WCF 30: Of Church Cencures

Dear Church Family,

When we were disciplined by our parents as children – admonished and corrected by them – it was no fun at the time, but as we grow older we become grateful for their loving correction. Likewise, church discipline often conjures up negative feelings and attitudes in people; however, it is one of the blessings of church membership by which we may grow in the Lord. For, as the Scriptures tell us, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

Church discipline (or church censures) was the topic of our most recent adult Sunday school class wherein we studied chapter 30 (“Of Church Censures”) in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

WCF 30.1 – Church Officers

This chapter on church censures begins, in the first paragraph, by establishing both the supreme and the subordinate authorities in Christ’s Church. The supreme authority of Christ’s church is the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself; He is the King and Head of His Church (Isaiah 9:6-7; Matthew 28:18). The subordinate authority of Christ’s church are church officers whom Christ has appointed to govern His people under-shepherds (Ephesians 4:11-13; Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:4-9; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Timothy 5:17-18).

As Jesus declared before Pontius Pilate that His kingdom is not of this world, otherwise His servants would be fighting to protect Him (John 18:36), so too is the government of the church through church officers distinct from the civil magistrate.

WCF 30.2 – The Keys of the Kingdom

Having established that Christ has given authority into the hand of church officers distinct from the civil magistrate, paragraph two of this chapter goes on to explain what kind of power these church officers have. This authority, which was delegated by Christ to His Apostles, is called “the keys of the kingdom” (Matthew 16:15-19).

As this authority is described by Jesus as “keys,” it is apparent that the function of this delegated authority is to open and close the door to the kingdom. Therefore, specifically, the authority of the keys of the kingdom is the power to retain and remit sins, to shut the kingdom against the unrepentant, and to open the kingdom to repentant sinners (John 20:21-23; Matthew 16:19; 18:15-20).

Previously we learned that God has “ordained civil magistrates to be under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good; and, to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defence and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doer” (WCF 23.1; Romans 13:1-4). However, Christ has not ordained the sword (or physical violence) to be used by the officers of His church. Rather, the power of the keys of the kingdom is exercised through the use of the word and censures. For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world; therefore, church officers do not bear the sword or any kind of physical violence in the administration of their duties (John 18:36).

WCF 30.3 – The Purposes of Church Censures

Church censures (or church discipline) is necessary. And, it is necessary to accomplish at least five purposes: (1) for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren (Jude 1:22-23; 1 Corinthians 5:5); (2) for the deterring of others from similar offences (1 Timothy 5:20); (3) for purging out the leaven that might infect the whole lump (1 Corinthians 5:6-7); (4) for vindicating the honor of Christ and the holy profession of the Gospel (Matthew 7:6); and (5) for preventing the wrath of God (Revelation 2:5).

Our denomination’s Book of Church Order similarly summarizes the purposes of church discipline: “The exercise of discipline is highly important and necessary. In its proper usage discipline maintains: (a) the glory of God; (b) the purity of His Church; (c) the keeping and reclaiming of disobedient sinners” (BCO 27-3).

WCF 30.4 – The Degrees of Church Discipline

There are three basic forms of church discipline which are given to us in Scripture, three forms of church discipline that increase in severity: (1) admonition (1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 5:20); (2) suspension from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for a time (1 Corinthians 5:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15); and (3) excommunication from the Church (Matthew 18:17; Titus 3:10-11).

Conclusion

Church censures (or discipline) is a serious and weighty matter. As we will learn in the next chapter, all synods or church councils since the time of the Apostles may make mistakes, and many have (WCF 31.3). The authority which Christ delegates to the officers of His church may, and has been, abused. Yet, at the same time, Christ calls fallen men to govern and shepherd His church through His delegated authority.

With that in mind, please remember to pray for the pastor and elders of our church, for the pastors and elders in all of Christ’s churches in our denomination and throughout the world. Pray that we might care for God’s people with the gentleness and tenderness like that of a nursing mother cares for her own children (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8), while also diligently laboring to exhort, encourage, and implore God’s people as a father would his own children (1 Thessalonians 2:9-12).

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

WCF 29: The Lord's Supper

Dear Church Family,

In our ongoing chapter-by-chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith in the adult Sunday school class, we have examined the sacraments in general (chapter 27, “Of the Sacraments”), the sacrament of baptism (chapter 28, “Of Baptism”) and this past Sunday we examined the sacrament of the Lord’s supper (chapter 29, “Of the Lord’s Supper”).

WCF 29.1 – The Definition and Purpose of the Lord’s Supper

Looking to the teaching of the Apostle Paul on the Lord’s supper (1 Corinthians 10:16-21; 11:23-26; 12:13), this rite of the church is defined as “the sacrament of His [Jesus’] body and blood” which is to be observed in His Church unto the end of the world. The purposes of the Lord’s supper are several: (1) the perpetual remembrance of Jesus’ sacrificial death; (2) sealing all the benefits of Jesus’ sacrificial death to true believers; (3) the true believer’s spiritual nourishment and growth; (4) the true believer’s further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him; (5) the true believer’s bond and pledge of their communion with Jesus, and each other, as members of His mystical body.

The confession’s emphasis on how these benefits of the Lord’s supper are only for true believer’s is a reminder that the sacraments are ‘sanctificational.’ That is to say, both baptism and the Lord’s supper are means by which God grows His people in grace and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

WCF 29.2 – What the Lord’s Supper is not

This paragraph of the confession is a refutation of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) concerning the sacrificial nature of the Lord’s supper. According to the teaching of the RCC, the Lord’s supper, or eucharist is “a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1366).

However, the Bible teaches that Christ offered up Himself once for all for the sins of the people (Hebrews 7:26-27); no other sacrifice is needed. Thus, the Lord’s supper is not a sacrifice, but a commemoration of Jesus’ one true sacrifice on the cross of Calvary.

WCF 29.3 – By Whom and For Whom

In our previous discussion of the sacrament of baptism, we noted how baptism is to be administered only by lawfully called ministers of the gospel. The same is true of the Lord’s supper. Thus, the Lord’s ministers are to: (1) declare the words of institution (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26); (2) pray and bless the elements, setting them apart from a common to a holy use (Matthew 26:26-28); (3) and distribute the elements only to those who are present (Acts 20:7).

In times past, the church has sometimes administered private communion to the wealthy or royalty, thus fostering a sort of elitism; something which the Bible explicitly condemns (1 Corinthians 11:17-22; James 2:1-5). So, the sacrament of the Lord’s supper should be taken together in the church, as one body communing together. Yet, what about those who are homebound by illness? Chad Van Dixhoorn wisely advises that these members of the church ought not to be forgotten: “There may be some cases where a pastor will find it wise to minister to the infirm by bringing bread, wine, and a part of the leadership and membership of the church, to celebrate the supper within the context of a special, small (and usually brief) worship service.” (Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith, 391).

WCF 29.4 – Abuses against the nature of the Lord’s Supper

In this paragraph, the confession condemns three abuses of the Lord’s supper that are all contrary to the nature of the sacrament. These are three things that are commonplace in the practice of the Roman Catholic Church: (1) the private administration of the Lords supper by a priest, or any other, alone; (2) denying the cup to the people; (3) worshipping the elements of the bread and wine.

Thus, the spirituality of the Lord’s supper should be emphasized:

It is important that the communion service be conducted with simplicity and dignity. Care should be taken that no rituals or movements be added to the service that distract attention from the administration of the bread and the cup. The minister should face the congregation from behind the table, the host should not be elevated or adored, the bread and not wafer should be used, and the elders should serve the people at tables or in pews. Anything that implies change in the substance of the elements should be avoided. Only actions that reinforce the spirituality of the Supper should occur. (Terry Johnson, Leading in Worship, 18).

 

WCF 29.5 – Sacramental Union in Scripture

“The fifth paragraph of this chapter offers a condensed reader’s guide to the sacramental sections of the Bible…It is designed to explain the vivid language used in Scripture to describe the Lord’s supper…” (Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith, 393). Because of the sacramental connection between the sign and the thing signified, sometimes in Scripture the elements are called ‘the body and blood of Christ’ though the elements do not actually change (Matthew 26:26-29; 1 Corinthians 11:26-28).

WCF 29.6 – Transubstantiation Refuted

Paragraph six of this chapter is a refutation of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church known as ‘transubstantiation.’ This doctrine is defined as follows: “by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1376).

To maintain such a doctrine, however, is repugnant to Scripture, common sense, and reason. Ultimately, transubstantiation entails the practice of idolatry, worshipping and honoring those things which are not God (Exodus 20:4-6; 1 Corinthians 11:24-26; Luke 24:6).

WCF 29.7 – “Real Presence” Refuted & the “Spiritual Presence” of Christ Upheld

Paragraph seven of this chapter is a refutation of the teaching known as ‘consubstantiation’ (the idea that Christ is physically present in, with, and under the elements of bread and wine), as well other views known as the “real presence” of Christ. That is to say, Christ is not physically present in any way in the Lord’s supper. Rather, when worthy receivers (true believers) partake of the physical elements, they spiritually feed upon Christ crucified, who is spiritually present to the faith of believers (1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:28).

WCF 29.8 – Fencing the Table

The Apostle Paul warns that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27). Thus, those who are “ignorant and wicked” (who have not professed faith in Christ and seek to follow Him) should be warned that they will receive no spiritual benefit from the Lord’s supper, but in fact will eat and drink to their own damnation.

This practice of warning and denying admittance to the Lord’s supper to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 5:6-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15) is often referred to as “fencing the table.” Traditionally, there have been three different practices of fencing the table in the history of the church and across denominations:
(1) “Open” communion – anyone who professes faith in Christ may partake of the Lord’s supper, regardless of their church membership.
(2) “Close” or “Guarded” communion – only those who are members of a particular kind of church may partake of the Lord’s supper.
(3) “Closed” communion – only those who are members of that local church or denomination may partake of the Lord’s supper.

In the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), according to our standards (BCO 58-4), churches may practice either “close” or “closed” communion. At Providence Presbyterian Church, we practice “close” communion in our fencing of the table: we invite all those who are members in good standing of a Bible-believing, evangelical church to partake with us.

Conclusion

At the end of our lesson on Sunday, someone asked a question about the frequency of the Lord’s supper; specifically, why does our church partake of this sacrament every Sunday. Briefly summarized, there are four basic reasons for our weekly partaking of the Lord’s supper: (1) Biblically, it seems that this was the practice of the early church (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7); (2) Historically, this was the practice of the Church for many centuries; (3) Worshipfully, the Lord’s supper functions as an important element in the covenant renewal aspect of our worship service; (4) Practically, the Lord’s supper is a constant reminder of our separateness from the world and an implicit (and often explicit) exhortation for unbelievers to trust in Christ for their salvation.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

WCF 28: Baptism

Dear Church Family,

Having discussed what the Bible teaches about sacraments in general (as summarized in chapter 27 of the Westminster Confession of Faith) this past Sunday in our adult Sunday school class, we turned our attention to chapter 28 (“Of Baptism”).

Before we delve into this chapter, however, it might be good to remind ourselves of the fundamental difference between the Reformed view of the sacraments and how they are most commonly viewed by many evangelicals today. For the Reformed, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper are “signs and seals of the covenant of grace” (WCF 27.1); they are God’s ‘visible words’ by which He communicates the grace of His covenant promises; however, for many evangelicals the sacraments (or ordinances) symbolize the individual’s faith and obedience; they are man’s testimony (for example, see paragraph 7 of the Baptist Faith and Message).

This is an important difference to keep in mind, especially when considering the doctrine of baptism. The Reformed view of infant baptism – which is mentioned in the chapter – is not a stand-alone doctrine. It is based on a fundamentally different view of the meaning and purpose of the sacraments, the nature of the covenant of grace, and the biblical teaching on the difference between the visible and invisible church.

That said, let’s now consider what the confession teaches regarding the sacrament of baptism.

WCF 28.1 – The Purpose and Meaning of Baptism

The purpose of baptism is for the “solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church” (1 Corinthians 12:13). According to the Great Commission, baptism marks a person as a disciple, or follower of Christ (Matthew 28:19).

To the individual who is baptized, it is a sign and seal of several things: (1) the covenant of grace (Colossians 2:11-12); (2) their ingrafting into Christ (Galatians 3:27); (3) regeneration (Titus 3:5); (4) remission of sins (Mark 1:4); and (5) a person’s giving up unto God through Jesus Christ to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3).

WCF 28.2 – The Proper Administration of Baptism

There are three conditions by which baptism may be deemed to have been rightly administered: (1) the outward element is water; (2) it is Trinitarian; (3) it is done by a lawfully called minister of the Gospel. We find these criteria, once again, in Jesus’ command to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20). For a brief explanation of the third criteria, I recommend Kevin DeYoung’s article: “Who Can Baptize?

WCF 28.3 – The Proper Mode of Baptism

Because baptism symbolizes the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration (John 3:5-8 (cf. Ezekiel 36:24-29); Matthew 3:11, 15; Titus 3:5-7; 1 Corinthians 12:13), pouring or sprinkling is the proper mode of baptism.

Some Christians argue that baptism is only properly administered by the mode of immersion, and they do so usually based upon three arguments:
(1) that the Greek word “baptize” means ‘to immerse’ (but there are instances in the New Testament where this is not necessarily the case: Mark 7:4; Luke 11:38; Hebrews 6:2; 9:10).
(2) supposed New Testament examples of immersion (but see Acts 10 and Acts 16 for examples where immersion was highly unlikely).
(3) that baptism represents burial which is more in keeping with immersion (there are two instances in Scripture where baptism is spoken of in terms of burial (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12); however, most often in Scripture, baptism symbolizes the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration (John 3:5-8 (cf. Ezekiel 36:24-29); Matthew 3:11, 15; Titus 3:5-7; 1 Corinthians 12:13)).

WCF 28.4 – The Proper Recipients of Baptism

The sacrament of baptism ought to be applied to both those who profess faith in Christ, as well as to the infants of one or both believing parents (Acts 2:38; Colossians 2:9-12; 1 Corinthians 7:14). The understanding of infant baptism is based on the continuity between the old and new covenants, particularly with respect to the connection between circumcision and baptism. For further reading, I have previously written about the doctrine about the doctrine of infant baptism here.

Some Christians argue that baptism should only be applied to individuals who have professed faith in Christ, and they do so usually based upon the argument that these are the kinds of baptisms that we find in the New Testament. However, the New Testament also contains records of “household baptisms” (Acts 16:15, 33-34; 1 Corinthians 1:16). In these instances, individuals believed and thus they – and all those in their households – were baptized. While it is not specifically stated that these households included infant children, it does point us to the fact that God’s covenant promises were intended to work in and through families, not just individuals. This is in keeping with the practice of household circumcisions of the Old Testament, and even the initial institution of circumcision in which all the males of Abraham’s household were circumcised (Genesis 17:23-27), including 318 trained men of Abraham’s household (Genesis 14:14).

It is true that in the New Testament, most all of the baptisms that are recorded are those in which the sacrament of baptism was applied to people after they believed. This, they did out of obedience to Christ’s command (Matthew 28:18-20), as well as to demonstrate and publicly profess their new-found allegiance to Christ and His church. This does not, however, take away from the fact that baptism represents God’s initial work of regeneration, to which our faith is a response. That is to say, baptism represents God’s initiatory promises to which we respond in faith.

In example, the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt and “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:2) and yet with most of them God was not pleased (1 Corinthians 10:5) because the good news that was preached to them was not united by faith in those who heard (Hebrews 4:2). This is yet another reason why we apply the sacrament of baptism to our infant children. We are declaring the promises of God in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) which our children (like us) must embrace in faith. In baptism, we are maintaining and declaring that God initiates the work of salvation through His promises in His Son, Jesus Christ, and that these promises must be embraced by faith, otherwise the sign and seal is ineffectual (see WCF 27.3).

For a better understanding of the proper mode and recipients of baptism, I recommend Robert Rayburn’s short little book What About Baptism?

WCF 28.5 – The Importance and Qualifications of Baptism

As the sacrament of baptism was commanded by Christ, it is a great sin to contemn (regard with contempt) or neglect its practice (Luke 7:30; Exodus 4:24-26). At the same time – even as the right administration of baptism is one of the essential marks of the true church – God’s grace and salvation are not inseparably linked to it. That is to say, a person may be saved apart from baptism (Acts 10:2, 4, 22, 31, 45, 47), and not everyone who is baptized is saved (Acts 8:13, 21-23).

WCF 28.6 – The Efficacy of Baptism

The efficacy of baptism (its ability to communicate God’s grace) is not necessarily tied to the time of its application to an individual; after all, the Spirit of God works when and where He pleases (John 3:8). Thus, the grace promised through baptism is given according to the counsel of God’s own will (Acts 2:38-41), His mercy (Titus 3:5), and is for those whom He has appointed to eternal life (Acts 13:48).

WCF 28.7 – The Frequency of Baptism

Because baptism is a symbol of the one-time act of regeneration, it is only to be administered once (Titus 3:5).

Conclusion

In some churches, baptism is viewed as necessary for salvation. Some view baptism as an essential work of a priest, and others view it as an essential work of the individual being baptized. In other churches, baptism is viewed as insignificant and irrelevant.

In the summary of the teaching of the Bible on the doctrine of baptism – as we find this summary explained for us in the Westminster Shorter Catechism – we find that baptism is one of those means by which God communicates His grace to His people. Baptism with water does not save, but baptism by the Holy Spirit does (that which water baptism points to). Thus, the practice of baptizing new believers and the children of believers in the church reminds all of God’s people that we are without hope, apart from God’s sovereign mercy.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Special Easter and Sanctuary Update

Dear Church Family,

As we head into the Easter weekend, here are three special announcements for the whole church that I would like to bring to your attention.

1. Good Friday Communion Service

Tomorrow (Friday, April 14th) we will have our annual Good Friday Communion Service at 7:00 pm in the fellowship hall. Please join us as we remember the crucifixion of our Savior and Lord.

2. Easter Sunday Service in the Newly Renovated Sanctuary

In 2011, our church purchased our building recognizing that renovations would need to be made. The Lord blessed our church in such a way that we were able to purchase the building without going into debt, and additional monies were provided for future renovations. We are grateful for the Lord’s provision and the generosity of His people, particularly for two members of our congregation who provided over half of the funds needed for the purchase and renovation.

From the start, the session designated Elder Greg Berkhouse to lead the process of the renovation, and Deacon Ray Jones has overseen many of the projects and updates along the way. The original renovation team (Jerry Walton, Brian Williams, LuAnn Gilmore, Carol Morgan) began to plan and work almost immediately. Several projects were completed, including the revamping of the heating and air-conditioning, as well as some of the electrical work.

For the sanctuary renovation, we are grateful for the labors of Elder Greg Berkhouse for his diligent planning and organizing of this final process, as well. Likewise, we give thanks for the hard work of the current renovation team that worked on the sanctuary (Rachel Berkhouse, LuAnn Gilmore, Steve Sredonavich, and Lorenzo Sanchez). Once the scope of the project was finally settled, Rachel and LuAnn took on the role of interior designers and looked at several sanctuaries for comparison, selected all of the colors, textures and furnishings, and worked closely with Steve and his crew to implement the work. Steve literally poured blood, sweat, and tears into this project as he directly supervised all of the work and put his own hand to much of it. Lorenzo lent his expertise in various matters (including building codes and materials and as a liaison with the city) and installed our new sound system.

As you will see on Sunday, they have done excellent work and many have noted that the process was smoother than expected. We praise God for his continued blessing in this whole process.

In our current sermon series in the book of Hebrews, we have recently noted that the worship of the new covenant is very different than that of the old covenant. Where old covenant worship was replete with sacrifices and rituals that were marked by great outward glory, the worship of the new covenant is to be simple and sublime (awe inspiring), in spirit and in truth, emphasizing the ordinary means of grace of the word, sacraments, and prayer.

In light of those things that we’ve learned from the book of Hebrews and our upcoming transition back into the newly renovated sanctuary, this is a good time to remind ourselves of the distinctiveness of corporate worship. The corporate worship of the church is different and distinct from all of our other activities: it is a meeting of the Triune God with His people. Because this worship includes both the God of all creation and His particular family (the body of Christ), we seek a balance of ‘familial reverence.’

So, in order to better foster this sense of familial reverence in our worship, here are a couple of things that the session of our church would like to communicate to the congregation:

(1) Please do not bring food or drink into the worship service (unless it is absolutely necessary that you need water).
(2) Please silence all electronic devices during the worship service.
(3) Parents, please make use of the new ‘cry room’ in the back of the sanctuary as needed (you will still be able to hear the service and participate in worship, while limiting distraction to your fellow worshippers).

3. Leavened Bread in the Lord’s Supper

On several occasions over the past year, the session has had some discussions about using leavened bread (instead of unleavened bread) in the Lord’s supper. Earlier this year, we decided to make this transition, and to have this transition coincide with our move back into the renovated sanctuary.

By way of a brief explanation, it should be noted that whether the bread in the Lord’s supper is leavened or unleavened, it is not an essential aspect of the Lord’s supper. Most likely, the bread that Christ used in the last supper was unleavened bread (according the tradition of the Passover); however, the Greek word that the Gospel writers used to describe that bread is not the specific word for unleavened bread, but the general word that simply refers to a loaf of bread. Thus, it doesn’t seem that the Gospel writers saw it as that important.

The session made this decision because leavened bread is the typical kind of bread that we commonly eat in our daily lives, and to most people it just tastes better. Also, though some have argued that leaven always represents sin in the Bible, that is not the case. In fact, Jesus illustrated the growth of the kingdom of heaven by comparing it to a woman who put leaven into a large quantity of flour until it permeated all of it (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:21). Thus, we may view leavened bread as a symbol of our hope and prayer that the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, His church, would spread to all the world.

If you would like to read more on this topic I recommend the following two articles:

(1) “Does Scripture Demand Unleavened Bread in the Lord’s Supper?” by John S. Hammett
(2) “Must We Use Unleavened Bread in the Lord’s Supper?” by Andrew Webb (this second article provides many quotations from Reformed commentators on the topic)

Conclusion

This Sunday will be a wonderful day in the life of our church as we move back into our newly renovated sanctuary. We have talked about this project for many years and now, thanks to the Lord’s goodness and the gifts that He has given to many people for the accomplishment of this task, this Easter we will be worshipping in an updated sanctuary that will more closely match our theology of worship in its simplicity and sublime beauty.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Dietsch