I ask uncomfortable questions for a living. The funny thing is: I love it. It isn’t like I want people to squirm in their seats. But if asking a single uncomfortable question can help turn the lights on for someone to see clearly, I say that’s so worth it.
Uncomfortable Question: Do members of Christian churches have responsibilities?
Follow-up to the Previously Asked Uncomfortable Question: If they do, and if you are a member of a Christian church, are you performing your responsibilities?
Anyone squirming in their seats out there? I’ll admit, there was a time when these questions would have produced some uneasy feelings in me, let’s say. Here’s what’s in store for this entry: a little history to provide context, we’ll look to the Scriptures, and we’ll top it off with some helpful thoughts & conclusions.
A Little History
My parents taught me the importance of regular church attendance and involvement. The Lord converted me when I was 13, and later began attending a good Reformed Baptist church at the age of 20.
My time there started off well, and they welcomed me into the church membership. I was full of energy and passion. The Lord was growing me in my Christian walk. The preaching was spectacular, like nothing I’d ever heard! There were many godly members willing to come alongside me and show me the way a Christian should live.
Over time, the fire in my heart cooled. And while the fire was not extinguished, by Christ’s grace alone, I became complacent in my sanctification as a believer. Two things stand out to me during this time. First – my church attendance was not what it once was. Oh sure, I was going to church every week. But I was very very willing to skip half of the services. You see, most Reformed Baptist churches have morning and evening services; each service is different. Second – my involvement in the church diminished. This makes sense, doesn’t it? What do you expect when your attendance is cut in half?
Right in the thick of it I remember one of my Pastor’s sermons. He said that one of the best ways to measure your dedication to Christ is by your dedication to His Church. I knew he was right.
The 1689 Confession has insightful words that describes my life during this season:
“…and though many storms and floods arise and beat against them, yet they shall never be able to take them off that foundation and rock which by faith they are fastened upon; notwithstanding, through unbelief and the temptations of Satan, the sensible sight of the light and love of God may for a time be clouded and obscured from them, yet he is still the same, and they shall be sure to be kept by the power of God unto salvation, where they shall enjoy their purchased possession, they being engraved upon the palm of his hands, and their names having been written in the book of life from all eternity.”
// 2LCF 17.1
In June of 2015, my wife and I decided to transition to a Reformed Baptist church closer to home, where we are still members. One night around the firepit, my Pastor, some friends and I were enjoying a cigar and some lively discussion (aren’t those the best of times?). I recall describing to them how the Lord had begun to increase my faith and love for Him. What also was noticeable, was that the Lord brought about a deep love for my local church. I’ll never forget what my Pastor said to me that night: “Rusty, it sounds like the Lord is producing a revival in your heart.” To that, what else can I say except: praise God! Truly, He never leaves us nor forsakes us.
Okay enough history.
What Do the Scriptures Say about it?
The New Testament has some things to say about the above questions. But briefly:
Uncomfortable Question: Do members of Christian churches have responsibilities? Yes.
Follow-up to the Previously Asked Uncomfortable Question: If they do, and if you are a member of a Christian church, are you performing your responsibilities? I hope the answer is “yes.” Either way, you ought to be.
Acts 20:32, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
This is an important text because the Holy Spirit is exhorting Christians to do something: entrust themselves to God and to the Scriptures. Why? Because God, through the Bible, is able to bring about sanctification toward a goal. What’s the goal? To build them up and give them the inheritance of Christ.
Romans 10:14-17 is another text that explains how the preaching of the Word of God produces, strengthens and increases faith. This is why Christians refer to the preaching of the Word as one of the ordinary means of grace. They are a part of the ordinary experience in the Christian church-life that the Lord uses to (1) bring dead sinners to life, and (2) revitalize already living Christian souls.
Hebrews 10:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
I’m including this text simply to show that the Apostle here believes Christians (a) have leaders, and (b) are to submit to them. Once you become a member of a local church, your Pastors are your leaders.
Honest question for those who don’t believe in church membership: can you say the pastors are your leaders if you haven’t formalized the relationship? I’m not saying this must be spelled out in writing (though that would be ideal for both the individual member, the pastors, and the congregation), but wouldn’t it be wise to at least have a verbal acknowledgement of commitment? A DTR conversation? =) The Pastors, the congregation as a whole, and individual members all need to know who is a part of a local church. Otherwise how can we make heads or tails of Hebrews 10:17, or that “Great Rule” of church discipline found in Matthew 18?
Thoughts & Conclusions
Benjamin Keach was one of the first Reformed Baptists; a brilliant and godly pastor. He wrote a little book for his church titled, The Glory of a True Church. Here is an excerpt from Keach:
“When admitted into membership, they must solemnly enter into a covenant before the church to walk in the fellowship of that particular congregation. They must submit themselves to the care and discipline thereof and to walk faithfully with God in all his holy ordinances. They agree to be fed, have communion, and worship God there, when the church meets (if possible); and give themselves up to the watch and charge of the pastor and ministry there.”
If you’re looking for a solid read, let me recommend this book to you. It’s a short, quick book that packs a punch man. This is easily in my top ten books of all time. I wish I’d read it sooner.
When Keach describes how members “must submit themselves to the care and discipline” of the church, I know this creates discomfort for many Christians. The reality is though, Keach is right because the Scriptures defend the idea that the church is tasked with those responsibilities. If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, then it’s safe to say you love Him. And if you love Him, shouldn’t you also love what Jesus loves? The Lord Jesus laid down His life for the Church; He established the Church; He is the head of the Church.
One question helps bring clarity to the whole discussion: “Isn’t Christ the King?” Dr. Jim Renihan likes to ask this question. I find it helpful because if He is the King (and He is), we ought to do what He says. From our standpoint as the beneficiaries of His grace, it shouldn’t be difficult to submit to the rulership of a King like Jesus. Scripture tells us that He is love (1 John 4:7) – this doesn’t mean love is an attribute He possesses, but rather this is something that He is. God is all that He is. He is infinite, and all that He is is infinite. Which means His love toward us is never ending and can never falter or wane. It will always be to the uttermost!
You can see the great care that Jesus has for His people in how the Church was ordered – there are Pastors & Deacons, members, sacraments (ordinances), and rules to govern how we worship Him and minister to one another. All this to bring about increased sanctification to make us more and more like the image of Jesus Christ.
My own experience can tell you the difference between being a mediocre church member, and an active church member. The difference is substantial. Being actively involved in a local church has been one of the best decisions of my life. For starters, being actively involved means … being there. Actually going to church. One of the first benefits of active involvement I experienced are the ordinary means of grace having an effect on my life.
It’s true that the Lord can use anything to benefit a Christian – a book, movie, conversation with a friend, or another experience. But the Lord promises to sanctify His people through the ordinary means of grace. All the more reason why we need to be at Church on Sunday.
Quick Sidenote: around the time we became members of our current church, the Lord changed my mind on the fourth commandment. This is a story for another time. Suffice it to say that before I was a sabbatarian, I used to proudly claim that if I was a sabbatarian nothing would change. Well, turns out I was wrong about that. Believing the ‘Lord’s Day still is’ had a big impact on my Christian walk. My family consistently goes to church – all the stated meetings of the church. We also take advantage of the gift that the Sabbath was intended to be for us. Think about it this way: if Adam needed the Sabbath before the Fall, how much more do we need it now?
Hebrews 10:23-25, “23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
Being in the lifeblood of a local church means having the responsibility to consider how to stimulate our brothers and sisters. This starts by not avoiding church meetings, but also means we need to be involved in other people’s lives. How can we encourage if we never talk to the other people at church? How can they encourage you? We need “one another” because it is Christ’s beautiful design.
It should be obvious – but I’ll say it because I don’t mind saying obvious things – that I am not a perfect church member, and still have a long long way to go in my own sanctification. But reader, I can tell you, both based on the Scriptures and my anecdotal experience: it’s always right to do what God says. I would encourage you: if you’re a Christian who is not a member of a local church, become a member. If you are a member, be active in fulfilling your responsibilities to serve the body, receive encouragement, and benefit from the ordinary means of grace. Submitting to the King of Kings, Jesus Christ, brings glory to Him. And isn’t that the point of all this?
PS: Cigars + Firepit = Opportune Setting for Hearty Discussion & Fellowship
Until our next meeting…