f The Wittenberg Door: Members of Christ – Part 5 (Conclusion)

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Members of Christ – Part 5 (Conclusion)

Rev. Leach continues from part four . . .

We now come to the fifth component of the Scriptural case for church membership. It’s the evidence throughout Scripture of ecclesiastical development. We read in Genesis that God appeared to Abraham. But that wasn’t the end of the story, was it? It’s just the beginning! God’s appearing to us isn’t the be-all and end-all of revelation. It’s not the end of the revelation of God’s will for us by any means! God appeared to Abraham, and that meant the beginning of the church.

Many in our western culture try to customize and individualize Christianity into a kind of “me and God” relationship. Many want to walk in Abraham’s sandals: “Just God and me, me and God.” But dear friends, look in the mirror, and look at the calendar! We are not Abraham. By faith it’s our privilege to be His children, but we are not Abraham. Covenant revelation from God hasn’t stood still in the years since He appeared to Abraham.

The Terms for Meeting God

For 4000 years, as the generations have come and gone, Abraham’s God has refined and specified for us the terms under which it’s our privilege to meet with Him. The numbers of the redeemed become greater—as the stars of the sky!—but the terms become more specific as promises made become promises fulfilled. We read in Hebrews 11:21 that Jacob worshiped God, leaning on his staff. Moses in his day built a tabernacle after the pattern revealed on the mountain. Solomon, a temple. Christ a church built of living stones upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles. Philippi featured an apostolic church organized under bishops and deacons according to its introductory verse.

The pastoral letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus leave little to the imagination as to how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God. And when we come to the end of the apostolic revelation of God to His church, what do we find? A bunch of saved individuals worshipping God, leaning on their staffs and doing whatever else they will? No indeed! We see congregations of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ established in cities, wrestling with Nicolaitans. Wrestling with lukewarmness. Wrestling with persecution. Wrestling with the false prophetess Jezebel. Wrestling, and wrestling, and wrestling! Contending for the faith! And overcoming, by the power and might of the Holy Spirit of Jesus the Christ who walks among the lampstands. Isn’t it clear, dear friends, that God’s heart is set not only on the redemption of lost sinners, not only on the midwifery of newborn Christians into the kingdom of heaven, but on the bringing of the saints to maturity and the development of spiritually muscular churchmen who love that elect lady destined for radiance, the church, for whom Christ laid down His life?

No Fringe Members

A final component of the Scriptural argument for church membership as we understand it in these last days is simply this: the relative absence of people on the fringe of the New Testament church. The characters we meet on the pages of the New Testament tend to fall into one of three categories. Either they’re decidedly on the outside, causing trouble for the flock of God, or on the inside as members being a blessing and encouragement to the flock of God, or on the inside causing trouble for the flock of God! My point is that people don’t stay on the fringes for long. The gospel of Christ crucified either drives them in as an irresistible grace, or it drives them away as an intolerable offense.

I’ve tried to persuade you of several things from the Scripture. The combined testimony of the writing apostles is that of a well-defined church of interdependent members, brothers and sisters within the body of Christ knowing who is in the church and who is not. Elders know for whom they’re accountable. It’s a church of baptized believers with a common public confession of Christ our exalted Head and living our new life together in the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. Others are outside and know they’re outside, and the church knows they’re outside even as we pray and work to bring them in by the preaching of the Gospel.

Conclusion

Well, you may say, so what? Here’s the “so-what.” If you’re a church member, of this or another church, value that membership! Exercise it! Understand what it means. You’re not just a member of another earthbound organization like the VFW or the scouts or the bird and garden club. You’re a vital, irreplaceable member of Christ’s body on earth. That’s what you are, if you’re a member of the church.

And if you’re not a member, I hope I’ve given you some food for thought and introspection. I hope you’ll ask yourself, “Why am I not a member? Why haven’t I ever gotten around to taking this step of living faith and commitment? What’s the sticking point? Am I not convinced from Scripture of the will of God on the matter? Do I think I can succeed in the long run as an interloper, imagining I can enjoy, as a third party, the love of Christ He’s promised exclusively to His bride the church?”

May today be a new day in your thinking. May your hunger and thirst after righteousness lead you home to the household of faith and to your portion with us. Take some time, dear friend, and pray, and act, and confessing faith in Christ alone, may He add you today “to the number of those who are being saved.” To you be that grace, and to Him the glory.

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