Doing Church Away from Church isn’t Church

Article: Doing Church Away from Church isn’t Church by Eric Davis (original source here)

Maybe you’ve heard it. “We can’t make it to church today, so we’ll just do church as a family.” “I can just do church on a hike this morning in God’s creation.” “The church is really the people, so we can do church wherever. God is everywhere, after all.”

Do we really need to go to a building on a certain day for it to count as doing church? If so, isn’t that legalistic?

It’s becoming increasingly popular to fashion new ways to “do church.” But how do we discern what does and does not constitute going to church? God’s word has plenty of wisdom on the issue.

In short, my hike or a Bible open in my living room with the kids is not church. Here are a few reasons why doing church away from church isn’t church.

1. We wouldn’t approach other areas of life like that.

To assert that we can do church away from church is an unparalleled way to approach life events. Do we approach other areas of life like that?

Husbands, next time you’ve scheduled a family day, just before it happens, tell your wives, “Honey, I’m actually going to do our family time on a solo-camping trip. But I’ll think about you and the kids while I’m sitting out there with the dog and my knife cramming Spam in my mouth. It still counts as family time, right? We don’t have to be all legalistic, honey.”

I wonder if we would use the “church-away-from-church-still-counts” jive towards other things in life, like missing the game, our daughter’s ballet, our hobby, or that movie we really want to see. “I’m going to forsake my daughter’s ballet, but I’ll do the ballet by remembering the moves I saw her practice in the living room last week.” “I’m going to miss hunting with the crew today, but I’ll do hunting by watching hunting YouTubes at home.” “I won’t make it to the premiere of that movie, but I’ll do the movie by watching the preview again on my phone.”

A YouTube video isn’t hunting with the crew. Meditating on her grande jeté is not attending my daughter’s ballet. Watching the preview on my six-inch screen isn’t doing the movie premiere. And doing church at home, in the car, or on a hike is not doing church.

2. Since we are not God, we cannot redefine things that are God’s.

If we are the head of an organization, then we can choose to define things in that organization. If you are the founder of a company, you can define your company’s goals. You can define standards for your employees, because you are over the thing.

Christ is the head of the Church (Eph. 1:22-23). He bought the Church with his life (Acts 20:28). He birthed the Church into being. It’s his Church (Matt. 16:18). So, he gets to say how things go. When he lays out things for his Church, that’s how they need to be.

Christ has specified how things look for his kind of church. And there are no verses which say, “Well, if you want to alter this thing that I’ve specified, go for it.” So it is when it comes to doing church God’s way. He is so great and worthy that it is reasonable for us to submissively and carefully approach what he says about church. We’ll look at some of what that means below.

3. Worship of God is not a self-determined endeavor.

Much of the Bible begins with God laying out what it means, and does not mean, to worship him. One take-away from Exodus and Leviticus is, “Wow. This glorious God does not leave the details of worship up to us.” That’s because one of the great problems with humanity is that depravity renders us unable and unwilling to worship him correctly. We have manufactured 10,000 ways of worship. And every one of them is profane and idolatrous.

Not once in the history of humanity has a person or people devised the correct way to worship the true God. That’s why we need the Bible. Whenever man takes the self-determined approach to worshiping God, he makes an idol. In his grace, God prescribes worship to sinful man for good reason.

“You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes” (Lev. 18:3).

“And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them” (Lev. 20:23).

Consider those Old Testament times. With all of those blood sacrifices, couldn’t someone just offer up a sacrifice at home? Wouldn’t that be good enough as long as they meant well and thought about God? Those who offered a sacrifice away from the tabernacle were to be killed (Lev. 17:8-9).

The point is that proper worship of God is not a self-determined endeavor. God has not left it up to me to decide what defines obediently gathering as the church for corporate worship.

4. Church means something specific in the New Testament.

Not once in the New Testament does God refer to an individual or parents and their kids as the/a church. Individuals are called by their name. Families are called households. But they are not called “church” or said to be doing church. An arbitrary group of Christians is neither called church, as in the gathered body for corporate worship. Continue reading

Why Community Isn’t Enough

Adriel Sanchez is the pastor of North Park Presbyterian Church (PCA) in San Diego, California. He has a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies. Here’s an article he wrote entitled, “A Pastor’s Letter to His Young Self: Why Community Isn’t Enough” (original source here)

I have a confession. When I was in college, even though I was studying to become a pastor, I didn’t have any real affiliation with a particular church. Sure, I went to church every Sunday, but I wasn’t a member of any one church. Church was something I enjoyed, and I would visit different churches, depending on how I was feeling on a given Sunday. My real commitment was not to a church but to a close group of friends that I had made at my Christian college. This friendship community was great, because we could have long talks about theology, culture, and politics, without disagreeing too much. In my mind, this close group of friends was my church community, so joining a church didn’t make much sense to me.

Fast forward almost a decade later, and my opinion about church and community has significantly changed. Now, having been a pastor for a few years, there are three ways I would challenge the “college me” and any other people today who have a similar outlook.
So, without further ado, here is a letter to my college self about the differences between a “friendship community” and a “gospel community,” which is a local church:

Dear Adriel in college:

First, your friendship community doesn’t display the power of the gospel like an actual church community would. In your friendship community, the community is created out of shared interests. Your friendship community looks a lot like you and likes all the same things you like. That’s normal and natural (we all gravitate toward people who are like us), but the community that God creates is supernatural. God gets to pick your brothers and sisters, and he often brings people into the family who don’t look—or think—like you do. Friendship communities will dissolve when some of the friends within the community enter a new stage of life or change personally. Gospel communities aren’t based on life stages or personal preference but on a common Savior. When this Savior brings people together who are very different and unites them in love, it displays the power of the gospel in a way that your friendship community doesn’t. Continue reading

Can We Have Jesus without the Church?

Article by Brett McCracken, senior editor for the Gospel Coalition and the author of Hipster Christianity and Gray Matters. He also writes regularly for Christianity Today and his website, BrettMcCracken.com. He lives with his wife in Southern California where he serves as an elder at Southlands Church. (original source here)

Do Not Cut Yourself Off from the Body of Christ

Ephesians 5 is often looked to as an instructive passage for marriage, and it is. But I think it is also an instructive passage about the church, especially in an age where many evangelicals have a take-it-or-leave-it ecclesiology somewhere between “I love Jesus but not the church” and “I’ll go to church but only as long as it meets my needs.”

When Paul says “Christ is the head of the church, his body,” it is a statement of union, of one-flesh connectedness. A head is necessarily connected to a body. The head directs the body and has authority over the body but also needs a fully functioning body for effective movement in the world. In a profoundly mysterious way, Christ has humbly attached himself to an imperfect body (those who believe in him) and loved this body, filling it with his sanctifying Spirit so that it will be perfected for that future moment of “without spot or wrinkle” glory. In the meantime the church is still imperfect.

Sadly, the still-imperfect nature of the church proves too challenging for some. They prefer to be “spiritual but not religious.” They embrace Jesus but ditch the church, oblivious to the fact that in so doing they are creepily embracing a decapitated head. Or those who do recognize the importance of the biblical idea of church simply redefine “church” on their terms. These are the people who love saying, “You don’t go to church. You are the church.” This is Donald Miller, who says he connects with God more outside of church and says “the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe.”1 This is Rob Bell, who now believes church is simply doing life in a beach community with one’s “little tribe of friends” (“We’re churching all the time”).2

But how much can we really grow when we define church on our terms, within the framework of our preferences and proclivities and with a “tribe” of people who “connect with God” most by surfing and enjoying craft beer together? As R. C. Sproul says, “It is both foolish and wicked to suppose that we will make much progress in sanctification if we isolate ourselves from the visible church.”3

Or listen to Spurgeon, who is (God bless him) characteristically blunt about the matter:

I believe that every Christian ought to be joined to some visible Church—that is his plain duty according to the Scriptures. God’s people are not dogs, otherwise they might go about one by one. They are sheep and, therefore, they should be in flocks.4 Continue reading

What New Members Need To Know

Article: Six things new church members need to know by John Divito (original source here)

Not long after I started my ministry at our church, we began having regular visitors who soon were asking about becoming members. While I was grateful to God for bringing them to us and thankful for their interest in joining our church, I knew that we needed to have a church membership class so that they could get to know our church better and we could get to know them better.

But what should I include in a membership class and how should I structure our time together? I decided to focus on answering six questions that would be helpful for those considering membership with us:

WHO SHOULD BE A MEMBER OF OUR CHURCH?

As Baptists, we believe that churches should be made up of regenerate church members. So only those who are believing in Christ for salvation and have followed Him in baptism can become members of our church. However, we live in a day when many will identify as Christians who have never believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ for salvation. Maybe their family background is Christian or they want their children to be raised with good morals but they have never come to faith in Christ.

Others have been in churches who have not preached the gospel clearly and do not know the gospel clearly themselves. In a church membership class, I cannot assume that those who are coming already know and believe the gospel. So I present the gospel to everyone attending, appealing to them to repent of their sins and believe in Christ as their Savior.

WHY SHOULD I BE A MEMBER OF A LOCAL CHURCH?

The biblical truth of church membership itself has fallen on hard times, with many Christians failing to understand why they should join a church at all. In my discussions with visitors and other believers, I have heard this question raised so many times that I wanted to include a defense of church membership in our class.
From the accountability it brings to the practice of spiritual gifts among one another, I want those attending to recognize the importance of church membership and why we take our membership so seriously. I have also asked them to read Jonathan Leeman’s excellent book Church Membership and given time during class to discuss what they have read to help develop our appreciation for membership. There are many good resources available to assist churches with a biblical defense of church membership, and I have found utilizing them in these discussions to be very helpful and rewarding.

WHERE SHOULD I BE A MEMBER OF A LOCAL CHURCH?

Obviously, I want people to become members of our church, but I care most that Christians will find a church where they can best glorify God and grow in Christ’s grace. So I want to lay out the biblical priorities in determining which local church to join, and then I spend some time explaining who we are as a church. Because the relationship between members of a local church is a close one of love and encouragement, I want those who are considering joining us to have a good understanding of who we are before deciding to become members. What is our history? What is our vision? What are our ministries? Answering questions like these and allowing time to answering their questions about our church are critical for them to get to know us. I also want them to have read through our church’s constitution so that they understand how we operate as a church.

WHAT DOES OUR CHURCH BELIEVE?

Because of heresy and theological error, and in light of different denominations in our community and our own doctrinal distinctives, I want everyone who is interested in learning more about our church to know what we believe. This is why I love being a confessional church, because I can hand them a copy of the 1689 Second London Confession of Faith and we can discuss what they will hear preached and taught as well as the beliefs that we corporately confess God’s Word reveals.

I am deeply saddened when I look at most church websites today and see nothing about a statement of faith, or their beliefs are so basic that cults could affirm them! I am not interested in leading a church which is trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. I would rather share with them what we believe the Bible teaches so that they will know what they will hear when they are members with us.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A MEMBER OF OUR CHURCH?

I also want to make sure that we are up front in showing people our expectations of members. I am thankful that our church has a biblical and faithful church covenant with the commitments that all church members make when they join and practice as long as they are members with us. Therefore, I work through our covenant statement-by-statement, explaining what this looks like practically among us. I would rather Christians decide not to join because of our commitment to the Lord’s Day and corporate worship or because of our desire to give of our time and money than later filling our rolls with people who disagree with us and refuse to live in light of way that we believe Scripture says we should live.

HOW DO I APPLY FOR MEMBERSHIP?

Finally, I want those in our membership class to have a clear understanding of our membership process as well as what the next steps are if they decide to apply for membership with us. Since we ask member candidates to write out their testimony, I also provide them with a basic template to help them think through their testimony. I also invite them to schedule a time to meet with the elders for further discussion if they are interested.

I am sure that I will further develop and refine our membership class as the years continue, but I hope that these questions will be helpful to others who are thinking through how to start and structure a membership class. Above all, I pray that Christ will be at the center of our church life together, with unity among our members while we serve our Savior and one another.

What is a Church Covenant?

Article: Membership Matters – What is Our Church Covenant? By Matt Schmucker who was the founding executive director of 9Marks. He now organizes several conferences, including Together for the Gospel and CROSS, while serving as an elder at Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C. (original source here)

INTRODUCTION

Professional athletic teams usually write a “moral clause” into their players’ contracts that will negate the financial package if the player fails to display at least a modicum of morally upright behavior. A few years back Jason Kidd was traded by the Phoenix Suns because he was charged with spousal abuse. Jason Kidd’s poor behavior off the court was reflecting poorly on the Phoenix Suns, and the Suns were concerned enough about the public reputation of their organization that they appealed to the moral clause in Kidd’s contract and disassociated themselves from him.

Back in the ‘80s IBM had a detailed dress code to which they required all their salesmen to adhere–dark suit, white shirt, dark tie. They wanted you to know when you were dealing with an IBM man; they wanted a certain image to be associated with their organization so that their corporate identity would have positive associations, and so that their corporate reputation would be excellent in the eye of the public.

These two examples underscore the importance of who we say we are, who we identify with, and how that public message and identification relate to how we actually live. In other words, we have to practice what we preach. And if this is true of the corporate world of computers and athletics, how much more is it true of the church corporately and of the Christian individually?

James warns us that “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (Js 1:26).

In other words, if you profess to be a Christian, but you don’t live a changed life, you should take no comfort in your faith. John says “We know that we have come to know him IF we obey his commands” (1John 2:3). In short, how we live matters. In this class, we’re particularly focused on how we live together as members of a local church.

WHAT IS A ‘CHURCH COVENANT’?

A church covenant can be described in five different ways.

A church covenant is a promise – a promise made to God, to a local church, and to one’s self.

A church covenant is a summary of how we agree to live. While our statement of faith is a good summary of what we believe, our church covenant is a summary of how we agree to live – more importantly, it is a summary of how God would have us live. It does not include every explicit command regarding obedience, but it does give a general summary of what it means to live as a disciple of Christ.

A church covenant is a sign of commitment – a commitment to God, to His church, and to personal holiness.

A church covenant is an ethical statement. Historian Charles W. DeWeese writes, “A church covenant is a series of written pledges based on the Bible which church members voluntarily make to God and to one another regarding their basic moral and spiritual commitments and the practice of their faith” (Baptist Church Covenants, p. viii). One theologian calls church covenants the “ethical counterpart to confessions of faith.”

A church covenant can be an important part of applying a Christian worldview to every aspect of our lives. Inherent in the purpose of a church covenant is the understanding that church membership involves being held accountable to live in a manner consistent with a common understanding of Scripture.

A church covenant is a biblical standard. A church covenant is helpful in a church that is practicing Biblical church discipline. As members of a church, we exhort one another to live holy lives, and we challenge brothers and sisters persisting in sin.

WHERE DO COVENANTS COME FROM?

Now that we know what church covenants are, where do they come from? Well, not from the Bible–not, at least, in the sense of being able to turn to the Book of Covenants chapter 3. But we do see examples of covenants both in the Old and the New Testament–covenants between God and man, and between man and man. Moses gives a covenant from God to the people of Israel. Ezra and Nehemiah do so as well. And in the NT we find that “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, which is the new covenant in Christ’s blood”. Primarily, church covenants come from the understanding that churches are to be composed of people who are truly born again. This is what we call regenerate church membership.

In the 16th century, men and women of deep conviction broke away from the Roman Catholic Church to form congregations who understood the importance of the doctrine known as justification by faith alone in Christ alone. No longer did baptism or membership bring supposed new life. Joining and being part of a church was no longer a civic duty or just part of growing up. It was becoming what it was always intended to be – a response of faith to the truth of the gospel. And in this response of faith we gain the most amazing callings: children of the living God, ambassadors of Christ, a royal priesthood; we become the bearers of God’s name in the world. Listen to God’s word on this issue. “I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes” (Ezek 36:23). We are called to be living witnesses of God’s holiness!

Continue reading

She’s Not Real

Written some years back, this article still has relevance:

Porn and paper pastors by Dan Phillips

Decades ago, I read a disturbingly candid essay by a pastor about his struggles with pornography. It was in Leadership magazine. Years later, two of his realizations still stand out to me.

The author came to see (as I recall) that he was attracted to these images because they were unreal. The women in the pictures never had bad days, were never crabby and demanding, never disrespectful and demeaning. No mood swings. They always suited his mood, his needs, his wants. They were unreal.

He came to see that he had no actual relationship with these women whatever. If (he named a female celebrity) had sat down next to him in an airplane, she wouldn’t know him from Adam. Whatever may have happened in his sinful fantasies, the two of them had no relationship in the real world.

Of course, this is why so many women resent actresses and models. It isn’t catty pettiness or smallness. It is that they know how visually-tempted men can be, and they know that they can’t compete with a fantasy — if their man is fool enough to chase one.

And they’re right, in a way. They can’t compete with these women. Because these women don’t exist in the real world! They may not even look like their pictures! Thanks to computer wizardry, the pictures we see may actually bear only the slightest resemblance to the actual women.

Nobody can compete with a fantasy.

And this post is not about pornography, men, women, nor marriage.

It is about people with paper pastors.

Now, some professed Christians sin outright, by never physically attending an actual, in-person church. We’ve talked about that, and they aren’t our focus.

But others do attend a church — physically. They come in, they sit down. They sing, they may give financially. They may look at you, Pastor, as you preach.

But you know their heart belongs to another.

Their real pastor isn’t you. It’s Dave Hunt. Or it’s John Piper. Or it’s John MacArthur, or Ligon Duncan, or Mark Dever, or David Cloud, or Joel Osteen. Or it’s Charles Spurgeon, or D. M. Lloyd-Jones, or J. C. Ryle. Or Calvin, or Luther, or Bahnsen, or de Mar, or R. B. Thieme (Jr.), or J. Vernon McGee.

And they’re such better pastors than you are! You know they are!

Why? Continue reading

See You In Church!

Strong stuff!!

Article: Why you need to be in a church this Sunday by Dan Phillips (original source here):

Howdy! While Pyro was dark during October, I went a bit nuts over at my place, posting about sixty-six times. A couple of them, I mean to re-work and share with anyone here who may not have dropped by there. Here’s the first, all re-worked, with extra coals added. Hey — this is Pyromaniacs!
“Everything old is new again,” and the saying certainly holds true when it comes to heresy, false doctrine and plain old unbiblical nuttiness.

For instance, back in the anti-establishment 60s and 70s, Christianoid kids would verbally trash the “organized church.” Didn’t need to go to a building, they’d say; they were the church. The real Bible scholars among them (relatively speaking) might yank 1 Corinthians 6:19 out of context and waterboard it a bit, until it said what they wanted to hear.

But no, Trevor, you’re not the church. You’re part of the church. The word ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia) means “assembly,” and no, you’re really not an assembly. Doesn’t matter how many chins you have, you still aren’t an assembly.

What you are (you tell me) is a Christian. If you’re a Christian, you claim Jesus as your Lord.

Where’s your Lord today? He depicts Himself as walking among local assemblies (Revelation 1:12-13, 20), holding their pastors in His right hand (vv. 16, 20). What do you think the message is, there? Why is He not watching a lovely sunset, or fishing, or walking the dog, or riding a comet? Why among churches, among assemblies, cherishing their pastors?

Because that’s where Jesus is. That’s where His great heart is. Do you know better than He? Which one of you is “Lord,” again?

That’s the church, that local assembly of believers where pastors lead, the Word is preached, the ordinances are observed, and discipline is carried out. Christ loved it and gave Himself for it (Ephesians 5:25). He died for it.

But you won’t walk into one of them, and stay there? Which one of you is “Lord,” again?

Before He died, Jesus prayed for the church, all of it (John 17). Even (especially!) with what He was facing, the church was on His heart.

But you won’t attach yourself to one, to join it and work in it and pray for it? Which one of you is “Lord,” again?

Who is your pastor? Are you fool enough to say “Jesus is my pastor”? Nonsense. When He ascended, He gave pastors to the church (Ephesians 4:11). If He gave them, then He isn’t them. Which one is your pastor, your toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball pastor?

Your “Lord” charged pastors with the care of souls. That means Jesus — your Lord, so you say — thinks your soul needs watching over (Hebrews 13:7, 17). Which individual flesh and bones living pastor is watching over your soul, in person, individually?

If “none,” how is it that you decided you are smarter than Jesus? You know, Jesus. Your “Lord.” Which one of you is “Lord,” again?

Jesus, your Lord, also called you to know, show respect for, esteem highly in love, and submit to the leadership of your flesh-and-blood in-person pastor (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:17). Which pastor is it that sees you come regularly to be discipled and led, and sees you loving and trusting God enough to yield him the love and submission to which God calls you?

If you bristle at the thought of embracing what Jesus calls you to — which one of you is “Lord,” again?

And if you fall into unrepentant sin, which assembly will even know of it, let alone discipline you? Jesus says you need that, too (Matthew 18:13-20). I don’t care what complex, high-sounding Dagwood sandwich of excuses you can slap together. If you say you don’t need to be in a local assembly, you say you’re smarter than Jesus, and are sufficient.

Fool!

And remember, that Jesus you say is your “Lord” said that the second most important thing in the world is to love your neighbor (Matthew 22:39). He moved Paul to tell you your fellow-church-member is your premier neighbor (Galatians 6:10). That’s where you take all that rich doctrine (Ephesians 1—3), and live it out in community (Ephesians 4—6). That’s where you do all those dozens of “one anothers.”

And if you tell yourself that your spouse or children are all the “one anothers” you need, God already said “No.” If you insist, you put your judgment over God’s.

Meaning that, whatever your mouth professes, your choices say you find God’s judgment deficient, and yours superior.

Meaning you’re a fool and a de facto blasphemer — whether you intend to be or not.

And you thereby bring harm on your spouse and children, by preaching and living a lie to them.

That’s for starters.

So, Jesus — your “Lord” — says you need to be in a local church. You say you don’t?

Which one to believe? You? Or Jesus? You? Or Jesus? Hmm.

Here’s the problem, I think. I’ve said a word thirteen times: Lord. The confession of Jesus as Lord is fundamental to Christian faith (Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 2:11). In repentant faith, we bow the knee to Christ’s Lordship. Continue reading

Meaningful Membership

Article: Why Churches Should Have Meaningful Membership by Erik Raymond – original source here:

Church membership is a concept that while not explicitly articulated in the Scriptures is assumed and supported. Many of the New Testament letters were written to local congregations with instructions as to how they were to deal with their life together (for example, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians). Even though church membership is common in churches today and throughout history, I’ve found it helpful to broaden out the answer to help fill out my reasons for why we have church membership.

Is church membership biblical? Is it important? Yes, I believe so. Here are four main reasons why.

First, there are theological reasons. In other words, there are certain truths about who God is and what he has done that require membership language and the practice of membership.

When God caused you to be born-again, he established a new relationship with you. Formerly, you and I were separated from God in our rebellion, but God, being rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4), has made us alive and brought us into his family by “adopting us to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:5). By grace, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1.13). Those who were formerly far off “have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). To say that we are part of the kingdom of Christ, the body of Christ, the people of God, or God’s family is another way of saying we have become members of the church. This is why 1 Corinthians 12:13 tells us that “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”

Membership in God’s universal or collective church happens when God the Holy Spirit unites us spiritually to the body of Christ throughout history. However, membership in the local church happens when we unite together with other believers in a physical location. This is what I am emphasizing here. Church membership in a local church presupposes and necessitates membership in the universal church through conversion. Church membership reflects the theological truth of the gospel.

Second, there are covenantal reasons. A covenant is an agreement or a relationship with obligations. Most commonly we think of the marriage covenant. There is an agreement between a husband and a wife that has obligations pledged or vowed to one another. The relationship is undergirded by an oath. When we become a Christians, we become a part of the New Covenant. The New Covenant is the legal oath that God has made with his people. In a nutshell, God promises to be our God, forgive our sin, give us his Spirit, write his law upon our hearts, and dwell with us forever. Our response, upon entering into this covenant, is that we will follow him and be faithful to him. In other words, to use the language of Jeremiah, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer. 31:34)

This probably seems straight-forward. You become a Christian, and things change. You have a relationship with God that brings a responsibility to follow him. But we often forget that this covenantal relationship with God also brings us into a relationship with others, where we also have responsibilities. In other words, God has not only called us into a covenantal relationship with himself but also with others. This is why we must have church membership. When we join a church, we agree, or pledge, or promise together to take responsibility for one another. We agree to a set of doctrinal specifics. We agree to work together to advance the gospel. Membership expresses our covenantal relationship.

Third, there are evangelistic reasons. By this, I mean that meaningful membership in a church actually communicates something of the value and shape of the gospel. What do I mean? Membership is a congregation’s declaration to one another and to a watching world what a true confession and confessor of the gospel looks like. One of the primary responsibilities of the gathered congregation is to evaluate the profession of faith in its prospective members and then to regularly evaluate it in the lives of their current members (Mt. 18:15ff; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Cor. 2:6-11). In other words, the congregation, the members, declare to a watching world, This is a right confession of the gospel. And, by virtue of their ongoing membership, We stand with this brother or sister in how they are representing Jesus in the world.

Meaningful membership attends our gospel witness. Membership communicates the people and the message of the gospel to a watching world.

Fourth, there are practical reasons. To do the things that we need to do as a church, there must be some way to discern who we are talking about. I mentioned your responsibility as a Christian; does that extend in the same way to every single Christian living on the planet? No, of course not. You and I can’t possibly fulfill the covenantal obligations with brothers in sisters living in Beijing, Baghdad, Toronto, and Omaha. Our church can’t even fulfill the requirements to every Christian in Omaha. Similarly, pastors are called to keep watch over the flock, knowing they will give an account (Heb. 13.17). Whose flock? What flock? How do we know who we are going to give an account for? Peter says to shepherd the flock of God that is among you (1 Pet. 5).

This is also seen in the concept of church discipline. “When Jesus instructed his followers to seek out the brother who has sinned (Matt 18: 15- 21), he was presupposing such an integrated conception of body membership. Actions of reproach and, ultimately, exclusion are to occur within the arena of a specific and identifiable group of people” (Dever, The Church).

In our church, we do this with a physical list and a membership directory. This helps us as members with a resource to pray through and be reminded who we are responsible for.

Some may bristle at the concept of formal membership, but, in addition to the obvious practical benefits, there seems to be a historical and biblical practice.

“[P]hysical lists of members may well have existed in the earliest Christian churches. Clearly, the keeping of lists was not unknown in churches. The early church kept lists of widows (1 Tim. 5: 9). God himself keeps a list of all who belong to the universal church in his book of life (Rev. 20: 12). Paul assumed that the Corinthians had identified a “majority” of a particular set of church members who were eligible to vote. (Dever, The Church)

Meaningful membership helps us to see who we have this day-to-day New Covenant relationship with and who we are immediately responsible for. Knowing who we accountable to and to helps to clarify what and how we are doing. Membership helps us to see who we are accountable to and responsible for.

Church membership must be a priority for Christians because God has not only called us into a covenantal relationship with himself, but also with others. Is church membership biblical? Is it important? Yes, I believe so.

Membership & Eldership

Where’s Church Membership in the New Testament?

John Samson (9/10/17) teaching the Sunday School hour at Eastford Baptist Church in Eastford, CT:

Appoint Elders in Every Town

John Samson (9/10/17): The importance of biblical eldership, and what having a plurality of elders means for the overall health of a church.

Submit to Jesus, Submit to His Bride

Article by Matt Smethurst, managing editor of The Gospel Coalition and author of 1–2 Thessalonians: A 12-Week Study (Crossway, 2017). He and his wife, Maghan, have three children and live in Louisville, Kentucky. They belong to Third Avenue Baptist Church, where Matt serves as an elder. (original source here)

Church membership can feel boring, secondary, extrabiblical, and unimportant. Aren’t there plenty of more pressing things to talk about? Not really, suggests Jonathan Leeman in Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus (Crossway, 2012). In just 132 pages, Leeman unfolds a clear and compelling case for submitting our lives to King Jesus by submitting to his earthly bride.

I corresponded with Leeman, editorial director for 9Marks and editor of its Journal, about the surprisingly pressing significance of local church membership.

Why is it significant to understand that Christians don’t really “join” churches so much as submit to them?

“Join” is a club word. You join a club, whether it’s a country club or a wholesale shopping club. You pay your dues. You receive the benefits. You come and go as you please. Nothing about your identity changes. No real demands are placed on you that you cannot extricate yourself from.

“Submit” is a kingdom and citizenship word. It recognizes the presence of an authority established by King Jesus. It speaks to a changed (new) identity. It suggests that you now belong to a new nation, a new people, a new family. And it suggests that all the new benefits you receive as a member of this nation and family also come with a set of obligations that are not so easily dispensed of.

What difference should church membership make in a Christian’s life?

Your question is sort of like asking “what difference should righteousness make in a Christian’s life?” It should make all the difference. A Christian is declared righteous in Christ, and then he or she “puts on” that righteousness in everyday decisions. By the same token, a Christian is declared a member of Christ’s body through the gospel (e.g., see Eph. 2:14), and then he or she “puts on” that membership in a geographically specific local body.

Don’t tell me you’re united to and committed to the Church—-capital C—-unless you are united to and committed to a local church: “for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).

Less abstractly, our membership in a local church is where our discipleship to Christ takes shape. It’s where we learn to love our enemies, where we learn to turn the other cheek, where we learn to forbear in love, where we learn to go the extra mile, where we learn to employ our spiritual gifts, where we learn to speak to one another in love, and so forth. Certainly, these lessons apply beyond our fellowship in a local church, but the lessons begin here. And they begin here precisely because it’s the local church that has the authority of the keys to bind and loose—-to formally affirm our profession of faith or deny it.

“Kingdom” is a very popular concept among Christians today. How does the kingdom relate to the local church?

The local church is the place on earth where the citizens of heaven can, at this moment, find official recognition and asylum. Churches represent Christ’s rule now. They affirm and protect his citizens now. They proclaim his laws now. They bow before him as King now and call all peoples to do the same. You might say that a local church is a real-life embassy set in the present that represents Christ’s future kingdom and his coming universal church. Continue reading