It’s been some time now since I addressed the subject of active church membership, but I’d like to return to a consideration of those basic responsibilities that fall to us as members of the church of Christ. So far we’ve established two duties: becoming (and remaining) a member of a true, instituted church; and faithfully attending the worship services of that local congregation.
Another responsibility of church membership is that we listen carefully to the preaching.
It almost goes without saying that the lively member will do this. Throughout a long week of physical labor and spiritual warfare he has longed for God’s house, and when Sunday finally arrives he’s eager to hear God’s Word proclaimed. He listens carefully for his own edification and refreshment. His attentiveness is borne out of the consciousness of his own need for the good news.
What I want to emphasize here is that it is important in our careful attention to the preaching that we are judging the content of the sermon to be a faithful exposition of the scriptures.
This calling is laid upon us in 1 John 4:1: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”
The well-known example of this is the noble saints in Berea. While on his second missionary journey, the apostle Paul was forced to leave the city of Thessalonica by a band of unbelieving Jews. He came to the neighboring city of Berea and began preaching in the synagogue. Acts 17:11 says, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
This is our calling: as we receive the preaching, to judge whether the things that are being taught are in harmony with the scriptures. And if they are not, to bring the matter to the attention of the minister and elders.
There are two warnings that have to be issued here.
The first warning is directed to the church member: do not listen with a critical spirit. It’s possible that an individual comes to church not for his own edification but with the sole purpose of nitpicking and criticizing. He delights in roasting the minister each Sunday noon. This is not proper. He ought to listen carefully, but also worshipfully. He must adopt a similar attitude when he believes he has a legitimate objection to something said in a sermon. With humility and carefulness he brings the matter to his pastor and elders.
The second warning is directed to me and all other ministers of the Word: be humble. It’s possible that as a minister I refuse to listen to questions that members have about my sermons. I can create such an environment in the church that people are deathly afraid to approach me. This is not proper either. As painful as that may be, the minister must be willing to listen patiently, give clarification where needed, and even apologize when he has not presented the truth clearly or accurately.
I want to follow these two warnings with two encouragements.
The first encouragement has to do with the ability of ordinary church members to carry out this calling. I can imagine that some reading this have thought: “I’m not really sure I can do this. I’m just a simple church member, after all. I haven’t gone to college and seminary like my minister has. How would I be able to tell if what he is saying is right or not?” The fact of the matter is, you are able to do this! From a child you have known the holy scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15). You have been anointed with the Holy Spirit, so that you are a prophet capable of knowing and speaking God’s Word. There is, of course, room for growth in all of us. Members can grow in this ability by the study of God’s Word and the Reformed confessions, as well as reading solid, Reformed books and magazines that help us understand God’s Word. But you can do this!
The second encouragement has to do with the importance of this responsibility. In an earlier post, we described our calling as church members in terms of building God’s house. God’s house is built through the means of faithful preaching of the gospel. And one of the means that God uses to ensure that there is such faithful preaching in the church is by the attentive listening of the members.
Be encouraged, therefore, noble believers! You are privileged to be used by Christ in the grand endeavor of the building of his house! Receive the Word with all readiness of mind, and search the scriptures daily, whether those things are so!
Previous posts in this series:
This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Engelsma, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.