Why Membership Matters

“Why bother with church membership?”

I’ve been asked that question on numerous occasions. Sometimes it’s said with genuine curiosity–“So explain to me what membership is all about.” Other times it’s said with a tinge of suspicion — “So tell me again, why do you think I should become a member?”–as if joining the church automatically signed you up to tithe by direct deposit.

For many Christians membership sounds stiff, something you have at your bank or the country club, but too formal for the church. Even if it’s agreed that Christianity is not a lone ranger religion, that we need community and fellowship with other Christians, we still bristle at the thought of officially joining a church. Why all the hoops? Why box the Holy Spirit into member/non-member categories? Why bother joining a local church when I’m already a member of the universal Church?

I’ve found that some people just won’t be convinced of church membership no matter what you say or how many times “member” actually shows up in the New Testament. But many people have not given serious thought to church membership. They are open to hearing the justification for something they’ve not thought much about.

Here are just a few reasons why church membership matters.

1. In joining a church you make visible your commitment to Christ and his people. Membership is one way to raise the flag of faith. You state before God and others that you are part of this local body of believers. It’s easy to talk in glowing terms about the invisible church–the body of all believers near and far, living and dead–but it’s in the visible church that God expects you to live out your faith.

Sometimes I think that we wouldn’t all be clamoring for community if we had actually experienced it. Real fellowship is hard work, because most people are a lot like us–selfish, petty, and proud. But that’s the body God calls us to.

How many of Paul’s letters were written to individuals? Only a handful, and these were mostly to pastors. The majority of his letters were written to a local body of believers. We see the same thing in Revelation. Jesus spoke to individual congregations in places like Smyrna, Sardis, and Laodicea. The New Testament knows no Christians floating around in “just me and Jesus” land. Believers belong to churches.

2. Making a commitment makes a powerful statement in a low-commitment culture. Many bowling leagues require more of their members than our churches. Where this is true, the church is a sad reflection of its culture. Ours is a consumer culture were everything is tailored to meet our needs and satisfy our preferences. When those needs aren’t met, we can always move on to the next product, or job, or spouse.

Joining a church in such an environment makes a counter-cultural statement. It says “I am committed to this group of people and they are committed to me. I am here to give, more than get.”

Even if you will only be in town for a few years, it’s still not a bad idea to join a church. It lets your home church (if you are a student) know that you are being cared for, and it lets your present know that you want to be cared for here.

But it’s not just about being cared for, it’s about making a decision and sticking with it–something my generation, with our oppressive number of choices, finds difficult. We prefer to date the church–have her around for special events, take her out when life feels lonely, and keep her around for a rainy day. Membership is one way to stop dating churches, and marry one (see Joshua Harris’ excellent book along these lines).

3. We can be overly independent. In the West, it’s one of the best and worst thing about us. We are free spirits and critical thinkers. We get an idea and run with it. But whose running with us? And are any of us running in the same direction? Membership states in a formal way, “I am part of something bigger than myself. I am not just one of three hundred individuals. I am part of a body.”

4. Church membership keeps us accountable. When we join a church we are offering ourselves to one another to be encouraged, rebuked, corrected, and served. We are placing ourselves under leaders and submitting to their authority (Heb. 13:7). We are saying, “I am here to stay. I want to help you grow in godliness. Will you help me to do the same?”

Mark Dever, in his book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, writes,

Church membership is our opportunity to grasp hold of each other in responsibility and love. By identifying ourselves with a particular church, we let the pastors and other members of that local church know that we intend to be committed in attendance, giving, prayer, and service. We allow fellow believers to have great expectations of us in these areas, and we make it known that we are the responsibility of this local church. We assure the church of our commitment to Christ in serving with them, and we call for their commitment to serve and encourage as well.

5. Joining the church will help your pastor and elders be more faithful shepherds. Hebrews 13:7 says “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.” That’s your part as “laypeople”. Here’s our part as leaders: “They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.” As a pastor I take very seriously my responsibility before God to watch care for souls. At almost every elders’ meeting, as per our denomination’s Book of Church Order, we “seek to determine whether any members of the congregation are in need of special care regarding their spiritual condition and/or not making faithful use of the means of grace.” This is hard enough to do in a church like ours where there is constant turnover, but it’s even harder when we don’t know who is really a part of this flock.

To give just one example, we try to be diligent in following up with people who haven’t been at our church for a while. This is a challenge. But if you never become a member, we can’t tell if you are really gone, because we might not be sure if you were ever here! It’s nearly impossible for the elders to shepherd the flock when they don’t know who really considers them their shepherds.

6. Joining the church gives you an opportunity to make promises. When someone become a member at University Reformed Church, he makes promises to pray, give, serve, attend worship, accept the spiritual guidance of the church, obey its teachings, and seek the things that make for unity, purity, and peace. We ought not to make these promises lightly. They are solemn vows. And we must hold each other to them. If you don’t join the church, you miss an opportunity to publicly make these promises, inviting the elders and the rest of the body to hold you to these promises–which would be missing out on great spiritual benefit, for you, your leaders, and the whole church.

Membership matters more than most people think. If you really want to be a counter-cultural revolutionary, sign up for the membership class and join your local church.

—Kevin DeYoung

Via: Kevin DeYoung

Action Steps For Anxiety

Given the trying times all of us are having to endure in one way or another, I found Susan Fiske’s excellent article in the Fall 2009 edition of byFaith (the official magazine of the PCA) entitled Be Anxious for Nothing–Now? especially relevant–and deeply helpful.

In it she writes, “It is in prying open our hands from our abilities, accomplishments, and possessions that we can discover the true promise of God: Himself. [Paul] Tripp says, ‘The hardest thing to hold onto, but the most beautiful when we get it, is that what God promises to us in times of suffering is not first relief of the suffering. His promise is to give us Himself.’”

She then, very helpfully, outlines Paul Tripp’s six action steps for anxiety (these are golden):

Remind Yourself That God Is In Control: When you convince yourself that your world is out of control, you are on the verge of paralysis. Watch your self-talk. Are you saying to yourself: “God is in control of this circumstance, He is my Father, and He is ruling this for my benefit”?

Accept Confusion: Believing in God’s sovereignty doesn’t mean life will make sense. Believing in God’s sovereignty is needed because life doesn’t make sense. Your rest is not in figuring out your circumstances–your rest is in the God behind the circumstances.

Don’t Allow Emotions To Rule: As much as the emotions you experience will be right, good, and appropriate, don’t let them set the agenda. There is a temptation to do that, but allowing yourself to be pulled away by the emotions of the moment could cause you to regret your decisions later.

Distinguish Needs From Wants: Be very careful what you put in your catalog of “need.” The minute you tell yourself something is a need, you’re saying it is essential for life. Then you are going to determine that you can’t live without it. It’s easy to attach yourself and your sense  of security to the gift rather than to the Giver.

Know Your Job Description: God promises to provide. Your job is to live the way God has called you to live. Instead of giving way to discouragement, look for ways you can contribute to God’s people at the moment.

Run To God, Not Away From Him: God’s promise to us is not first the relief of the suffering–His promise is to give us Himself. He will never turn a deaf ear to the natural cries of a person of faith when life doesn’t make sense. God hears and answers and works and comforts.

Via: Tullian Tchividjian

Bearing Spiritual Fruit

By grace, God offers the righteousness of Christ to all who put their trust in Him. For all who believe, all who have faith in Him, the merit of Christ is reckoned to their account.

Does this exclude good works in the life of the believer? By no means. Our justification is always unto good works. Though no merit ever proceeds from our works, either those done before our conversion or those done afterward, good works are a necessary fruit of true faith.

“Necessary fruit?” Yes, necessary. Good works are not necessary for us to earn our justification. They are never the ground of our justification. They are necessary in a more restricted sense. They are necessary corollaries to true faith. If a person claims to have faith yet brings forth no fruit of obedience whatsoever, it is proof positive that the claim to faith is a false claim. True faith inevitably and necessarily bears fruit. The absence of fruit indicates the absence of faith.

We are not justified by the fruit of our faith. We are justified by the fruit of Christ’s merit. We receive His merit only by faith, but it is only by true faith that we receive His merit. And all true faith yields true fruit.

Coram Deo: Prayerfully examine your faith and spiritual fruit.

Galatians 5:22-25: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

—R.C. Sproul

Via: Ligonier Ministries Blog

Isaiah 43

I, I am he
who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins.
(Isaiah 43:25)

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
(Isaiah 43:1)

I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
(Isaiah 43:6,7)

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me.
I, I am the Lord,
and besides me there is no savior.
I declared and saved and proclaimed,
when there was no strange god among you;
and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God.
Also henceforth I am he;
there is none who can deliver from my hand;
I work, and who can turn it back?”
(Isaiah 43:10-13)

“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild beasts will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches,
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
that they might declare my praise.
(Isaiah 43:18-21)

Falling in Love with the Church Again

Something is terribly wrong when professing Christians do not identify with the church and love being a part of her. Something is wrong when professing Christians fail to be passionate about every aspect of the church and long to invest themselves in her, taking all that the church represents and does to heart. Listen, for example, to the way Paul instructs the Ephesians: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).

—Derek Thomas

Via: Reformation 21 Blog

O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of his grace.

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad,
The honors of thy Name.

Jesus, the Name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
‘Tis life, and health, and peace.

He breaks the power of reigning sin,
He sets the pris’ner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

He speaks and, listening to his voice,
New life the dead receive;
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice;
The humble poor believe.

—Charles Wesley

Update: For more information about this hymn you may want to check out this podcast episode from “Hymns of the Faith” by Dr. Ligon Duncan and Dr. Derek Thomas from the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson Mississippi.

Dual Citizens

Following on the theme of the last post, I wanted to point out a new book written by Reverend Jason J. Stellman titled Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet.

New covenant believers live between “the already” and “not yet,” a point in redemptive history between the partial and complete fulfillment of God’s promises. This means they are exiles and pilgrims in the divinely ordained overlap of the ages. As Rev. Jason J. Stellman argues in his book Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet, this biblical motif shapes the identity of Christians at every turn and affects their every activity in both the sacred and secular realms. Stellman explores the Christian pilgrimage with deep biblical insight, humor, and relevance to our contemporary context, revealing how Christians are to think of themselves and their role this side of heaven.

You can find out more about the book at the Reformation Trust website.

The Tale of Two Cities

The Christian believer is always living in an inescapable tension! Much as we would love to be free of this tension, until we leave this earthly scene and enter the nearer presence of our great and gracious God, we will be engaged every moment of every day in this tension. I surely hardly need to spell out just what this tension is – but I will do so nonetheless! Here and now we live as ’strangers’ in a foreign land; we are the children of the living God: we are even now ’seated with Christ in the heavenly realms’; every breath we breathe takes us nearer ‘home’ – and yet we are not ‘home’. We live out the life of faith in a world shrouded in unbelief. The truth is that every Christian lives simultaneously in two worlds – our life is a tale of two cities.

—Ian Hamilton
The Tale of Two Cities

Via: Banner of Truth Blog

A Light in Dark Places

Two things follow: First, in as far as we are able, we must learn to control our feelings. There are various kinds of depression, to be sure, and some are the result of complex physical and psychological disorders. But there are times when we are spiritually depressed for no good reason. There are times when the best thing to do with our feelings is to challenge them: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Ps. 42:11).

Far too often we spend our days in misery and gloom, all because we are not taking what we know to be true about God and His control over our lives seriously. We must pray and ask God for strength to overcome our depressive, melancholy states. There is such a thing as a will that will not bend to God’s. We can become hardened, refusing to see the good hand of God. It is a cancer that will destroy us.

Second, no matter what our circumstances may be, we must seek for the interpretation that forces us to rejoice. We are to “rejoice in our sufferings” too (Rom. 5:3). I think of the story of Horatio Spafford, a businessman in Chicago in 1873 who lost his entire business in the Chicago fires. Sending his wife and four daughters across to England on the SS. Ville de Havre, he was to learn that the vessel struck another (the Lochearn) in the mid-Atlantic with the loss of 261 lives including his four daughters. Mrs. Spafford, who had been rescued, sent him a cable that read: “Survived alone.” Boarding the next available ship to meet her, Horatio was to be told by the captain of the vessel of the very spot where his daughters had drowned. It was then that he wrote these lines:

When peace like a river attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea-billows roll, Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.

That is the way God wants us to live. We have no right to expect that our lives are going to be free from trouble. But in every circumstance, if we are the Lord’s people, we are assured of God’s care and providence. He is working out every detail. There are no mistakes with Him (Rom. 8:32ff.). Every moment of our existence is cause enough for joy: the good and the bad together should integrate to form a hallelujah symphony to the praise of Almighty God.

—Derek Thomas
Tabletalk Magazine

Via: Ligonier Ministries Blog