Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,
This series of posts about church membership has focused primarily on Scripture, providing Biblical underpinnings for the practice. Now a few personal observations, based on three decades of church life spanning a number of different churches.
Observation 1: Two Critical Questions Form Two Critical Lines in the Sand
When I look at how casual local church life has become, with people drifting from church to church in far less time than it takes to be genuinely shepherded and involved in the lives of the brethren, I see two questions going continually unanswered:
- Can I submit myself and my family to the doctrine and authority of these leaders? This is a BIG decision, and it shouldn’t be made overnight. You have to know the doctrine. You have to know the men. And then you have to decide whether or not it would be a good thing for you and any in your charge to be under that teaching and authority over the long haul.
- Can I commit myself to these people? Let’s face it – there are groups of people where you can see yourself making a thirty year investment, and groups of people where a pleasant afternoon together is both nice and enough. And you know in your heart of hearts that the long term destination will be very different, depending on which you pick.
When we don’t stick around long enough to answer these questions, there are corresponding lines in the sand that we never cross, and it means that we never really commit. We become the Christian equivalent of that forty-five year old guy who has dated so many women and will only ever do more of the same. He has lots of great jokes, but everyone understands how pathetic his life really is.
As quickly as possible, we should find a home where we can answer “yes” to both questions and run-not-walk across those lines.
Observation 2: It Matters
This is no intellectual exercise, the parsing of a fine point that has little impact on real life. Whether you will or will not answer those two questions, cross those two lines, and send roots down deep into a good local church will determine so much about the welfare of your soul.
The person who carefully chooses a local church home where they can joyfully submit to godly leaders and invest in the lives of other sincere believers, and then stays on that track for decades, becomes a very different person than the counterpart who never really lands. Being in serious, committed fellowship with both authorities and peers for a long period of time has a transforming effect. There is no substitute. The transformation requires the investment.
The “me and Jesus” mentality has not been good for the church. We need more “God and His people” in both thought and life.
Observation 3: Those Who Dare to Cross the Lines Are Blessed
Those who cross those lines find themselves really shepherded, really taught, sometimes rebuked, really encouraged, really known. They find themselves really loved and cared for by God in the everyday means that He has ordained for His church. And they have the privilege of responding in kind, both to God and to their brothers and sisters.
Am I saying that those who won’t cross those lines, in the form of church membership, aren’t blessed? Yep. Not blessed. Not in the same way. Not to the same extent. Can they still be Christians? Of course, but not the Christians that they should have been, would have been, could have been.
Brothers and sisters, go for the blessing! Go see the beauty of God working in your life and the lives of your brothers and sisters, in a faithful community, for a period of decades. With very few exceptions, this is what God has called His people to, for His glory and our good. May we be faithful!