ARE YOU A CHURCH MEMBER?
In order to answer this question, it is necessary to answer another question: What is the church? Some have considered the church which the LORD JESUS spoke about, when HE said “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”, as a particular organization with a set of rules and order which HE established and handed down from the apostles and that this “church” can be traced by a literal succession from one person to another right on back to the time of the apostles.
This all sounds very plausible until one tries to actually begin to try and trace that lineage. This impossibility has not kept some from maintaining that their particular “organization” can indeed lay claim to the necessary pedigree that proves it to be the “one true church” on earth. If one believes that such traceable succession is necessary to determine the “true church” then the Roman Catholics would have the inside track in such a contest.
The fact is that the “true church” of CHRIST which HE came to manifest in the earth is not an organization which HE formed there in Jerusalem but rather is the sum total of all of those elect children for which HE has shed HIS precious blood in a work designed to redeem it as HIS bride. This is that innumerable company which the writer of Hebrews spoke of when he described it as, “the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven.” (Heb 12:23)
The church is a “gathered people” which have belonged to the LORD since the dawn of HIS Mediatorial purpose and have been chosen in HIM from before the foundation of the world as the apple of HIS eye, HIS sister, HIS spouse. This church, spoken of in its totality, is a group of people that have not yet all been revealed in the earth but which shall be one day when it pleases the LORD to “present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:27) I believe that the church will appear in its perfection and glory in the last day when the marriage supper of the LAMB is come, and the church appears as a bride adorned for her husband. Then will be fully realized all that she has been ordained to be from before the foundation of the world and shall enjoy HIS embrace throughout the ages to come.
Now while we can be certain as to the origins of this “church” and even her ultimate “triumph and presentation” as the “bride of CHRIST”, yet we cannot discover her total manifestation in the earth at the present time. But we can see her in various locations in the earth as local gatherings (churches). Regardless of the protests and claims by many who are sure that the pedigree of their institution or organization assures them to be the true church, no appeal can be made to such as proof of anything.
The LORD said, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24) HE said this to emphasize to the Samaritan woman that HE does not dwell in a particular established religious institution of any type, but that HIS fellowship with HIS people is manifested on a personal level even though they are gathered together and receive those benefits as members one of another in local congregations.
It seems clear that there are manifestations of these called out members of the body of CHRIST who are put together in various locations around the earth and form what are still called churches in the fullest sense even though they do not comprise the totality of the church at large. Yet in those locations they are indeed the church of the LIVING GOD and are no less the bride of CHRIST than they will be when manifested together when all of GOD’s children shall be gathered from the four corners of the earth.
These churches are described in the likeness of the one in Jerusalem which the LORD filled up according to HIS purpose. “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Act 2:47) HE must, here, be speaking of the “local church” because the “church” at large (the body of CHRIST, for which HE died) can not be added to or taken from since it is composed of the fixed number of HIS elect which were given to HIM before the foundation of the world and in whose behalf HE came to the earth, as a REDEEMER.
This local church in Jerusalem was raised up to fulfill the purpose of GOD and to provide sustenance and care for HIS little flock which HE was pleased to call out from among the world there in that city. In HIS mercy, HE was pleased to cause them to go in and out and find rest in the company of one another according to the mutual benefit of one another as they gathered to share their common faith and love for JESUS CHRIST. Yet this church is not in existence today. Others have taken its place and so it goes all across the world. All of HIS churches are subsequently raised up for the same purpose as the one in Jerusalem.
One needs look no further than the Acts of the Apostles and the first three chapters of the Book of the Revelation in order to determine that those local churches (which are but manifestations of the true church in the earth) are in a state of constant ebb and flow and the longevity of any particular one has nothing to do with its pedigree nor beginning but in whether or not the LORD is pleased to continue to walk among its candlesticks and keep its flame lit. Many so called “churches” which can trace their pedigree back for hundreds of years are but empty shells of their former glory with Ichabod written upon them even though they may be able to perpetuate themselves for years to come by their various practices and organizational structure. This is what the LORD said to the church at Sardis, “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” (Rev 3:1)
When a church judges its life by its structural longevity or its supposed foundation upon time honored principles and practices rather than whether the mighty hand of GOD is at work in her midst then she is enamored by her past rather than seeking the presence of GOD at the present time. As GOD is pleased to raise men up to proclaim the gospel, HE is also pleased to raise up churches even as HE has in times past. Yet it is sheer folly for men to think that they can organize or “plant” churches according to their own whims and designs. Though many of these organizations may be around for years they are no more a manifestation of the true church than those who make a free will “decision for CHRIST” are indeed the true children of GOD. “Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” (Psa 127:1)
Any true church must be “founded” as GOD is pleased to call men together and may or may not fit any particular or exact pattern which the LORD has been pleased to manifest at other times and in other locations. In other words, we can say that HIS church is not like a franchise with new identical offices being opened up in other cities. GOD is not in the cookie cutter business and introduces diversity among HIS people so that the glory might be of HIM and not of those whom HE is pleased to call. Men love organization and often fall into the “give us a king” syndrome that the nation of Israel had when they clamored for Saul to be their king. The church(es) of JESUS CHRIST have but one KING and the glory of GOD cannot be shared.
Though there may be great diversity among the churches of the LORD, yet there is one common thread which they all share. Those, who compose that church which the LORD is pleased to make known in a particular location, have a genuine desire to follow the true CHRIST (John 10:27), to honor HIS precepts (Acts 2:42) and to love and fellowship with the brethren (John 13:35) which are gathered together with them.
They are brought together in unity (Acts 2:46) as a demonstration of that for which CHRIST prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
This unity of mind and heart is being perfected in them as they are molded together and built up in the most holy faith. “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” (1Pet 2:5) The LORD has brought them together that they might be one people and bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of CHRIST. “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Eph 2:19-22)
Thus, the key element that must exist in a true church is not its pure doctrine (though that is vitally important), nor its exact biblical practice (though none of it can be neglected), nor the power of its preachers, (though GOD will surely raise them up) but rather in a more simple yet very complex gift. “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34-35) Without this love one for the other there can be no unity and without unity there can be no church regardless of all of the trappings of religion it may have at its disposal or how long its tradition is held.
Paul instructed the Philippians on this wise, “Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Phil 2:2-3) This is a condition which cannot be learned but must be bestowed. By GOD’s grace HE is pleased to grant to HIS churches such a mind. Yet just as babies are not born fully grown and developed so HIS churches are granted such gifts according to the measure of faith which HE is pleased to bestow and in HIS own time to bring it to fruition. But one may not expect to find a church that totally lacks this love and unity anymore that one would expect to find a people who are the born again sons of GOD who are totally without the fruit of the SPIRIT. (see Gal.5:22-25; Eph.5:9)
Therefore, it has pleased HIM to grant unto HIS churches those gifts that are necessary to the growth of HIS people in these glorious bonds of unity and love. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:11-13)
Some have erred greatly in assuming that these teaching gifts are the “work of the ministry” but it seems rather clear to us that the teaching gifts are given to prepare or perfect the saints themselves so that the saints can perform the work of the ministry one to the other. A church which does not minister one to the other is no New Testament church. “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us,.”(Rom 12:5-6) “For the body is not one member, but many.-----But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body----- God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. (1Cor 12:14-27)
And so we are brought to consider the answer to our original question, are you a church member? Some assume that they are simply because they meet together with a particular assembly of folks from time to time, perhaps even on a fairly regular basis. Others are fairly certain that they are because they have had their names recorded on a church membership roll, having met the particular criteria that is necessary to become a formal member of the particular church they belong to. Still others consider that their family ties make them to be members. Now we are certain that all of the LORD’s children are members of that church for which HE died but it behooves all of GOD’s children to ask themselves if they are indeed a “member” of a local assembly.
A man can sire a child simply by impregnating a woman and in the broadest sense he could be called a father. But a true father is a man who not only sires a child but attends to its needs and nurtures it out of true love and care for the child. In one sense all believers who assemble with a particular church could be considered as members of that body. Yet the scripture knows nothing of members of the body that are not engaged and functioning with the body.
Church members physically gather together with the body in a given location whenever that body is gathering together. In fact, they delight in that gathering and consider it a priority in their lives to attend those meetings which the church deems appropriate. The writer of Hebrews gave this admonition, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Heb 10:24-25) If we say that we love the brethren, how can we truly mean it if we neglect to “consider one another”? How can we provoke the brethren to love and good works if we are not present in the meetings to perform that function? Does not our absence discourage them and actually hinder them? The man who only “attends” the meetings of the assembly for his own benefit has missed one of the main purposes of the meeting.
Church members are desirous of following the commandments of the LORD. The LORD said that HIS sheep hear HIS voice and follow HIM. If a man believes that the LORD has commanded HIS followers to be baptized in water in obedience to HIM as the answer of a good conscience toward GOD, can a man then truly claim to be a follower of CHRIST who neglects to follow that command? Likewise, if HE has instructed us to remember HIS death till HE comes again by partaking of the bread and wine which we sometimes refer to as communion, can we regard our presence when the church sees fit to partake of it, as an optional matter. Is not this as much a priority as water baptism or general attendance.
Church members pray one for the other because they know that they are one in heart and spirit with the brethren and desire the benefit of one another. Is regular prayer a burden or do we become too busy to consider those whom the LORD has instructed us to be “our brother’s keeper”? If the church is gathered together to pray, is this a small thing and simply not worth the effort? Is there any other activity of the church wherein unity is more necessary than when we would gather together and pray according to the will of our FATHER. “Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mat 18:19-20)
Church members submit themselves to one another and commit themselves to the watchcare and discipline of the church. All of us are prone to err and very likely to be overtaken in a fault from time to time. These things occur for the glory of GOD and the benefit of the church because we are commanded thusly, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. (Gal 6:1) The faults of our brethren are made manifest from time to time for the benefit of the whole body because in them we are reminded that except for the grace of GOD we too should be overtaken in the same or even worse. Thus the discipline of the church is greatly tempered with a proper sense of mercy and the knowledge that “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Mat 7:2) So as the sons of GOD we must judge all things, knowing that judgement must begin at the house of GOD. Not even the elders are exempt from this discipline, “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” (1Tim 5:20) Church members submit themselves to such judgement both in their brethren and in themselves. “The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb 10:30-31) Let none who should be church members think that they shall escape this promise.
Church members rejoice when their brethren rejoice and mourn when they mourn. “And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.” (1Co 12:26) They are knit together and confess that they are together strangers and pilgrims in this earth. They count their brethren in CHRIST to be their closest relations, even as HIM who is not ashamed to call them brethren, said, “Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mat 12:48-50)
Church members commit themselves to the judgment of the church and will in no wise put their business or possible disputes with one another before the magistrates of this world but would rather be defrauded of this world’s goods than bring reproach to Name of CHRIST and shame to their brethren. “If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.” (1Cor 6:4) The judgment of the weakest saint is to be preferred over the wisest of the men of this world.
Church members are those who search the scriptures. “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” (Eph 4:14-15) A man who is carried about by deceivers is generally one who is waiting for someone else to tell him what the truth is rather than seeking it with all of his heart. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” (John 16:13-14) Church members discern those who preach some other message than JESUS CHRIST and HIM crucified because they have found that message to be their greatest delight.
Church members consider the welfare of the church to be their chief priority and the benefit of their brethren their greatest joy. They desire unity of mind and spirit with those the LORD is pleased to call them together with. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life forevermore.” (Psa 133:1-3)
Is not such a state a real foretaste of that perfect unity we will share with our LORD and brethren throughout the ages to come?
A man can no more join a church of his own free will than he can enter the kingdom of GOD by the same. All of these things must occur by the sovereign operation of GOD. Are you a church member?
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psa 139:23-24)