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Martin Bucer: Faithfulness in Obscurity

Many readers of this post would know Martin Luther and John Calvin. These are the names that usually come to mind whenever we think of the Sixteenth Century Protestant Reformation. But how many are familiar with Martin Bucer? How many of us will be able to write at least a paragraph on this reformer? The point I am trying to drive home by these questions is that unlike Luther and Calvin, Bucer is one of obscure reformers of the Sixteenth century. Yet he was the man the Lord used to mentor the great theologian of the Reformation era, John Calvin.

Martin Bucer was born on November 11, 1491 in the town of Schlettstdat in France. Later, he became a Roman Catholic monk in Dominican order. In 1581, Bucer was in the city of Heidelberg, Germany when Martin Luther came to the city for a disputation. In the debate, Luther asserted God’s sovereign grace in salvation and that salvation is by faith alone. This marked the turning point for Bucer who attended the disputation. He fully embraced the doctrines of grace and began to preach the same. He later settled in Strasbourg and labored faithfully in teaching, preaching, and shepherding God’s people for years.

Somehow, John Calvin came to know Bucer and wanted to spend the rest of his life in Strasbourg writing and laboring alongside him. So in April 1536, Calvin left Paris for Strasbourg. But due to the war between King Franz I of France and Emperor Karl of Austria, he could not take a direct route. He decided to go through Geneva.

In Geneva, William Farel, another reformer, persuaded him to stay and co-labour with him. So Calvin settled in Geneva and began to biblically reforming the church but some resisted Calvin’s reformation efforts. Eventually the Genevan city council expelled Calvin from the city in 1538 and he headed to Strasbourg where he labored with Bucer and pastored a French refugees church for three years.

In the period of three years, the Lord used Bucer to mentor the younger Calvin. Calvin himself wrote this of Bucer: “(Bucer is the man of) profound scholarship, his bounteous knowledge about a wide range of subjects, his keen mind, his wide reading, and many other different virtues, remains unsurpassed today by anyone, can be compared with only a few, and excels the vast majority.”[1] Undoubtedly, Bucer had a great impact upon the great theologian and pastor yet Bucer remains little known to many today.

Again, the point I am trying to put across is that just like in the Bible where we have saints who were used mightily by God but are little known, we also have little known reformers who played a great role in the Reformation. Bucer is an encouragement to many who are laboring faithfully for the Lord yet the world knows little or even nothing about them. Your faithfulness is not nullified by your obscurity. The Lord sees it and he will surely reward it. Not all of us were predestined to be the “Calvins.” Some of us are the “Bucers,” but in everything we ought to be thankful and give glory to Christ for he is really the one who is at work through us all (1 Cor. 3:6-11).

[1] Keith Mathison, Ligoneir Ministries, http://www.ligonier.org/blog/martin-bucer-reformer-and-his-times/ accessed on November 30, 2017.

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What about Fasting, Reformed Brothers and Sisters?

I don’t think I will exaggerate if I say that fasting is one of the dwindling practices among the Reformed Christians today. Some time ago, I was attending a workshop on the topic of fasting. All the attendees were Reformed Christians. It was a confession time when the facilitator of the workshop asked how many of us fasted regularly. Less than ten hands out of about forty participants went up.

There could be a number of factors that have contributed to this sad development, which I cannot speculate. But I believe we can all agree that this ought not to be so. Both the Bible and our Reformed tradition encourage us to engage in this practice as often as possible. But before I look at the Bible and our Reformed heritage let me highlight that there are two types of fasting: public and private or individual. Public fasting involves the body of Christ coming together to either pray for a particular issue or to thank the Lord for his mercies. The Westminster Directory of Worship is one of the best documents that ably expounds on this type of fasting.

The individual fasting is more private in the sense that a Christian fasts and prays for personal issues which might include confession of sin, thanksgiving, God’s guidance or wisdom in a situation. There are a number of Bible passages that teach and model for us this practice.

We first see individual fasting in Exodus 34:28. Moses fasts for forty days and forty nights (no food or drink) while meeting with the Lord for the second tablets of the Law. This type of fasting is a special one and certainly Moses was sustained in these forty days and nights by the special power of God. Christ will also later fast forty days after the Holy Spirit would lead him into the wilderness to be tested at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:1-2). Like Moses’ fasting, Christ’s fasting was special and extraordinary.

In 2 Samuel 12:16 we read that David also fasted and prayed. He had committed adultery with Bathsheba and later murdered Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. The Lord was displeased and declared that the child that was born out of this sin will die. David fasted and prayed probably confessing his sin and certainly pleading with the Lord that the child should be spared. However, God’s word stood and the child went to be with the Lord although David’s sin was forgiven (2 Sam. 12:13). Here Scripture models for us the fast that is both repentance of sin and supplication.

Nehemiah also fasted and prayed confessing the sins of Israel as well as asking the Lord to restore and rebuild the ruined walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 1). The young man Daniel too regularly fasted and prayed for forgiveness of Israel’s sins and that God would grant mercy to his people (Dan. 9:1-23; 10:3).

Lest we think that this practice was observed only in the Old Testament, Christ instructs us on what we should do when we fast in Matthew 6:16-18: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

We also read of early Christians fasting and praying in Acts 13:1-3 probably asking for God’s guidance in their ministry of reaching out to the lost. Therefore, there is no doubt that Christians except for those who have health reasons or limitations should fast and pray. This fasting should not only be limited to food and drink but also to other activities including conjugal obligations (1 Cor. 7:5) and use of electronics and Internet. (Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you. I just said, “internet”).

Our forefathers in the faith also rightly taught on the importance of fasting and praying. We will take a brief overview at what some of our forefathers said and wrote about this practice. John Calvin in the Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.12.15-19 wrote, “A holy and lawful fast has three ends in view. We use it either to mortify and subdue the flesh, that it may not wanton, or to prepare the better for prayer and holy meditation; or to give evidence of humbling ourselves before God, when we would confess our guilt before him.”

Calvin also warned of three errors when fasting. First, we should not think of fasting superstitiously. By this he means that we should not be deceived and think that although our hearts are not right with God, fasting might still help us getting special blessings from God. Fasting is futile when practiced by unregenerate and unrepentant heart.

Second, related to the first error, we should not think of fasting as a means to merit God’s blessings. I have met some Christians who think that by fasting they can somehow force God to act according to their will. This is absolutely wrong and even blasphemous. Man can never manipulate God and force him to act against his will. Lastly, Calvin warns us of thinking that fasting exalts us to a higher position above other Christians who do not fast. While we are to encourage this practice, we should not think that those who fast are spiritually superior to those that do not.

The Dutch theologian and pastor, Wilhemus A Brakel (1635-1711), bemoaned the dying of this practice among the Reformed Christians of his day and urged them to fast regularly. “It is sad—a sign of great decay in the church—that so little work is made of fasting, both in public as well as secretly. Therefore all who wish to lead a life of tender godliness and desire to see the good of Zion ought to stir themselves up to exercise this duty… Therefore, as obedient children of God and followers of the saints, fast frequently. This was the practice of the original Christian church and of believers at the outset of the Reformation—and even long thereafter. Do not allow this practice to die out” (The Christian’s Reasonable Service Vol. 4, p. 9).

As already observed the Westminster Directory of Worship also has a lot to say about fasting. Although its emphasis is on public fasting, it has a number of important insights we can also apply to individual fasting. For instance the directory reminds us: “A religious fast requires total abstinence, not only from all food, (unless bodily weakness do manifestly disable from holding out till the fast be ended, in which case somewhat may be taken, yet very sparingly, to support nature, when ready to faint,) but also from all worldly labour, discourses, and thoughts, and from all bodily delights, and such like, (although at other times lawful,) rich apparel, ornaments, and such like, during the fast; and much more from whatever is in the nature or use scandalous and offensive, as gaudish attire, lascivious habits and gestures, and other vanities of either sex.”

So, beloved Reformed brothers and sisters, we need to rekindle this dying practice. The status quo needs to be challenged not because we become superior Christians when we fast and pray but because it pleases our Lord when we live in obedience to his revealed will.

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The Virgin Mary: God’s Submissive Servant

One important lesson we can learn from the life of Mary the mother of Christ is her submission to God’s will. By grace, she submitted to God and trusted him to accomplish what is impossible with man (Luke 1:37). The late RC Sproul once described Mary as a Christian’s model of submission.

In Luke’s account of Mary and the angel Gabriel we learn that after Mary was told that she  will conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit,  she surrendered  herself to God’s word and said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

There are two important lessons we glean from Mary’s submission. First, she submitted despite having unanswered questions. In Luke 1:34 she asked how she will be able to give birth while she is a virgin. The angel explained that this will happen by the Holy Spirit. But I don’t think Mary fully understood how all things will come about just as we, today, cannot fully explain the incarnation. Remember that this had never happened before in the history of humanity. Mary was the first and the only young woman to be told that she will conceive without a man.

Then there was the question of Joseph. What will he think about this and how will he react? Will he not decide to divorce her once he discovers that she is pregnant and not by him? Mind you at this moment, the angel has not yet gone to Joseph and informed him that Mary will conceive by the Holy Spirit.

Second, Mary submitted knowing that this could cost her life. Probably, we don’t often think about it when we read this account. But have you ever wondered what would have happened if Joseph divorced Mary and told the people that he was not responsible for the pregnancy? The obvious conclusion would have been that Mary committed adultery and the sentence for this “crime” was death by stoning (Deut. 22:23). This was a costly submission. Again, Mary did not know that the angel will also go to Joseph and told him not to divorce her as we read in the gospel of Matthew. Yet she submitted to God’s will.

I am very certain that there will never be another Mary in this world. God will never come to another young woman and ask her to be the mother of Christ. However, again and again God in his word and through the work of the Holy Spirit comes to us and asks us to do some things for him and his kingdom. Some of these things might not make sense and we might not fully understand them. Others might be costly. It could be that we have to make huge sacrifices to fulfill God’s will in our lives. How will we respond to God’s call? I strongly believe that Mary’s response is the best response for every Christian called to do God’s will. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”

At the core of our daily walk with Christ is the call to obey and trust him. The hymn writer was right:

Trust and Obey

For there is no other way

To be happy in Jesus

But to trust and obey

By his  grace, Christ enables us to trust and obey just as he enabled Mary to trust and obey.

(This material first appeared in a form of a sermon which was preached at London Free Reformed Church in London, Ontario, Canada on December 17, 2017).
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A New Year’s Sermon

This is an excerpt from the sermon which Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached on January 1, 1860. The title of the message was “A New Year’s Benediction,” and it was taken from 1 Peter 5:10

I wish, my brothers and sisters, that during this year you may live nearer to Christ than you have ever done before. Depend upon it, it is when we think much of Christ that we think little of ourselves, little of our troubles, and little of the doubts and fears that surround us. Begin from this day, and may God help you. Never let a single day pass over your head without a visit to the garden of Gethsemane, and the cross on Calvary.

And as for some of you who are not saved, and know not the Redeemer, I would to God that this very day you would come to Christ. I dare say you think coming to Christ is some terrible thing: that you need to be prepared before you come; that he is hard and harsh with you. When men have to go to a lawyer they need to tremble; when they have to go to the doctor they may fear; though both those persons, however unwelcome, may be often necessary. But when you come to Christ, you may come boldly. There is no fee required; there is no preparation necessary. You may come just as you are.

It was a brave saying of Martin Luther’s, when he said, “I would run into Christ’s arms even if he had a drawn sword in his hand.” Now, he has not a drawn sword, but he has his wounds in his hands. Run into his arms, poor sinner. “Oh,” you say, “May I come?” How can you ask the question? you are commanded to come. The great command of the gospel is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus.” Those who disobey this command disobey God. It is as much a command of God that man should believe on Christ, as that we should love our neighbor.

Now, what is a command I have certainly a right to obey. There can be no question you see; a sinner has liberty to believe in Christ because he is told to do so. God would not have told him to do a thing which he must not do. You are allowed to believe. “Oh,” saith one, “that is all I want to know. I do believe that Christ is able to save to the uttermost. May I rest my soul on him, and say, sink or swim, most blessed Jesus, thou art my Lord?” May do it! man? Why you are commanded to do it. Oh that you may be enabled to do it.

Remember, this is not a thing which you will do at a risk. The risk is in not doing it. Cast yourself on Christ, sinner. Throw away every other dependence and rest alone on him. “No,” says one, “I am not prepared.” Prepared! sir? Then you do not understand me. There is no preparation needed; it is, just as you are. “Oh, I do not feel my need enough.” I know you do not. What has that to do with it? You are commanded to cast yourself on Christ. Be you never so black or never so bad, trust to him. He that believeth on Christ shall be saved, be his sins never so many, he that believeth not must be damned be his sins never so few.

The great command of the gospel is, “Believe.” “Oh,” but saith one, “am I to say I know that Christ died for me?” Ah, I did not say that, you shall learn that by-and-bye. You have nothing to do with that question now, your business is to believe on Christ and trust him; to cast yourself into his hands. And may God the Spirit now sweetly compel you to do it. Now, sinner, hands off your own righteousness. Drop all idea of becoming better through your own strength. Cast yourself flat on the promise.

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Happy 53rd Birthday, Malawi

Yesterday, Malawi celebrated 53 years of independence. I took time to reflect  and thank the Lord for his goodness and blessings upon my country.  Ended up with this piece… 

I saw him at one of the world’s busiest airports this other day

“I need to see your documents,” the officer said

He was then denied entry into the country

He was a stateless person, I heard

It was my first time to learn of the term

I have a place in Southern Africa I call home

But eight million aren’t citizens of any country

I uttered a brief prayer of thanksgiving to my Lord

For a state I often take for granted

Malawi is not what we want her to be

But she is also not what she used to be

Stop now and count our blessing one by one

Proud of her people who are strong and get along

Working, building and praying

Many without noise and recognition

To make her what we would want her to be

Confident we will get there, if Christ tallies…

Happy 53rd Birthday Malawi, Happy Birthday the land of my birth!

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Counting All As Loss for Christ’s Sake

“But whatever gain I had, I counted loss for the sake of Christ” – Philippians 3:7

There is a transforming power that every believer experiences when he first takes his gaze of faith at Christ. Indeed, there is great change that is wrought in the heart of a Christian when he first comes to know Christ as his Savior. This was also true of Apostle Paul.

The verse I have read is part of Paul’s short autobiography, so to speak, given in the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians. In this chapter he describes his life before he knew Christ. He lists so many things, which he considered to be of great value. He mentions how he was dedicated to the law of God. Paul worked so diligently to follow the law in his own strength to the extent that he was proud of himself and referred to himself as a Hebrew of Hebrews and blameless before the law of God.

But one day on his way to Damascus, Paul met the risen Christ. As he gazed at the glory of Christ and saw the glorious righteousness of Jesus, all of Paul’s celebrated accomplishments grew dim. In fact, Paul says as we have read in the verse, that he considered all of them as “loss” and the actual word he uses in Greek is best-translated “dung.” And he surrendered himself to Christ.

Friends, this is how our life in Christ ought to be. This should be every Christian’s testimony. Our saving knowledge of Jesus Christ should mean that we grasp that our human or religious efforts to earn our way to God are rubbish or filthy rags as Isaiah puts it. Only Christ meets every need of our soul because through his work and life and death he has fully satisfied all the righteous demands of God.

For Paul it was his religion that made him proud and blinded him to his need for Christ. For some it might be academic achievements. For some it might be business achievements or riches or fame or even poverty and pain. For others it might be various trophies and medals that this world has to offer. Most of these things are not bad in themselves; however, if they keep us from beholding the glory of Christ they are dung.

Counting everything as loss for the sake of Christ is the work of God’s grace that begins on the day of our salvation and continues to eternity. Every day a Christian should value Christ above all as Jonathan Edwards once put it (quote)“Offer a Christian whatever you will, if you deny him Christ, he will consider himself miserable” (end of quote)

Every day, the Lord calls us to let go our grip on our own righteousness and the pride that blinds to the glory of Christ due to our heritage, gifts, talents, or achievements. Instead every day we have to hold on tightly to Christ and his righteousness. Every day, has to be a day in which we “count all loss for the sake of Christ. ”

For a podcast version of this post, please visit here

 

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A Podcast on the Way…

Dear subscribers, followers, and friends of Scripture Alone.

I would like to let you know that soon this blog will be featuring scripts of my podcast, Doctrine for Body and Soul to be launched shortly, Deo Volente. When that happens, I would like to request that you subscribe to the podcast as you have done to the blog. Eventually, I hope to merge the blog and the podcast into one website.

So, watch this space as the developments unfold…

Thank you for subscribing and following Scripture Alone.

Grace and peace.

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In the Classroom of God’s Grace

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has  appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world,” Titus 2:11, 12.

Often we we describe God’s grace as his unmerited favor, but how often do we think of this grace also as a teacher of those who are in Christ? I believe mostly it does not cross our minds that all those who have been saved are in a sense in the classroom being taught by grace?

But this is exactly what Apostle Paul tells us in the above text. Grace is our teacher. The root of the   word, “teaching,” used here, in the original language (Greek) can also be used to form a word that describes the one who teaches children (pedagogue), and not just merely teaching them, but training and bringing them up in a particular way. Like little children, grace trains and brings us up in the way and fear of the Lord.

The first thing that grace does as our teacher, according to the text, is to teach us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. Ungodliness refers to all sinful things outside us while worldly lusts refer to all kinds of sinful desires within us.

When we have experienced the grace of God, the sinful acts that once looked normal immediately become distasteful and we reject them. The sinful places we frequented thinking that that is where real enjoyment is instantly appear to be what they really are,  asvanity fair. All who have experienced this grace can agree with the poet who once wrote that when you turn your eyes upon Jesus the things of the earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

Grace opens our spiritual eyes to see how depraved we are and we cry out as Apostle Paul in Romans 7:24, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Then by the same grace we also cry out, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 7:25) because through his grace I am able to deny and kill these worldly lusts. By grace I am able to say no to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. Contrary to what some teach that grace give us liberty to do everything we please, we realize that grace actually gives us power to deny everything that does not please God.

Secondly, grace as our teacher teaches us to embrace holiness and Paul describes this holiness with three adverbs namely soberly, righteously and godly. Soberly refers to what the Christian does to himself or herself. Righteously refers to the Christian’s relationship with others while godly refers to his relationship to God.

Soberly also means self-control. The grace of God teaches us to control our desires so that they do not lead us to sin. Being sober means exercising self-control in our eating and drinking, in our thinking and speaking, and in our pursuits for various goals in life. As Christians we should never let our desires control us to the extent that we forget that our chief end in this world is to glorify and enjoy God forever. A Christian should never be  to the one who says to himself: “I want this particular thing and I will surely get it not matter whatever it takes whether it is right or wrong.” No friends, being sober means being driven by the grace of God and not the sinful desires of our hearts.

Embracing holiness also means living righteously or justly. If we are business people, it means being honest in our transactions with our clients and customers. If we are employees, it means working with integrity. If we are employers, it means dealing with our employees with dignity and fairness. If we are students, it means studying and doing our assignments honestly and to the best our ability. At home, it means husbands loving their wives and wives to submitting to their own husbands. It means children obeying their parents and parents loving and caring for their children. Charles Spurgeon summarizes it well, “A Christian profession without uprightness is a lie.”

Thirdly, embracing holiness means living godly or piously. It implies to being thankful always for God’s mercy and grace in our lives. It means to honor and glorify God because he is exalted far above us and the rest of the creation, and yet to love him with all our hearts, minds and souls because he is our Father. Again Charles Spurgeon puts it well: “To live godly means that God will enter into all our activities, God’s presence will be our joy, God’s strength our confidence, God’s providence our inheritance, God’s glory the chief end of our being, and God’s law the guide of our conversations.”

But you might look at this verse and say to yourself: “That’s not me! I know that I have repented my sin and believed in Christ but my life has not fully denied ungodliness and fully embraced holiness.”

Well my friend, you need to realize that this work of grace is not automatic, but we have to take deliberate efforts and cooperate with the Holy Spirit to help us grow in grace. You need to constantly use the means of grace, which God has established to help you in your daily work with Christ.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question and Answer 88 describes these means of grace to us. It asks, “What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?” The answer reads, “ The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all of which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

How is your study and meditation of the Bible? The Psalmist says that blessed is the man who delights in the law of God and in it he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings its fruit in time. Are you seeking this means of grace to help you deny ungodliness?

What about prayer? How regularly are you praying that Christ will transform you to be more and more like him? How often are you on your knees imploring the Holy Spirit to help you to deny ungodliness and embrace holiness? You need all the means of grace, which God has provided for you to help you grow and excel in the classroom of grace. 

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Marks of a True Church

How do I know a true church? Or does it really matter which church I go to? These are important questions because a church is not just a club that one belongs to. Christ established the church for the purpose of salvation and sanctification of all who believe so that at the end of time he might present them to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle (Eph. 5:27).

So, how do I know a true church? Well, before tackling this question, it is important to clarify on the onset that we will never have a perfect church in this world. It is only in glory that we will have it as Ephesians 5:27 tells us; nevertheless, we can still find a true church. The true church is characterized by three main things or marks namely the faithful preaching of the Bible, proper administration of the sacraments, and proper exercise of church discipline as taught in the Scriptures.

First, a true church is where the Bible is preached faithfully (Acts 20:27). Now, almost all churches and even cults claim to preach the Bible. However, if you go to a church where the preacher  uses a text of the Bible as a springboard to teach his own thoughts or ideas that is not faithful preaching. Faithful preaching recognizes that the Bible is holy and inerrant word of God hence the preacher strives to present its truths as they have been revealed to us without adding or subtracting from them.

Faithful preaching also is not afraid of offending people with the truth. It doesn’t seek to please men at the expense of God’s word. It proclaims that all men are sinners in need of a savior, Jesus Christ, who after saving them by grace through faith also calls them to walk in holiness by his grace. Faithful preaching regards growing in grace, faith and knowledge of Christ and not material or physical prosperity as the main goal of our salvation in this world (2 Peter 3:18). So, a true church always believes that preaching is the major element of worship that should not be compromised or underrated at all.

Secondly, a true church is where there is faithful administration of sacraments. The Bible clearly teaches that there are two sacraments, which were established by Christ himself namely baptism and the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion (Matthew 28:19; Luke 22:19). A true church makes sure that these ceremonies are always observed according to the directions given to us in the Scriptures for they are one of the means that God uses to grant grace to his people. They are “channels of grace” as some have said.

A true church, therefore, does not allow people who are living in open sin and rebellion against God to receive these sacraments, yet at the same time it encourages all who have made profession of faith and are striving to walk in the manner worthy of their gospel calling to come and participate in these ordinances, particularly, the Holy Communion after humbly examining themselves (1 Cor. 11:28).

A couple of years ago, somebody shared with me a story of a pastor who announced to his congregation that the following Sunday they will have the Lord’s Supper and every one from the community was welcome. Well, this might sound as being gracious but it is complete rebellion against the standards laid out in the Scriptures regarding the Lord’s Table. It is a deliberate provocation of God’s judgment. It is also an act of “blasphemy” as Calvin rightly puts it, “For it is very true that he to whom its (Lord’s Supper) distribution has been committed, if he knowingly and willingly admits an unworthy person whom he could rightfully turn away, is as guilty of sacrilege as if he had cast the Lord’s body to the dogs.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.12.5).

Thirdly, a true church is where church discipline is practiced according to the teaching of Scriptures (Matt. 1815-22). This, sadly, is a mark that is fast diminishing in a number churches. There are some churches that chicken out or deliberately ignore to discipline members who have going astray in sin and refuse to repent. If a church cares so much to keep their members irrespective of whether they are living their lives according to God’s will, then, you be afraid and do not be part of it.

But what do we mean by church discipline. Let me explain it with an illustration of a family. When children in a family misbehave, parents discipline them according to the offence committed. If the offence is minor, the chastisement or reprimand is also minimal. But if the offence is a major one, the punishment or rebuke is also severe. The same applies to the church. The church being a larger family, its members might commit various sins, which require a rebuke and correction from the church. Some sins are minor so a pastor and sometimes with some elders will correct the person in private. Others sins are major and public hence the Church should openly rebuke the sin in its strongest terms and even excommunicate the member if he is unrepentant after being spoken to.

In a case where the church has been forced to excommunicate a member, three goals are intended to be achieved. First, it is to reclaim the person back to the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. Through this act the church trusts that the Holy Spirit will work in the heart of the member to bring him back to the Lord in repentance (1 Cor. 5:5). Secondly, it helps to maintain the purity of the church. By expelling the unrepentant sinner, the church intends to guard against the corruption of the entire body since an undisciplined member might act as an encouragement to others to live in sin. Lastly, excommunication aims at protecting the testimony  of the church in the world. Those who refuse to repent and deliberately continue in sin should not claim to be part of the body of Christ since their lives and actions reject Christ’s teaching (1 Cor. 5:9-13).

Now, although a true church practices proper administration of discipline, it should also be borne in mind that no single church enjoys disciplining its members just as parents do not enjoy the actual act of disciplining their children. But this being an essential mark of a true church, churches should not chicken out from it for “All who desire to remove discipline or to hinder its restoration – whether they do this deliberately or out of ignorance – are surely contributing to the ultimate dissolution of the church” (John Calvin, Institutes 4.13.1) .

So, my friend, a true church is where you will find all these three marks. Not just one or two of them, but all of them. If you find or are in a church that ignores any of these marks, you should be afraid! In fact, I would encourage you to leave it if you are already a member. If you are not yet a member then do not go near again for it is not a true church.

A true church is not just a building but people called by Christ to live in holiness by his grace.

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