DEVOTION: Initiation Ceremonies (Ephesians 4:1-5)
If we want to a join an organization or club, we usually have to do certain things.

We may have to wait until there is a vacancy. We may have to meet certain requirements. We may have to complete an application form and pay a membership and/or annual fee. And we may have to endure some sort of initiation ceremony.

Indeed, when I was at residential college, I was given a task to do to be accepted into the life of the community. (And the tasks that year included: measuring the front of a department store with a string of sausages, and cleaning the post office steps with a tooth brush.) Then once my task had been completed, I had to be immersed in a bath full of a soupy goo to be accepted into the life of the residential community.

Now, of course, that is one extreme—and a silly one at that. But it shouldn’t surprise us, that there is an initiation ceremony when it comes to the church too. It’s called “baptism,” or as it is more commonly known “christening.” (Although properly “christening” should involve the adoption of a new name to distinguish one’s new life from the life that had been led before.)

And the reason the church uses baptism . . ? It’s to give us an opportunity to admit past mistakes and for us to promise God that will try to do better. It’s also about committing ourselves to God and entrusting our eternal welfare into his hands. It’s about admitting we are totally helpless when it comes to that department, and it is about committing ourselves to practice the faith. It’s about promising to put into practice the things that we say we believe, and not just when it suits our other plans. And it’s about committing ourselves to be there for our fellow believers too.

In other words, initiation into God’s church is unlike anything required by any other organisation or club. As a consequence, wanting to join God’s band of followers is not something that should be taken lightly.

Having said that, however, what God promises—the benefits of joining—are many.

They include the restoration of our relationship with our creator. Indeed, God cares, and the one thing he wants above all else is to build a relationship with his people—us. He wants to communicate like a parent and a child. He wants to share our joys, concerns, and troubles. And he wants us to open to a God who offers solutions to the troubles we face.

The benefits include the guarantee of membership in God’s kingdom. Indeed, we can confident about where we are headed and what awaits us when we die. For although everyone will rise from the dead, only the faithful will live with God in eternity.

And the benefits include being a member of a new family—the family of God’s people. And whilst they are perfect—far from it—they should still provide the care, support and encouragement we need to live life, and help us in our spiritual journey.

Joining clubs and organisations, then, is a normal part of life. And initiation ceremonies are very much a part of that. But there can be no more important initiation ceremony than baptism. Because baptism is basically our “yes” to God. It’s where we accept him for who he is; it’s where we accept our own limitations; and it’s where we accept his solutions to life and his gift of eternal life.

As a consequence, baptism is not just any initiation ceremony. It is the most important initiation ceremony of all. But the rite is only the start of the process. What happens after—how we live it out; putting our beliefs into practice—is what living the faith is all about.

Posted: 2nd January 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis

DEVOTION: Seven Reasons for the Existence of the Church (Ephesians 4:1-6)
Most food items these days, are required to have a use-by or best-before date, stamped on the packaging. It’s a good system, and it’s designed to let the consumer know when the item is likely to be past its best, or needs to be thrown away.

On many occasions, however, I have wondered whether we need use-by dates for organisations too. After all, how many organisations have been started with good reason, and yet today … Well, you wonder why they still exist? Indeed, you wonder if they have reached their use by date too.

Having said that, however, one of the organisations that many would consider to have passed its use by date would have to be the church. After all, over the years, the church in the western world has been in decline, and many would say that it is no longer relevant in modern-day society.

With that in mind, then, I’d like to refer to Ephesians 4:1-6. Because it gives seven reasons why the church should exist. Then we can ask, “Are these a feature of our church today?”

One Body
And the first is that there is a need for a body of people, separate from any association or society in this world, who can meet and encourage one another united in a common faith. Now this isn’t supposed to be a secret society. Rather, it is a body of people who practice their faith in terms of caring for people, and in teaching spiritual truths.

One Spirit
The second reason is that there is a need for a body of people to bring a message of hope to the world. The church isn’t supposed to be a club existing for its own members. Rather, it is supposed to be an organisation, united by God’s Holy Spirit, telling the world of the opportunity for eternal life.

One Hope
Thirdly, there is a need for hope, in a world where many people live in false hope. So, their needs to be a body of people to correct misunderstandings and share true hope—the hope that salvation brings.

One Lord
The fourth reason is there is a need for a body of people who are united in a common allegiance to Jesus Christ. In other words, Jesus may have died for people’s sins, but their needs to be a group who declare that faith is more than lip service. That faith is about commitment.

One Faith
The fifth reason, is that there needs to be a storehouse of vital truths. After all, over the years there has been a tendency for individuals and groups of people to twist and change truths to suit themselves. And that is a very dangerous practice. There needs to a be a body of people, therefore, who continually monitor what is being said, and who to continue to uphold the truth.

One Baptism
Sixthly, their needs to a body of people who administer the sacrament of baptism—the outward expression of faith—in terms of people’s commitment to God, and their commitment to uphold all that the church stands for.

One God and Father of All
And, seventhly, their needs to be a body of people who remind the world that we are all God’s created beings, and that we all need to acknowledge him as the creator—and not just in a superficial way.

When we start to think of organisations in terms of use-by dates, then, does the church today still meet the purpose for which it was created? Indeed, does it still adhere to the seven principles that Paul laid out in his letter to the Ephesians?

Because whilst some organisations may have fulfilled their purpose, or even gone passed there use-by date, we should make sure that the church is just as relevant today, as it was at Pentecost, on the day it was created.

Posted: 9th September 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis