensive designer clothing. So now she doesn’t go. I invited her to this church with confidence that she’d never feel that way. But it made me wonder. We’re not immune to these types of sins, they just might look a little different. How does our Christian walk look to the unbelieving world?

Flavel includes three benefits that deal with internal benefits of walking by these rules. The first benefit is the greatest, namely, the glory of God. This is the ultimate and chief end of man (WSC 1). Flavel quotes Matthew 5:16, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called and the result is God’s glory. And where there is the glory of God, there is peace. This is the second benefit, that we are filled with “much inward peace.” Here Flavel refers to Paul’s closing words in Galatians, “as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them” (Gal 6:16). The final benefit of walking by these rules is that the church is blessed with God’s glorious presence. We will be with God and he with us. We will sit in the radiance of his holy light. The ordinances of the church will be effective. Our churches will be stable and reflect the glory of God. However, if we remain in our sin, then the warning John gives the church is that God will remove the lampstand from its place (Rev 2:1-5).

Just as there are more than ten sins to avoid and ten duties to fulfill in the church, there are many more benefits to walking according to commandments of Scripture. But this Double Table confronts us with areas in which we need to grow and promises us great blessings if we will endeavor to walk by faith according to these rules.

[1] A Double Scheme, or Table; containing, in the First Column, The Sins most incident to the Members of particular Churches, plainly forbidden in the Word, and for which God sets Marks of his Displeasure on them. And, in the Second, The Duties enjoined on them in the Scripture, in the conscientious Discharge whereof, they receive signal Fruits of his Favour.

 

John Flavel’s Double Table, part 8

The first half of John Flavel’s Double Table[1] listed ten sins that are common to members of the Church and forbidden in Scripture. The commission of these sins warrants God’s displeasure. The second half of his table lays out ten duties for the church member to fulfill as drawn from Scripture. If these duties are discharged, then the member will receive “signal Fruits of his Favour.”

The eighth duty of the church member is the material partner to the spiritual generosity of the seventh duty. Just as a Christian ought to be generous with using his spiritual gifts, he ought to be generous with his material gifts. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb 13:16). Part of the unity we are to express in our fellowship with one another is to bear the burdens (financial or otherwise) with one another. The apostle Paul echoes this same instruction, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ…. As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:2, 10). Those in the church have a material obligation to help relieve the suffering and burden of others. But this obligation is especially for those who are in the church.

Flavel includes one other important way that members of the church are to materially provide for the need of a particular segment of the church, namely her pastors. He instructs the congregation to “make comfortable provision for [your] ministers.” But this wasn’t just by way of courtesy, but by way of duty. The church is obligated before God to provide for her ministers. Paul instructs the church at Corinth that they must provide for their pastor because, “the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14). He also tells Timothy, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” (1 Tim 5:17, 18).

The ninth duty of the Christian builds upon the seventh and eighth. Not only is the church member supposed to use her spiritual and material gifts to serve the church, but she is to be with those in need. Christian fellowship cannot occur at a distance. It requires that the same immediate time and space be occupied. We can be encouraged by the saints of long ago. We can lift one another up in prayer across great distances. We can use modern technology to communicate around the globe. But God gave us real flesh and blood bodies. And those bodies in their distress need the physical proximity of other bodies for comfort. To really bring comfort to those in need requires that Christians physically visit with the distressed members of Christ. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (Jam 1:27). In times of trauma, the mere presence of the Body of Christ (i.e. the members of His Church) is often the most impactful way the gospel is communicated.

The tenth and final duty in Flavel’s table is to “put charitable constructions upon doubtful words and actions.” What Flavel means here is simply to believe the best in others. If a word or action can be taken in multiple ways, assume the best in your brother or sister in Christ. Often our inner-legalist uses every opportunity to build a case to defend and justify ourselves. Or our insecurities take every comment in the worst possible light in order to confirm our self-doubt or loathing. We then look for chinks in the armor of our neighbors to either attack or defend. All of this destroys the fellowship and unity we are to have in Christ. Not believing the best in others is one of the strongest tools of the devil to destroy the life-giving community of the church. Paul’s instruction to the church at Corinth that was beset by all manner of difficulties was to love one another, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all thing, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7). Our Christian duty is to believe the best in our brothers and sisters.

[1] A Double Scheme, or Table; containing, in the First Column, The Sins most incident to the Members of particular Churches, plainly forbidden in the Word, and for which God sets Marks of his Displeasure on them. And, in the Second, The Duties enjoined on them in the Scripture, in the conscientious Discharge whereof, they receive signal Fruits of his Favour.

John Flavel’s Double Table, part 7

The first half of John Flavel’s Double Table[1] listed ten sins that are common to members of the Church and forbidden in Scripture. The commission of these sins warrants God’s displeasure. The second half of his table lays out ten duties for the church member to fulfill as drawn from Scripture. If these duties are discharged, then the member will receive “signal Fruits of his Favour.”

The fifth duty of the Christian is to carry himself in an appropriate manner around others. Principally, this means that Christians are to “love one another. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom 12:10). This is extended all the way to the one Flavel describes as the “meanest Christian.” By this he means that the Christian’s love and honor for one another should transcend all social classes. There is no Christian brother or sister who is beneath your love and honor. Flavel’s reasoning for this is rooted in Paul’s explanation of the how the Gospel levels the playing field with respect to salvation. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Flavel says these “external differences make no difference with Christ.” This isn’t to say that these differences are completely meaningless. He mentions that “a decorum is to be kept suitable to civil difference.” There is a particular honor for some in society that is not negated by a general love and honor for all Christians. For example, an elected official in a congregation should not be denied the honor due his office simply because you should love and honor all the same. But the converse is also true, the “meanest” member of a congregation should not be neglected because someone with greater authority is present.

The sixth duty also deals with honor. Receive reproofs from one another. When you view all with honor, then it is easy to receive reproof for your sin. Trusting your brother or sister’s words while doubting your own self-righteousness is easier when you honor one another. A duty of all Christians is to not only give reproofs to their brother or sister but also to receive reproofs. Reproofs must be given in appropriate and just ways. But even when done well, everyone would probably agree that it is far easier to give reproofs than to receive them. For the church to flourish and for the Christian’s walk to be vibrant, we must meekly receive reproofs from others when we sin. David wrote in Psalm 141:5, “Let a righteous man strike me – it is a kindness; let him rebuke me – it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” It is a good and gracious thing to be wounded by a righteous man. Man’s pride and stubbornness often chafes against a reproof because it requires us to humble ourselves and admit our sin. The Christian’s duty is to humbly receive reproofs from one another for their sins.

The seventh duty is to share your spiritual gifts, graces, and experiences with one another without partiality. There are two aspects to Flavel’s instruction. There first is that all Christians are to exercise their spiritual gifts. Every Christian has been given some spiritual gift. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7). These gifts are not for one’s own personal benefits, but rather they are for the benefit and good of the church. Peter exhorts the church, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet 4:10). Christians are stewards. God has entrusted these gifts to his children in order that they would use them for the good of all.

The second aspect of this instruction is that these gifts are to be shared without partiality. There is a temptation for us to use our gifts in a way that will bring benefit to ourselves. We are more likely to give generously to those we expect to return our generosity. But Scripture calls us to give without expectation of repayment and without partiality, “maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing from a spirit of partiality” (1 Tim 5:21, NASB). Christians are to use their spiritual gifts for one another, even to those who would never be able to repay. In fact, repayment makes a gift no longer a gift. The duty of those in the church is to give generously of the gifts and talents that God has entrusted to us with one another.

 

[1] A Double Scheme, or Table; containing, in the First Column, The Sins most incident to the Members of particular Churches, plainly forbidden in the Word, and for which God sets Marks of his Displeasure on them. And, in the Second, The Duties enjoined on them in the Scripture, in the conscientious Discharge whereof, they receive signal Fruits of his Favour.