Family, Church, and Belonging
As many have heard, my friend Greg Parker and I have worked to refresh the translation of Bavinck's The Sacrifice of Praise. It is a fascinating book. The thrust of the book is on the importance of confessing Christ before, on, and after admission to the Lord's Supper. Throughout the entire book Bavinck regularly reminds us of this clear command from Scripture. He points to the fact that ultimately confession of Christ is the thing that separates the world in two (those who belong to Christ and those who do not). Confession of Christ is learning to answer the question of Jesus posed to his disciples: "Who do you say that I am?" (Matt 16:15; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20) It is the same question that was asked of Peter in the courtyard of the High Priest when he denied Christ: "Who is this Jesus to you?" The question of who we believe Jesus is, is the most important question that we will ever answer. Bavinck's little book is a pastoral plea to make a faithful confession.
However, Bavinck is not unaware of the fact that making a confession of Christ comes with losses. We will lose a great many things if we faithfully confess the name of Christ. However, the beauty of the Gospel is the promise that in losing this great many things (fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, possessions...), we receive back all that we need and then some. In a long string of Biblical allusions Bavinck puts it this way:
Whoever has sought after and found the kingdom as a pearl of great price, then also receives all other things. Such a person no longer needs to be concerned, like the Gentiles, and ask anxiously: “What will we eat?” or, “What will we drink?” or, “With what will we be clothed?” For his heavenly Father knows that he needs all of these things. He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for the guilty, will also with him grant us all things. The hairs of our head are all known. Our bread is certain and our water sure. Whoever would follow Jesus must forsake everything. Yet even now, in this life, he already receives again fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, friends and fields, and still in the next age, eternal life. Godliness with contentment is therefore a great gain; it is useful unto all things, having the promise of both for this life and the life to come.
The one thing that has been hanging around in my head, however, from this paragraph is that Bavinck reminds us that we are promised these things "Yet even now, in this life...". It seems so strange to think about that. The fact that we promised these things in this life. But where in this life can we say that we have received these things?
I am more and more convinced that the answer to this question is in the church. When we confess Christ, we are brought into the company of other people who have made the same faithful confession. We are united to them in a bond that runs deep. The waters of baptism are thicker than the blood that runs through our veins. When we confess Christ, we are united not only to Christ but to fellow believers. This union will never end.
Scripture tells us that all other relationships (marriage, family, business...) will come to an end (Matthew 22:30). However, the union that we have with Christ and with other members of the church goes into eternity. Christ will always be our head, and we will always have the brothers and sisters who have faithfully confessed Christ.
Confessing Christ comes with great risk. We may lose friends, family, possessions, status, etc. However, we have been promised these things back both in this life and the life to come. In this life we receive these back in the church. This is why church membership is important. I wonder if we really think about and take seriously the vows that we make when we become members of the church. These vows are just as serious as wedding vows, yet do we take them to be that serious? Part of these vows is making a confession of Christ ("I know that I am a sinner and in need of God's grace.... "I know that God's grace is only availability to me through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus who is the Christ."). Part of what we do when we take these vows is that we say we are committed to one another. That means we are committed to being fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers. It means that we have open hearts and open homes. It means that our bonds with each other run deep and in many cases deeper than the relationships into which we are born. It means, quite literally, that the church is the fulfillment of Jesus promise that we will receive back all that we lose when we confess Christ's name.
Confessing Christ gives us a new identity and a new people to whom we belong. When we make the confession of Christ, we commit to walking with each other. The deep yearning to belong that lies in all of us, is satisfied in the means of grace that God has provided. Taking the vows of church membership, means more than we often realize. However, when we make a confession of faith, we lose everything, but in the church we get it all back.