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What Does Church Membership Mean?

May 16, 2013 Leave a comment

IAmAChurchMember_R2.inddChurch membership is a subject I’m passionate about, but all too often I’m not as passionate about the church itself as I should be. I Am a Church Member by Thom S. Rainer has reminded me both how important loving the church is and what this love looks like. Rainer’s book is short (less than 100 pages) and divided into six short chapters, but I Am a Church Member edifies the reader more in this short space than most books do in three times as many pages.

The six chapters comprise six statements in a church membership covenant. The new church member makes these promises upon joining a local church:

  1. I will be a functioning church member.
  2. I will be a unifying church member.
  3. I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires.
  4. I will pray for my church leaders.
  5. I will lead my family to be healthy church members.
  6. I will treasure church membership as a gift.

In these chapters, Rainer draws six significant conclusions about church membership from the Bible:

  1. Each church member should lovingly serve the church to which he/she belongs. “One of the ongoing questions you should ask yourself and God in prayer is: ‘How can I best serve my church?’ You should never ask yourself if you should be serving your church” (16).
  2. Each church member should lovingly promote unity in the church.”You have a responsibility as a church member. You are to be a source of unity. You are never to be a divisive force” (24). Promoting unity in the church means eschewing gossip and being forgiving.
  3. Each church member should love other church members sacrificially by putting his/her preferences aside for others’. “As you are overwhelmed by Jesus’ undeserved love for you that caused him to sacrifice everything–including his preferences–you will be able to do the same for others” (40).
  4. Each church member should pray for the pastor’s preaching, family, protection, and health because a pastor’s “day is filled with mountaintops and valleys. He is adulated by some and castigated by others. He needs our prayers” (46).
  5. Each church member should model sacrificial, loving service to his/her family. Even if you’re single, “you can be assured that others are watching you. How you love your church could have a significant spiritual impact on their lives” (63).
  6. Each church member should view his/her membership in the church as a gift from God. “Church membership is a gift. We respond to gifts with gratitude. And one key way we express our gratitude is to serve like Jesus did and like He told us to do” (74).

I found myself agreeing with everything Rainer was saying in this book. I was reveling in this book’s biblical messages in chapters one through three. I have emphasized in numerous sermons that every Christian has a role to play in the church to which he/she belongs. I have recently preached on the danger of gossip, and I have also preached about the importance of unity in the local church. But chapter four began to prick my own conscience. I began to feel the logs in my own eyes and was no longer so focused on recalling others’ specks. I don’t pray near as often as I should (1 Thess. 5:17). I don’t pray for my pastor as much as I should, even though I myself am–to a much smaller degree than he is–aware of the hardships and challenges of Christian ministry. This is to my shame, and I felt my failure keenly as I read this chapter. May God break my spirit to pray “without ceasing” for my pastor as I ought!

Chapter five was similarly convicting, particularly Rainer’s conclusion: “As a church member, I am not merely to like my church or serve my church well. I am to fall deeply in love with my church. Christ is the bridegroom, and the church is the bride. My commitment is to love that bride with an unwavering and unconditional love” (62). I realize that my love for the church sometimes wavers because Rainer is absolutely right: “Unconditional love is not always easy,” but I should nevertheless love the church unconditionally, which “means I will continue to fall more deeply in love regardless of the response. It means my love for the church will grow even as I may disagree with something or encounter disagreeable people” (62). O God, make my love for your church unconditional! Give me the grace to love your people even when it’s hard! You have loved me, unlovable though I am, and how often have your people loved me despite my many imperfections! Help me to see more often the logs in my own eyes than the specks in others’.

I Am a Church Member rouses me to closer examination of my own life because it is Bible-saturated. Rainer quotes Scripture on nearly every page and consistently draws his conclusions and applications from the Bible. I cannot more highly recommend this book to every church member, whether young or old. By God’s grace, I Am a Church Member will convict us and lead us to repentance. What more can we ask for in a book?

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An Immoral Nation of Morals

December 10, 2009 Leave a comment

Many people say that our nation is a “Christian” nation. That could not be further from the truth. There are Christians in the United States of America, yes, but there are also people of other faiths in our nation, as well. (There are also those who have no faith at all—fools, to use the Bible’s language; see Psalm 53:1.) In fact, judging by our country’s political policies (domestic, economic, and foreign) and by the rampant immorality that pervades our great nation, our nation is NOT, in fact, Christian. It is, by definition, secular. Think about Christmas. To Christians, it celebrates the birth of Christ (even though you and I both know that He may not have been born on December 25). To many Christians also and to all non-Christians alike, however, Christmas is a secular holiday. Santa Claus, or Chris Cringle, or Saint Nick, or whatever you want to call him, “comes down the chimney” on Christmas Eve and leaves presents for good girls and boys. (This in and of itself is a theological mishap—Jesus Himself says: “No one is good except God alone” [Mark 10:18].) People watch television specials about the “magic” of Christmas and how “magic” is real if only we believe in it. I enjoy those television specials as much as the next one—I’m particularly fond of “The Year Without a Santa Claus”—but the sheer fact that the celebration of our Lord’s birth (without which, He would not have died and risen the third day, by faith in which we are justified, according to Romans 4:24-25) has been overrun—yes, overrun—by secular traditions proves that our nation, as a whole, is not Christian.

If this seasonal argument for you is not proof enough, take a gander at Roe v. Wade, and look up the sheer number of unborn infants who are murdered in abortion procedures daily. Even that number will shock you! Or, you could pick any of the handful of states who have legalized homosexual “marriage.” I’m sure you can think of more depressing things to add to this list, and to not overdo this, I will move on in my argument.

There are also those who say our nation has been a “Christian” nation in times past; that we were founded on Christian principles. That, too, is (sadly) wrong. Yes, our nation was built on the truth of the dignity of human life. Yes, our nation was built on the equality of all people. Yes, the Declaration of Independence mentions the “Creator,” and yes, the Constitution gives us the right to worship (or not worship, in the atheists’ cases) how we choose. (Please note that this Constitutional right was not in the original Constitution; it is actually part of the First Amendment, which was not ratified until after the Constitution was the “supreme law of the land.”) As it is, our nation was not founded on Christian principles, but on moral principles. “Thou shall not steal” is not merely Judeo-Christian but also Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist, and (sometimes) Islamic. (Different interpretations of the Quran yield different interpretations of this tenant, and if I ever get to it, I will go into more detail on this, but that is a blog for another day.) Most importantly, our nation was not founded on the truth of the gospel but on the truth of the equality of mankind. And yes, there is a huge difference. If we as a nation had acknowledged the Lordship of Christ from the beginning, we would (more likely) be a “Christian” nation, but as it is, we have only been moral.

So, our nation has never been a truly “Christian” nation. But we have been moral in the past. Even though our country was not founded on particularly Christian values but on moral values, our nation has become an immoral nation of morals. Over the past century particularly, our nation’s morals have collapsed. Abortion is a legal reality; homosexuality is seen as normal as heterosexuality. Even heterosexual marriage is collapsing—the divorce rate has skyrocketed in the past fifty years!

What has caused this? Our government? No. Our Constitution? No. The unsaved masses? No. We have caused this. In America, we Christians have become complacent (and we have been for a long time). We became satisfied with our nation’s morality—all the while overlooking its spiritual death, which will only lead to destruction. What, then, can we do? Rather than looking at our nation’s problems as basically moral dilemmas, we should see our nation’s depravity for what it is—unrepented-of and unforgiven sin. The reality is that our nation is largely an un-Christian nation. The reality is our nation is blinded by “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), Satan. Seeing our country as largely un-Christian, we now should move to evangelize our nation. Will this be easy? No. When we present the true gospel to the world, it will hate us. It will persecute us. It will oppose us with every bit of demonic power that possesses it. But Jesus has already “overcome the world” (John 16:33). But no matter what happens, we must faithfully evangelize our neighbors (both literal and figurative) for the glory of God and for the advancement of His kingdom. That is our calling in Christ Jesus:

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly [which will happen to some degree when you proclaim the gospel]. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.”

We are to “follow in [Christ’s] steps.” What were Jesus’ steps; how did He live? Jesus lived proclaiming the kingdom of God, and so should we. We have been silent for too long, fellow Christians! Our moral nation is no longer moral; it is an immoral nation of morals. Americans are disillusioned with the Church; the title “Christian” does not carry the weight it once does, because we true Christians are silent and the false Christians have loudly spread their lies. It is time for us to speak the true Word of God in love louder than they yell their lies.

 

More related posts forthcoming.

 

And always remember: the gospel alone is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16). Morality saves no one. We must bring people to a state of hopelessness, for only when one is hopeless does one turn to God in faith. Only when one realizes that he can do nothing to earn his salvation can he realize that Christ earned his salvation for him on Calvary.

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