Bound to Join

In previous posts I’ve introduced the calling of active church membership. Now we begin to spell out concretely what responsibilities are given to us by King Jesus.

Perhaps you’re an adult who’s thinking, “I’ve never given much thought to my church membership. What responsibilities are there?” Perhaps you’re a young person who’s considering making confession of faith and wondering, “What’s all involved with my church membership?” Whatever the case may be, it’s beneficial for us to be reminded of what our church membership ought to look like practically.

I want to begin with the most basic (and perhaps obvious) calling: the necessity of being members of a true, instituted church of Christ. This duty is foundational for all the rest.

This calling is memorably expressed in Art. 28 of the Belgic Confession: “We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and that out of it there is no salvation, that no person…ought to withdraw himself to live in a separate state from it; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it…”

This is our calling: we are bound to join!

The Belgic Confession goes on in the following article to explain how we decide our church membership. It does so by describing the “marks” or distinguishing characteristics of the true church that guide us in this calling. Those three marks are: the preaching of the pure doctrine of the gospel, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the faithful exercise of Christian discipline. The true church bears these marks; the false church does not. In determining which church we must join, we are guided by these marks: “Does this church preach the gospel faithfully? Are the two sacraments administered faithfully? Is there the faithful exercise of Christian discipline here? If so, this is where I must be a member.”

The calling is simple and straightforward, yet there are several dangers that must be avoided.

One danger is the temptation to base our church membership on something other than these marks. Often it’s the case that, rather than being guided by these objective marks, we are guided by our emotions. We base our church membership on how warm and inviting the members are. We base our church membership on how charismatic the minister is or how easygoing the officebearers are. We base our church membership on whether there are other couples or individuals who are the same age as we are. We base our church membership on where our family members attend. We base our church membership on our spouse and where they want to go to church.

As easy as this is to do, something as serious as our church membership may not be based on our fickle feelings. We must be guided by the marks.

Another danger is that someone says that it really doesn’t matter what church they are a member of, so long as they are a member somewhere. However, it is our calling to join the church that most clearly manifests the marks of the true church.

In the past this calling has been illustrated by the figure of a wedge, like the shape of an ax head (cf. Homer Hoeksema, “At the Point of the Wedge,” Standard Bearer vol. 59, no. 18). One end of the wedge is thick and dull. The other end of the wedge is thin and razor-sharp. The wedge represents a broad spectrum of churches that would be considered true churches of Christ (thus giving the lie to the idea that the Protestant Reformed Churches are the only true churches in the world). On the sharp edge of the spectrum is a church where the three marks are clearly seen. In the middle of the spectrum is a church where the three marks are evident, albeit imperfectly. On the dull end of the spectrum is a church where the three marks are scarcely visible. And beyond that a church becomes a false church.

It is our calling to strive to be on the point of the wedge. This is the calling of the church as a whole, meaning that she must strive to manifest ever more clearly the marks of the true church. But this is also a calling for each individual believer. He must see to it that he is a member in a church that is as close to the point of the wedge as possible, a church that most clearly manifests the three marks.

A movement away from the point of the wedge will be judged by God. For the church that moves away from the point, God will judge by causing that church in time to become a false church. For an individual that moves in that direction, God will judge by causing him eventually to be cut off in his generations.

But a movement toward the point of the wedge will be blessed by God. The congregation that moves toward the point will be blessed. And the individual that moves in that direction will be blessed, in his generations also.

If you are a member of such a church, rejoice and be exceeding glad!

If you are not, join a true church, one that most faithfully manifests the marks!

And, so long as she remains faithful, never leave her!

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Previous posts in this series:

Lively Stones in God’s House

Time to Build!

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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.

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Time To Build!

In the initial post in this series I merely stated the fact that Christ calls us to be active in the work of the church. In this post I want to prove that from the Word of God, and in so doing to impress upon us the blessed privilege and high calling that we have.

I want to do so by using one of the important figures that the Bible employs to describe the church. The scriptures use a number of different images to describe the church, most notably the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12ff; Eph. 1:22-23) and the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22ff). But the church is also described in a number of places as the temple or building or house of God.

The temple is a type of Christ’s body (John 2:19, 21). In that connection it is also a type of the body of Jesus, the church (Eph. 2:20-22). And, to be more specific, it is a picture of the church institute, the church as it is manifest in local congregations with officebearers and members and regular worship of God on the Sabbath (1 Tim. 3:15).

This spiritual house is built upon a cornerstone that supports the whole work and gives shape and structure to the building. The cornerstone is Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:6-8).

That cornerstone anchors the whole foundation of this spiritual house. The foundation is solid and unshakeable. It is the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the inspired apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20).

The house which is built upon this cornerstone and foundation is comprised of many different, individual stones. These stones are naturally misshapen, ugly, and covered in muck. And yet each one is precious and has a specific place and function in the building. These stones are the elect in Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5).

This temple is precious. Just as in the Old Testament the temple was the place where God was pleased to dwell, so also in the New Testament the church is the place where we enjoy covenant fellowship with God (Eph. 2:22). Just as in the Old Testament the temple was the place where sacrifices were made for sin, so also in the New Testament the church is the place where we receive the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of the Lamb on the cross. Just as in the Old Testament the temple was the place where God’s people brought their worship and thanks to him, so also in the New Testament the church is especially the place where we bring our praise and thanks to God. For these reasons our Reformed fathers said that outside of the church institute “there is no salvation” (Belgic Confession, Art. 28).

What a privilege to be a part of this house!

But in belonging to this house, we have a calling from Christ.

Understand that the work of building this house is Christ’s work. He is the one that gathers, defends, and preserves the church (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 21). He is the one who chooses the stones that will make up his house. He is the one who alone is able to gather them together as one. He is the one that shapes, molds, and forms each misshapen stone to fit its unique place in the house. He is the one that polishes and perfects each stone so that they all appear as shining marble when every stone is gathered and the house is complete at his second coming.

Yet, in this work Christ gives us callings. This does not mean that we cooperate with Christ. It does not mean that we are equals. It does not mean that Christ bears some responsibility for the work and we do as well. We are means/tools/instruments in the hands of the Builder and Maker.

But this fact does not minimize our calling. It does not mean that we can be lazy and inactive. Christ calls us to be actively and zealously engaged in the work of building his house. In Haggai 1:8 God calls us to “go up…and build the house,” and the whole rest of the book of Haggai is a word of encouragement to be involved in this work.

Christ is pleased to use the church in the gathering of stones for his house. He does so by our preaching the gospel in the local congregation, engaging in mission work, and witnessing and local evangelism.

Christ is pleased to use the church in the shaping and molding of each stone so that is serves its function in the house and is made beautiful. He does so by our attentiveness to the preaching, by the rebukes of our fellow saints who come in the way of Matthew 18 and the elders who exercise Christian discipline, by our fellowship with other believers, by our service to the body of Christ, by our bearing the burdens of others, and a host of other ways.

We are stones in the house of God! What a privilege!

And we have work to do in this house! What a responsibility!

It’s time to build!

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Previous post in this series:

Lively Stones in God’s House

_________________

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.

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Lively Stones in God’s House

What’s your attitude toward the church?

How highly do you value your membership in her?

How seriously do you take the responsibilities that you have as a member of her?

I intend with this post to begin a series of articles on church membership, in particular the callings that we have as active, living members of the body of Christ.

The subject is significant because the calling is significant. Christ, as King of the church, has given to us important callings as members of his church, callings that we must take seriously, and callings that serve the well-being of his church. Nothing less than our best efforts are permitted. The churches where we have our membership need this of us.

Without minimizing the importance of this work, I also don’t want to place the wrong emphasis upon it. The reality is that I need the church more than the church needs me. Thanks be to God that the gathering, defense, and preservation of the church does not rest in my hands but in the almighty hands of Jesus Christ. I need the church as a child needs its mother. It’s within the womb of mother church that I receive life. Mother church feeds me, first with milk and then with meat, and makes me grow. Mother church chastens me when I sin and encourages me in faith and godliness. Apart from mother church there is no salvation.

At the same time, we cannot use this as an excuse to shirk the responsibilities that we have toward the church, as thankful children have responsibilities toward their mother.

The subject is significant as well because there are many wrong attitudes toward active membership in the church.

One danger that is becoming more and more common today is total neglect for the instituted church. The youth leave the church in droves. “Members” never darken the door of the sanctuary, other than an obligatory visit on Christmas or Easter. Some claim to be Christians and yet say that membership in a church is not necessary. The meetings that they have in their homes on Sunday are sufficient.

Another danger is that, although we are members of an instituted church, we are largely inactive and live on the fringes of the congregation. Our membership is limited to the hours of worship on the Sabbath day. Perhaps we say that we don’t have time to devote to the church.  Perhaps we say that we don’t have an outgoing and social personality. Perhaps we think that we don’t need anything from the other members. Perhaps we simply don’t feel like putting in the effort that is required.

Another danger is that we have the wrong perspective on church membership and the communion of the saints. Our perspective is not that we ought to serve others, but we think that others must serve us. Paul Tripp writes, “I am persuaded that the church today has many more consumers than committed participants. …For most of us, church is merely an event we attend or an organization we belong to. We do not see it as a calling that shapes our entire life” (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, xi-xii). Often the result of having this perspective is that we are left soured and bitter toward the church because she does not meet our expectations. We don’t feel that others are giving us the attention that we need. And the temptation is for us to withdraw from the church.

Another danger is that we think this calling applies only to the officebearers. We might think that the only ones who really have work to do in the church are pastors, elders, and deacons. We members of the pew can rest easy. Certainly it is true that the officebearers have responsibilities in the church and lead the way in this work. But the Bible calls all members of the pew to be active in the church. This year we celebrate the five-hundreth anniversary of the Reformation, and one of the truths that Christ restored to his church at that time was the priesthood of all believers. The Reformed faith highly honors the office of believer in the church. And it is necessary that we take seriously the duties that Christ gives us in this office.

…to be continued.

_____________________

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.

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Keeping the Sword Drawn: Our Calling as the Church of the Militant Christ - Upcoming Lecture

The true church is under vicious assault in these last days. Satan, having great wrath because he knows his time is short, is determined to destroy the divine truth that the church loves, believes, confesses and lives. False teachers with their damnable heresies are on every side. Pressures to sell the truth for the sake of unholy alliances mount. Iniquity of the vilest sort is sanctioned and celebrated in society. What shall the church do as she awaits the triumphant return of her head Christ Jesus?  We are planning a lecture by Rev. Brian Huizinga titled Keeping the Sword Drawn: Our Calling as the Church of the Militant Christ to be held at Grace Community Church in Hudsonville, MI on Friday September 30 at 7:30pm.  This lecture will address these issues, demonstrating the church’s urgent calling to take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and keep it drawn.  We will also live stream this event. - Southwest PR Church Evangelism Committee

http://www.southwestprc.org/keeping-the-sword-drawn.html

             

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