Why Church Membership

As mentioned in the previous blog, God visits and dwells with His people in a special way within your local church. However, our anti-institutional age has convinced us that we can piece together all of what we need from the local church through 21st century technological advances. Consider the number of ways in which technology can replace the elements of worship at any local church

  • If you want to sing as a form of worship to God, then you can listen to your favorite Christian artists on your phone. If you like traditional hymns and sacred music, you can listen to RefNet or Lutheran Public Radio or any number of other stations.

  • If you want to hear preaching, then you can click on SermonAudio.com, SermonIndex.net, or listen to any number of your favorite preachers on their ministry page.

  • If you want to have fellowship, you can join a local community group or join an online forum of likeminded individuals

  • If you want to hear pastoral prayer, you can read The Valley of Vision or read excerpts from The Book of Common Prayer

  • If you want to receive the sacraments, you can receive “drive-through communion” at certain locations.

If you are tech savvy enough, then you can, in essence, piece together your own liturgy. Moreover, these technological advantages give the impression that you can enjoy the benefits of church while ignoring its inevitable drama. While there are providential hindrances that may require some Christians to use these alternative resources outside the church temporarily, the reality is that much of this arise from a more sinister motive. In many cases, the “church-a-la-carte” mentality comes from a heart that rejects authority. Mark Dever has helpful words to address this mentality

It would seem that rejecting authority, as so many in our day do, is shortsighted and self-destructive. A world without authority is a world were desires have no restraints, cars have no controls, intersections have no traffic lights, games have no rules, lovers have no covenants, organizations have no purpose, homes have no parents, and people have no God. Such a world might last for a little while, but how quickly it would become pointless, then cruel, and finally tragic.

Regardless of how our culture views authority, the difference between what people call “community” and what the Scriptures calls the “church” comes down to the question of authority. In an attempt to escape this reality, many have simply walked away from the institutional local church. However, the New Testament clearly established that the governing authority of Christians belongs to the local church (cf. Matthew 16:13-20; 18:15-20; Hebrews 13:7,17; 1 Peter 5:1-5).

The local church is not just a fellowship of friends; in the local church, we are committed to another in a covenant/vow of membership. This is why participating in the life of your local church is mandatory. We are held accountable to each other through the vows that we take at membership and through the oversight of our elders. This is why gathering together with Christian friends does not provide the same level of genuine accountability as a true church. As a governing institution, the local church preaches the gospel, administers the sacraments, and exercises oversight and discipline to all of its members.

However, the cultural milieu in which we live provides Christians with a multitude of excuses for their lack of commitment to the local church. Some stay away from the local church because they are afraid of getting hurt (or being hurt again). While we must never minimize the pain that many have felt within local churches, a good dose of honesty is needed. Pain is never an excuse for disobedience to God’s Word. The local church was created for our sanctification and God’s glory, not for your convenience. Furthermore, if you are united to Christ, then He has given you spiritual gifts that are designed for the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Peter 4:10). Therefore, staying away from the local church means that you are burying the gifts that God has given you in the ground rather than using it for the sake of the local church (cf. Matthew 25:14-30).

Some stay away from the local church because they believe that most pastors are crooked. This is perhaps the most pervasive lie that our culture constantly promotes and it is the lie that most people believe about the church. First, we are told explicitly in Scripture that false teachers will arise (cf. Matthew 7:15-20; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 2 Peter 2:1-3) and therefore, we are told to be discerning. More importantly, the reality is that most pastors (within our country and around the world) labor with diligence and godly integrity in relative obscurity with congregations of less than 100 people. These pastors will never receive media spotlight because they are performing the basic task of the ministry. These are men who do not come with flattering speech, nor with a pretext for greed, nor by way of deceit, but these are men who have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:3-7). Dear Christian, have you believed Satan’s lie that there are only a few good pastors doing their job?

The local church is not just a group of believers at a park; it preaches the gospel and possesses the keys of the kingdom for binding and loosing through the ordinances (cf. Matthew 16:17-19). This means that it is the task of the local church who declares who does and does not belong to kingdom. This statement grinds against our modern sensibilities, but a question must be raised: if you refuse to be part of a local church, how do you know that you’re saved? If you have walked away from the local church, then who’s inspecting the fruit of your life? Gathering a few friends at the park and “doing life together” is no substitute for the objective evidence which is biblical church membership.

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology – The Incarnate Lord (Part II)

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

Continuity

As we consider the life and teaching of our incarnate Lord, let us keep at the forefront of our minds the fact that Christ’s primary mission was not that of social change. Rather, His primary goal was that of redeeming His bride (the church). However, given the fact that His relationship with His bride is a covenant relationship, this work of redemption came with some very real implications for Covenant Theology.

Whether referring to the saints of the Old or of the New Testament, 17th century Particular Baptists designated them the Church. The radical divide presented in Dispensationalism between ethnic, national Israel and the Church would not only have been absolutely foreign to our Particular Baptist forefathers. It would have been downright abhorrent. Insofar as the saints of the Old Testament period believed on Yahweh alone for their righteous standing before God, they were truly circumcised of the heart.

Continuity through General Equity

There was no sense, in the Old Testament, in which man was saved by the Law or in which he could merit his own salvation. There were consequences built into the civil law that provided for the regulation of proper conduct within God’s covenant community then just as there are consequences built into the New Testament policy of church discipline for the regulation of proper conduct within God’s covenant community today. Whether it was a matter of corporal punishment in the nation of Israel or excommunication from the ranks of the New Covenant church, the requirement of three or more witnesses is the same.

As such, our incarnate Lord made clear that the Civil Law of national Israel was given as a shadow of the greater reality of church discipline in Christ. In this sense, Christ did not abolish the Civil and Ceremonial Law so much as make application from them to local congregations. In so doing, Christ did not use the greater reality of national Jewish law to point to shadows in the New Covenant church. Rather, the Civil and Ceremonial Laws were given as shadows in order that they might highlight the greater reality of church discipline in Christ. This is the Reformation principle known as “general equity.” The letter of the Old Covenant law is no longer binding on the Christian church, but the eternal, moral principles behind them are.

“To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use,” (The Baptist Confession, 19.4).

Why, though, does church discipline exist? Church discipline exists in order that Christ may present His bride to His Father as pure, spotless, and without blemish. This is not to say that we will be sinlessly perfect in this life. We will not obtain perfection until glory. However, it does mean that we will be distinguished from the world.

God’s Set Apart People

One of the reasons Israel was given the Civil and Ceremonial Laws was to distinguish her from the surrounding nations. They were told that they were to be different from the nations around them who sacrificed their children to their false gods (Lev. 20:2-5). In giving them this instruction, Moses did not assume that Israel would automatically be enticed to go and sacrifice their babies to Molech. Rather, it would be over time, as they allowed for more and more syncretism over the years, they would eventually find little difference between them and their pagan neighbors, even sacrificing their babies on the altar (1Kgs. 11:7; 2Kgs. 23:10; Jer. 32:35).

In the same way, one of the reasons church discipline has been given to the church is to distinguish her from the world. “Therefore ‘Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you,’” (2Cor. 6:17; NKJV). Our Lord told His disciples that the world would hate them just as they hated Him (John 15:18). An essential mark of Christ’s disciples is that they will be set apart (sanctified) from the world. Christ’s true disciples will be distinguished by a Bible-centered worldview (John 17:17).

As such, the social ills that plague our society (e.g. racism, chauvinism, divorce, etc.) ought all to be issues addressed in church discipline. We are not here calling for the knee-jerk excommunication of such as commit these sins. Rather, we are calling for the biblical practice of church discipline to be applied in these cases.

Biblical Church Discipline

The biblical practice of church discipline is four-fold. It starts with what has come to be known as formative church discipline. That is the discipline of the Spirit applied to the hearts and minds of church members as they sit under the regular preaching of God’s word. Of course, if the Spirit is to discipline His people through the preached word on these matters, pastors have a duty to preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). This means that, where opportunity arises in the text to address racism, chauvinism, abortion, homosexuality, divorce, etc., pastors must seize these opportunities and emphasize the biblical standard in their preaching of the word.

Where sins of this nature persist within the body in spite of the preached word, they must be addressed in a much more personal space. The Bible regularly exhorts the body toward personal admonition (Rom. 15:14; Col. 3:16; 2Thess. 3:15; Tit. 2:4; 3:10). According to our Lord, there are three phases to personal admonition: (1) go to your brother in private and, if he listens to you, you have won your brother; (2) if he does not listen to you, take another brother with you so that, by the word of two or more witnesses, every matter may be established; and (3) if he still does not listen to you, take the matter before the church (see Mt. 18:15-20).

We must remember, anytime we discuss church discipline, that it was given for the purity of the church. Again, the church is to be pure; the church is to be set apart from the world. As such, as we have already stated, the world will hate us.

God’s Hated People

Of course, God’s people have always been hated by the world. We have always been hated, because we have always been set apart by His word (John 17:14, 17). We have also been hated because of the work of the devil. Our Lord told the Jewish leaders of His day that they were of their father: the devil (John 8:44). It was because the Jewish leaders were sons of Satan, the brood of vipers (Mt. 3:7), that they murdered the prophets (Mt. 23:29-36). In the same way, our Lord told His disciples that they would be dragged before rulers by the Jewish leaders of their day (Mt. 5:11-12; 23:34).

Does this mean that we are to shun the Jews and the world at large? Should we retreat into monasteries never to be heard from again? No. Rather, our Lord gave us a commission to be His witnesses “both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth,” (Acts 1:8b; NASB). Through the book of Acts and the epistles we will see, both in practice and in teaching, that the apostles had a heart for both the Jews and the Gentiles. They both taught and practiced taking the gospel “to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” (Rom. 1:16b; NASB). It was through the incremental expansion of God’s covenant people into every tribe, tongue, and nation, as seen in Acts, that God broke down the dividing wall of hostility that once existed between God’s Israelite covenant people and the nations around them (Eph. 2:11-22). In the same way, the world will hate us as long as their hearts remain unchanged by the gospel.

We will conclude in our next post by examining the discontinuities between the two epochs divided by our Lord’s incarnation.

LBCF of 1677/1689 – Chapter Twenty-Six, Of the Church

1. The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
( Hebrews 12:23; Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:10, 22, 23; Ephesians 5:23, 27, 32 )

2. All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible saints; and of such ought all particular congregations to be constituted.
( 1 Corinthians 1:2; Acts 11:26; Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1:20-22 )

3. The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan; nevertheless Christ always hath had, and ever shall have a kingdom in this world, to the end thereof, of such as believe in him, and make profession of his name.
( 1 Corinthians 5; Revelation 2; Revelation 3; Revelation 18:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12; Matthew 16:18; Psalms 72:17; Psalm 102:28; Revelation 12:17 )

4. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church, in whom, by the appointment of the Father, all power for the calling, institution, order or government of the church, is invested in a supreme and sovereign manner; neither can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof, but is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God; whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.
( Colossians 1:18; Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:11, 12; 2 Thessalonians 2:2-9 )

5. In the execution of this power wherewith he is so intrusted, the Lord Jesus calleth out of the world unto himself, through the ministry of his word, by his Spirit, those that are given unto him by his Father, that they may walk before him in all the ways of obedience, which he prescribeth to them in his word. Those thus called, he commandeth to walk together in particular societies, or churches, for their mutual edification, and the due performance of that public worship, which he requireth of them in the world.
( John 10:16; John 12:32; Matthew 28:20; Matthew 18:15-20 )

6. The members of these churches are saints by calling, visibly manifesting and evidencing (in and by their profession and walking) their obedience unto that call of Christ; and do willingly consent to walk together, according to the appointment of Christ; giving up themselves to the Lord, and one to another, by the will of God, in professed subjection to the ordinances of the Gospel.
( Romans. 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Acts 2:41, 42; Acts 5:13, 14; 2 Corinthians 9:13 )

7. To each of these churches thus gathered, according to his mind declared in his word, he hath given all that power and authority, which is in any way needful for their carrying on that order in worship and discipline, which he hath instituted for them to observe; with commands and rules for the due and right exerting, and executing of that power.
( Matthew 18:17, 18; 1 Corinthians 5:4, 5; 1 Corinthians 5:13; 2 Corinthians 2:6-8 )

8. A particular church, gathered and completely organized according to the mind of Christ, consists of officers and members; and the officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church (so called and gathered), for the peculiar administration of ordinances, and execution of power or duty, which he intrusts them with, or calls them to, to be continued to the end of the world, are bishops or elders, and deacons.
( Acts 20:17, 28; Philippians 1:1 )

9. The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of bishop or elder in a church, is, that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the church itself; and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands of the eldership of the church, if there be any before constituted therein; and of a deacon that he be chosen by the like suffrage, and set apart by prayer, and the like imposition of hands.
( Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 4:14; Acts 6:3, 5, 6 )

10. The work of pastors being constantly to attend the service of Christ, in his churches, in the ministry of the word and prayer, with watching for their souls, as they that must give an account to Him; it is incumbent on the churches to whom they minister, not only to give them all due respect, but also to communicate to them of all their good things according to their ability, so as they may have a comfortable supply, without being themselves entangled in secular affairs; and may also be capable of exercising hospitality towards others; and this is required by the law of nature, and by the express order of our Lord Jesus, who hath ordained that they that preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.
( Acts 6:4; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Timothy 5:17, 18; Galatians 6:6, 7; 2 Timothy 2:4; 1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Corinthians 9:6-14 )

11. Although it be incumbent on the bishops or pastors of the churches, to be instant in preaching the word, by way of office, yet the work of preaching the word is not so peculiarly confined to them but that others also gifted and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved and called by the church, may and ought to perform it.
( Acts 11:19-21; 1 Peter 4:10, 11 )

12. As all believers are bound to join themselves to particular churches, when and where they have opportunity so to do; so all that are admitted unto the privileges of a church, are also under the censures and government thereof, according to the rule of Christ.
( 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14, 15 )

13. No church members, upon any offence taken by them, having performed their duty required of them towards the person they are offended at, ought to disturb any church-order, or absent themselves from the assemblies of the church, or administration of any ordinances, upon the account of such offence at any of their fellow members, but to wait upon Christ, in the further proceeding of the church.
( Matthew 18:15-17; Ephesians 4:2, 3 )

14. As each church, and all the members of it, are bound to pray continually for the good and prosperity of all the churches of Christ, in all places, and upon all occasions to further every one within the bounds of their places and callings, in the exercise of their gifts and graces, so the churches, when planted by the providence of God, so as they may enjoy opportunity and advantage for it, ought to hold communion among themselves, for their peace, increase of love, and mutual edification.
( Ephesians 6:18; Psalms 122:6; Romans 16:1, 2; 3 John 8-10 )

15. In cases of difficulties or differences, either in point of doctrine or administration, wherein either the churches in general are concerned, or any one church, in their peace, union, and edification; or any member or members of any church are injured, in or by any proceedings in censures not agreeable to truth and order: it is according to the mind of Christ, that many churches holding communion together, do, by their messengers, meet to consider, and give their advice in or about that matter in difference, to be reported to all the churches concerned; howbeit these messengers assembled, are not intrusted with any church-power properly so called; or with any jurisdiction over the churches themselves, to exercise any censures either over any churches or persons; or to impose their determination on the churches or officers.
( Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23, 25; 2 Corinthians 1:24; 1 John 4:1 )