The Marks of the Church: Order, Part 5
The Marks and Works of the Church
Order, Part 5
In my most recent sermon, I introduced you to four of my friends who I’ve met since becoming a Christian. There was Susie, Jim, Billy, and Ashley (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’ll need to go back and listen to my most recent sermon).
Susie was godly person, but she went to church on the internet.
Jim, too, didn’t attend a traditional church. Jim was trying to find the true gospel. Jim’s understanding of the true gospel emphasized the identity of the Nephilim from Gen 6:4. He could not find a church that emphasized the Nephilim. So, he and his family we do “home church” every Sunday.
Billy, unlike Susie and Jim, attends a traditional church. He, in fact, attends three different churches—one for the Sunday morning sermon, one for Sunday school, and one for Wednesday night AWANA. He approaches churches buffet-style—a little from this church, a little from that church. He enjoys his options.
Ashley has been attending a church for about 10 years. She has not yet, though, committed to the church. She doesn’t understand church membership and doesn’t see a need for it.
What my friends had in common was that none of them are members of a local church. They either distrust the local church or don’t see the need for church membership.
As a matter of pure chance, Susie, Jim, Billy, and Ashley all listened to my sermon from two weeks ago. Susie and Jim streamed it online. And Billy and Ashley attended the first service. None of them are fully convinced that church membership is something that God wants them to do. They all enjoyed it but are looking for more.
This morning I want to provide my friends more biblical warrant for this idea of church membership. In order to do so, I will change my tact from last week. Last week I defined church membership. I defined it like this: “Church membership is a formal relationship between a church and a Christian characterized by the church’s oversight and the Christian’s submission.” I broke this definition down into three parts and defended each part biblically.
What I want to do this week is not focus upon the definition of church membership but focus upon different aspects of church membership. There are three—the function of church membership, the privileges of church membership, and the responsibilities of church membership. To begin, we will look at the function of church membership.
The Function of Church Membership
This is my first point this morning. The function of church membership. What does this thing do? What is the purpose of church membership? That is the central question I will tackle with this point.
And this is the answer to that question:
The purpose of church membership is to serve as the line of demarcation that separates the local church from the world—other local church and non-Christians. Church membership provides the necessary logic for having a local church.
To argue this point, I cannot point to a specific text that teaches this idea. There is no single text that teaches that churches are to implement church membership for this purpose of demarcation. I conceded this point last week that the term “church membership” is used in Scripture. That is not saying much, though. Like the Trinity, church membership is not explicitly mentioned, but you cannot make sense of what Scripture teaches regarding the local church without the idea of church membership.
Let’s visit one passage to see what it is that I’m talking about. Turn to Heb 13:17. We’ve visited this passage on several occasions. I want us to take a fresh look at this passage. It 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.
My contention with this passage is that without an idea of church membership, obeying this passage does not make sense. I will examine this passage using Susie, Jim, Billy, and Ashley to show this point.
This passage is explicitly addressed to the congregants of the church, not the church leaders. The author states that the congregants are “to obey and submit to” the leaders of this church. For us to obey this passage, there are a couple of logical steps we need to take.
The first step we need to take is to realize this book is not written to you specifically, to CBC. The book of Hebrews was written in the first century, to a context that was different than ours. This should not be surprising. So far, my friends are tracking with me.
Second, we need to realize that while this book was not written to us it still has authority in our lives. We believe that, while us and the Hebrews Christians are not called to submit to the same leaders (the leaders mentioned in Hebrews are dead), we are still called to obey this passage. The gap between the first century and us today does not negate the application of the Bible. We are called to obey this passage, albeit our leaders and their leaders are different.
Third, we need to establish who our leaders are. Who are these persons who we are called to submit to? These persons who we are called to submit to, at minimum, are those who “keep watch over your souls.” The verb “keeping watch” requires an ongoing relationship. This is a present tense verb. To continually keep watch requires that the leader knows the person who they are overseeing and be involved in the life of that person who they are overseeing.
It doesn’t seem that Susie could obey this passage being that her internet pastors really don’t know her. You really can only get to know someone if you spend time with them. Before coming to CBC, I really tried to get to know the church from a distance. In the interview period, candidacy, and after I accepted the position, I did my best to become acquainted with the community. This only went so far, though. Since coming here, being bodily present, I’ve gotten to know this church in a much deeper way. The spatial proximity allows for better
understanding. Susie does not have this with her “church leaders.” They only know so much about Susie that she tells them. There are some things in her life that she does not want to talk about. Those sensitive matters her “leaders” know nothing about. To “oversee” requires spatial proximity. Susie doesn’t have this. Therefore, Susie can’t really obey this passage.
Jim, the home church guy, doesn’t have leaders at all. He, too, cannot obey this passage.
Billy has a different problem. Because he attends so many churches, he has several church leaders who teach contrary things. At the Presbyterian church, they teach one thing; at the Methodist, another; and at the Pentecostal church, another. He can’t submit to all of them because they do not teach the same thing. Further, the leaders at the churches have not gotten to know Billy very well because his attendance at their churches is so sparse. A little time here. A little time there. No one really knows Billy. Billy only looks at a passage like this with confusion—who are my church leaders? Billy doesn’t realize that his church habits prevent him from obeying this passage.
Last is Ashley. Ashley thinks she can obey this passage. She thinks that her regular attendance means signifies who her leaders are. A problem arises for Ashley, though, when she goes on vacation. Every year in the month of June, her and her family goes to the Denver for a family vacation. During that vacation, she attends a local church. During that time, is Ashley under the oversight of those elders, or is she still under the oversight of her elders back in Pierre? It’s hard to say. If the way you determine church leaders are is based upon attendance, one’s church leaders changes based on where you attend church. Ashley, in a way, falls victim to the same problem that Billy did.
To make this passage work, something “more” is needed. You need some principle that unites Christians to church leaders within the local church. What is that principle, you ask. I’m so glad you asked. That principle is “church membership.”
It’s in that logical slot that I want to place church membership. Church membership is the means by which we know who our leaders are. Without an idea of church membership, we cannot obey Heb 13:7.
The Benefits of Church Membership
There are great benefits to becoming a church member. These benefits are different, though, than how benefits are traditionally conceived in our culture.
Our culture can be fairly obsessed with benefits that one can receive when joining up with different kinds of institutions. Whether it is credit card points, golf membership perks, free drinks, admission to a theme park, or birthday desserts, we love seeing benefit in our partnerships and affiliations. And this desire can build within us a pattern of pragmatic utilitarianism, always looking to benefit self in any way possible.
These aren’t the type of benefits that come with church membership. Church membership benefits far outweigh these earthly benefits. I will list three.
The Benefit of Service
The first benefit of church membership is that the gateway to service to this body at CBC is opened to you. Within our church, we maintain that in order to serve in a traditional ministry here you must become a member. The purpose of this is that the elders want those who formally serve to be accountable. Accountability is key. We strive for doctrinal and moral purity. We are unapologetic about this. We as elders want to make sure, to the best of our ability, that those who serve here at CBC faithfully bear the name of Christ. If you want to formally serve here, you must become a member.
Service is a blessing. Jesus teaches that the way of greatness is the way of service. Turn with me to Mark 10:43. We’ve gone over this passage in a recent sermon, but I want to touch upon it again. Read through verses 44.
But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.
Jesus states here that in order to be great, you must be a servant, you must be a slave. Service is the means by which greatness is achieved. Without service, you will not be great. Without service, sacrifice, and enslavement, you will not be great. Greatness comes through service. To not serve is to rob yourself of the blessing of greatness.
The Benefit of Being Served
Along with opportunities of service, there are also opportunities to be served. This is another benefit of church membership. To better understand this idea of being served, turn to Galatians 6:1. We will read through verse 2. The passage reads,
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
There are two befits of church membership that I want to pull out of this.
The first comes from verse 1. Paul says that we are to gently restore those who are caught in any transgression. We all sin. Because we all sin, we all need other Christians in our lives who gently push back against the sin that is present in our lives. We need faithful brothers and sisters who hold us accountable to the confession of faith that we make. This accountability, believe it or not, is a blessing. It is a blessing, not a curse, to have a brother or sister in Christ gently correct us for our wayward behavior. It is a blessing to be a part of a local church body that has a vibrant church membership in which members lovingly, gently keep other members accountable. Church membership entails that you will have other brothers and sisters who strive to see Christ grow in you and as a result will keep you accountable for your lifestyle.
The second benefit of being served comes from verse 2. Paul says there that we are to “bear one another’s burdens.” This burden can be understood as sin. So, in some way, Paul is repeating himself from verse 1. However, a burden is broader than just sin. A burden can be any experience that is oppressive, any experience that weighs someone down. There are manifold examples of this.
One of the more difficult times in my life was during Kathryn’s pregnancy with our youngest son, Ethan. From six months until she gave birth, Kathryn was having routine seizures. For one month, she had a grand mal seizure every week. We were in and out of the hospital. I was fearful to leave the house. Our two younger children needed us. I had work, school. I had to drive our family everywhere because Kathryn’s license was revoked because of the seizures. It was a difficult time. I had a burden.
Kathryn and I had a church couple who lived a couple of doors down from us. During this time, this couple stepped into our lives and shoulder much of the burden we had. Meals, babysitting, encouragement, and prayer. This family “carried our burden.” The husband and I worked the same job. When I need him to cover my shift, he was there for me. Never complaining, only serving. They bore our burden.
This couple sharing in our suffering was a great blessing to Kathryn and I. We developed deep relationships with this couple and their children. While the difficulty of the situation was significant, this couple’s love for us, their “carrying our burden” has led Kathryn and I to see the love of Christ.
In all our lives, there will be time when we need help, when we need other brothers and sisters to come along side us and carry our burdens. This is a great blessing to us. In those moments, the love of Christ pours out of his people and we become the recipients of it. As a member of a church that has a robust understanding of membership, this type of love and concern for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ would be constantly on display.
The Responsibilities of Church Membership
Now with these benefits of church membership comes responsibilities. Unlike the contemporary millennial ideas of government where there are supposedly only benefits and no responsibilities, church membership doesn’t function that way. Nothing functions that way. For our third point, we will focus on the responsibilities of church membership. I will mention four.
The first we have covered on numerous occasions. Primary, church membership entails submission to church elders and church members. All members are called to have a spirit of submission. As I’ve said, this is not an ultimate submission (that place is reserved for Christ alone), but it is a legitimate submission. Members are called to submit to elders and members when necessary.
Caring for Discipleship in Others
The second we have also covered. Members are to be concerned for caring—both physical and spiritual—for the needs of other members. We are to lovingly correct those in sin and humbly carry the burdens of others.
Building up the Church
The third responsibly of church membership is the corporate building up of the body. To explore this idea, turn to 1 Cor 12:4. We will read through verse 7. The passage reads,
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
This is a powerful passage regarding church membership. I want to focus on verse 7. The Spirit empowers every Christian with spiritual gifting. Every Christian has a role to play in the life of the church. Paul mentions in verse 4 that there are a variety of gifts. The Spirit’s aim for spiritual gifted is discussed at the end of verse 7. The Spirit gives gifts for the common good of the church.
As church members, we are called to obey the implicit exhortation within verse 7. We are to use our giftings, whatever those may be, for the common good of CBC. For me, this is preaching and teaching the gospel. For you, it might be something different. This notion of service could be a host of things. This last week at VBS this variety of gifting was on display. We had some people teaching dance moves to the children (don’t tell the Southern Baptists we were dancing in the sanctuary), some teaching a Bible lesson, some facilitating games, some making yummy snacks, some watching the babies in the nursery, some organizing the whole thing, some working sound, some supervising children, some etc., etc., etc.
I bring up these examples to highlight the diversity of giftings within the body. It does not matter what your gifting is. What matters is that you use your gifting for the common good of the body. There are so many needs here. There are so many things that need to be done. As a church member, you are called, required to use your giftings for the building up of the corporate body.
The last responsibility is consistent attendance. For membership to work, in order to have your life overseen and to oversee the lives of others and to pour into the corporate good of the church, you need to consistently attend CBC.
This is a controversial issue in Pierre. We live in an isolated location and traveling takes time here. We have youth sports and other activities that draw us away from Pierre on the weekends. Further, we have many buffet Christians who come here for this and come here for that. Nevertheless, consistent attendance is an idea that comes from Scripture. Turn with me to Heb 10:24. We will read through verse 25.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near
Verse 24 and the second part of verse 25 encapsulates what it is that we are to do as members of this body. From verse 24, we are to think about ways to build one another up in love and good works. And, from the second part of verse 25, we are to encourage one another. Those ideas are to a definition of church membership.
In the beginning part of verse 25, the author highlights the antithesis to a healthy notion of church membership. To not love your neighbor, encourage them, build them up is to “neglect meeting together.” Attendance to the communal gatherings of Christians is essential to the Christian walk. It is also essential for membership. You cannot be a good church member unless you are physically here on a regular basis. As a church member, you need to make church attendance a priority.
It would be unwise for me to lay out a specific standard for church attendance, like you must be here three weeks out of a month. The author of Hebrews does not do that. Neither should I. I understand that life has seasons. Some seasons might be busier than others. Let’s say you have a sick parent in a different city. That will require you to be gone from this assembly. That’s okay. Let’s say that you are a mother of a young child who is sick. You should stay home with that child. That’s okay. God knows these things.
What is not okay, though, is when we do not make church attendance a priority. Johnny’s football games always take precedence over church. Work always takes precedence. Traveling to see the grand kids always takes precedence. My emphasis is on always here. We need to make this corporate gathering a priority in our lives. As church members, we are called to gather regularly with our church family.
As we conclude, allow me to summarize these past two sermons on church membership:
Church membership is a formal relationship between a Christian and a local church that is characterized by the Christian’s submission and the Church’s oversight.
The purpose of church membership is to serve as the line of demarcation that separates the church from the world. Church membership demarcates the local church from other local churches and non-Christians. It provides the necessary logic for having a local church. The benefits of church membership boil down to service and receiving service. Church membership affords us opportunities to serve in the corporate body. It also affords us the blessings of being served—particularly, being held accountable and having our burdens carried by other love Christians.
Lastly, the responsibilities of church membership are significant. We are called to submission, to oversee other’s Christian growth, to use our gifts for the collective good, and to regularly attend at CBC.
My hope and prayer for this church is that we grow together in the love and joy of the Lord. That this church would a vibrant, healthy, God-glorifying body where sinners are saved, and saints are encouraged. Church membership is a means by which this goal can be accomplished. Amen.
Pray with me.