The Marks of the Church: Order, Part 4
The Marks and Works of the Church
Order, Part 4
This morning, before we dive into Scripture, I want to introduce you to some people that I’ve met since becoming a Christian.
The first person is Susie. Susie is a very nice lady. She also claims to be a Christian. She evangelizes, reads her Bible, and shares his faith with her friends at work. A really upstanding citizen and kind person. However, Susie doesn’t attend a traditional church. Instead, every Sunday, Susie gets on her computer and attends online church. She likes the music and enjoys the preaching. On Wednesday nights, she joins her internet small group. They chat over a message board and text throughout the week.
The second person I’ve met since becoming a Christian is Jim. Jim is like Susie. He, too, doesn’t attend a traditional church. Jim is looking for a church that preaches the “true” gospel. He has very strong feelings about the identity of the Nephilim in Genesis 6. Until he finds a church that has his same views about the Nephilim, he’ll just continue doing “home church” with his family.
The third person is Billy. Billy moved to Pierre about five years ago. He does attend a traditional church. In fact, he attends several traditional churches. On Sunday mornings, he’ll attend the local Presbyterian church because he loves their doctrine. He doesn’t like their Sunday school classes, though. So for Sunday school, he’ll drive over to the Methodist church, where his brother-in-law teaches a class. On Wednesday nights, he takes his kids to AWANA at the local Pentecostal church. Billy attends several churches but is not committed to any of them.
My fourth friend is Ashley. Ashley is a busy mom of three. She loves her husband and her children. She also loves Jesus. Saved at a young age, Ashley wants to live her life for Christ. She regularly attends the local non-denominational church. However, Ashley is not a member of the church she attends. Although her and her family have attended for almost 10 years, she has yet to formally join the church. If membership is only a right to vote, why should she become a member? What’s the point?
What do all these people have in common? They all claim to be Christian. They all claim to be part of the church. They all believe in personal Bible study, acts of service, and evangelism. In many ways, they’re like us. In fact, you might find my description of one of these or multiple of these persons particularly personal. You might feel like I’m talking about you. If you feel this way, I’m very thankful you’re here this morning. Hang with me.
What all these people have in common is the shared perspective that church membership is not important. None of them belong to a local body through the means of membership. Susie doesn’t think a local church is important, Jim can’t find the “true” gospel, Billy is the “buffet Christian” who doesn’t commit to any church, and Ashley has been dating the church for a long time but doesn’t see a reason for why she should tie the knot.
This morning I want to talk to the Susies, the Jims, the Billys, and the Ashleys. Their attitudes towards church membership are very common in our evangelical world. And it is these attitudes that I want to address.
This morning’s sermon will form part 4 of the “Mark of the Church” called “Order.” The text that we’ve been working with these past two weeks has been Phil 1:1. Turn with me there. The passage reads, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” In the past two weeks, we’ve dealt with overseers and deacons. This week and next week we’re going to deal with “the saints.”
This morning I am interpreting “the saints” as church members. You might say, “Well that’s not what this Scripture or any Scripture says.” On a certain level, I will agree with you. I consent to the idea that the term “church membership” does not occur in Scripture. I agree. However, that’s not really saying that much. There are several important terms that we use to describe our Christian faith that are not found in Scripture. The classic example is the term, “Trinity.” Search every English concordance, and you will not find this word in the Bible. Nevertheless, we still found the concept of God as Trinity on every page of Scripture.
The objection should not be that the term “church membership” is not in the Bible. Rather, the objection should be that the idea, concept, or principle of “church membership” is not in Scripture. You can have a concept present without the term present. While the term “church membership” is not in Scripture.
This morning’s sermon will be dedicated to building a definition, a concept of “church membership.” This definition will three parts to it. Each point of my sermon will consist of one part of this definition, one brick in this concept of “church membership.” With each point, I will go to a specific passage or passages of Scripture to build this definition. When will get to the end, when the concept of “church membership” has been properly built, I will present the full definition of “church membership.”
Church membership entails a formal relationship between a church and a Christian
The first part of “church membership” is the notion of a “formal relationship between a church and a Christian.” If you’re taking notes, write this: “Church membership entails a formal relationship between a church and a Christian.”
The crux of this statement is the adjective “formal.” I would imagine that most of you would agree that there needs to be some type of relationship between a church and a Christian. If you’re attending today, you think that this body here at CBC is at least somewhat important. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. So, I’m not going to invest my energies in defending the idea that Christians should have some type of relationship to churches. I’m going to assume this is true. Where I will spend my energies is on the adjective “formal.” Does Scripture warrant a formal agreement between a church and a Christian. Why can’t it be informal and imprecise? Why does it have to be formal? Is God a fan of procedures and formalities in the church?
To explore this question, turn with me to 1 Tim 1:3. We will read through verse 4. This text states,
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.
To summarize this passage: Paul tells Timothy that he wants him to stay in Ephesus. The purpose of this command is to maintain orthodoxy. False teachers taught contrary doctrines, and Paul wanted Timothy to deal with this situation. Part of the problem with these contrary doctrines, according to Paul, is that they “promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” For our purposes of asking about formalities and procedures in the church, I want to examine this idea of “the stewardship from God.”
This phrase “the stewardship from God” is theologically weighty yet difficult to interpret. The word for “stewardship” can be variously interpreted as “stewardship,” “dispensation,” “management,” “plan,” “administration,” “arrangement,” “order,” and “program.”
I interpret this phrase as a reference to God’s ordering of reality broadly and of the church specifically. God has a proper order for all of things—for the cosmos, for salvation history, and for the church. He has an order for reality. He has a administration, a plan, an arrangement of things. God runs the cosmos and his plan of
redemption according to a divinely-ordained order.
In the church, God has a place for every part. This part goes here, that part goes there. False teaching disrupts this ordering of things, whereas correct teaching maintains and promotes God’s ordering of things.
This is what one author states regarding this idea of God’s stewardship:
“The teaching then that Paul will give the church concerning everything from prayer to women in the church, to elders and widows, and behavior in the household and leadership is all designed to explicate ‘God’s way of ordering things.’ This ‘ordering’ of church and society . . . has been misapprehended
by the opponents”
The idea is like the way my wife runs our home. I have a wonderful wife. A wonderful home manager. A wonderful home administrator. She has a place for this and a place for that. She doesn’t like when I put my clothes on the floor. “That doesn’t go there,” she tells me. Having clothes on the ground does not accord with her order. God is similar. God has an order, he has a plan, he has a method, he has this formal way of doing
things in the world and in the church.
Implementing procedures and formalities in the church goes along with the way God runs the universe. The church follows him in this procedure. To not have procedures would be to go against the way that God has ordered the cosmos at large and the church specifically. My argument here is that if God has a plan, an order, a formal way of doing things, so, too, the church should have a formal way of doing things. We follow God’s ordering of things by implement an order and a process to the idea of belonging to CBC. We call that “church membership.”
Church membership entails church oversight
The second part of the definition involves church oversight. If you are taking notes, write this down: “Church membership entails church oversight.” “Oversight” means to supervise, to care for, guide, and direct. It could refer to a teacher who takes responsibility for seeing that her students pass an important upcoming test.
In this section, I want to answer the question, “Who are the parties responsible for oversight in the church.” If so, who “oversees” in the church?
We’ve already answered in previous sermons that the church does have a responsibility to “oversee,” “supervise,” and “care for” Christian discipleship. The first party who is responsible for oversight is the elders. Scripture commends the pastors of the church, elders, to oversee Christian discipleship in the local church. Turn with me to 1 Peter 5. (We have already covered this in past sermons so we will not spend much time on it. We won’t spend much time here.) Let’s read verses one through two.
I exhort the elders among you, mas a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;
The specific idea of elder oversight is stated in verse 2. Elders are to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight.” Thus, Scripture supports, from the perspective the leadership, from the elders, that the church oversees, supervises, directs Christian discipleship in the local church.
There’s another party within the church who is responsible for “oversight” in the church. This other party is church members. The NT teaches that it is not just the responsibility of the elders to exhort, encourage, and warn Christians in the local church. It is also the responsibility of every Christian to do the same. Every Christian has a responsibility to every other Christian in the local church to oversee their spiritual development. This is repeated throughout the NT.
To construct this idea, I want to first start with the idea that Christians are called to love Christians. Christians must love Christians. This is one of the most basic ideas of Christianity. Far too often, this is not a principle you can find practiced in many churches, CBC included. Churches in general and CBC, in particular, has too often been filled with bickering, division, and hate by people who claim to be Christians. The Lord is displeased by this. The Lord desires Christians to love one another.
Turn with me to 1 John 5:19 to explore this idea. We will read through verse 21. The passage reads,
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot1 love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
A couple of observations about this passage. First, notice verse 19. We love because Christ first loved us. That is a massively important statement. That is the theological grounding for understanding Christian love. Christian love, the love that we have for both God and man, is founded about Christ’s love for us. Our love does not flow from our own goodness, ingenuity, or personal freedom. Instead, it flows from Christ’s love for us. If you love someone, it is because Christ has loved you. That’s preeminent.
Second, whether someone is a Christian or not is determined by whether they love other Christians. Look at verse 20. John states that those who say they love Jesus but do not love their fellow Christian are liars. Pretty harsh. These supposed Christians do not actually love God. The theology behind this is this: love for God is reflected in your love for Christians. If you do not love Christians, you do not love God.
Third, and this is a close corollary to the previous point, Christians must, must love their fellow Christians. That’s what verse 21 says. “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” This idea naturally flows from the previous point. To be a Christian, you must love other Christians.
Here at CBC, God wants us to love one another. He wants this place to be a place of love. Love for God and love for one another. He wants you, Christian, to love your fellow Christian here. God wants you to place your love for other Christians above your personal preferences, your past grievances, and your personal irritations. It is love that we want to give to other Christians, not unkindness, hatred, and dissention. Christians must love their fellow brothers and sisters.
Out of this love for your fellow Christian flows acts of love. First comes love, then comes acts of love. If you love someone, you will show that love to them. And this is where congregational oversight begins. If you love your fellow Christian, you will be interested in their spiritual growth for Christ. If you love your fellow Christian, you will know that what it is your fellow Christian needs most from you is for you to point them to Christ. Christians love to see Christ produced in fellow Christians. To see this love for Christ produced in your fellow Christian, Christians are called to talk to their fellow Christians about the gospel.
To explore this idea, turn Hebrews 3:12. We will read through verses 13. The text reads,
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
A couple observations. First, as observed in verse 12, there is a tendency within the church to fall away from Christ. We feel this every day. Second, as observed in verse 13, God has given us a means of protection from apostacy. And that means of protection is found in the exhortation from fellow Christians. To counter apostasy, God commands Christians to “exhort one another every day.” The word “exhort” means “to urge strongly, appeal to, urge, encourage.” God has placed Christians in a community of faith. This community of faith, through their words, is a means of grace to us. Christians are called, commanded to exhort, warn, encourage, and admonish other Christians with their words. Because sin leads us away, we are called to exhort one another in the faith. We must talk to one another about the things of faith. We must talk
about Christ and his Word here.
One way to exhort your brothers and sisters in Christ is to ask theologically-rich questions. Questions like, “What is your relationship with Christ like?” “How can I pray for you?” “How is your fight against sin going?” “What theological issues are you wrestling with?” These, and questions like them, are a great way towards fulfilling Heb 3:13.
Each of us as Christians has this responsibility towards other Christians. The whole church, the leadership and the non-leadership, have this responsibility of overseeing Christian discipleship here at CBC.
Church membership entails Christian submission
The last part of my concept of “church membership” is this (write this down if you’re taking notes): Church membership entails Christian submission. Just as membership entails the idea that all Christians, both leadership and non-leadership, “oversee” Christian discipleship in the church, so also membership entails the idea that all Christians, both leadership and non-leadership, submit to being cared for by the church. Church membership involves submission to the church.
There are two types of submission I want to discuss under this point.
Submission to Elders
The first is submission to the elders. Membership entails that Christians at CBC submit to the elders here at CBC. We have already discussed this in a previous sermon. We won’t spend to much time on it. I do want to visit this point briefly, though. Turn with me to Heb 13:17. This verse reads,
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
This verse is very clear. Christians are to submit to church leadership. They are to obey and follow what it is the leadership says. As I said in a previous sermon, this is not an absolute obedience. If this church would veer into substantial theological or moral failure, you should leave this church. Our absolute obedience goes to Christ alone. However, Christians are called to submit to the decisions made by the elders.
There are going to be decisions that, as members, you might not like that the leadership makes. In those decisions where your personal preferences are not met but there is no clear biblical principle being neglected, members are called to submit to the elders.
This idea of submission is also for the pastors of the church. At CBC, we hold to a plurality of elders. We as pastors and elders have other pastors who serve as our authorities. I personally have other pastors and elders who serve as my authority. I am not THE authority, and neither is in any of the other elders. We have no Pope. We, instead, have a plurality of elders.
There could be times when the elders do not agree on an issue and there might be a split vote. In those situations, the elders who are in the dissenting camp ought to submit to the decision of most of the elders. That doesn’t mean that the minority group must like or agree with the decision. Rather, it means that an elder is not going to cause division. They will keep the mission of the church the main priority, even though they might disagree regarding how that mission is accomplished. This idea applies to me and to every other elder.
Submission to Members
Membership also entails members submitting to other members. As we explored in the previous section from Heb 3:12, Christians within a local body are called to exhort other Christians “every day” regarding the things of faith. Christians are to lovingly, kindly, gracious, winsomely speak to their fellow members.
When this happens, the member who receives the correction should not become immediately defensive and offended. We live in an age of offense. Everybody seems to be offended about something. In the church, things should be different. Between Christians, we must be able to humbly receive push back and correction from our brothers and sisters.
Turn with me to Prov 19:20. The passage reads, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” This passage is the opposite side of the coin from the Hebrews 3:12. That passage instructs us to exhort our brothers and sisters in Christ, this Proverbs passage instructs us to receive exhortation from our brothers and sisters. We are to do both.
My hope in this church would be that would be a place where we can give instruction and receive instruction. That this would be a place where offense to Christ is the only offense taken. That he is preeminent—his purposes, his kingdom, his preferences. Not ourselves. Not my feelings, preferences, and purposes. That when brothers and sisters bring a valid accusation that we don’t attack in return, or get mean, or get defensive.
This doesn’t mean that every accusation is valid, though. Sometimes people will bring a correction when no correction is needed. So, we need wisdom and council to discern if we have sinned and if we have hurt others. Not every accusation is valid.
Submission to instruction goes for elders, too. We elders are not above accountability. We’re not “the Lord’s anointed” who can do no wrong. We’re not above correction and input. We sin. We make mistakes. And in those instances, we as elders should have a posture of humility, of service, of love, and kindness when we receive correction.
Let’s review where we have been this morning.
I first argued that “church membership” entails the idea of a formal relationship between church and Christian. Does Scripture support this idea? Yes. It does. The argument I offered was a theological argument. I argued that 1 Tim 1:3 teaches that God operates the world and the church in a specific manner. The church is God’s house. As my wife has a place for this and that, so, too, God has a place for this and that. When we regard church membership as a formal agreement, we are following God’s approach to the church. God “runs a tight ship.” We try to as well. One way we do this is through a formal church membership process.
The second idea was of the church’s oversight. Much of this, with reference to elders, I have discussed in previous weeks. 1 Peter 5 teaches that elders are to oversee, supervise, care for the development of Christians. Other members, too, are also called to oversee the development of Christian discipleship in the church. This idea starts with love. Christians are called to love their brothers and sisters. From this love flows Christian care. Hebrews 3:12 states that Christians are to exhort other Christians. They are to lovingly, kindly, and graciously speak words of correction and instruction. To lovingly pushback against sin in another member’s life. All Christians have this responsibility. To exhort one another.
The third idea was of the Christian’s submission. When instruction, exhortation, and correction is brought by the elders or other members, the Christians response is to submit. This submission is not ultimate. Sometimes elders lead in the wrong way, and sometimes individual Christians might say you’re sinning when you’re not. However, in all cases a spirit of humility ought to reign. If elders make a mistake that does not threaten the gospel, you, as members, are called to submit and put your preferences second. If a friend brings up a sin issue in your life, you aren’t to get defensive and combative. Rather, you are to praise God that people care about you enough to tell you the truth.
Putting all these strands together, this is my definition of “church membership” is:
Church membership is a formal relationship between a church and a Christian characterized by the church’s oversight and the Christian’s submission.
In these next two weeks, we will continue exploring church membership using this definition.
Pray with me.