October 2004

HARMONY NEWSLETTER

October, 2004

From the pastor

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Since the time of our last newsletter, we have enjoyed the fellowship of our South Arkansas Association.  The meeting was held at Sardis Primitive Baptist Church and the brethren did a wonderful job in hosting the meeting.  The singing was beautiful and the preaching was very spiritual and uplifting.  I was able to attend most of the meeting and was very encouraged, not only by the able preaching that we were blessed to hear, but also by the variety of messages: the whole counsel of God was expounded.  The preaching included messages on marriage, children, parenting as well as the doctrines of grace.  It seemed that each servant preached what God had placed on his heart with great liberty.  This can only do Zion good! 

What is happening AT HARMONY

Elder J.R. Rakes stayed with us during the Association and preached for Harmony on Sunday morning and Sunday night.  We were very blessed and encouraged by his able preaching and we appreciate him and Sister Estelle coming our way.  On Sunday night we had visitors from Sardis, Macedonia, Mt. Paron and Fuller’s Chapel Churches.  We also had some visitors from Mississippi who were vacationing on Lake Degray.  This was a great encouragement to us so let us be mindful to attend the special meetings of our sister churches when we are able.    

We have enjoyed several visiting ministers on our first Sunday night meetings.  Elder Bobby McWhirter is scheduled to be with us the first Sunday night in October, Elder Mark Green the first Sunday night in November and Elder Hartsell Cayce the first Sunday night in December.  This has been a blessing to our Church and hopefully promoted some good fellowship in our area.  As John has written, “We know we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren.”  

We have been saddened by the loss of our oldest member, Sister Thelma Samons, who passed from this life on September 11th.  She has been in the nursing home for several years and each time I visited her she told me she was praying for her church.  It gives us great consolation to know that she is now with Jesus.

Presently, we are preaching through the book of Ephesians.  This epistle was written to the Church at Ephesus by Paul from prison.  The book is equally divided into two parts, the first three chapters dealing primarily with the bedrock doctrines of the Christian Church.  In the last three chapters we read some of the apostle’s most endearing pleas for the Christian’s conduct and character. This balance is found throughout scripture and gives the basis for Christian unity.  Many have resorted to multitudes of plans and schemes to bring people together.  Programs for children, for young adults, performances and worldly entertainment are used as methods to promote Christianity.  Yet, Paul was stedfast in the faith, showing us that the gathering together of God’s people should be first, through the preaching of the great doctrines of the Church.  This serves to gather the elect and not the world as it attracts believers in Christ as opposed to enjoyers of entertainments.  The means and methods of many professing Christians today would make the apostle blush.  The focus of the New Testament Church has always been the preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  This will always be the basis of Christian unity for God’s true church.  Christian conduct is the result of Christ revealed in the heart by the preaching of His word.

The first Sunday in November has been designated as a visitor’s day for our church.  On this special day, we encourage every attendant to bring a friend or relative to God’s house and share their faith with them.  It might be a relative, a co-worker or a friend.  If we are proved with hard questions as Nathanael did with Philip, let our answer be the same: “Come and see.”  This is probably the best way to invite!   

We are putting the final touches on our new devotional book.  I pray this little book will be a blessing and benefit to God’s people.  Its purpose is to encourage family devotions and serve as an aid to family devotions.  It may also be used as a private devotional book.  The book is a collection of short homilies to be read personally or at a family gathering.  At the end of each homily are found helpful hints used to encourage dialogue and personal thought.

The following is an expansion of an article appearing in our local paper on the subject of baptism which will also be found in our book.  

    

“BAPTISM, THE ANSWER OF A GOOD CONSCIENCE”

“The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 3:21

Through the centuries, the ordinance of Baptism has been misrepresented as to its purpose and benefit in the New Testament Church.  It was during the 1800’s, that Spurgeon preached his great sermon against “Baptismal Regeneration” which sermon is still available today in the reprinted sermons of this great preacher.  Simply, and we must add, biblically put, baptism is “the answer of a good conscience”.

What does this mean?  It is an answer back to God from a conscience that has been relieved of guilt by the revelation of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for that person.  This is the best way to describe a conscience that is good: it has been comforted and relieved from guilt.  

The conscience is made good towards God and self: towards God because the wrath to come has no more power over the conscience for it has found its ransom, its resting place, its scapegoat, its hiding place, its atonement in the person of Jesus Christ.  There is a good and peaceful feeling towards God.  Our Holy Father is no longer seen as Mt. Sinai which thundered and smoked.  Now we know Him as a loving Father who loves us, watches over us and has provided all of our needs to dwell with Him in glory.  

The conscience is made good towards self because the sinner has become honest with self, how the debt they could never pay has been paid in full by Jesus and they go from law to grace; from trying to fulfill the law themselves to living in the grace of Jesus Christ.  They now understand how their sin sickness will be ultimately cured.  Their faith is no longer in self and self works but entirely in Christ and what He has done for them.

We must equally understand what this does not say.  It does not say that baptism makes the conscience good.  It could never do that for a person who has not found their Savior.  If the conscience has not been relieved the sinner will come out of the water with a conscience just as condemned as when he went in.  But once a person has found Christ and  seen their sin debt paid in full by His precious blood upon Calvary’s cross, they can then, and only then, give an answer back to their Holy Father in the only way the He has ordained: by water baptism.  

There have also been various arguments as to whether baptism should be in running water or a standing pool.  I remember attending a baptism as a child at a river in our area.  When the young man was immersed, his mother said that his sins were floating down the river.  I looked, and I did not see anything floating down the river.  I suppose if our sins were as earthy as the water it could be so.  Yet, sins are spiritual and nothing can wash them away except a spiritual cleansing form One who is perfectly clean.  As the song goes, “What can wash away my sins, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”  

The purpose and intent of complete immersion is to represent something.  As Peter said, it is a “figure”:  It is a figure of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  One who desires to give an answer to the relieved conscience should have a desire to be identified with the One who was crucified, buried and raised for their redemption.  Running water or still water is equally sufficient.  

Baptism will not make a person walk aright the rest of their life nor will it cause a person to be faithful. This has been witnessed by the believing Church for centuries as some who have been baptized have departed and brought reproach upon the house of God.  If this ordinance gave life, spiritual life, we must say that it has failed in many instances and God must be charged with folly.  

Yet, there are spiritual benefits to be enjoyed by those who are obedient to their conscience.  For those whose conscience has been made good by a complete faith in Christ, an extra measure of the Holy Ghost is given which adds force and strength to their confession and character.  As Peter so beautifully said, “And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him” (Acts 5:32).  In any act of obedience, the Holy Ghost is given in an extra measure providing peace, comfort, strength, light, wisdom and all the endued powers of the Holy Ghost.   

Baptism has always been a believer’s response.  Only those who believed in Jesus Christ, who He was and why He came, were allowed to be baptized in the New Testament Church.  John the Baptist forbade many who came to his baptism demanding that they bring forth fruits of repentance before he would administer the ordinance.  Surely, if the liquid ordinance would have had any redemptive or changing influence on the person, John would have baptized all who came to him.

Jesus fulfilled all righteousness by being baptized at the hands of the Baptist.  Thus, baptism is a righteous act and the fulfillment of our earthly pilgrimage as Christians.  Jesus was certainly not born again at that moment, nor was anything added to His spotless purity.  It did for Jesus as it will do for us today.  It was another righteous act that He committed, His life being incomplete and unfulfilled without it, and it identified who He was and to Whom He belonged.  The Father and the Spirit were present to identify the Messiah and this witness becomes our own when we too fulfill all righteousness.

Baptism is the strait gate, the narrow way in which one enters into the Church and becomes a Christian.  It is the door by which we enter into the fold.  As one preacher said to an evangelist who baptized in tent revivals, “You can baptize people but it will do little good unless you have a stall to put them in.”  What he was saying is this: Without the testimony of the local, visible church, our efforts are fruitless.  If this is not so, why did God ordain the Church in the world? Without a body of baptized believers, who congregate together in a church capacity in the presence of the unbelieving world, the testimony becomes fragmented.  Little lights running to and fro can never illuminate a dark world as brilliantly as when they are brought together and placed upon the Candlestick and shine with the intensity of one Son.   Without a local body, to whom will convicted listeners ask, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”  The most visible evidence we have of God’s blessings upon our efforts in promoting the gospel of Jesus Christ is the formation of congregational churches made up of baptized believers!

  As we have already noted, baptism is the only answer that God has given for the conscience of the sinner to truly answer with. It is the ordinance that God the Father ordained for the Saints in light to display to all the world that they love and belong to Jesus.  It is humbling and distinguishing.  It is more difficult to the flesh than giving money, than going to church, than reading the bible and being seen with other Christians.  It is the Cum Laude of our experience because before we are baptized we must come to some conclusions.  We must decide what we believe, who we believe, who we are and where we are going.  Then the conscience is made good.  If the Father has spoken to our hearts, surely we should answer Him back!!      

Book review

One book we have in our library which has been of invaluable help to me is “The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary”.  This reference book is a wealth of information, containing articles almost every imaginable subject in the Bible.  It includes themes on people, places, events, Jewish traditions, New Testament practice, history and worship and is written in a very simple manner.  

REMBER IN PRAYER

Brother Carl Osterloh recently hospitalized with problems resulting from heart disease.

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