On Sunday 30th April at our morning service, we our service had the topic 'Invitation'. In this blog you will find a summary of the talk and then some questions and reflections for you to think through on your own or to discuss in your small group.

To listen to the talk on-line, please click here.
To download the talk to listen to off line, please click here.

Talk Summary

In the mid-1990’s I was working for ICI, and I had the grand title of International Training and Development Manager. It was a great job because I got to travel around the world, flew business class, stayed at the best hotels and I got paid to do it!

I remember that on one occasion, I was training some sales and marketing staff in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Since I didn’t speak Spanish and they didn’t speak English (very well), I took an interpreter with me. On the first day in the training room, all went well. I would speak using a slide presentation and then the interpreter would repeat in Spanish what I had just said.
That evening, I was invited to go for a meal together with the interpreter, the general manager, the marketing manager, and the sales manager of the Argentine ICI business. Since their English was good the conversation ran smoothly. However, at one point in the evening they began to speak in Spanish and this continued for at least 15 minutes. Clearly, from the laughter and the their general body language, they were enjoying themselves. On the other hand I was not enjoying it at all. Although I had been invited to the meal, I felt decidedly uninvited. I didn’t understand the language, and I felt completely excluded and miserable. Inclusive they were not!

Perhaps you can relate to that? The truth is that none of us likes to feel excluded; we all want to be included don’t we? 

Part of our EBC Mission Statement is “grow together to become more like Jesus”. And of course, Jesus was inclusive. In fact, radically inclusive!  He went out of his way to include those who were the outcasts as far as Jewish society was concerned; For example, hated tax collectors, lepers, the poor, the marginalized, women, anyone, and everyone!

Becoming like Jesus and being all-inclusive though can be a real challenge and a real struggle at times. So much so, that we can become discouraged and even consider the option of not coming to church or dropping out of a life group. However, the writer of a book in the New Testament part of the bible called Hebrews, urges us not to do that!

The background to the letter to the Hebrews is that although we don’t know who the author was, we do know that it was addressed primarily to Jewish converts who were familiar with what we now call the “Old Testament”. We also know that they were being tempted to revert to Judaism, or to Judaize the gospel. However, the readers are told that there can be no turning back to or continuation of the old Jewish system, which has been superseded by Jesus; His life, death and resurrection. He alone is the revealer and mediator of God’s grace.

Clearly some were becoming discouraged and thinking about giving up the true gospel. To counter this, the author of Hebrews writes this in Chapter 10 verses 23 to 25. You can read this by clicking here.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

His readers were and are being encouraged to keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going and to remember that God always keeps his word. And in response to what Jesus has done, he urges us to see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding meeting and worshiping together as some do, but spurring each other on, especially as we see the day when Jesus returns coming ever nearer.

So, I want to encourage you and to spur you on in your spiritual growth! 

First of all I want you to know that whether you are trying to find out more about this Christian stuff, or whether you have been a follower of Jesus for 60+ years, at EBC you are really wanted, welcomed, and hopefully feel included.
Now, I have a question for you. Wherever you are on the spiritual path, what are the next steps of faith for you? I am going to suggest two steps that you might take sometime soon, and I’m inviting you to seriously consider them: Baptism and Church Membership.

Some of you will now be thinking, I’ve been baptised and I’m a Church Member, so I can now stop reading. Well, I don’t think so! There will be something it what I am now going to write that you can start to do as your next steps of faith.

Some of you will know that we have been running an online course (on Steph and Simon’s Blog Page on our website), which covers both baptism and membership. If you can’t access it on our web site, then there will be a hard copy available, which Matt Bugg is producing. This is what we say about baptism.

As our name suggests, EBC is a Baptist church and that means that we place a strong emphasis on the importance of baptism in the life of the Christian. We believe that a decision to be baptised should be made by someone who has decided for themselves to follow Jesus, however young or old they are.  For us at EBC, “believer’s baptism” as we call it usually means a total immersion in water – of course, here at EBC we would make alternative arrangements when this would not be physically possible for someone. 
Baptism is a powerful, public display that one has turned one’s life over to God, and it symbolises a dying to our old sinful life (as we are immersed in water) and a re-birth to a new life with God in charge, as we rise up again from the water.

It is also a step of obedience to Jesus’s teaching and example. Baptism is a very significant step and one that requires us to think carefully. In Chapter 16 of Mark’s account of Jesus’s life, the resurrected Jesus says this to His disciples:
“Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptised will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. You can read this by clicking here.

However, we don’t want to alienate people or exclude people brought up in other (i.e. non-Baptist) Christian church traditions. Here at EBC we recognise that for many people, a full-immersion baptism is a difficult step to get their head around, especially if they have already experienced Christening as a baby and “confirmation” later in their life. There are different traditions in the Christian church and, again, we don’t want to alienate people.

Some of us, having been Christened and confirmed have come to decide to be baptised as well, later in life, when we have made an informed decision that yes, we really do believe and accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.

Jesus was Himself baptised of course and there is no harm in our being “done in triplicate” as it were if we have already been Christened and confirmed – in fact there are quite a number of us at EBC who have done just that!

Baptism is a very personal decision and also a very important one to contemplate with Christian friends and mentors.

At EBC, in keeping with our inclusive approach, we have what’s called an “open” membership – which means we do not exclude people who have not had a full immersion “believer’s baptism”.  However, our constitution does require people to “meet the church’s qualification on baptism” if they are to be a member. That means that we ask anyone who might become a member at EBC to seriously consider the Bible’s teaching on baptism. 
This is our way of recognising and accepting that there are different traditions in the church and that, for some people, the process of Christening and (particularly) confirmation may have been as significant and meaningful a step as a “believer’s baptism”. 
The important point is that there has been a careful and prayerful discerning of this by the person concerned, such that they are sure they have in one way or other met the “qualification on Baptism” – which is really to say they have been faithful to Jesus’s teaching.

How do we know when membership is appropriate for us? 
Well, there are some clear indications to look for – signs that can tell us whether the time has come for us to go beyond attending, beyond getting involved… and on to a step of much deeper commitment, where we’re really putting Jesus and His church at the centre of our lives. 

These membership indicators include:
•    Decision – To believe and be baptized
•    Private disciplines: prayer, study, fasting.
•    Church as priority: services, meetings and connections (Life Groups, Clusters, EB3’s)
•    Serving regularly and joyfully
•    Giving regularly and proportionately
•    A generous and sacrificial heart

Without this spiritual growth and deepening commitment to God, the church would be no more than a well-meaning club. 

Each one of us should be on a journey with God, going forward and progressing in our life of faith. (Including those of us who have been baptized and are church members). As we get closer to Jesus, our belief in Him will be affirmed and strengthened. We’ll feel a deepening sense of commitment to Him as our Lord and Saviour, and to His church as the gathered body of believers, the bride of Christ on a mission for God!

It is this process – God changing us from the inside out – that takes us from merely belonging to the church in the wider sense of attending and perhaps getting involved in some aspects, just as members belonging to a club might do. The process takes us to a much deeper sense of belief and commitment to God and the work of His mighty church.

I’m inviting you right now to take very seriously what you have read in this blog. More than that, and in response to what Jesus has done for us: 
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”


Questions and Reflections (for you to think about on your own or to discuss in your Life Group)

1.    Have you ever felt either excluded or included – the felt difference between being on the outside and on the inside? (At church, home, work or socially)

2.    Why might being all-inclusive be a challenge?

3.    Are you a person who spurs others on, or encourages others? How could you be more “intentional” in doing this?

4.    Have you thought about the “next steps of faith” for you? What are they?

5.    How do you personally respond to what EBC says about baptism?

6.    What is your response to each of the “indicators” for church membership? How would you assess yourself against each one? What are the next steps for you?

7.   What evidence could you provide to show that you are fully committed to developing your Christian life?

Rob Lea, 02/05/2017