Friday, October 7, 2016

A Relationship With Jesus Means Commitment to His Church

When I was about thirteen years old I began going through a church membership study led by my pastor. I grew up in a Reformed church (specifically the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America) that emphasized the need for actual committed membership within the church and educated their attendees likewise. No one who took membership vows was ever ignorant of what they were promising and what the benefits of being a member entailed.

On my birthday that year, my dad took me out on a birthday date, just like he did every year. Having my father all to myself was a rare occurrence in my family and it still kind of is. I have seven siblings to contend with, so it was always a special occasion when I had him for a captive audience. He typically reserved this time, our birthday dates, to talk about more weighty subjects and this year we talked a lot about church membership and what it meant to be a part of the church.

My dad told me that he and my mother had two objectives for each of their children—to make us, by God’s grace and the help of the Holy Spirit, productive citizens of Christ’s Kingdom in whatever capacity, field, ministry, or life path that entailed. And second, to make us productive citizens of the United States.

We talked for a while about what that meant. Being a productive member of our country was pretty straightforward. It meant I couldn’t bum out in my parents’ house after graduating. I had to get a job, get some education, establish independence, and contribute to the economy and welfare of this nation. But what did it mean to be a part of Christ’s Kingdom? What did it mean to fulfill the Great Commission, make disciples, and be a disciple of Christ? It was then we lighted on the subject of church membership. My father asked me if this was something I felt I was ready to do, to make promises to this particular congregation, but more importantly to make promises to Christ.

Now, I want to clarify that what my father was putting into question was not my salvation. I knew and believed in Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for my sin. I knew and believed I was his and he was mine. And I honestly cannot remember a moment in my life when I didn’t know this and believe it. But I had yet to make a public profession, yet to assert this faith for myself. I was virtually riding the skirt tails of my parents and their profession of faith, because that’s the nature of being born into a Christian God-fearing family. But at some point that faith and commitment had to become my own.

I knew claiming church membership would change my relationship with Christ which meant it would change my relationship with the church.

Many Christians prefer to compartmentalize their relationship with Jesus and their relationship or lack thereof with His church. In my mind, the two are one-and-the-same. If you don’t have a relationship with God’s people, if you aren’t living in fellowship and worship with his saints, if you aren’t building Christ’s kingdom side-by-side with your brothers and sisters in Christ, then your relationship with Jesus is inherently deficient.

Jesus Christ is not an autonomous person. He has fellowship with His Father, with the Holy Spirit, and with his family (Matthew 12:46-50). He has brothers and sisters and he relates to his family on his terms and expects you to do the same.

Receiving membership vows meant that not only was I making a public profession of faith, but I was making a public commitment to Jesus and his people. I was committing myself to their service, to love them, to hold them accountable, to pray with and for them, to fellowship and worship with them, to help supply whatever needs they might have with whatever resources I could supply. I know the phrase “church membership” can raise red flags in our brains. Some people assume my church is some sort of cult for exercising membership, but the fact of the matter is our vows are no secret.

Church membership is not some secret pass into a secret club. It is a public profession to the world and a public commitment to the church.

1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule for faith and life?

2. Do you believe in the one living and true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as revealed in the Scriptures?

3. Do you repent of your sin; confess your guilt and helplessness as a sinner against God; profess Jesus Christ, Son of God, as your Saviour and Lord; and dedicate yourself to His service: Do you promise that you will endeavor to forsake all sin, and to conform your life to His teaching and example?

4. Do you promise to submit in the Lord to the teaching and government of this church as being based upon the Scriptures and described in substance in the Constitution of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America? Do you recognize your responsibility to work with others in the church and do you promise to support and encourage them in their service to the Lord? In case you should need correction in doctrine or life, do you promise to respect the authority and discipline of the church?

5. To the end that you may grow in the Christian life, do you promise that you will diligently read the Bible, engage in private prayer, keep the Lord’s Day, regularly attend the worship services, observe the appointed sacraments, and give to the Lord’s work as He shall prosper you?

6. Do you purpose to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness in all the relationships of life, faithfully to perform your whole duty as a true servant of Jesus Christ, and seek to win others to Him?

7. Do you make this profession of faith and purpose in the presence of God, in humble reliance upon His grace, as you desire to give your account with joy at the Last Great Day?

If these vows seem radical to anyone, it is simply because commitment itself is a radical notion in our culture.

A relationship without commitment is not much of a relationship. Take a marriage, for instance. Have you ever been to a wedding where the bride and groom did not exchange vows? And have you ever seen a marriage thrive wherein both parties failed to keep themselves committed to their vows? The most important relationships in our lives take this kind of commitment. Why should our relationship with Jesus Christ be any different? 

Commitment is a commonly disregarded concept in our culture, even amidst Christians. We praise it in theory, but in reality we live our lives with one foot in the door and one foot out. We back out of friendships as soon as they get complicated. We prefer to ghost people and drop contact instead of reconciling and being honest. And we want to be able to back out of a church congregation just as easily.

Autonomy is easier and less messy than community. Given the state of the church and the state of men’s hearts, there are frequently and sadly justifiable reasons to leave a congregation and I am not exhorting anyone to remain in a church where there is abuse of power, ungodly leadership, and distortion of the Word of God or unrepentant sin that goes unaddressed. We should always test and judge our leaders against God's Word. 

There are plenty of legitimate circumstances when we sadly have to abandon congregations, but this does not mean we abandon the church. Because no matter how many corrupt bodies of believers there are out there, there will always be the faithful, because God is faithful to his people, and it is our responsibility to seek those faithful believers out.

If I claim to have a relationship with Jesus, I need to cultivate a relationship with his people, and if I want to really cultivate that relationship with his people, I need to be committed to them on Christ's terms and I need them to hold me to my commitments. Our relationship with the church is not an "open relationship". Jesus is not a fan of ambiguity and flakiness. 

The exciting news is that this commitment goes both ways. Just like any good relationship, the relationship we have with Christ's church is designed to be reciprocal. The promises I made to my fellow members are the same promises they have made to me. And the relationship we share as believers is founded on the grace and mercy of our Savior rather than the frailty and fickleness of man.

Church Leadership & Discipline: Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:11-13, Titus 3:10-11, Hebrews 13:7-9, 17-19

Church Fellowship: Acts 2:42-47, Hebrews 10:24-25, 

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