(Isaiah 55:1-9; Luke 13:1-5) – J G White
11 am, Sun, March 24, 2019 – UBC Digby
A flight attendant spent a week’s vacation in the Rockies. She was captivated by the mountain peaks, the clear blue skies, and the beautiful forest. She also was charmed by a very eligible bachelor who owned and operated a cattle ranch and lived in a log cabin.
At the end of this week, after a wonderful time with this bachelor, she has to return home to her job. While on board the place, she was pondering, “Should I go back to the city or return to the woods and stay with this man in the cabin for the rest of her life?” She was struggling but believes that God will give her an answer.
To refresh herself, she went into the rest room and splashed some water on her face. Just then, there was some turbulence, a ‘ding’ sound went off and then a sign in the rest room lit up: PLEASE RETURN TO THE CABIN. She did – to the cabin back in the mountains. (modified from Reader’s Digest [1/81], p. 118)
Isaiah 55 – a great chapter! God invites: Come to me; I will make an everlasting agreement with you. The prophet injects: seek Lord while may be found… Let them return to the Lord.
This is the phrase that has caught my attention for more than a week. Return. Return to the Lord. Who is returning to God and Christ now?
One month ago Sharon and I heard Dr. Joel Thiessen, Ambrose University, Calgary, AB, give lectures in Wolfville about how churches thrive.
Sources of Attendance (in Canadian Churches):
Thiessen’s observations: 1. In most churches about 10% of people in the pews we can consider converts.
- People raised in the congregation (green): One disadvantage in this group: they tend to be slower to change. Same for many things, not just churches.
- The largest groups in congregations are those who joined it when they moved to the town, or who came after leaving a different one in the area.
So, Thiessen asks, if a congregation is growing in numbers, is it flourishing? Depends… Most growing churches in Canada are growing because of transfer growth! Is that good or not? We often decide. These are important questions.
Many of those who enter the local Church now are people returning. Not new converts. We knew this, I knew this, but I have always felt the ideal way is to reach new, unsaved, unchurched men and women. Perhaps I need to rethink my goals. Pay more attention to how we include the people of Christian experience out there who are not in Churches?
I think of my pastor friend (Garnet Parker) who dreamed of organizing a new congregation in Hants County for all those people out there who had been hurt the the church in the past, rejected by church, whatever. The Church of the Unforgiven, or something like that. There’s a lot to be said for finding a place for those who left the church for good reason.
People leave the Faith for many reasons. Some reasons are quite serious. Why do people suffer so? That’s a big issue. Always has been. Look at the conversation Sara read from Luke 13. People talk to Jesus about why a group of people got targeted by Pilate and were killed. Why? They wonder why some folks got killed when a stone tower fell on them.
Jesus’ answer seems to be two things. One, He says, No, these people did not deserve what they got, they were not being punished for something. Yet He also says, Watch out; you turn around, or you might end up the same way.
This is just one of many moments we have from the Bible where Jesus deals with the suffering of people. And that is just one reason people give up on being practicing Christians.
It is their return to the Lord that interests us today, to use Isaiah’s phrase. Many people who come to these pews are returning. Some of you returned to this church of your childhood. In fact, you may have been a member here for decades, having joined when you were a teenager. [I have a whole sermon for you about this pet peeve of mine – the problem of keeping your membership in a local church after you leave – naughty, naughty! But I will give you that sermon some other day.]
Some of you coming here was a return to church in general, though not this specific one. You were away from it for years, then came to this fellowship.
Some of you are folk who left some other nearby congregation, and found us after a while, and stayed.
Of course, Baptist congregations have operated for hundreds of years with membership. Though many of you regular participants are not members. Perhaps today’s a good day to review our membership procedures. If we are happy with people returning to God, or returning to us in this Church, we must pay attention to how we welcome and include them/you.
Article IV – Reception of Members
Upon recommendation of the Deacons and a vote of the Church, a person may be received into membership: This is one of the most important ministries of the Deacons in any church.
- i) By baptism – A candidate who gives satisfactory evidence of faith in Christ and a desire to live for Christ, is accepted for baptism. Baptists got named “Baptists” because our emphasis on baptism. We believe in individual freedom: the choice to be baptized into Christianity is a choice of the individual person, not of anyone else.
- ii) By letter – A member of a Christian Church practicing baptism by immersion may be received on the basis of a letter of dismission and recommendation from that Church. Of course, since we believe so strongly in the local church, the reverse is true. When you, a member of Digby Baptist, leave, you transfer your membership to where you are. YOU DO NOT STAY A MEMBER HERE. Oops. That is my sermon for another day. 😉
iii) By experience – This is a very interesting part of our identity here. Not every Baptist Church is like this, even in our own Association or Denomination. It is what is called ‘open membership.’ We respect Anglicans as Christians, and welcome them as full members if they so desire. So too with Uniteds, or Lutherans, or other forms of believers. Also…
iii) By experience – A candidate may become a member of the Church if there is satisfactory evidence of Christian experience when:
- a) The candidate has been baptized by immersion but is unable, for satisfactory reasons, to obtain a letter of transfer from another church.
- b) Members of established Christian churches not practising baptism by immersion, may be received into full membership of this Church through their Christian experience and by vote of this Church. They must first come before a committee of the Deacons’ Board and be given every encouragement to be baptized by immersion.
- c) If a candidate by reason of infirmity is unable to follow our regular form of baptism, the person may be received into full membership by a vote of the Church’s members. We do not say here in our Constitution that another form of baptism could be used, but I would also recommend that. Once, I baptized a man with a bit of water poured over his head, because he was ill and in bed all the time.
- d) By restoration – “suspended” members may be restored to fellowship. The unanimous vote of the deacons and a majority vote of the Church is necessary in such a case. This is another topic altogether – how members can get suspended, and then restored to fellowship.
No matter how someone joins us, or if they officially become a member of the congregation or not, our fellowship is called by God to welcome disciples of Jesus into our ranks. We are in the work of calling people to return to God. Repent is another Bible word close to this, which means turn around.
For so many this is not a matter of joining Christ for the first time ever. It is a return. A new beginning. A fresh start. We all need this, from time to time. Next Sunday here, we have a show-and-tell about our devotions, our prayer life, our use of the Bible, and so on. This week, show & tell God how devoted you are!