Church Membership (2)

(All of) you being here present to make a public profession of faith, are to assent to the following declarations and promises, by which you enter into a solemn covenant with God and His Church.

I suppose one could call this paragraph a preamble to the vows one takes for membership in the Presbyterian Church in America, and the words themselves remind us of the importance of becoming a member of the Church. The last phrase of the preamble, “with God and His church,” is a significant reminder that we are not becoming a member of some earthly organization like Rotary or the Lion’s Club, but we are joining ourselves to the local expression of the Church Universal (and Eternal). In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith we are becoming a part of the “kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation,” (XXV.ii) and are vowing to God, our submission to Him, His written Word, and His governance. It is not something that we do flippantly (it is a “solemn covenant”), but we seriously enter into covenant with God and His people just as we entered into covenant with God and our spouses when we took vows on our wedding day.

Why is important to officially become a member of a local church? One reason is because we need the security and discipline that are ours because of that membership. There are people there who will have to answer to God concerning their care over our souls, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17) And, although, I am one of those who will have to “give an account,” I still have others who watch over my soul. There is great comfort in knowing that I am joined with people who are going to point me to Christ, proclaim God’s Word, and encourage me to “press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14)

There is also comfort in knowing that if I stray away, I will have those who will call me to repentance, and if I refuse to repent, they will, if necessary, go so far as to excommunicate me. As the Book of Church Order states, this is “to be inflicted only on account of gross crime or heresy and when the offender shows himself incorrigible and contumacious. The design of this censure is to operate on the offender as a means of reclaiming him, to deliver the church from the scandal of his offense, and to inspire all with fear by the example of his discipline.” (BCO 30:5)

Yes, we need the church in order that we may grow in grace, and we need the church in order that we might flee from sin. It is with God’s people that I worship, hear God’s Word proclaimed, pray, share the sacraments, and grow in the marvelous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. John Calvin went so far as to call the church our “mother,” and I will close with his description of our need for the Mother Kirk:

 But because it is now our intention to discuss the visible church, let us learn even from the simple title “mother” how useful, indeed how necessary, it is that we should know her. For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV)


1 Comment

  1. Branson said,

    July 16, 2009 at 5:24 AM

    I’ve seen to many churches run more like the local country club or some sort of theme park than a gathering of the Body of Christ for the purpose doing His work. This was a good reminder that giving up on the church won’t fix the problem. Thanks.

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