Crafted in Covenant

The Congregational Way
The Congregational Way

Congregational Churches are crafted in Covenant. What is a Congregational Church? What is it that makes a Church Congregational?

In the strictest sense, congregational Church governance is a fairly common thing among Baptists, non denominational churches, and a host of other movements of Christians. But a church that has congregational on the sign is identifying itself not merely by its polity but by a collection of important principles and precepts they go back to the English Reformation. The most central of these is the notion of Covenant in the local church.

In his foundational work published in 1868, “Congregationalism, What it is, When’s it is, and How it Works,” Henry Martin Dexter wrote, “God bound his people to himself and to each other, in the olden Time, by covenants, references to which are scattered along the pages of both old Testament and New… good people affiliated for good purposes are not at church, unless those purposes are distinctly Church purposes; that is, unless they aim directly at the promotion of the worship and service of God on Earth.” (Nichols and Noyes, Boston, 1868)

The collection of followers of Jesus Christ gather together around a covenant, a Central purpose which aims at the glorification of God and the world through acts of Christ compassion and direct evangelism; that constitutes a living breathing Church. It is only through deeply relational covenant communities of faith, that our congregational churches will be as God intended them to be.

We are to be the witnesses of the power of God’s love in Christ in the world. We are to be the hands and feet. But to do that we must do it together bound together in deep Covenant that is lasting, virtuous, biblical, and which binds our hearts together in genuine Christian love and affection.

Washington Gladden, that old Congregational light from a century ago, in his book, “Church and Parish Problems,” published in 1911, regarding this very topic he wrote, “what we most need to establish the truth about religion, and bring men to believe it, is not argument but testimony. “Ye are my witnesses,” saith the Lord.” (The Thwing Company, New York, 1911)

What is the Congregational Church? It is a Covenant Community of followers of Jesus. It is a people who recognized that Christ alone is the head of his church and every local church is a complete expression of the body of Christ. And upon the foundation of that covenant commitment we serve the Lord together and shine the Light of the love of God and the power of the Gospel into the world as one people, one body; the Covenant Community of Christ.

We may change our methods and the ways we communicate Christ but we must never relinquish our covenantal identity. When we gather, we gather as the covenanted people of God in Christ! “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20 KJV)

He is Risen! Easter 2019

What a great Lenten Season we’ve enjoyed together! During lent I offered and led a small group through the curriculum I wrote in association with my Doctor of Ministry Degree program. It is a grief share entitled, “The Sacrament of Suffering.”

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A dozen or so folks walked through 6 sessions of sharing and healing this Lent each Wednesday evening. It was a joyous experience as we shared with one another and grew in our understanding of God’s providence in the midst of our pain.

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The Passion week was a blessed time! Palm Sunday was packed with flowers and beauty! Easter Sunday was a packed house with love and fellowship and visitors. It is my privilege to serve as your Minister, Fellow Pilgrim, and Friend! Many Blessings in Christ! – Pastor Chris

A Call to Repentance Sermon, March 24, 2019 – Lent

 

“A Call to Repent,” Luke 13:1-9

 Introduction

Reinhold Niebuhr, Pastor at Bethel Evangelical Church in Detroit, in the early 1900’s, and later professor of theology at Union Seminary in NY, said this: “The great ethical divide is between the people who want to be pure and those who want to be responsible.” He made this statement in a televised a discussion with Dr. Thomas C. Kilgore, Jr., focusing on the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and racism in America. In the same discussion, Kilgore said something equally profound. He said, “[Circumstances] force[s] you at any extremity, at any extreme, to discover what you really live buy. Whereas most Americans have been for so long so safe and so sleepy that have no sense what they really live by. I think they may really think it to be Coca Cola.”[1]

This passage is about repentance, which is a change of mind that leads to a real change in lifestyle in the direction of God and His will. Repentance is the paintbrush in the hand of him or her who would view life as art… 

We too are living in confusing and in many ways perilous times. We need to hear Dr. Niebuhr’s words I think as they relate to the words of Jesus in this passage. We cannot recall in piety and purity. We must take responsibility and engage tangibly in the world from a place of humility and repentance.

CIS: Repentance is for today. It is the greatest practical-applicable gift of God. 

Exposition

Here’s what I mean. Luke 13:1-9 records two accounts of people’s tragic deaths. First, people trying to make sacrifices and Pilate, for reasons unknown to us, ordered them killed. Then there is the account of a construction accident. A tower was being built and it fell down and 18 people died. The people are asking Jesus what the spiritual meaning of this is. Jesus reply? Difficult circumstances are a present reality and their meaning is to point us in the direction of God – change your mind and life. Repent.

The great evangelist Chicago of more than a century ago, D.L. Moody had boiled down the central biblical truths which comprised his theology of preaching. I affirm them and years ago incorporated them into my understanding of the method and meaning of preaching as well. Three “R’s.” 

Mankind is ruined by the fall. Any right thinking about man’s relationship with God must begin right here. After the very fact of creation this is the next act in the Bible. Our state of innocent grace doesn’t last very long. Inherited and real personal sin places everyone in need of a savior. However, as Moody said, there are no slaves in heaven. Every person must heed the call of salvation in Christ by recognizing His beauty and worth; entering freely. 

Mankind is redeemed by the blood. We are redeemed by the blood of Christ shed at the cross and only by that blood. It is a fountain of grace. That’s why for Moody and for me, it is the love of God I preach because only the depth of His love and the beauty of His Christ can break the stony heart of man and of me so as to long to be alive under the covering of the covenant of grace; the life giving blood bought atonement of the Cross of Jesus Christ alone. 

Finally, and I’ll focus on this to the conclusion of this message. We are regenerated by the Spirit. You see, we can’t get here, life in the Spirit, without the first two “R’s.” This is key. People come to church and read their Bible and the like for all kinds of reasons. They say, “I want to be a better person. I want to be a more moral person. I want community” and so on… 

According to Scripture, reason, and the witness of the historic Christian faith, we may not have those things in fullness until we recognize our fallen nature, repent and place ourselves in the stream of redemption that flows from the Cross in the blood of Christ, then walk in the Spirit – the with-God life.

“Tolstoy tells a story about a “Russian painter named Bryulov. This artist was also a teacher of painting. One day, as Tolstoy was a watching him teach a group of pupils in his studio, he saw Bryulov touch up a pupil’s study in just a few places, and he says that the poor dead study suddenly revived.

The pupil had gotten the basic areas correct. He had even fathomed the proper relationship between the colors. All that his painting needed to make it live was a slight correction here and there, which lifted it from dead study to a fine work of art.” The missing lifting for many of us is repentance!

Now, the man who has never accepted the kingship of Christ and placed himself by faith under the fountain of the blood of Christ is yet in need of regeneration – of saving grace. That is done simply in prayer, “Lord rescue me a sinner!” It is sealed in baptism and renewed in communion – the sacramental life. But every Christian needs an ongoing penitent life. 

That’s where the “touching up” of the painting of our lives comes from. For some of us this means giving up habits that have been lifelong. They’re familiar but they’re holding us back from purest artful beauty of the Spirit. 

Most of us know what these habits are but we willfully choose not to perceive them when looking in the mirror. Or we forget after looking in the mirror. 

For others this may mean repenting of complacency and adding to our lives things that are of far more meaning and beauty than the things have simply allowed to float into our lives and remain. The call to repentance for the Christian who is living in the third of Mood’s R’s, is to occasionally, perhaps often, consider one’s life and how it is being lived. Then to curiously weed the garden of unfruitful habits and sow the seeds of more artful living… 

Conclusion

Come back to Niebuhr. “The great ethical divide is between the people who want to be pure and those who want to be responsible.” Repentance is taking responsibility. It is taking responsibility for my personal sin. I am a sinner. I am in need of Christ. I am ruined by the fall. I am redeemed by the blood. 

Life as Art regenerated by and walking with the Holy Spirit requires the paintbrush of repentance. It opens the door to a whole new way of viewing God’s creation, participating in His glory, and unveiling His majesty. Amen.

[1] https://digital.history.pcusa.org/islandora/object/islandora%3A71692