Sermon: Richard Baxter

When it comes to insurance, the cafeteria plan is one that allows a person to pick and choose what coverage they want. For example, someone with no children might choose dental, but not orthodontia. A cafeteria Christian functions in a similar manner. They are ones that choose to follow certain aspects of the faith, while leaving others pieces out. “I can get behind the ‘love your neighbor bit’, but ‘praying for my enemies’ is out of the question, unless of course you are asking me to pray that God will smite them.”

When it comes to Richard Baxter, you might say I’m a cafeteria Richard Baxter fan. There are parts of his writings and work that I think are quite remarkable, but other bits… not so much. Today, I’ll stick with what I agree with him on and let you decide for yourselves on the other, should you choose to read up on him.

On Sundays these past few weeks we have been looking at the four marks of the church: one holy catholic and apostolic, and have come to understand that we can not be one without the other. At the heart of these marks is is union with Christ and with one another. It is to this unity – or disunity – that Baxter partly spoke of in his work The Reformed Pastor, directed at other clergy. It was first published in 1656, but I wonder if you think he might have application for us today with regard to Christian unity.

Consider these words that he addressed to other pastors on the disunity of the Church as he saw it: “And it is not ourselves only that are scorched in this flame, but we have drawn our people into it, and cherished them in it, so that most of the godly in the nation are falling into parties, and have turned much of their ancient piety into vain opinions and disputes and envyings and animosities… they see so many parties, that they know not which to join; and think that it is as good to be none at all, as of any, since they are uncertain which is the right.”

Does any of that sound familiar to you? The latest Pew Research indicates that nearly 20% of Americans – and the fastest growing category – now classify their religious preference as “None,” and we can blame that on culture, but I believe that we can also blame it on the church.

In an attempt to turn the tide of his time, Baxter provided some guidance. Its guidance that was directed toward clergy, but as we all make up what St. Peter calls the Royal Priesthood, then it applies not just to the ordained, but everyone. Baxter writes, “Every time we look upon our congregations, let us believingly remember that they are the purchase of Christ’s blood, and therefore should be regarded by us with the deepest interest and the most tender affection.”

Each of you is “the purchase of Christ’s blood,” as is every member of the faith; therefore, we must all learn to set aside (in the words of Baxter) our, “vain opinions and disputes and envyings and animosities” and rediscover the unity that can be found only in Christ Jesus.

Baxter’s advice to accomplish this: “Take heed to yourselves” and “Take heed to all the flock.” Watch over your own life and assist others in their life with Christ. I may not agree with everything he wrote or said, but that is advice we should all be able to support.

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