Meaningful Church Membership, Part 4: Holding One Another Accountable

In Proverbs 27:17, Solomon writes that “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  For the New Testament believers, where is the primary place that this kind of “sharpening” happens?  The answer is . . . in the local church.

The church is the place where we are sharpened into being more Christlike and less like the world.  But there’s a catch.  Sharpening hurts.  And the fact that it hurts means that, left to ourselves, we would avoid being sharpened into Christlikeness.  This is why the verse doesn’t say that “iron sharpens itself.”  There are certain times in which we must rely upon the accountability that only the brothers and sisters in our church family can give.

Jesus saw the need for members of His church to sharpen one another, and even gave his followers directions on how to do this when the sin of someone in the church became known.  In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus states,

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.  And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Though these words may sound harsh to our modern ears, they are actually very loving.

When a person in the church sins and stumbles, Jesus wants the other members of the church to love that stumbling brother or sister enough to “sharpen” them by holding them accountable and calling them back to faithfulness to the Lord.  Ignoring the stumbling of those around us is unloving.  If a person we love is sinning against God, we must love them enough to “sharpen” them for their good and God’s glory.

Does this mean that we need to become “spiritual police,” always looking out for the failures of those around us?  Does this mean we have an excuse to be judgmental?  Certainly not.  Paul agrees with Christ’s instructions in Matthew 18 and adds some instructions of his own on the manner in which this sharpening should be carried out.  In Galatians 6:1-2, Paul writes,

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentlenessKeep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

We are to sharpen each other, but we are to do so in a spirit of gentleness and humility, realizing that we too are just as susceptible to falling as anyone else.  Let’s love one another enough to not let our brothers and sisters grow “dull” spiritually.  Let’s sharpen one another in gentleness and out of love.

Blessings in Christ, Pastor Grant

(Another helpful passage on this subject is 1 Corinthians 5.)

Meaningful Church Membership, Part 2: Is Church Membership in the Bible?

Should Christians “join a church”–you know, “become a member”?  Or should we feel free to visit a different church every Sunday; or maybe even just watch a church service on TV every now and then instead of attending one in an actual church building with actual church people?  These are important questions, and they are questions that people often ask themselves when thinking about their involvement in church.  At the heart of these questions is the more basic question of whether or not the Bible teaches that Christians are to be committed to one, identifiable group of other Christians–a group that makes up one, identifiable church.

Part of the difficulty with the question “Is church membership in the Bible?” is that the phrase “church membership” never actually occurs in Scripture.  Some might argue that this is evidence that church membership is an unbiblical idea.  However, I would simply say that while the phrase “church membership” is not in the Bible, the idea of church membership certainly is.  Paul and others in the New Testament clearly expect Christians to belong to a particular, identifiable group of other Christians.  Although there are many passages that deal with the concept of church membership, I will only discuss three of them here.

First, in Matthew 18:17, Jesus says that if a person sins against you and won’t repent after the first two stages of seeking reconciliation, then the final stage is to “take it to the church.”  In other words, if the person remains unrepentant, the one who has been wronged is to take the matter before the congregation so that the church as a whole can deal with the situation.  The reason this is important for the doctrine of church membership is that Jesus clearly expects both of the parties involved to be a part of an identifiable group of people.  If they are told to take the matter “to the church,” then it is expected that they would have known exactly which people were part of their church.  There was a specific group of people that they belonged to and that were responsible for helping them resolve whatever conflicts might arise.

Second, in 1 Corinthians 5:13, Paul tells the Corinthian church to “purge the evil person from among you.”  Just like in Matthew 18:17, Paul expects there to be a specific group of people from whom the evil person is to be purged.  If the person at fault wasn’t a member at the church at Corinth, Paul’s statement wouldn’t have made sense.

Third, 2 Corinthians 2:6 says “For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough.”  It seems that the church in Corinth dealt with a matter of church discipline by a majority vote.  The fact that there was a majority implies that there was a specific group of people that made up the membership at the church at Corinth, that this specific group of people took a vote, and that the majority voted to deal with the matter.  These three texts alone, show that church membership is indeed in the Bible.  Realizing this is one important step to recovering meaningful church membership.

Blessings in Christ,

Pastor Grant

Meaningful Church Membership (Part One): What the Church Is and Isn’t

The picture above is of the congregation of Brushy Fork Baptist Church taken on October 9, 1927.  These people were the church’s members.  These people were . . . the church.

Over the next five months, the front page article of our newsletter will be devoted to the subject of meaningful church membership.  This is something I believe the church today (not just ours) desperately needs to recover.  But before we turn our attention to church membership in particular, we need to make sure we have a correct understanding of what the church is in the first place.  First, let’s consider what the church is NOT.

1) The Church Is NOT a Building

The church is the people, the members.  The building behind those members of Brushy Fork in the picture from 1927 was not Brushy Fork Baptist Church; the people in front of the building were the church.  So, the old children’s rhyme was wrong: “Here’s the church. Here’s the steeple.  Open it up, and here’s all the people.”  It would be better to say: “Here’s the building.  Here’s the steeple.  Open it up and here’s the church.” Of course, this doesn’t rhyme, so it probably won’t catch on.  But it’s correct, nonetheless.

2) The Church Is NOT Your Ticket to Heaven

Some people seem to think that being a member of a church is their ticket to heaven.  Often when I ask people when they became Christians their answer goes something like this: “Well, I guess it was when my family joined such and such church.”  Other people express the same misunderstanding when they want their name left on a church role, but never actually gather together with the church family.  It seems they draw comfort in knowing that they are “members” somewhere.  Of course, this kind of church “membership” is meaningless.  Church membership is not the way to heaven; Jesus is (John 14:6).  Of course, if you’re on the way to heaven, you’ll be an active member of your church (we’ll talk about this in later articles).

3) The Church Is NOT a Last Resort

For some folks, church is what they do when they don’t have anything else to do.  When baseball season is over, then they’re at church.  The examples are numerous.  This too is church membership with little to no meaning.  So what IS the church?

The Church IS a Local Christian Family Committed to God and One Another

According to the Bible, a church is God’s family in any given local area that has committed themselves to God and to one another.  This last part (commitment to one another) is what must be recovered if the church today is to enjoy meaningful membership.

Blessings in Christ,

Pastor Grant

Hebrews 10:24-25