03 February 2009


Sitting back down, Red considered what elders would learn about their office through training. What are the distinct duties of the elders which will foster the spiritual health of the congregation?

The first responsibility leapt off the page! “To initiate the ministry of evangelism as the first business of the Church, and to seek to lead persons to an acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.”

The first duty is evangelism. The “business of the church” is evangelism. Seeking every opportunity to lead people to the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is the FIRST Responsibility of the Church.

Looks like my ministry team has got a lot of work to do! When we let clocks and line items and guitars and unseemly bickering to get in the way of witness, we are a failed institution. If we allow Graying to be inhospitable, ignoring visitors because we need to talk “business,” we are failures, because the first business of the Church is to open wide the doors of the church to all who come through them.

Next came “to remind parents of the responsibility of presenting their children for Baptism, and to provide instruction as indicated in the Book of Worship.” Looking at the elements of instruction regarding baptism, it became clear to Red that the level of instruction requires preparation

Well, sure, Red thought. First we train the leaders and then the leaders ensure that the rest of the congregation gets the education and training necessary to become witnesses to the Good news, to become evangelists.

The requirement that ruling elders remind parents that their children ought to be baptized and instruct them about the nature of baptism and the obligations that parents undertake is a biggie. Red recalled that the Session’s casual, matter-of-fact approval of a baptism request at the past meeting was pro forma. The Session did not confirm that the parents understood the nature of baptism.

A lot of young parents seek to have their children baptized for the wrong reasons. Some view baptism as a magical rite. Others know that they should do it, but simply do not know why. The elders must be ready and able to help parents understand the sacrament of baptism. The Book of Worship says parents should know and understand that :

Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the Covenant of Grace, representing Christ and all His benefits. They confirm our relationship to Him and represent a visible difference between those who belong to the Church and the rest of the world. There is a spiritual or sacramental relationship in the sacraments between the sign (water and bread and wine) and what is signified.

The power revealed in the sacraments does not reside in them or in the one administering them,but is in the work of the Holy Spirit and in the promise of God who gives benefits to those who worthily receive them. Thus, the sacraments are powerful and effective in the life of the recipient because of God’s Word which instituted them. For this reason the sacraments should not be neglected or omitted.

Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ. By the act of baptism, a person becomes a part of the visible Church, for it is a sign and a seal of the Covenant of Grace for believers and their children. As a sign it proclaims God’s forgiveness and our redemption in Jesus Christ. As a seal, God marks us as adopted children of our heavenly Father. It indicates our engrafting into Christ, our rebirth, the remission of sins, and our ability by the power of the Spirit to walk in newness of life. This sacrament is to be continued by God’s people until the end of the world.

God’s grace and salvation are not inseparably connected to this sacrament. Some who are baptized will be lost and some not baptized will be saved. Nevertheless, it is a great sin to make light of or to neglect this sacrament. A great benefit is lost when baptism is neglected, for God promises to bless His people through this sacrament. The effectiveness of baptism is not tied to the moment it is administered, yet God who keeps His promises confers His grace according to His own will and in His appointed time.

Finally, that the parents affirmatively assume vows of duty and obligation on behalf of their child by:

acknowledging the child’s, need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit;

claiming God’s covenant promises and benefits for the child and by faith looking to the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of the child as they do their own;

unreservedly dedicating the child to God, and promising by relying on God’s power and grace through the Holy Spirit to live an exemplary life before the child;

committing themselves to pray with and for the child, to teach the child the Scriptures and the great articles of our faith in Jesus Christ; and

promising to use every means provided by God, including faithful participation in the life of the Church, to bring the child up in the loving discipline of the Lord.

It occurred to Red that this meant that parents seeking to have their child baptized ought to be examined by the session every bit as much as prospective new members to ensure that they truly understood the magnitude of the obligation they are undertaking. Probably at a separate meeting called for that purpose alone, he thought.

The ruling elders are also responsible “to oversee the educational program of the congregation, and to determine its literature.”

How often does the session as a whole meet with the Discipleship Ministry team? When was the last time that the session examined all of the curricula being used in the church to ensure that it is Scripturally based and Reformed in nature?

It’s probably not a big deal (I hope) for Sunday School, but there are Bible studies and other small groups of the congregation that use educational literature, too. Whew!

Next, the session is “to oversee the worship of the congregation in accordance with the Book of Worship, including the time and place of worship, special services, the music program, and the celebration of the sacraments. This shall not infringe on the responsibility of the Pastor in the selection of hymns, Scriptures, sermon, administration of the sacraments, or other duties that are incumbent on the office of Pastor.”

Verrrrry interesting! All those folks who think that their little fiefdoms—the choir, some Sunday School classes, even some parts of the youth ministry—are free from oversight by the session need education in this regard.

And then there is this one: “When there is no pastor, to convene the people for worship on the Lord’s Day, offering prayers, praise, reading the Scriptures and teaching thereof. It is also appropriate for one member to give an exhortation or to read a sermon by some Minister of the Word of the Church.”

The Book of Worship sets forth the doctrinal understanding of worship.

The acceptable way of worshiping God is established by God Himself. Proper worship is defined and outlined in God’s revealed will and is to be followed in giving glory to Him. True and proper worship therefore finds its prescription in Holy Scripture. Only God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are to receive such worship. Such worship shall include the reverent and attentive reading of the Scriptures, the sound preaching and conscientious hearing of the Word, and singing of psalms and hymns, the proper administration and right receiving of the sacraments, and prayer with thanksgiving. Such public worship of God shall also include times of solemn prayer and fasting, as well as special days of praise and thanksgiving. All worship should at all times and in all places be performed in a holy and religious manner. The public worship of God is not to be carelessly or willfully neglected or forsaken.

The public worship of God is not to be carelessly or willfully neglected or forsaken. Worship requires attentive planning, reverent consideration, and joyful exercise. It is not to become an afterthought. It is not a show or a time for unthinking ritual. It is giving God that which is His alone.

Well, if the session has major responsibility for the worship life of the congregation, that is another area for which it needs education in order to then educate the congregation and correct poor spiritual conduct.

Elders need to understand The Lord’s Day, the obligation of each member to prepare and gathering for worship, the order of common worship, and the role of the Pastor, his or her duty and responsibility to determine the order, sequence, elements, and proportion of the service that each shall have in public worship. They need to understand the use and centrality of the Word of God in Worship, the definition and necessity of sound preaching of the Word, the place of music in worship, all aspects of prayer in worship, and the breadth and depth of the offerings of the people of God.

That’s a lot to chew on. Red yawned. He stood and stretched. Look at all of the complex areas for which we are responsible. And consider all the time we wasted on Monday night, deliberating about clocks and budget line items and other stuff that has nothing to do with the spiritual health of the congregation or “the first business of the Church.”

Coffee. I need coffee before I see what other jobs we have that we are not doing.

Can any one group actually undertake the responsibilities assigned to elders? Can education of the session and the congregation help? Can Red find a fresh pot of coffee at this time of day? Join us again tomorrow as we continue to follow the adventures of Graying Pres.

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