Our Thirteenth Anniversary

We are commemorating our Thirteenth Anniversary today. We began worshipping together on the Sabbath of 4 July 1999, so we are, effectively, thirteen years old today.

Now, the number 13,—though dreaded and esoteric to many in the world,—is not biblically very significant.

Nevertheless, I think it will be profitable for us to take reference from the Scripture as we pause a while to look back on our thirteen years as a church and to contemplate on what lies ahead. For this purpose let us reflect on the three distinct references to the thirteenth year found in the Scripture, namely, Genesis 14:4; Genesis 17:25 and Jeremiah 25:3 (cf. Jer 1:2). Make no mistake: we are not making an interpretation of providence using Scriptures, nor are we in any way saying that these verses have been or will be fulfilled in the life of the church. All three verses are historical in nature. They record things that happened a long time ago in canonical history. Therefore, they may serve our purpose only by way of reminder and reflection.

Three thoughts come to mind from the three verses: From Genesis 14:4 is the thought “Parting of Ways”; from Genesis 17:25, is the thought “Covenant Responsibility” and finally from Jeremiah 25:3, is the thought, “Hearkening to the Word.” Let’s look at each one in turn.


1. Parting of Ways

We read in Genesis 14:4,—“Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.”

Chedorlaomer was the king of Elam, a leader of a coalition of kings who ruled over Canaan. The kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Bela has served Chedorlaomer for twelve years, but on their thirteenth year they rebelled against him. It was this rebellion and the war that resulted that set the stage for Lot’s capture by the army of Chedorlaomer and subsequently his dramatic rescue by Abraham.

What has this got to do with us? Not much really. But it reminds us, does it not, of what happened in our congregation in our thirteenth year (i.e. the year leading up to this anniversary). I am not, of course, suggesting that there was a rebellion. Neither am I suggesting that we can compare the leaders of the church, or the King of the church with Chedorlaomer. That would be misplaced and in some ways blasphemous. Nevertheless, as there was a parting of ways recorded in the text, so there was a significant parting of ways in the life of the church.

A significant number of our brethren and their families, who were with us since the foundation of the church, felt it necessary to leave the church to worship elsewhere. In some ways the departure had been anticipated for years, for while there was a bond in love, the bond in truth and conviction was not as deep as it could have been.

The parting of ways was painful, and in some ways we are still recovering. But we thank God that He knows best what is good for the church and for our brethren who left us. Nevertheless, it is good for us to remind ourselves that while the world will always see shifting loyalties and parting of ways, it is not something that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ should come to accept as norm. Most parting of ways between brethren-in-Christ in the church is a consequence of sin and sinful attitudes and calls for self-examination and repentance by all parties concerned.

Let us remind ourselves, as we enter into our fourteenth year, that every believer is duty bound to join himself to a manifestation of the true Church and never to separate from her unless God makes his will indisputably clear that he should leave, such as when the church turns apostate (Belgic Confession, chapters 28-29). While the Lord in His mercies does not deal with us as our sins deserve when we fail in this obligation, let us never take His grace for granted and tempt the Lord to chastise us. Let us rather seek to “[maintain] the unity of the Church; submitting [ourselves] to the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing [our] necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given [us]” (BC 28).

This leads us nicely into our second point concerning…


2. Covenant Responsibility

We read in Genesis 17:25, “And Ishmael [Abraham’s] son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.”

Ishmael was not a child of the promise. Humanly speaking, he existed because of Abraham and Sarah’s impatience. But remarkably, when God instituted circumcision as a sign and seal of the covenant, the first covenant child to be circumcised was Ishmael, when he was thirteen years old!

Now, we must never take this text out of context to dilute the doctrine of covenant infant baptism by suggesting that Christian parents can choose to delay having their covenant children baptised until they are thirteen years old. I know a pastor who taught this in order to accommodate Baptist members in his congregation, but this clearly is unscriptural.

What then, does our text, teach us?

Well, in the first place, we are reminded that baptism is not contingent upon election. Ishmael was to be circumcised though it was clear that he was not a child of the promise. Today baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign and seal of the covenant.

In the second place, as the sign and seal of the covenant carries implied covenant obligation upon those who are sealed with it, and yet Ishmael was circumcised as a teen, we learn that covenant obligations do not expire with the teenage years. You see, if as some imagine, covenant obligations can only be insisted on younger children, and not on older children (or those who have reached the bar mitzvah at 13 years old), then Ishmael should not have been circumcised unless he showed a personal willingness to own the obligation to the covenant. We have no evident of that in the Scriptures. Rather, we are told that he was circumcised simply because he was a covenant child of Abraham.

Why is this important to us? Well, it is important because more and more, we are, as a church, seeing families with teenage children. And sadly, in our day and age, many assume that once a child reaches the teenage years, he should be given freedom to choose what he wants to do with regard to his religion. Many parents fight a losing battle because of the norms and expectations of society. As a result the church is often left to watch helplessly as teenage children are lost one by one to the world.

What shall we do in the face of this phenomenon? I believe that as a church, we must begin to address the issue. We had been rather ad hoc in our handling of the problem of teenagers because we were not faced with it so intensely. But now as the congregation itself is a teenager, the problem is confronting us like a flood. We need to pray. We need to seek wisdom. We need to work together. We need to remind one another to remind our children that they belong to the Lord and they will always have a covenant obligation to walk with him. We must not think that so speaking to them about their obligation and duty we will make them legalists or hypocrites. No, no; faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Unless we make sure that our teenagers continue to hear the word of God and make use of the means of grace, we will lose them, and we will be responsible for their departures to a large extent because of our failures. Oh may the Lord grant us his help in this difficult challenge!

But this leads us to our final point, which is the importance of…


3. Hearkening to the Word

We are led to this thought by word of Prophet Jeremiah,—

“From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, even unto this day, that is the three and twentieth year, the word of the LORD hath come unto me, and I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking; but ye have not hearkened” (Jer 25:3).

Josiah was a good king. And he was just a boy. Never under-estimate what a covenant child could understand and what he could achieve. Josiah loved the Lord. During his reign, the nation experienced a work of reformation. Sadly, however, while the king was very zealous and enthusiastic, the people were not so. This is the major difference between the reformation during the time of Hezekiah and that under Josiah. In the former, the people were enthusiastically involved in the work, but in the latter, the people were disinterested.

This was the situation highlighted by Jeremiah. Jeremiah had begun earnestly to preach the Word of God to the people in the thirteenth year of Josiah. But the people would not hearken unto him. The result was that the nation continued in a downward slide to apostasy unto the Lord destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC.

What about us? The word of God has been preached in this church. It was preached in the thirteenth year of this church. The Lord sparing us, it will be preached in the fourteenth year and beyond. Perhaps given that we have been provided with two ministers by the Lord, we may see even more preaching and teaching than before. But the question is: Have you hearkened and will you hearken? The well-being of the church and the glory of Christ does not only depend on what is preached, but what is heard and obeyed. Both the lips and the ears are important in the body of Christ. If we hearken not, the word will only serve to condemn us rather than to build us up. Thus, we are taught in our Shorter Catechism, “That the word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practise it in our lives” (WSC 90).

Beloved brethren and children, will you not resolve,—as we enter into the fourteenth year as a church of the Lord Jesus Christ,—to hearken to the Word of the Lord? Oh may the Lord grant us the Word will fall on good grounds, and bear forth fruit some thirty, some sixty, some hundred fold! This is the only way that the Church can be Reformed and Reforming. This is the only way that we can continue to grow. This is the only way that we will magnify the name of Christ our King.


Conclusion

We do not believe in luck, whether good luck or bad luck. But we believe in providence, and that all things work together for the good of them that love the LORD. So we sincerely believe that the LORD has done much good for us in our thirteenth year as a congregation. And we pray and believe that the LORD will continue to bless us as a church as we continue to grow as a covenant body of Christ in the year ahead. Amen. W