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Our Beliefs

 

Why do you observe communion/the Lord's Supper every Sunday?*
 
 

If you think about your life day by day, week to week, you notice that the things which are most important to you, you do on a consistent basis. Eating, sleeping, personal hygiene, time with significant people, work, etc. All these are vital activities in the course of our lives, so we make time for them and rarely miss them.

For the disciple of Jesus, one of the most valuable, tangible gifts we have been given is a memorial of bread and grape juice – metaphors of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. His death on the cross bought our salvation. We have eternal life because He took our place, being punished on our behalf. He suffers. We go free.

On the night Jesus was arrested, tried, “convicted” and sentenced to die, He met with His followers to establish this memorial meal. Paul records the essentials:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Neither Jesus, nor Paul, nor anyone else commands how often to observe the Lord's Supper. The early Church is said to have met together to “break bread” on a consistent basis, even daily (see Acts 2:46).  It can be argued that "breaking bread" can refer to sharing a meal as well as observing the Lord's Supper, but probably both were intended.

So how often should the Lord's Supper be shared? It seems that it would be reasonable to share the Lord's Supper everytime that disciples gather to worship, study or fellowship, but God has not made a decree on this issue. He simply desires His people to regularly remember the roots of their faith.

We choose to share the Lord's Supper at least on a weekly basis. We want to be reminded every Sunday that the reason we worship, the reason we live and serve the Lord, is because One gave His all that we might experience eternal life and blessing.

 


 

 

Why is church membership important?*
 
 

In Acts 2:41 Luke records that after Peter’s message delivered in Jerusalem on the Pentecost that some three thousand believers were baptized and “were added to their number that day.” This, along with other Scriptures, implies that once a person has received Jesus Christ as Savior that he/she becomes a part of His Body, the Church. There is no need for some kind of further ritual or test or probation period. Receiving Christ means being received by God into His Bride, the Church.

So why do local churches have membership rolls and requirements? Aren’t disciples of Jesus already “in”?
In the early days of the Church the “Way” was unified enough that to be in Christ was to automatically become a part of the local church in your hometown. As time passed and a variety of local churches inhabited each community, suddenly the unsavory business of having to declare allegiance to one local church over another became a necessity. Or so it seems. But must it be that way? Can’t a disciple of Jesus Christ simply consider that they are a member of theChurch and so they are a member of any local church that they happen to be attending?
I and others have wrestled with this question. My desire to have the Church be uncomplicated and Biblically-rooted would suggest that no requirements beyond what the New Testament demands should be pressed upon people desiring to be affiliated with a specific local church. And yet, because we live in a world in which multitudes of assemblies bear the name “__________________ Church” local church leaders and those seeking to worship, serve and support a local church struggle with defining which Christians “belong” to which congregations.
I would suggest five reasons for placing your membership with a specific local church:
  1. It declares the member’s agreement with the doctrinal beliefs of a specific congregation. Not every assembly bearing the name “Church” is necessarily faithful to Scripture. The letters of the New Testament reveal how quickly false teaching began to infiltrate the Church. Each local church should have some kind of declaration of basic beliefs to which her members can assent. In so doing, neither leaders nor members are in the dark as to the foundation of the belief structure of that congregation.
  2. It declares the member’s agreement with the vision and mission of a specific congregation. Because of the unique giftedness and vision of leaders and members, and the unique environments in which each local church finds itself, the specific approach and direction of ministry for each congregation can be very different. One is not necessarily better than the other, but no one local church can be effective using varied models of ministry, or can be effectively involved in every type of ministry. Each local church must choose a path, stay on it, and have members who agree with that vision for effective ministry to occur.
  3. It places the member under a specific team of elders for nurture and protection. Moses learned early in his ministry that one man cannot lead a multitude (see Exodus 18). His father-in-law pointed out the wisdom of breaking down the masses into smaller groups and supplying each group with a spiritually-able leader. Elders in a specific congregation can shepherd the flock more effectively when they have a manageable number and they know who they are. This also is a blessing to the member, in that, he/she is accountable to a specific leadership team and not prone to wander to another “flock” when their shepherd/elder seems unsuitable.
  4. It commits the member to support a specific congregation in prayer, ministry and financial giving. This does not prohibit the member from providing support to other ministering bodies of the Church, but establishes his/her local church as the priority of their support. The efforts of the member can then become concentrated and more effective.
  5. It provides the member a loving family. It is one thing to have extended family across town, in another state or even on the other side of the world. But the family in your own home is what provides consistent encouragement, strength and joy. So it is in the local church. As disciples of Jesus we have extended family in every place on the globe, but those in our local church family are the people with whom we share life on a consistent basis. There’s no place like home.

In a perfect world, church membership would cease to exist. Then again, in a perfect world, the Church wouldn’t be needed. Until God makes all things new, we seek to establish a healthy local church which is one among many congregations, all linked together by our commonness in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

 

What is baptism and why is it so important?*
 

Baptism is the dipping or immersion of someone in water who has expressed a desire to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  In the New Testament, it is associated with the forgiving of sins, the giving of eternal life, and the receiving of God’s Spirit.

Some question baptism's importance in the scheme of receiving forgiveness and eternal life.  I have had the question posed numerous times.

   “Do you believe that baptism is essential for salvation?”

Not too long ago the question came again.  It was posed on a Sunday morning after the Morning Service concluded.  Because of this person’s background, the statement of faith on the back of our bulletin raised a question in his mind.

Because we were in the midst of a crowd of people milling about at the close of a service and I had several people I wanted to meet before they left, I tried to be succinct.  A brief, but friendly, exchange of counterpoints followed. We agreed to disagree.

I’ve been asked the question dozens of times, and always find it somewhat awkward to answer.  Not because I am unsure about what I believe, but because I believe it is a bad question. When we refer to something as essential to salvation we tend to think of a list of things we must do to gain God's approval.  Most Christians would agree that having faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, repenting of sin, and confessing Christ as Savior and Lord are things that we do that are essential steps in the process of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9Acts 2:38Romans 10:9-10), yet many do not consider baptism in the same light.  Often those who reject baptism as an essential step label baptism as a work.  And they are partially correct.  But baptism is not our work.  It is God’s work.  We must, in faith, respond to the call to be baptized, and willingly be immersed in water, but essentially baptism is God’s action in us to give us eternal life.  We surrender, or express our trust, to another who administers a physical washing which coincides with our spiritual washing.  At that moment the blood of Christ cleanses us from our sin.  See Hebrews 9:141 John 1:7;Revelation 7:13-15.

But back to that bad question.  Asking about the essential nature of baptism misses the point.  It is not a matter of baptism being the only "essential" for salvation.  It is a matter of baptism being a key part to the entire process of salvation.

Our salvation is a journey or process that begins with God’s first encounter.  In our state of sin God confronts us through His Word (the Bible).  The Bible reveals that we are sinners, that God is holy, and that these two factors create alienation between ourselves and God.  But the Bible also reveals that the solution to this alienation is the Cross and Empty Tomb.  Hopefully our eyes are opened and our hearts are stirred.  We come to a point of faith because we believe the truth we’ve been told.  With that faith we commit to turn from sin and toward God (repentance), and we confess that faith.  Then we submit to baptism.  It is our new birth.  It is our time of regeneration.  It is when God slips the ring on our finger and we become His.  It is the entry point of the Kingdom.

Many non-Christian religions understand well that when a believer in Jesus is baptized that they have crossed over into another realm.  They have become different.  In contrast, many Christians view baptism as a ritual with little affect on the one baptized.  The New Testament writers never saw it that way.  It was indeed a “crossing-over event.”

Read through the passages in the New Testament which describe baptism (Matthew 28:19-20Mark 16:15-16John 3:3-5Acts 2:38-39Acts 22:16Romans 6:3-41 Corinthians 12:13Galatians 3:26-27Ephesians 5:25-27Colossians 2:11-13Titus 3:51 Peter 3:21).  Note the emphasis.  Baptism is associated with hope, promise, renewal and rebirth, cleansing, putting on Christ, etc.  It is a beautiful process.  In fact, baptism is much more compatible with grace than works.  It is a God-created entry point to the Kingdom.  God has chosen in that moment of our submission to breathe eternal life into us.

Christian Churches and Churches of Christ have often been labeled by others as obsessed with baptism or seeing baptism as a magical bath (referred to as baptismal regeneration).  In reality we give no more emphasis to baptism than God does.  It is fairly obvious that the number of passages that discuss it require us to see it as a very important part of our Christian birth.  We must decide whether it is an essential part of the process, or a merely symbolic act that we are free to observe or reject.  The New Testament emphasis on baptism is, however, too strong to sweep under the carpet.

I wish baptism were not a divisive issue within Christianity.  I wish it were understood by all that God has provided this entry point for us, that it is a blessing of grace, and that any disciple of Jesus eagerly passes through it.  Baptism should be a valued place of unity, for we all share the new birth experience.


For more information, see Jack Cottrell’s excellent book Baptism: A Biblical Study published by College Press.  

 

*These articles were written and are used with permission by: David Neiss.