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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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Why I’m Not All Together with Radical Together

June 21, 2012 Leave a comment

At the end of last month I reviewed Dr. David Platt’s book, Radical. That review was a primarily positive endorsement of Platt’s book. I recently read Radical‘s sequel, Radical Together, and although I thoroughly enjoyed the read and read many points with which I agree, I cannot overlook some disagreements I had with some of Platt’s statements in Radical Together.

Before I elaborate on my disagreements with the book, however, I want to applaud the book for answering this central question: “How can we in the church best unleash the people of God in the Spirit of God with the Word of God for the glory of God in the world?” (3). I 100% agree with David Platt when he writes, “If you and I want our lives to count for God’s purpose in the world, we need to begin with a commitment to God’s people in the church. God has called us to lock arms with one another in single-minded, death-defying obedience to one objective: the declaration of his gospel for the demonstration of his glory to all nations” (5). Amen! The large number of baptized Christians around the world who forsake fellowship with other believers in the context of the accountability of a local church (Heb. 10:25) is an alarming reminder of the truth of Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

The church has lost much of the reality of New Testament church membership, and this is deplorable. I therefore commend Radical Together for stressing the importance of local churches being a group of biblical believers who join together for fulfilling the Great Commission to the glory of God.

That being said, I do have some real reservations about some of Dr. Platt’s statements in Radical Together. Those of you who are long-time readers of my blog may recall that my review of Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something was glowing. Dr. Platt means well, I’m sure, but the following statement seems to contradict some of the biblical ideas that DeYoung expressed in his book:

The gospel compels the church to go to God with everything we have and everything we do and then ask, “What needs to go? What needs to change? What needs to stay the same?”

And then wait for God to answer. (9)

DeYoung in his book warns against the dangers of “waiting for God,” and while Dr. Platt certainly advocates making decisions to glorify God as a church (that is actually his main argument in this quote’s chapter), I worry that some would latch onto the above quote and use it as an excuse to perhaps go farther than the Bible does in the context of local and global missions.

I have a similar concern with Dr. Platt’s statement in chapter three: “The Bible is not in a church leader’s hands so he or she can give people answers to every question they have and guidance for every situation they face. Instead, the Bible is in a church leader’s hands to transform people into the image of Christ and to get people in touch with the Holy Spirit of God, who will not only give them counsel for every situation they face but will also walk with them through those situations” (49). While I agree that church leaders are to use the Bible in order to transform people into the image of Christ, I do not think that this should be set against the truth that church leaders should use the Bible to answer people’s questions and give them guidance in situations (Ps. 119). Yes, one of the Holy Spirit’s roles is to give people counsel for every situation they face and walk with them through those situations, but the Holy Spirit does this by applying God’s Word, the Bible, to believer’s lives (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-14). Surely Dr. Platt would not divorce the ministry of the Spirit from the ministry of the Word, but that quote from page 49 could be read that way.

A final quip I have with Radical Together is simply this: “Brook Hills Bob has been reached for the sake of Brook Hills Baruti” (93). What Dr. Platt is saying, is that the typical person who would come to The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, has been reached for the sake of the typical person who would live in North Africa. But this is not what Dr. Platt means (unless he contradicts himself!) because earlier in that chapter he writes, “We are going to live and plan and strategize and organize and work so that Baruti hears and receives the gospel. … This doesn’t mean we neglect Brook Hills Bob or anyone else who is right around us. Indeed, we are going to reach Bob and all kinds of other people in our community. But as they come to Christ, we are going to encourage them to spend their lives spreading the gospel to Baruti” (89, paragraph breaks omitted). So Dr. Platt’s goal is to reach both Bob and Baruti, both people near and far. But when he says that he aims to reach near people so that he can reach far people, it seems like near converts are a means to the end of foreign converts, and people, I think (and I’m sure Dr. Platt agrees!), are not a means to an end. It’s merely that his phrasing on p. 93 could be construed to seem that way.

So my disagreements with Dr. Platt in Radical Together amount to disagreements over wording and phrasing. But as I’ve already said, on the whole I agreed with Dr. Platt’s main idea. I also thought that much of what he said in the book was excellent! For example, I couldn’t agree more that

Unleashing radical people into the world requires the gospel as our foundation and our motivation. That’s why you and I must embrace a gospel that both saves us from work and saves us to work. (26)

Or that “the Word of God accomplishes the work of God” (45). Furthermore, in regards to getting the gospel to all nations, “There is only one thing God has promised to bless, and that is his plan. He has given us his plan in his Word, and if we want the blessing of God, then we don’t need to come up with something else. Instead, we need to align with the plan he has already promised to bless” (51). As I also positively noted in my review of What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, the church’s mission is to spread the gospel for the glory of God, and this happens, ultimately, by verbally communicating the gospel to people. That is the method God has ordained, and that is the method God will bless.

I also thoroughly agree with Dr. Platt’s de-emphasis on church buildings. Consider this:

Imagine that your church had no building or facilities whatsoever. Could you still make disciples? Certainly the answer is yes. … So how would your church make disciples completely separate from a church building? This is the question we started asking at Brook Hills, and it has led us to some significant changes. …

That’s when [we] began equipping parents, children’s ministry leaders, and small-group leaders in our faith family to host Bible clubs for kids in their homes. We already had homes spread all around our immediate community. Why not make our homes the place of ministry instead of the church building? Why not invite people from our neighborhoods, not to go to a church building with us, but to come across the street and into our homes with us? Home is where we could show the gospel to their children while we also shared life with them. (64)

Church buildings aren’t the be-all-end-all. Agreed. And ministry doesn’t require a church building. Agreed. The early church in Acts and throughout the New Testament met in people’s homes and spread like wildfire across the Roman Empire. And it certainly does seem logical for a church (through its members!) to reach out into its community by offering Christian hospitality. As Dr. Platt concludes, “Let us not, then, be so foolish as to confine the work of the Spirit to one professional, speaking in one place, at one time of the week” (70).

One more quote and then I’ll conclude:

 If we want to multiply the gospel from our faith family to all the families of the earth, it will require not just a pastor or church staff but the entire body of Christ built up in love “as each part does its work.”

What this means, then, is that church leaders are intended by God not to plan events but to equip people. … Realizing this, we who are leaders in our faith family have made a concentrated effort to take resources (most notably our time) away from organizing ministry for people and to invest them more in mobilizing people for ministry. (71)

Amen! Is this not what Paul proscribes in Ephesians 4:12-16? Pastors and other church leaders are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Radical Together, then, is a timely book for pastors, other church leaders, and all Christians. It stresses the importance of active church membership and serving other Christians in your church as well as those around the world. While I would not agree with everything Dr. Platt writes in this book, I agree with the overwhelming majority of what he writes, and the points on which I disagree with him are differences of wording and phrasing. I recommend this book to any Christian wanting to grow in love both for the church and for the Christ who is its head.

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