In this issue we are privileged to see in a broad way what is happening in the RCUS Classes, and in the local congregations of these Classes. In connection with this, please take a moment and consider the importance of your membership in the local church. Many Christians do not appreciate the importance and the necessity of being an active member of a local congregation. Some view it as optional or incidental to their Christianity. It is not. Protestants agree that church membership does not save, but it would be wrong to conclude that therefore it is unnecessary.
While even young children are members of the covenant people of God, they, and all new believers, must stand before God and profess their faith—confirming God’s covenant promises as their own. Communicant church members in the RCUS have stood before God and His people and have made vows to God. In those vows we have confessed the truthfulness of the Bible; the biblical accuracy of the Reformed faith expressed in our creeds; repentance from sin and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone; the Lordship of Christ; a commitment to a godly life; and submission to the government of the church. This is a lifelong vow made to God as to what we believe and Whom we serve.
Why is it that church membership and faithful participation in its life are often regarded lightly? It could well be that church membership costs us nothing. Yes, Jesus fully paid for our salvation, but are you prepared to die for that confession? There are Christians in the hot spots of the world where being a church member costs them their lives, or at least a long prison term. Many Christians in Muslim countries and elsewhere risk their lives to gather with God’s people for worship. Many languish in terrible prison conditions, not to mention undergoing torture to force them to deny their faith. These poor souls know the cost of church membership and they embrace it.
What is so important about church membership? While it doesn’t save us, those who are saved are ingrafted into Christ and are a part of His body, the Church. Christians are ingrafted into and identified with the body of Christ. Remember what Jesus told Paul on the road to Damascus? He did not say, “Saul, why are you persecuting the church?” or “Saul, why are you persecuting Christians?” No, Jesus said, “Saul, why are you persecuting ME?” Christ is united with the church. Again in 1 Corinthians 11: 28–29, Paul brings this out to those who desire to come to the Lord’s Supper. He says, “examine yourselves…” in order to discern the “Lord’s body.” Corinth was troubled with divisions within the church. So Paul says, don’t come to the Lord’s table unless you understand that the church is the body of Christ. Without that discernment, “you eat and drink judgment to yourselves.”
We know that a body must also have all its parts in order to be complete. “God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased” (1 Cor. 12:18). One part of the body cannot say that another part is unimportant, nor can we think that we are unimportant to the body. Never can we say, “I have no need of you.” There are no disposable parts.
There are many vital benefits to church membership, but consider just a few:
It is vital for discipleship. It is the place where we grow in faith, and it is the place where we can help others to grow. It is the place where we receive the means of grace—the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, and communal prayer. Here we are able to give our firstfruits to support the work of the church.
It is vital for the witness we bring to the world. If we don’t care whether we go to church, or don’t care which church we go to, what witness does that leave with the world around us? If membership in an orthodox church means little to you, then Christ means little to you. What does that say to the unbelieving world? If we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven, then we should carry our passport and let others know that we belong to the body of Christ.
It is vital for fellowship. How can we know about and pray for the needs of others unless we commune with them? HC Q55 tells us that having been given gifts by Christ, we are to use these for the advantage and welfare of others. As “iron sharpens iron,” so we can be helped and give help to others in joy or in sorrow (cf. 1 Cor. 12:25–27).
It is vital for accountability. It is popular today for some churches not even to have a membership roll, and for others who have it, not to discipline its members when they err in doctrine or in life. It is easy to claim to be a Christian and not have to give account of your faith and life. The fact is, we need to have the oversight of elders. We need to have accountability to the creeds that the church confesses. Ephesians 4:11–12 tells us that God gave different gifts to the church (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry (service) for the edifying of the body of Christ.” The need for accountability is not optional. All children of God need it in the church family.
Christ has established His Church at great price and has ordained rulers in the church to whom members are accountable. Hebrews 13:17 instructs us to submit to them because “they watch over your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable to you.”
Finally, let us remember that the purpose of worship is not first for the benefits we get out of it. It is not first for our entertainment or enjoyment. It is not all about us and our felt needs. Worship, along with all we do, is for the glory of God. And what a wonderful picture this presents to us. The present church service foreshadows the gathering of the glorious body of Christ who gather and sing together, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 7:12).