The last several years we have tried an experiment in grace and have not charged for the Grace Agenda conference. In keeping with the spirit of grace, we are accepting free will donations here.
This is a remarkable period in the history of our congregation. We have never seen growth like this before, and all of us are getting used to the new situation. Of course, those of you who have moved across the country to join us—welcome. In one sense you are refugees, but in a more fundamental sense, you are reinforcements. This is a new community for you, a new setting, a new set of friends, the works. Your experience of church is very different from what it was. But the same thing is true of all you old-timers. You are attending a very different church also.
Believe it or not, there are some things about Christ Church that take some getting used to. Some of them are trivial, and some of them are practices that we consider to be very important. Consider this message as an orientation to one of our customs that we believe to be crucial, and it is the one that has to do with the relationship of our children to the congregation.
“And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them” (Mark 10:13–16; cf. Matt. 19:13-15; Luke 18: 15-17).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
This is a famous incident, recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels. Young children were brought to Jesus, so that He might “touch” them. What touching meant to Jesus is seen in how He responded. He took the children into His arms, placed His hands on them, and blessed them (v. 16). In Matthew, He laid hands on them (Matt. 19:15). In the Luke account, we see that coming to Jesus can be accomplished when someone carries you there because the word used of the children there is brephos, the word for infants. In all three accounts, the disciples were busy grown-ups and rebuked those who brought the children. “The Rabbi is a very busy man . . .” In the Mark account, it says that Jesus was greatly displeased with this. If you want to get that reaction from Christ, then try to get in between Him and a child being brought to Him. In all three accounts, Jesus requires us to allow the children to be brought to Him. The reason He gives is that “of such is the kingdom of God” (v. 14). He does not say anything like “children are a theology-free zone.” And in addition to all that, He teaches us that children do not have to become more like adults to come, but rather that adults need to become more like children in order to enter the kingdom (v. 15). Like the disciples in the story, we often get this backwards.
SOME QUICK BACKGROUND
You will have noticed that our children gather to worship the Lord together with the rest of us. We all gather together. Your children are most welcome, fidgets and all. On those occasions when you need to deal with any moral disorder that broke out in your row, then please feel free to escort your child outside. That is the sort of thing that we take in stride, and pretty much everyone here has been in your shoes.
The keys of the kingdom are held by the elders of the church, and not by the fathers. It is the responsibility of our session of elders to guard the purity of the Word and the integrity of the sacraments. If your child is baptized, he is welcome to come to the Table together with the rest of us. If your baptized child is three months old and conked out in the car seat, don’t feel like you have to wake him up for the Supper. But when he is on your lap, tracking with the service, and he notices the tray going by and wants to partake, please don’t restrain him. But at the same time, because this is not a unilateral family decision, please let your parish elder know that your child is now partaking. And if you have a child who is not baptized, but who believes in Jesus, he is still welcome to the Table with us—but he should be baptized first. He is welcome to sit at table with us, but the way to the dining room table is through the front door—which is baptism.
OUR BAPTISMAL COOPERATION AGREEMENT
The Confession of Faith for Christ Church is the Westminster Confession, but in addition to that we have what we call a baptismal cooperation agreement, which stipulates an allowed exception. In other words, for about 25 years we have successfully navigated and allowed for our differences on baptism, those differences being Presbyterian and Baptist. But at the same time, we have also cultivated a church community that is a welcoming place for the children. This issue is related to the doctrine of baptism, but it is not identical with it. One of the things we want to insist on is that all of you join with us in welcoming the children.
Some of you newcomers come from generic Baptist backgrounds, and others from a more defined Reformed Baptist background. You are most welcome here, but to get straight to the point, so are your kids. We can accommodate differences on baptism, but we don’t want to accommodate ungodly extrapolations from Baptist premises, or from Presbyterian premises, for that matter. An example of the latter would be, “Yes, he is serving 5 to 10 for armed robbery, but he is a good boy. He was baptized once, and we are hopeful that something good will kick in sometime.” An example of the former would be, “Daddy, I love Jesus . . .” “Let us be the judge of that, kid. Don’t you remember that lie you told three years ago?”
COME, AND WELCOME, TO JESUS CHRIST
This is not a religion club or a theology society that meets on Sundays. We are the body of Christ, and so coming to worship the Father here means that we are coming to and through Christ. We come to the Father in the power of the Spirit, traveling the road who is Christ. We are traveling Christ the Way all together. And as we travel in that way, we want to take great care not to place a stumbling block in the road for any of our little ones.
“And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea” (Mark 9:42).
Quite apart from the doctrine of baptism itself, it is therefore a baseline assumption for our congregation here that it would be far better for us to admit a false professor to our membership than it would be to exclude a true brother. This is an assumption that we want to see cultivated throughout the congregation—because we don’t want Christ to be greatly displeased with us.
Most conservative Christians know the basics of what husbands, wives, parents, and children are supposed to do and what they are not supposed to do. And they generally know that they are supposed to be Christians in it all: forgiving one another and staying in fellowship and the joy of the Lord. And we really must not underes- timate the blessing all of that really is. The value of peace and joy and fellowship is inestimable. But what grows in that soil is a powerhouse of influence, generosity, and blessing.
“… Drink waters out of thin own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well. Let thy fountains be dis- persed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets… Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth…” (Prov. 5:1-19)
OVERVIEW OF THE TEXT
Solomon the King and father continues to exhort his son to listen to his instruction (5:1-2). He specifically warns his son about the immoral woman who promises to be sweet but always ends up being bitter and deadly (5:3-6). The father repeats his plea to be heard to stay far away f rom her, explaining that he is not speaking in metaphors: the bitterness and death means losing honor, years of labor, wealth, sadness, sickness, and regret (5:7-14). In place of a reckless and bankrupt sexuality, the father exhorts his son to a joyful and fruitful mo- nogamy, picturing fruitfulness and productivity in terms of wells of water and gushing fountains of life, flowing from a continual delight in his own wife (5:15-19).
DO NOT GIVE THY STRENGTH TO WOMEN
Proverbs 31 was written by a woman, the mother of King Lemuel, and the queen mother exhorts her son not to give his strength to women, nor his ways to that which destroy kings (Prov. 31:3). Given what follows, what she is warning him about is drinking too much and loose women (31:4-10ff ). Gluttony and immorality are a couple of the chief ways men give their strength away to women. Rather than using their strength to build houses and families, businesses and cities, legacies and inheritances, men give everything they work for away (5:9-14). Ironically, Solomon himself is one of the great examples of this contrast: remember how he built the temple and his palace and other cities with the wisdom that God gave him (1 Kings 5-10). But then chapter 11 opens with the ominous words: “But King Solomon loved many strange women…” Instead of being faithful to God and building houses and cities of blessing, his many women turned his heart away from God and he built high places for all of them (1 Kgs. 11:7-8). What a draining, painful, and worthless waste.
In place of draining power and strength, Solomon describes the fruitfulness and power of a faithful marriage and family as fountains and springs (5:15-18). In an arid climate or when it’s baking hot outside, you under- stand the glory of cool, flowing water. A fresh mountain spring or river not only keeps you alive, it allows you to keep working, to keep producing and with joy. And think of all the uses of water: watering crops, keeping animals alive and working, cooking, cleaning, cooling, making paper, building, water wheels, hydroelectric dams, steam power, shipping, travel, not to mention recreation and fun. What Solomon sought to urge his son to understand was not merely the joy of faithfulness to one woman and the children she bears, but the political and economic powerhouse a faithful marriage and family can be. Cities have always been built close to water
for all of the above reasons. A thriving faithful marriage and family are little cities, proto-economies, micro nations. Just think: a thriving faithful marriage and family are a team of people who practice commu- nicating and working together regularly. As they learn to communicate, they learn to anticipate one another. They know the standards; they know what is expected; and they learn to problem solve quickly. Where there is joy and love and loyalty to one another and the mission, there is safety in sacrificing for one another. These bonds are tightened and strengthened through particular experiences, trials, and accomplishments. Under the blessing of Christ, this is where the water of family life flows from, begin- ning as a trickle and growing into a gushing fountain over generations.
Sexual Fidelity: the center of this fruitfulness and power is sexual faithfulness and delight. As with all repentance, there is a turning from and a turning to. Fundamentally, this is turning from self and the old man and turning to Christ and the new man (Eph. 4:22-24). And by God’s design, this is how sin is conquered. It is not merely a matter of will-power. You need to replace one way of thinking and liv- ing with a new way.The self-centeredness of lust and immorality needs to be replaced with the selfless- ness of faithfulness to one spouse. And because God made the world heterosexual, this means that a man needs to pursue and continually delight in his wife, and she needs to welcome him. When a man gives his strength this way, it is blessed.
Do you want your fountains blessed? Rejoice with the wife of your youth (Prov. 5:18). The center of this joy is the forgiveness of sins, and therefore, you cannot have this joy if your heart and home are full of the gunk and bitterness of unconfessed sin (1 Jn. 1:4-9). Many professing Christian homes are sad and stressful places because there is so much unconfessed sin, which is like a bunch of debris clogging the fountain. But when you confess your sins, the dam breaks, and the drought is over (Ps. 32). A Christian home should be a happy place, a joyous, raucous place of welcome, delight, and peace. It’s not a sinless place, but it’s a place that is continually applying the blood of Jesus and so it really is clean and full of joy.
WISDOM IS WEALTH
We are not materialists and so we need to think of wealth biblically. Wealth is not just cash or pos- sessions, and some forms of cash and possessions are not nearly as valuable as they may look at first glance (Prov. 23:5). But wisdom really is more valuable than gold or silver or rubies, and durable riches and honor really are with wisdom (Prov. 8:18). By wisdom kings reign and princes rule (Prov. 8:15-16). Wisdom has great strength, and by wisdom, God built the universe (Prov. 8:14, 22-29). And God has this strength by daily delighting and rejoicing in wisdom (Prov. 8:30). Delighting in stupid sitcoms, braindead music, and mindless movies is a great way to not get wisdom. And while the Bible should be the center of our wisdom, knowledge of creation (biology, technology, art, music, etc.) is wealth. And in a healthy marriage and family, that wealth builds houses, businesses, and legacies for generations that influence cities and nations and provide life to the world.
What I want to present here tonight is an introduction or a primer on trusting the Lord for the salvation of your kids. We do not have a bag of tricks or techniques which, if you use, your kids will magically “turn out.” There arecertain parental principles which contain a lot of wisdom, but there is no power at all in parental principles. The trust comes first, and then as an outflow of that trust, the principles can be applied and are efficacious. But unless the Lord is building the house, they labor in vain who build it (Ps. 127:1).
SALVATION BY GRACE
So let me lay the foundation first, reminding you of how you first became a Christian.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8–10).
“Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3)
“Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus, whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily” (Col. 1:28-29).
God promises us salvation through Christ, we look to Christ faith (plus nothing else), and we are saved. Not only so, we are taught that we are supposed to walk in Christ the same way we received Him—by grace through faith.
“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).
SPECIFIC PROMISES WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
This is not a talk on prayer, but I would like to use prayer as an illustration. There are two basic kinds of faithful prayer in Scripture. One of the prayer of submissive resignation, the kind of prayer that Jesus offered up in Gethsemane (Luke 22:42).
The other kind of prayer is implied in the stupendous promise that Jesus gives in Mark.
“Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” (Mark 11:24).
Now we all know that this promise does not mean absolutely everything, but let us agree that it does mean something. And whatever that something is, not all Christians receive it. And the condition there is found in that word believe.
And what this means is that there are Christians who have believed to the salvation of their souls who have not believed to the answering of whatever request it was. This is a promise in microcosm, but it functions the same way that the universal promise of salvation functions. Faith is the catalyst that activates the promise.
THE OLD TESTAMENT PROBLEM
Many of these promises are found in the Old Testament, but we need to take care with this. Whatever lessons you take away from the Old Testament, the sterling example of multiple generations of faithfulness building on ever-increasing faithfulness is likely not one of them. And so we tend to assume that God over-promised and under-delivered in the OT, but this is radically false. God did not abandon His promises when we came to the New Testament. God began fulfilling them when we came to the New Testament.
“But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them” (Psalm 103:17–18).
This is a most glorious promise, and notice how our Lord’s mother refers to it in her wonderful Magnificat.
“For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: For, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; And holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:48–50).
The new covenant is not the era where God abrogates His promises concerning our children. It is the time when the sun comes up—it is when He begins to fulfill them all.
A CLUSTER OF PROMISES & PREDICTIONS
What I have now is a cluster of promises and predictions that I would like to just blow through, commenting here and there, and then coming back to point some things out if we have time.
“The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee” (Psalm 102:28).
“Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments” (Deuteronomy 5:9–10).
“Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9).
“And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations” (Genesis 17:9).
“For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13).
“And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them. And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore” (Ezekiel 37:24–26).
“They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; For they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them” (Isaiah 65:23)
“As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever” (Isaiah 59:21)
“And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4)
“For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39).
GRACE IS ATTRACTIVE
Hard legalism is never attractive. Panicked insecurity is not attractive either. What you need to do is have a seat on the couch, and have your kids line up in front of you. And then you would say something like this: “Children, as you know, your mother and I are going to Heaven. What I wanted to do here is let you know that you are coming too.”