Text: Joshua 24:14-28, Title: We Promise, Date/Place: NRBC, 6/15/08, PM
Opening illustration: Quote from Hammet, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, p. 109-110, “To enter church membership is to enter into a covenant with the other members and the pastors. It is a commitment to being meaningfully involved in the lives of other members to do them good spiritually…The second most important thing we unite around is the lifestyle demanded by the message we claim to believe. For this reason, it is healthy to ask people to commit to the principles and priorities of a church covenant. This way, everyone knows what it means to be a member, what is expected of them when they join, and when they are falling short of fulfilling their covenant obligations as members.”
A. Background to passage: Joshua has just led the people on the Conquest of the Land. The inheritance being distributed, Joshua knows that he is about to die, and he gives a farewell speech that begins in ch. 23. The words of the speech in chapter 24 begin to take on the form of a covenant renewal ceremony. Tonight I am going to begin talking about our church covenant. And there are numerous places in the bible that have these covenant renewal ceremonies, Nehemiah 8-10 being the best, we are going to begin here. The people under Joshua’s leadership bond themselves together under a set of standards for belief and practice. Historically (at least since the reformation, which is before Baptists) Baptist churches have established themselves with a covenant of belief and practice that is expected of members. And most of these churches required agreement with this covenant in some form for membership. The primary reason was grounded in an ecclesiological foundation that only believers could be members—regenerate church membership. Talk about my commitment to recover meaningful church membership.
B. Main thought: so tonight in addition to our study on Joshua 24, we will look at the first paragraph in the New River Baptist Church covenant.
1. This line in the sand calls for four things in our text. These are the covenant responsibilities for Israel and for us. 1) It calls us to FEAR God. To fear is to have an attitude of awe and reverence that is appropriately due to the Creator, Sustainer, and Governor of the universe from the created, redeemed, dependent being. 2) It calls us to SERVE God. This is not a terrible labor, but a joyous liberation to fulfilling our created purpose. It means to exert our energy into the causes of Christ and the advancement of His kingdom. 3) It calls us to INCLINE OUR HEARTS to God. This word means to bend or bow toward something. The heart includes the emotions, will, and mind. 4) Finally, it calls us to OBEY God. This means that God’s instructions are the only instructions.
2. This is the most perplexing statement in the book. It is not to be taken without its context. The primary reason that Joshua says this is that he is making it clear how serious a commitment this really was. This is a point blank warning against superficial faith, nominal religion, and unthoughtout commitment. Joshua bases his warning on the nature of God as holy and jealous. Joshua gives very descriptive words that describe this covenant as exclusive, permanent, binding, and immediate. In v. 14, he uses “sincerity.” It means completely faithful, loyal, devoted, and even blameless (perfect). He told them to throw away the other gods. The idea of covenant is permanent. Two words for sin used—accidental and willful rebellion.
3. Joshua calls on the people to accept responsibility for their choices. He calls on them to act, and act now! This would require each individual within each household to choose to follow God. Joshua led the people in this with a spectacular example. He had led his family in a manner that every person wanted to follow God. Within the community there is accountability. They would make sure that everyone lived out their commitment. That is why witnesses are called. He calls them to go back to their tents right now, and get the idols and burn them, trash them.
4. Application: Therefore, covenanting together as God’s people with a standard of belief and practice is biblical, historical, and helpful in our desire to exalt Christ. This was the position taken by our Baptist forefathers, and the biblical authors, as well as the founders of New River Baptist Church. The covenant has fallen out of use, and we should repent, and make adjustments to our procedure and practice and policy and polity if necessary to bring it back into the heart of our church.
B. Regenerate Church Membership
1. Our covenant states clearly that all those who are becoming members of the church have been as far as they know and believe led by the Spirit of God to receive Christ as Savior and Lord. And they also have professed that faith and been baptized by immersion. The reason behind it again this that we believe in regenerate church membership. Explain. Membership in the local church is the church’s affirmation of one’s profession of faith. And the church continues to affirm its members’ faith, assuming that those members produce fruit worthy of repentance.
2. Col 1:2, Eph 1:1, Philip 1:1, Acts 2:47, 1 Cor 5:11,
3. Illustration: Church membership is thus for believers only. It is not for those who simply give cognitive assent to the gospel. It is for those whose lives evidence an increasing application of the principles of the gospel to the situations of their everyday lives, and whose character increasingly reflects the holiness of God. “The cardinal principle of Baptist ecclesiology, and logically the point of departure from church polity, is the insistence on a regenerate church membership. To put it simply, regenerate church membership is meaningful church membership, involving only those with a genuine commitment to Christ and the congregation of Christ’s people.” -Justin Anderson in the Southwestern Journal of Theology, The Charleston Summary of Church Discipline states that “when churches allow unconverted people to crowd into them, they make the church of Christ a harlot,” BF&M states that a church is composed of “baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel.” “If we believe that only genuinely converted Christians are to be members of the local church, then it makes sense to take time to hear people’s testimonies and listen for evidences of godly fruit and increasing holiness in their lives.” –Dever
4. It is absolutely clear that only believers can and should make up the membership of a Baptist church, and thus our covenant states that clearly in the first paragraph. If only believers are to be members, and believers are to evidence the validity of their conversion with proper actions (as we saw this morning), then it is our duty and responsibility to Jesus to do whatever it takes to ensure that people are truly believers when they candidate for membership (that is the phrase used in the constitution), and throughout their time as members at NR. And not only for the sake of the covenant and constitution, but for the sake of the clear teaching of the NT, and of the glory of Christ which is supposed to be put on display by us as a church. Reference the sheet given out as the alternative for the sake of the resolution. Let me applaud your willingness to begin to implement this ecclesiology and practice even though we have had a long slide away from where we should have been.
C. Voluntary Self-Commitment
1. It seems strange to be examining something that is not the biblical text. But it is also what Joshua’s people said. They asserted, “we will serve the Lord…obey the voice of the Lord.” And Joshua said, realize what you are getting into. And still they affirmed it. And Joshua said, I am writing it down, you sign it. And they said we will serve. And the covenant around which NRBC organized is a covenant that is entered into “solemnly” which means seriously, soberly, earnestly, sincerely, and firmly. And it says that we “joyfully” enter into this covenant before God and the assembly, desiring to keep its stipulations to the best of our abilities.
2. Ex 19:8, 34:3, Deut 26:17, Micah 4:2,
3. Illustration: Church Membership Vows Will you ___________, take your church to be your church; to live together in the holy covenant of membership? Will you love, comfort, honor, and keep your church and be faithful to your church as long as you live? Do you ___________, take your church to be your church, from this day forward, for better or worse, in good and bad times, when the treasury is full and when it is empty, when it is healthy and growing and when it is weak and struggling? Will you love it and honor it and serve it until death, as God is your witness? I, the undersigned, have read and understood the Constitution and Covenant of New River Baptist Church. By signing this document, I am considering myself in agreement with the principles outlined within it. I am agreeing by my own free will to abide by these guidelines with Christian love and decency, allowing the church to hold me accountable to it.
4. This is a commitment we make with full knowledge and commitment. We willfully commit to share our lives with this assembly of people. And as you will see over the next few weeks, that commitment involves our personal private life choices as well as public ones. No one is forced to make this commitment. And the understanding behind any sort of commitment is accountability. So it seems that upon making this commitment, the new member wants the church to practice this accountability. And therefore it is our explicit responsibility to hold members to their commitments for their own good and according to their own wishes. Membership can be resigned at almost any time. And sometimes it should be resigned. The only exception to the voluntary resignation of membership would be under the provision of church discipline. And this is precisely when members need your help with accountability the most. Think about it, if every time you held someone accountable, they just resigned their membership, it would effectively short-circuit the entire discipline process, especially since most SBC churches will not uphold the discipline of a sister church. So I guess, if you are going to commit some major church disciplinable offense and refuse to repent from it, you should resign your membership before you do it. But again the issue is really not membership. Membership is only the church body’s affirmation of one’s personal profession of faith. The real issue at stake is one’s own salvation; that someone would desire to do something contrary to Christ, and refuse to hear from individuals, small groups, friends, family, and the entire church, should call into question the validity of their profession.
A. Closing illustration: read the entire chapter, focus on 1 Sam 12:19,
C. Invitation to commitment
• Is Christ Exalted, Magnified, Honored, and Glorified?