A to Z OF Church Membership

"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:41-42).

All. All true Christians are duty-bound to join, as a member, a local congregation or denomination that is faithful to Christ and His Word (Acts 2:47; 9:26; see PCC Bulletin, vol. 1, no. 11; dated 12 Sep 1999).

Bible. The decision on which church to join should be made primarily on the basis of how closely the church follows the Bible; or how faithful she is to a biblical and Reformed Confession of Faith. Friendship, warmth of fellowship, skill of preacher, etc should not be the primary reasons for joining a church.

Christ. Joining a church is not about joining a pastor. It is about joining a body of believers to grow together and serve together as part of the body of Christ. It is to be engrafted into a branch of the Olive Tree of which Christ is the Root (Rom 11:16-17, 22; cf. Jn 15:1-7). Therefore faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord is a fundamental membership prerequisite for membership in any true church; and Christ-centredness is the key to enjoying the blessings of Church membership.

Discipline. Faithful exercise of Church discipline is one of the marks of a true church. It is also a privilege enjoyed by members in such a church (cf. Mt 18:15-17; 1 Cor 5:1-13). A member must resolve from the moment he joins a church that he will respect the authority and discipline of the church should he need correction in doctrine or life later on. It is to despise the ordinance of Christ not to join a church for fear of future discipline; and it is a contemptible sin against Christ to withdraw from a church once discipline is exercised.

Eldership. A fundamental blessing of being a member of a church is to have the oversight of Christ-appointed elders. Elders must be respected as under-Shepherds of Christ (1 Pet 5:4) and honoured with obedience so long as they do not require anything contrary to the Word of God. "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you" (Heb 13:17).

Fellowship. Apart from serving the Lord together, members of the church must be committed to growing the friendship and fellowship we enjoy with one another. Though we are a family, the amount of time we will spend with each other is likely to be small compared to the amount of time we will spend with our colleagues and schoolmates. Therefore we make use of every opportunity to meet. "Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" (Heb 10:24-25).

Gossip. Gossip is a strong temptation and almost an irremediable evil whenever there is a large enough group of believers who do not love one another as much as they should. But gossip destroys relationship. Members of the church must resolve to hold the tongue and refrain from Gossip especially when it has to do with the faults of another member.

Holiness. As believers we must individually be holy in all manner of conversation as God who has called us is holy (1 Pet 1:15). But holiness in life is not only a private matter, for it affects the church in more than one way. In the first place, sin has a way of encouraging sin in others for "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (1 Cor 5:6) and "evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Cor 15:33). In the second place, Israel was chastised because of Achan’s sin (Jos 7:1) and there were many illnesses and deaths in the Corinthian church because the Lord’s Supper was not carefully observed (1 Cor 11:30). Members of the church must strive for personal holiness not only for themselves but also for the sake of the church.

Instruction. The Church is "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15). A very important duty of church members is therefore to support the instructional programme of the church. This entails receiving with all readiness of mind the Word preached and taught, and searching the Scriptures daily to confirm their biblical basis (Acts 17:11) and then holding fast to those things that are good or biblical (cf. 1 Th 5:21).

Judgement. The Lord says: "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven" (Lk 6:37). This commandment betrays our tendency to judge one another or to be suspicious of one another. As members of the church, we must seek to know one another better so that we may not be tempted to make unkind judgement in regards to one another’s actions. We must also make it a point always to seek clarifications if we perceive fault in another member of the church. We must never judge unfairly or too hastily.

Knowledge. Contrary to what some of us may think, knowledge is not the most important criterion for membership in a Reformed or Reforming Church. Credible profession of faith in Christ together with a sincere desire to be a part of the existing body of believers are the basic criteria for communicant membership in the church. However, knowledge is an important factor in the enjoyment of church life as a member of the church. In particular, we must seek to improve our knowledge in these areas: Firstly, we must cultivate our knowledge of Christ the head of the church (cf. 1 Jn 2:3). Secondly, we must seek to know the Scriptures and the confessional doctrine of the church as presented in the adopted creeds. Thirdly, we must make efforts to get to know the officers (elders and deacons) and members of the church.

Loyalty. The Christian’s primary loyalty must be to Christ. But loyalty to one’s church of membership must not be viewed as unimportant. It is a biblical virtue (see Prov 17:17). If even unbelievers know that they should stand by the clubs and societies they have joined, how much more members of a local church should stand by their church through thick and thin. Unless we are loyal to the church of our membership, we will not be able to manifest the love of Christ to others outside who know us (Jn 13:35). How to manifest loyalty to the church? By never painting the church in bad light nor venting our frustrations about the church outside the church (especially amongst unbelievers). Family squabbles should be resolved within the family in a God-honouring way (cf. Mt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 6:1-11). Remember that when we speak ill of the church, we are speaking ill of Christ’s body. As long as we are members of a church enjoying her privileges, we must be loyal to her. But we must break loyalty with our church if she ceases to be loyal to Christ.

Means. Members of a church must desire and seek to attend all the appointed public means of grace as far as possible. As the church does not belong to the leaders but to Christ, members must see the means as appointed by the providence of Christ for their spiritual good. Moreover, the under-shepherds by Christ would in most cases have a plan of instruction for building up the church. Members who pick and choose what to attend and what not to attend are scorning the oversight and good intentions of the under-shepherds that Christ has appointed over them, while at the same time possibly setting themselves up for an imbalanced diet.

Notify. It is a good practice, which is consistent with common courtesy to inform your elders when you are unable to come for any of the appointed means. It is also desirable to take the initiative to inform your elders whenever a matter in your life calls for rejoicing or for prayer. Remember that: "whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it" (1 Cor 12:26).

Opportunities. Apart from making use of every opportunity for fellowship, members should make use of every opportunity that presents itself to serve and to be served by other members of the church. "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Gal 6:10). And as "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:25), we must learn to allow our brethren to give and to share our burdens with us.

Pray. We must pray for one another not only for our material, but our spiritual needs. James says: "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (Jms 5:16). We must also pray for the church as a whole. In particular we must pray for peace within the church (Ps 122:6) and we must pray for the appointed ministers "that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified" with humble obedience (2 Th 3:1).

Questions. Asking the right questions is half of learning. It is proper for members of the church to make enquiries of their elders before looking elsewhere for answer if they have any queries concerning the doctrinal position of the church. We must strive to be "swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" (James 1:19) as we give our elders due opportunity to patiently and lovingly instruct us in any doubtful area.

Respect. Respect is a very important virtue if we want to enjoy our communion with other believers in the church. We must respect not just older members and office bearers. We must exercise mutual respect with all other members in the church. The apostle Paul says: "Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity" (1 Tim 5:1-2). "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves" (Phil 2:3).

Service. One of the privileges of being members of a church is having all areas of service within the body opened to us. Members must therefore seek to make use of their gifts, talents, time, energy and material resources to serve in the church. Of course, all believers are serving the Lord when we perform our duties in all the spheres of our lives. But as there are particular joys flowing from serving the brethren whether on the Sabbath or on other days, we should as members seek to serve. Let us talk to the officers of the church to find out how we may help. As Christ stooped to wash His disciple’s feet, it is a joy to serve the brethren even in mundane areas such as cooking, washing, ushering, arranging chairs, etc. As members of the church, we should ask: How can I serve the brethren, rather than what can I benefit from other members of the church? Let us "look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others" (Phil 2:4).

Thankfulness. We should be thankful to the Lord for bringing us into a branch of His body where we can serve Him. Such gratitude promotes contentment and enables us to enjoy the fellowship and ministry of the church without murmuring or complaining (Phil 2:14; Jude 16), which is a very common temptation amongst many in this day.

Unity. Our Lord prayed for unity amongst believers (Jn 17:21). Church unity is therefore a quality to be desired by every believer. We must begin by seeking to maintain unity within the church of our membership. We must seek not only unity of faith, but also unity of love. Unity of faith may be sought by submitting ourselves for conscience’s sake to the truth of God contain in the subordinate standards or Confessions of the church (which all members ought to believe is agreeable to God’s infallible Word). Unity of love, on the other hand, must be cultivated by prudence and obedience. Prudence dictates that we should not do anything that will destroy the unity of the church such as expressing destructive opinions about the ministry. Obedience dictates that we love the brethren even if we may not initially feel deep affections. Love is a verb. We must love not only in words but in deeds and in truth (1 Jn 3:18). We love one another by serving one another. We love one another also by making attempts at reconciliation whenever we think that any member in the church has an aught against us.

Visitations. It is a biblical tradition amongst Reformed Churches that the pastor and elders visit the members in the church at their homes. This practice enables the elders to know and to exercise loving oversight over the flock (cf. Prov 27:23; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:1-3) and also provides the members an opportunity to know the Session, to ask questions and to provide feedback to the Session. Members should see Session visitations as a privilege and willingly open their homes for the mutual enjoyment of this blessing.

Witness. The Church is God’s appointed instrument for evangelism. The appointed means of evangelism is the preaching of the Gospel. Not every member of the church is called to preach. However all members of the church are called to be witnesses for Christ and to be part of the evangelistic work of the church. We are to do so by living lives that shine forth for Christ, by ‘gossiping the Gospel’ and by inviting and persuading those we know to come hear the preaching of the Gospel. Unless we all play our part, the church will not be fulfilling her commission to evangelise even if the Gospel is preached faithfully week after week.

Xerox. It is important to know that although we are joined together into one body, we are not Xeroxed copies of one another. God made us differently and He gives us different gifts. We must consider every part of the body as important (1 Cor 12:12-25). We must seek to avoid favouritism and we seek to love the unloveliest in our sight. If Christ laid His life down for me even while I was an unworthy enemy of His, how shall I not seek to lay down my life for other members in the church even if I may not have an automatic liking for him because his character is very different from mine.

Yield. While conflict within a church is inevitable, we can turn conflicts into profitable learning experiences by yielding to Christ and yielding to one another whenever the matters in dispute do not involve inviolable truths. We must be unbending on certain issues. But in grey areas and in matters of opinion rather than convictions, we should always be ready to yield.

Zeal. Another privilege of being a member of the church is having the brethren to exhort us lest we be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:12). But in order for the church to enjoy this blessing, we must all do our part. Let us, therefore, seek to provoke one another unto holy zeal and love; admonishing one another in love whenever necessary. W

— JJ Lim

[Related articles: "The Biblical Duty of Church Membership" in vol. 1, no. 11, dated 12 Sep 1999; "Our Covenant of Church Membership" in vol. 4, no. 1, dated 7 Jul 2002; "Sin and Duties pertaining to Church Membership" by John Flavel in vol. 4, no. 8, dated 25 Aug 2002]