Although I changed his title this article is important because it reminds us that being an active part of a church family is important and biblical. The author is Thabiti Anyabwile of Pure Church blog.
Just the other day, I received another email from someone protesting the entire idea of church membership. These come semi-regularly and usually with the same basic charge: “The NT does not require church membership! Show it to me!” I declare, all these folks must be from Missouri. If only they all wrote with the eloquence and flair of Willard Duncan Vandiver. But, alas, we seem to no longer live in a day of public eloquence but of crude, judgmental, ad hominem diatribe. But I digress.
Today’s favorite bit from the creeds and catechisms also comes from The Belgic Confession. It’s article 28, “Every One Is Bound to Join Himself to the True Church.” This one has 9Marks written all over it. I couldn’t be a part of the club if I failed to rejoice at this statement. Somehow I think Mark Dever found a DeLorean time machine to smuggle this article into the creed for those Johnny-come-lately naysayers about church membership.
Article 28: Every One Is Bound to Join Himself to the True Church
We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved and out of it there is no salvation, that no person whatsoever state or condition he may be ought to withdraw himself to live in a separate state from it; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it, maintaining the unity of the Church; submitting themselves to the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them.
And that this may be the more effectually observed, it is the duty of all believers, according to the Word of God, to separate themselves from those who do not belong to the Church, and to join themselves to this congregation wheresoever God hath established it, even though the magistrates and edicts of princes be against it; yea, though they should suffer death or any other corporal punishment. Therefore, all those who separate themselves from the same of do not join themselves to it, act contrary to the ordinance of God.
Yep. Amen. There you have it. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Notice how the article just cuts through so many things that seem to plague us today:
1. The opening sentence flatly rejects the notion that one can safely think of themselves as “saved” and live the faith outside the congregation.
2. The second half of the first sentence refuses the idea that there’s ever a good reason for anyone to withdraw from every local fellowship–a particular congregation unfaithful or abusive, yes. But whether hurt by another local church, frustrated with the failures of the church, moving to another area, or whatever, we should be able to find a local church to join and serve.
3. And there will be none of that weak appeal to the “universal Church” as a substitute for unity in the local church; men are “duty bound” to join the local church as an expression of maintaining the unity of the big-C Church.
4. Then there is the often-reviled notion of submitting to the doctrine and discipline of the church–a necessary commitment consistent with “bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ” and compatible with mutual service and edification of the body.
5. Contrary to much that the “insider movement” advocates, the creed insists we understand that it’s our duty to “come out from among them,” “to be separate,” and to maintain a regenerate membership contrasted with the unredeemed not yet brought in. The second paragraph helps us see the flip-side of membership–the world, “those who do not belong to the Church,” and reminds us that joining with other Christians in church membership actually has a witnessing and evangelistic effect.
6. Further, we should join a visible local church and separate from non-believers even with the prospect of persecution.
7. And, yes, failing to join a local assembly, according to the confession and the Scripture, is failure to obey God’s word. In other words, it’s sin.
I love these paragraphs. They say so much in such short compass. I’m sure there is someone still saying, “Show me!” The next time I’m in Missouri, let’s get together.
Until then, you might really enjoy Jonathan Leeman’s new book, Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus and Bobbie Jamieson’s new Bible study guide, Committing to One Another: Church Membership.