This series of posts is an invitation. I have not lived up to the ideals that I will soon present. If you know me, then you know that I succumb to cynicism, bitterness, and selfishness, all of which affect my relationships in the church. If you do not know me, that simple fact is proof of my weakness. If I have not yet met you, then I have not fully pursued the convictions that I will soon introduce. So, with these posts I don’t intend to elevate my own character or to propagate human teaching. Instead, I hope that the Chapel Hill Bible Church would gather together around the Scriptures to learn from God Himself the importance and the role of church membership in the Christian life.
So far, I have argued for church membership from Scripture. I have also contended that church membership is one way to love our pastors. With this post, I want to think about how church membership can help us become more fully obedient to Christ.
This summer, I married Anna, my wonderful wife. Our wedding day was exhilarating. She wore a beautiful white dress, while I was in a gray suit. At the ceremony, I walked down the aisle with my mother and father. I was followed by family, groomsmen, and bridesmaids. Then the music played, the congregation rose, and she was escorted in by her father. They stopped in front of me. He planted a kiss on her cheek and placed her hand in mine. He nudged her forward with his free hand, and we began the ancient liturgy of a Christian wedding. We sang in praise to God, heard a sermon, and then exchanged vows. We promised one another that we would love each other for the rest of our days, that we would live together, and that we would quickly forgive one another, among other things. Then, I placed her ring on her finger. She placed my ring on mine. We sealed the ceremony with a kiss, and we recessed joyously.
Why in a blog post about church membership am I recounting my wedding? Frankly, the parallels between church membership and marriage are numerous. So, as we think about church membership, we can learn from asking why? of our wedding traditions. In this spirit, we may ask the following: why do we make vows at a wedding? One reason may be that vows remind us that love consists of both affection and commitment. Nothing in Scripture mandates the pattern of the wedding ceremony. And yet, throughout Christian history, husbands and wives have made promises to one another on their wedding days. This tradition was borne out of the ancient wisdom that arises from God’s character. For God, commitment always accompanies love – for proof, consider his loving kindness to his people throughout the millennia. We therefore mirror his character by committing to our spouses. But, my instinct is that something more is happening. Whether we consciously acknowledge it or not, we intuitively know that a marriage is NOT sustained by affection alone, but also by commitment. That is, the love that a husband and wife have for one another is made complete by their exclusive commitment to one another.
If all of this is true, what precludes us from deriving certain church practices from God’s wisdom as well? We know that marriage is an extremely important institution – the spiritual benefits are numerous; the marriage commitment stabilizes families; family unity facilitates raising children in Christ (I could go on). And we also know that the church is a crucial institution in God’s redemptive plan for the world. In fact, the themes of marriage/family and the church often arise in conjunction in the Scriptures – it is as if discussing one mandates discussing the other. My guess is that this is due to their shared essence. Marriage, and the children that a marriage produces by God’s grace, constitute a physical family. The church, meanwhile, constitutes the spiritual family. So, both involve the notion of family, of belonging, of care and love. Interestingly, the spiritual family is the one that endures according to Scripture. Jesus teaches that at the resurrection, none will be given in marriage (Matt. 22:30). Yet, it is clear that the church remains: God’s people are gathered together in praise of him for all eternity (Rev. 19, for instance).
So, I ask again, does God’s ancient wisdom not apply to the local church? It undoubtedly does apply. In the same way that the marriage commitment animates the couple’s love for one another, commitment to a local church in the form of membership encourages the members’ love for one another. It does this because it is a willful commitment to the church’s other members.
We may now ask, why does the augmentation of love for members of the body of Christ matter? It matters because it pertains directly to our obedience to Christ. In fact, Jesus teaches that we are marked as Christians by our love for one another: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). In my opinion, this verse in the book of Hebrews is a pertinent example of the kind of love that Christians should show one another: “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” (Heb. 10:24-25). Notice first that hope in the return of Christ frames members’ relationships. The author instructs the church with this in mind, because the Second Coming ought to be the hope of all Christians. We might read the verse this way: “Because Jesus is coming back soon, you have responsibilities to one another.” These include stirring one another up to love and good works, encouraging one another, and meeting together, according to the passage. Our love for one another is intended to build up the body of Christ.
In our age of individual autonomy and relativism, the notion that other people have important, instructive authority over our lives may give us pause. Yet Scripture unequivocally prescribes this for the health of the church: Christians need each other for spiritual flourishing, for growth in maturity, for wisdom, for encouragement, and for correction. Church membership, much like wedding vows and a formal ceremony, is meant to help an individual believer submit to the instruction of other Christians and to love the believers in the local church with greater tenacity. Let’s look at three “one another” commands and explore how membership illuminates them.
- Bear one another’s burdens. Galatians 6:2 reads, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” This command takes new life when one is a church member. The command does not encourage some ethereal, ungrounded notion of help and service. Rather, it asks us to consider particular individuals who are excessively burdened. In my case, the Holy Spirit may work through this command to impress upon me the following thought, meant to stir me to action on behalf of a fellow church member: “Remember what Noah shared with you on Thursday? He is burdened. You and Noah have committed to bear one another’s burdens, just as the book of Galatians instructs you. How can you bear his burden this week? Perhaps you can call him, or offer to talk with him.”
- Instruct one another. Romans 15:14 reads, “You yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” Again, the command takes a new life for a church member. I may read this and think of a fellow member of CHBC: “Tom is a wise man. I need some instruction on how to love my wife better. I think he may be able to help.” This Scripture is left unpracticed without some particular application. But it is meaningful when one member comes to another seeking instruction in the faith.
- Serve one another. Galatians 5:13 reads, “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” As I have previously stated, this command is vacuous without practical and personal application. Serving one another in love is not merely a good idea, but an expectation that God has for his people. So, when I read this, I may remember the busy schedules of my fellow church members, Eric and Kimberly, and their need for childcare. In obedience to this text and love for these members, my wife and I may offer to watch their child while they go out on a date.
The applications of the aforementioned texts are innumerable, but I include them to show that the “one another” commands in Scripture are not merely utopian aspirations. God intends for a love with practical, particular, and personal results to characterize his family. A group of believers who have consciously, willfully, and formally promised one another that they will uphold such commands for the good of the body is not bad – it is in fact what God intends for his family! The members of that group have the opportunity for a fuller obedience to God, especially to his “one another” commands. In the same way that the formal commitment of marriage foments the love that a couple shares, the formal commitment between church members augments the love that members show to one another. Let us, therefore, submit to our leaders and commit to one another for the encouragement and perseverance of the body, and ultimately for God’s glory.
If you have questions about membership at the Chapel Hill Bible Church, please contact Ryan McKee, our Community Pastor.
While the core event of our life as a church community is the Sunday morning gathering, we are a large church, and the Sunday morning gathering does not foster relationships in the same way that a small group setting can. As such, life groups constitute much of the church’s community life. These are ten-to-twenty person groups that meet regularly outside of the Sunday morning gathering. If you have not joined a life group, I encourage you to do so.
Finally, I want to discuss this topic with you and by doing so get to know you better. Please email me at email@example.com or call/text at 919-428-4891. My wife and I would be happy to have you over for a meal or coffee. We live just two minutes from the church, so you won’t have to travel far!