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RFPA Blog Posts on Church Membership (10)

A series of blog posts on the duties of church membership.

Eyes and Ears, Hands and Feet

This blog post first appeared on the RFPA blog and is part of a series on church membership.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the communion of the saints? Often we think about things that other people have done for us. Sometimes you will hear a person say when they are sick or going through some trial that they have really experienced the communion of the saints through the care of other believers. And this is a good thing.

But when we think about the communion of the saints, we ought not think first of all about what others have done for us. We ought to think about how we are called to serve others.

This is the perspective of our Reformed confessions. When the Heidelberg Catechism describes what it means to confess “the communion of saints,” it says, “that every one must know it to be his duty, readily and cheerfully to employ his gifts, for the advantage and salvation of other members.” Article 28 of the Belgic Confession speaks similarly: “…and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them.”

As children of God, we are united both to Christ and to the other members of his church. But our communion with each other does not mean that we are all identical. In our unity there is much diversity. There are differences between male and female, old and young, rich and poor, large and small, black and white. And there are also different God-given gifts and abilities, different stations and callings in the church.

One of the places where this truth is most clearly taught is in 1 Cor. 12. The inspired apostle compares the church to the human body. We have one body, but there are many different parts that make up this body: the eye, the ear, the hand, the foot, and so on. Each one of these different parts is necessary to make up a complete body.

The same thing is true of the church. The church is one body united to her Head, Jesus Christ, but the church is made up of many different members with different gifts and different places in the church. God’s choosing of us in election is also his choice of the exact place where you and I fit in the body. Some are eyes, and some are ears. Some are hands, and some are feet.

This reality implies a calling to use our gifts for others. But too often there is a wrong view of life in the church among the communion of the saints.

There can be a wrong attitude among those who may feel like they are not as gifted as others. The danger is that they become jealous of others who are more gifted, or who have different gifts that they think are better. They must also be warned against despairing and saying, “I don’t have any gifts. I can’t contribute anything, so why even bother. I’m going to withdraw and not even try to contribute to the church.”

There can also be a wrong attitude among those who may be more gifted than others. They must be warned against looking down on others who seem to be less gifted and who they think are not necessary or important. They must also be warned against pride and thinking that they are so important and indispensable that the church depends on them.

There is a danger for us all. Whatever gifts we have, whether great or small, we need to be warned against the pride of thinking that we don’t need the church. Maybe we think that we aren’t getting anything out of the church, so we are inactive and contribute at a minimum. Maybe we are so focused on ourselves, selfishly thinking about what other people do for me and what they do to make me feel loved.

Positively, we have the calling to use our gifts for others.

This means, first, that I must know what gifts I have. Each one of us has different gifts in different measures. We must discover what those gifts are. And we are also called to be content with the gifts and calling God has given to us. Don’t expect to have the same gifts as someone else, and don’t be jealous of their gifts. God makes us different, and those differences are good. This is proper self-esteem: God has chosen me and my place in the church, and I am necessary for that place.

This means, second, that I must know the needs of the other members. If I don’t know the other members, if I never talk to them, then I am not going to know their needs. But when I know the other members, then I can begin to know what needs they might have.

And then we are called to use our gifts to serve others. The communion of the saints is not about getting but about giving. Just as the love of Christ for the church showed itself in his coming not to receive but to give, just as the love of a husband for his wife is not about getting but about giving, so also as members of the church is our love for each other not about what we might receive but what we might give. We must use our gifts and abilities for the good of the other members of the church.

All this means that we must be active members of the church. This is not just for the person that is outgoing and sociable, but it’s for all of us. As those who have communion with Christ and know his love, so we must have communion with fellow believers and show our love for each other.


Church Membership (9): Fellowship in the Body

This blog post first appeared on the RFPA blog and is part of a series on church membership.

Fellowship in the Body


The word often produces one of two responses. Some respond with gratitude, as in, “I’m thankful for the fellowship we have in our church.” Others respond with dissatisfaction, as in, “We don’t have any fellowship in our church.”

What is implied in both responses is that fellowship is important. And, indeed, fellowship is central to the life of the church and is one of the important responsibilities that we have as members of her.

To understand what we mean by fellowship, we have to begin with God and who he is in himself. Within the one being of God there is delightful fellowship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three persons share one life in the deepest, most intimate sense.

When God saves us, that salvation is his taking us into his fellowship. This is at the heart of what it means to belong to God’s covenant of grace. It is to live in sweet communion with our Father-Friend as his children.

This means that our fellowship with God is the source of fellowship in the church. Our vertical relationship to God establishes and makes possible our horizontal relationships with fellow saints. Since we are united to Christ, we are also united to the other members of his body.

This also means that our fellowship with God is the goal or end of our fellowship with each other. The purpose of our fellowship with each other is that we all might be led to enjoy deeper fellowship with God.

As partakers of God’s covenant fellowship, we are called to seek fellowship with the other members of the church. Acts 2:42 sets before us the example of the early church: “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” 1 Cor. 5 says that we may not “keep company” with one who is excommunicated, but that implies that members of the church keep company with each other. The same is true in 2 Cor. 6 when it says we may not be yoked, have fellowship, communion, concord, part, or agreement with unbelievers. The implication is that we are yoked and have fellowship, communion, concord, part, and agreement with fellow believers. 1 John 1:3 grounds our fellowship with each other in our fellowship with God: “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

The calling to have fellowship is clear, but what exactly does that entail?

Fellowship can only be enjoyed when we know one another. It’s a sad reality in the church that we know too little of one another. We sit in church on Sunday next to fellow believers, and yet we know almost nothing about them and have nothing to do with them throughout the week. If we are called to have fellowship with one another, we must start by getting to know one another’s background, family, joys, and struggles. We can do this by staying and talking after church, by talking to different groups, by foregoing the weekly family gathering and inviting other members into our homes, or by joining a Bible study.

But we must not stop there in our description of fellowship. There is a difference between mere socializing and actually having true fellowship. We might talk after church or have others over to our home and talk about the weather, sports, and our families. And we can learn much about each other in this way. But if we never get around to talking about spiritual things, then we have missed the deeper fellowship.

Deeper fellowship involves seeking to grow together spiritually. According to J. I. Packer, true fellowship involves two main components. “It is, first, a sharing with our fellow-believers the things that God has made known to us about himself, in hope that we may thus help them to know him better and so enrich their fellowship with him.” “Fellowship,” he goes on to say, “is, secondly, a seeking to share in what God has made known of himself to others, as a means to finding strength, refreshment, and instruction for one’s own soul.” To put it simply, fellowship is a loving interest in the spiritual growth of our brother or sister in Christ. We rejoice with those that rejoice, and weep with those that weep. Fellowship is also a humble willingness to receive help from others.

There are many obstacles to this fellowship. One obstacle is a sinful attitude of independency and self-sufficiency. This is when we think that we don’t need anyone else. Another obstacle is a wrong fear of being judged by others if we open up about our struggles. The result of this attitude is that we clam up and pretend like everything is fine, when in reality it isn’t.

We all have to recognize our need for this fellowship. Not only does God use it as a powerful means of grace in the lives of others, but it is a powerful means of grace in my life too. This is true not just for the singles and those who are lonely. But it is true for all members of the church: male and female, married and single, with children and without, with large extended family and without.

Seeing the importance of this fellowship, we are then called to promote it in the church and to seek it. When each member strives to do so, the mention of fellowship will produce in us the response of gratitude: “I’m so thankful for the fellowship we enjoy in our church!”


Church Membership (8): Echoing the Word

This blog post first appeared on the RFPA blog and is part of a series on church membership.

Echoing the Word

For many of us, one of the more daunting responsibilities that we face as church members is the calling to witness. Just the thought of doing so might make our heart race, our anxiety level shoot through the roof, and our mouth feel like cotton.

Yet, this is our calling. There are many passages of God’s word that make this plain. 1 Peter 3:15 is well-known: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”

In 1 Thessalonians 1:8 Paul commends the saints in that church because “from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.” The words “sounded out” have the idea of an echo. Think of the sound of your voice or the crack of thunder that echoes in a cave or in the mountains. Paul’s voice was like a trumpet or like a summer thunderstorm rolling through Thessalonica, proclaiming the word of God. That powerful noise was then received by the saints there and echoed off of them to those around them. This indicates that the saints there were zealous in personal witnessing. When given the opportunity, they were bold to speak of their faith in Christ. The scriptures give this as an example for us to follow.

But this calling is often very difficult for us. It’s easy for us to get excited about doing mission work in a faraway land, but it’s hard for us to witness to our next-door neighbor. Someone once quipped that early Christians had to be told not to speak, whereas modern believers often have to be told to speak.

There may be many reasons why this is so difficult for us, but often we are simply too afraid to say anything when the opportunity arises. A coworker takes God’s name in vain day after day. Someone stops us at the grocery store and says something crude about the number of children that we have in tow. A neighbor tells us about the fornication that they have committed, or the drunkenness, or the Sabbath desecration. And we all know the feeling. Fear cripples us. We say nothing. We laugh nervously and change the subject. We know that we ought to say something, but our mouth stays shut and the opportunity passes.

Despite how uncomfortable it makes us, we are called to witness.

That witness will show itself in two ways. First, we are called to witness with our words. We hear the preaching of the gospel every Sunday, and we receive and embrace that word by faith. Our calling is to be echoes of that word, to reflect the powerful thunder of the gospel to those around us. That means we speak that word to family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and all others whom God brings into our lives.

In the second place, we witness with our actions. We live lives that flow out of our faith in Christ, lives that harmonize with the word of the Lord. We live in such a way that we are different from the world around us. When we back up our talk with our walk, others will take note. The life that harmonizes with the gospel is itself a powerful sermon.

It is possible, of course, for us to leave a negative witness. We may say all the right things, but when we live like the world, when we speak blasphemously or cut others down, when we bicker as husband and wife and have a quarrelsome, rebellious family, we leave the wrong kind of witness. When we live like the world and do the things that the world does, we do not stand out.

One powerful way in which we witness by our actions is by the way in which we handle adversity and affliction. When a loved one dies, when we are given a cancer diagnosis, when we have a disability that needs constant medical attention, when we have a child with special needs, and we respond in patience and trust in God, we give a powerful witness to others who see us.

The calling to witness does not mean we must say something every single day to every single person we meet. We are called to speak this word when God gives us an opportunity during the ordinary course of our day. And we must have a certain regard to appropriate circumstances. We are not called to say something to our coworker every single day when we are supposed to be working or to our neighbor every single time we see them outside working in their lawn. However, I don’t think this is the bigger danger for us. The bigger danger is that we do not speak the word when the opportunity does present itself.

The motivation to witness is the grace which God has shown to us. We have been graciously delivered from the darkness and brought into the light of life. What joy fills our hearts! So thankful are we for what God has done, that we cannot keep quiet about it. We can’t keep it in. We want everyone we meet to know this.

God may be pleased to use our witness to gain others to Christ. While some may be hardened by our witness, others may be brought to faith in Christ and the fellowship of the church.

Witnessing takes courage, courage which God alone can supply. Pray for that courage, and in the strength which he supplies boldly echo forth the Word of the Lord.


Church Membership (7): A Cheerful Giver

This blog post first appeared on the RFPA blog and is part of a series on church membership.

A Cheerful Giver

One of the ways in which church members support the building of the spiritual house of God is through giving. This is certainly not the only way that the church is gathered and built up, but it is an important means.

Consider all the causes of God’s kingdom that are promoted through the financial support of members. In the Protestant Reformed Churches, each congregation takes a weekly collection for the “General Fund.” Through this fund the preaching of the gospel in that congregation is supported. The money goes to pay the minister’s salary, maintains the house of worship, and often supports the spread of the gospel through local evangelism.

The fund also supports the work of the denomination more broadly. It supports the work of classis and synod. It supports foreign and domestic missions. It supports the seminary, the professors, and students of the seminary. It supports the needy congregations. It supports the work of contact with sister churches. It supports emeritus ministers and their widows.

In addition to giving towards this General Fund, the churches also take collections for the poor and needy. They take collections to support a number of Christian grade schools and high schools. They take collections to send out magazines, to print books, and to air a radio program. And there are many other collections taken for many other important kingdom causes. And there are all sorts of other causes that a person could give to privately. In fact, it seems as if there are no end of worthy causes to support financially.

The Word of God guides us in how we are to give. Consider these six principles:

  1. Be guided by the principle of “moral proximity.” What this means is that the causes we support first are those which are closest to us. This means the church we attend. This means the school where our children are enrolled. And, as we are able, we give in ever-widening circles from us. This is the outworking of Gal. 6:10: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”
  2. Give as you are able. Deut. 16:17 says, “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee.” 1 Cor. 16:2 says, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him…” The pauper might not be able to give as much as the prince, but he can still contribute to the work of God’s kingdom.
  3. In that connection, a helpful guide is the idea of tithing. Tithing was required in the Old Testament (see God’s stinging rebuke in Mal. 3:8), but there is no such strict mandate in the New Testament. However, the idea of the tithe is a helpful baseline. At minimum, we should strive to give 10% of our income. And if we are able, we give more.
  4. Our giving must be done quietly. Jesus says in Matt. 6:3: “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” We must not give to be seen of men and praised by the same. We don’t give so that our name is on the wing of the hospital and the door of the school. We do our alms as to the Lord.
  5. Our giving ought to be characterized by willingness and joy. We can all probably picture in our minds the miserly scrooge who holds his money in a tight fist and is loathe to part with even a penny. This is not true giving. 2 Cor. 9:7 says, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.”
  6. Finally, our giving must be done generously and sacrificially. The book of Proverbs speaks of the “liberal soul” (11:25) and the “bountiful eye” (22:9). In Luke 21 we have the example of the poor widow and her two mites. 2 Cor. 9:6 says, “He that soweth sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall also reap bountifully.” In the world today the idea of sacrificial giving seems strange and foreign. But such generous, even sacrificial, giving is pleasing to the Lord.

I want to conclude by giving two reasons that ought to encourage and motivate us to continue giving to these causes.

First, remember that our giving is an act of worship. It is an acknowledgement that all we have comes from God, and an acknowledgement that it all belongs to him still. By our giving we express thanks for all he has given us, and simply return to him what is already his.

Second, our financial support is an important way in which we are all actively engaged in the work of God’s church and kingdom. Not all men are gifted and called to fulltime service in the church as ministers, missionaries, or seminary professors. And that’s a good thing. The church needs members who are called to serve as farmers, lawyers, factory workers, accountants, and mothers. Does this mean that they are not involved in the important work of the church? Not at all! They are involved, and their active involvement is expressed in part through their giving.

This gives meaning and purpose to even the lowliest station and calling! This motivates the man to go to his job every day and work hard! Because his work is kingdom work!


Church Membership (6): Reformed... and Always Reforming

This blog post first appeared on the RFPA blog and is part of a series on church membership.

Reformed... and Always Reforming

Recently we celebrated the five-hundredth anniversary of the great Reformation of the sixteenth century. Through this powerful work of God, the church was placed back on the foundations of the scriptures and anchored in the cornerstone, Jesus Christ.

This highlights another responsibility that we have as active members of the church militant. Our responsibility is, when necessary, to engage in the reformation of the church. One of the principles that we hold dear as Reformed believers is semper reformanda: the church that is Reformed must always be reforming. And for that to happen, there must be men and women who are willing to engage in that difficult work.

The need for reformation arises out of deformation. Because she is the object of the devil’s darts and the world’s pressures, because she is made up of sinners who carry sinful natures into her, the church is always in danger of apostatizing from the standard of God’s Word. The faithful mother can, in time, become an adulterous whore. She can be guilty of this in doctrine, practice, and worship.

This was the case with the Old Testament church. Time and time again Israel slipped into idolatry and ungodly living, and time and time again the prophet-reformers called them to repentance. This was the case with the Roman Catholic Church prior to the Reformation. This is the case at many times in the history of the church.

This can even be the case in our own churches. We must not be too proud to think that this can never happen amongst us.

Our calling as members of the church is to be on our guard, to be watchful lest we begin to deviate even in small ways from the scriptures in our doctrine or walk of life. This means that we take a lively interest in the goings-on in the church. We stay abreast of what’s happening all around us, as well as among us.

When we believe that there is some deviation from the Word of God, we have a responsibility as members to reform the church. This means that we call the church back to the standard of the Bible. We give voice to our concerns. We work to set the church back on her foundations.

It goes without saying that this must be done in the right way. It is possible for someone to have right intentions but to go about it in the wrong way. In Reformed church government the proper way is by making use of the right to bring protests and appeals and overtures to the assemblies. We use these lawful, orderly avenues to show from the scriptures and the Reformed confessions that the church is in error. All the while our earnest prayer is that God might use our efforts to bring about reform and change in the church.

This means that we do not immediately leave the church when we see problems in her. We love the church and by a solemn promise before God at confession of faith we have committed ourselves to the church. That tie may not be quickly broken. Rather than simply walking away, we do what we can to reform the church from within.

This is the example in every true reformation. Luther and the other reformers did not immediately walk out of the Roman Catholic Church when they became aware of her errors. Their desire was to reform the church from within. The same was true of the ministers in the Netherlands who brought about the Secession of 1834. The same was true of Hoeksema and Ophoff and Danhof while they were still in the Christian Reformed Church in 1924.

Only when the church refuses to listen and refuses to be reformed do we finally leave her, and that with tremendous grief of heart. Then the calling comes either to join another church that shows herself to hold the marks more clearly, or to begin a new institute. In that situation the calling to reform the church means that we “re-form” or “form again” the church by forming a new instituted church.           

As ought to be obvious, this work is not easy. It requires careful thought and wisdom. It demands massive amounts of time and energy. It often results in hurt feelings and strained relationships and smeared reputations. Let every member count the cost (Luke 14:26-33)! And then take up the cross, forsake all, and come after Christ!

Certainly our prayer is that this never become necessary in the churches to which we belong. But if it does, may God raise up courageous men and women to call us to repentance! And may he give humility to the church so that she is always ready to be reformed!


Church Membership (4): A Hard Day's Rest

This blog post first appeared on the RFPA blog and is part of a series on church membership.

A Hard Day's Rest

For six days out of the week, we are called to labor faithfully in the specific station and calling into which God has placed us. From Monday to Saturday we put in a hard day’s work. Throughout the week we look forward to Sunday, the day of rest. On this day we are able to lay aside the work and play of the other days.

But the rest of the Sabbath does not mean that we may be idle and inactive. It is not a day merely for us to “sack out.” We are called to active, spiritual labor on this day.

From that point of view, the Sabbath is a hard day’s rest.

In the previous post in this series we laid out the most basic calling we have as believers: to join ourselves to a true, instituted church. But that certainly does not exhaust our responsibilities. We are called to active church membership. The chief way that shows itself is in our attendance at the worship services of that church on the Sabbath day.

God in his Word demands this of us. He does so in the fourth commandment of his law, which commandment is still binding upon the New Testament believer. In its explanation of this commandment, the Heidelberg Catechism says in Lord’s Day 38 that God requires “that I, especially on the Sabbath, that is, on the day of rest, diligently frequent the church of God, to hear his word, to use the sacraments, publicly to call upon the Lord, and contribute to the relief of the poor, as becomes a Christian.”

Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so such the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

Consider also the example of Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath. He spent the Sabbath day diligently frequenting the synagogues where God was worshiped and his Word was preached (e.g. Matt. 11:9). This was “his custom” (Luke 4:16). If this was his custom, certainly it must be ours also.

The necessity of faithful church attendance does not mean that there is never a legitimate reason for a person to be absent. Obviously if we are sick we are not going to be able to attend. There are also faithful saints who are “shut-in” and cannot attend, perhaps even for years. But talk to them and they will express the earnest desire to be in God’s house again. Their absence pains them.

Aside from these legitimate reasons, the clear demand of God’s word makes one wonder: How can a self-proclaimed Christian never darken the door of the church? How can an individual on the membership rolls attend so infrequently when he is able to do so? How can a Reformed church member in good conscience spend months overseas “seeing the world” and having “adventures” at the expense of faithful church attendance? Why would a Reformed church member want to take a job that requires him consistently to be absent from the means of grace?

Rather, the attitude of the child of God ought to be: How dear to me is the house of God! I’m going to do all in my power so that rarely (if ever) am I absent from God’s house!

But there is more. Not only are we called to be physically present in church on the Sabbath, we are also called to be mentally and spiritually present. It is not enough that we simply fill a spot in the pew, but we are called to joyful worship of God from the heart, in spirit and in truth. God is not pleased with mere lip service and outward ritual. May it never be true of us what was said of Israel of old: “Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (Is. 29:13).

This genuine, heartfelt worship does not come easily and automatically. Preparation is required. This means getting home on time on Saturday night and getting a good night’s rest. This means waking up early enough so that everyone has sufficient time to get ready. This means spending the day in God’s Word, prayer, singing, fellowship with other saints, and acts of service. This means the hard work of putting aside distractions and focusing our hearts and minds on worship and the Word.

Truly, a hard day’s rest!

But a blessed day, a day of spiritual refreshment in God’s house so that we can serve him faithfully for another week.

Jehovah summons: “Seek ye my face!”

Let the believing heart reply: “Thy face, Lord, will I seek!”


Church Membership (2): Time to Build!

This blog post first appeared on the RFPA blog and is part of a series on the duties of church membership.

Time to Build!

In the initial post in this series I merely stated the fact that Christ calls us to be active in the work of the church. In this post I want to prove that from the Word of God, and in so doing to impress upon us the blessed privilege and high calling that we have.

I want to do so by using one of the important figures that the Bible employs to describe the church. The scriptures use a number of different images to describe the church, most notably the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12ff; Eph. 1:22-23) and the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22ff). But the church is also described in a number of places as the temple or building or house of God.

The temple is a type of Christ’s body (John 2:19, 21). In that connection it is also a type of the body of Jesus, the church (Eph. 2:20-22). And, to be more specific, it is a picture of the church institute, the church as it is manifest in local congregations with officebearers and members and regular worship of God on the Sabbath (1 Tim. 3:15).

This spiritual house is built upon a cornerstone that supports the whole work and gives shape and structure to the building. The cornerstone is Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:6-8).

That cornerstone anchors the whole foundation of this spiritual house. The foundation is solid and unshakeable. It is the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the inspired apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20).

The house which is built upon this cornerstone and foundation is comprised of many different, individual stones. These stones are naturally misshapen, ugly, and covered in muck. And yet each one is precious and has a specific place and function in the building. These stones are the elect in Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5).

This temple is precious. Just as in the Old Testament the temple was the place where God was pleased to dwell, so also in the New Testament the church is the place where we enjoy covenant fellowship with God (Eph. 2:22). Just as in the Old Testament the temple was the place where sacrifices were made for sin, so also in the New Testament the church is the place where we receive the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of the Lamb on the cross. Just as in the Old Testament the temple was the place where God’s people brought their worship and thanks to him, so also in the New Testament the church is especially the place where we bring our praise and thanks to God. For these reasons our Reformed fathers said that outside of the church institute “there is no salvation” (Belgic Confession, Art. 28).

What a privilege to be a part of this house!

But in belonging to this house, we have a calling from Christ.

Understand that the work of building this house is Christ’s work. He is the one that gathers, defends, and preserves the church (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 21). He is the one who chooses the stones that will make up his house. He is the one who alone is able to gather them together as one. He is the one that shapes, molds, and forms each misshapen stone to fit its unique place in the house. He is the one that polishes and perfects each stone so that they all appear as shining marble when every stone is gathered and the house is complete at his second coming.

Yet, in this work Christ gives us callings. This does not mean that we cooperate with Christ. It does not mean that we are equals. It does not mean that Christ bears some responsibility for the work and we do as well. We are means/tools/instruments in the hands of the Builder and Maker.

But this fact does not minimize our calling. It does not mean that we can be lazy and inactive. Christ calls us to be actively and zealously engaged in the work of building his house. In Haggai 1:8 God calls us to “go up…and build the house,” and the whole rest of the book of Haggai is a word of encouragement to be involved in this work.

Christ is pleased to use the church in the gathering of stones for his house. He does so by our preaching the gospel in the local congregation, engaging in mission work, and witnessing and local evangelism.

Christ is pleased to use the church in the shaping and molding of each stone so that is serves its function in the house and is made beautiful. He does so by our attentiveness to the preaching, by the rebukes of our fellow saints who come in the way of Matthew 18 and the elders who exercise Christian discipline, by our fellowship with other believers, by our service to the body of Christ, by our bearing the burdens of others, and a host of other ways.

We are stones in the house of God! What a privilege!

And we have work to do in this house! What a responsibility!

It’s time to build!


Church Membership (3): Bound to Join

This blog post first appeared on the RFPA blog and is part of a series on church membership.

In previous posts I’ve introduced the calling of active church membership. Now we begin to spell out concretely what responsibilities are given to us by King Jesus.

Perhaps you’re an adult who’s thinking, “I’ve never given much thought to my church membership. What responsibilities are there?” Perhaps you’re a young person who’s considering making confession of faith and wondering, “What’s all involved with my church membership?” Whatever the case may be, it’s beneficial for us to be reminded of what our church membership ought to look like practically.

I want to begin with the most basic (and perhaps obvious) calling: the necessity of being members of a true, instituted church of Christ. This duty is foundational for all the rest.

This calling is memorably expressed in Art. 28 of the Belgic Confession: “We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and that out of it there is no salvation, that no person…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…”

This is our calling: we are bound to join!

The Belgic Confession goes on in the following article to explain how we decide our church membership. It does so by describing the “marks” or distinguishing characteristics of the true church that guide us in this calling. Those three marks are: the preaching of the pure doctrine of the gospel, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the faithful exercise of Christian discipline. The true church bears these marks; the false church does not. In determining which church we must join, we are guided by these marks: “Does this church preach the gospel faithfully? Are the two sacraments administered faithfully? Is there the faithful exercise of Christian discipline here? If so, this is where I must be a member.”

The calling is simple and straightforward, yet there are several dangers that must be avoided.

One danger is the temptation to base our church membership on something other than these marks. Often it’s the case that, rather than being guided by these objective marks, we are guided by our emotions. We base our church membership on how warm and inviting the members are. We base our church membership on how charismatic the minister is or how easygoing the officebearers are. We base our church membership on whether there are other couples or individuals who are the same age as we are. We base our church membership on where our family members attend. We base our church membership on our spouse and where they want to go to church.

As easy as this is to do, something as serious as our church membership may not be based on our fickle feelings. We must be guided by the marks.

Another danger is that someone says that it really doesn’t matter what church they are a member of, so long as they are a member somewhere. However, it is our calling to join the church that most clearly manifests the marks of the true church.

In the past this calling has been illustrated by the figure of a wedge, like the shape of an ax head (cf. Homer Hoeksema, “At the Point of the Wedge,” Standard Bearer vol. 59, no. 18). One end of the wedge is thick and dull. The other end of the wedge is thin and razor-sharp. The wedge represents a broad spectrum of churches that would be considered true churches of Christ (thus giving the lie to the idea that the Protestant Reformed Churches are the only true churches in the world). On the sharp edge of the spectrum is a church where the three marks are clearly seen. In the middle of the spectrum is a church where the three marks are evident, albeit imperfectly. On the dull end of the spectrum is a church where the three marks are scarcely visible. And beyond that a church becomes a false church.

It is our calling to strive to be on the point of the wedge. This is the calling of the church as a whole, meaning that she must strive to manifest ever more clearly the marks of the true church. But this is also a calling for each individual believer. He must see to it that he is a member in a church that is as close to the point of the wedge as possible, a church that most clearly manifests the three marks.

A movement away from the point of the wedge will be judged by God. For the church that moves away from the point, God will judge by causing that church in time to become a false church. For an individual that moves in that direction, God will judge by causing him eventually to be cut off in his generations.

But a movement toward the point of the wedge will be blessed by God. The congregation that moves toward the point will be blessed. And the individual that moves in that direction will be blessed, in his generations also.

If you are a member of such a church, rejoice and be exceeding glad!

If you are not, join a true church, one that most faithfully manifests the marks!

And, so long as she remains faithful, never leave her!


Church Membership (5): Noble Bereans

This blog post first appeared on the RFPA's website and was written from Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon (IA) PRC.

Church Membership (5): Noble Bereans

It’s been some time now since I addressed the subject of active church membership, but I’d like to return to a consideration of those basic responsibilities that fall to us as members of the church of Christ. So far we’ve established two duties: becoming (and remaining) a member of a true, instituted church; and faithfully attending the worship services of that local congregation.

Another responsibility of church membership is that we listen carefully to the preaching.

It almost goes without saying that the lively member will do this. Throughout a long week of physical labor and spiritual warfare he has longed for God’s house, and when Sunday finally arrives he’s eager to hear God’s Word proclaimed. He listens carefully for his own edification and refreshment. His attentiveness is borne out of the consciousness of his own need for the good news.

What I want to emphasize here is that it is important in our careful attention to the preaching that we are judging the content of the sermon to be a faithful exposition of the scriptures.

This calling is laid upon us in 1 John 4:1: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”

The well-known example of this is the noble saints in Berea. While on his second missionary journey, the apostle Paul was forced to leave the city of Thessalonica by a band of unbelieving Jews. He came to the neighboring city of Berea and began preaching in the synagogue. Acts 17:11 says, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

This is our calling: as we receive the preaching, to judge whether the things that are being taught are in harmony with the scriptures. And if they are not, to bring the matter to the attention of the minister and elders.

There are two warnings that have to be issued here.

The first warning is directed to the church member: do not listen with a critical spirit. It’s possible that an individual comes to church not for his own edification but with the sole purpose of nitpicking and criticizing. He delights in roasting the minister each Sunday noon. This is not proper. He ought to listen carefully, but also worshipfully. He must adopt a similar attitude when he believes he has a legitimate objection to something said in a sermon. With humility and carefulness he brings the matter to his pastor and elders.

The second warning is directed to me and all other ministers of the Word: be humble. It’s possible that as a minister I refuse to listen to questions that members have about my sermons. I can create such an environment in the church that people are deathly afraid to approach me. This is not proper either. As painful as that may be, the minister must be willing to listen patiently, give clarification where needed, and even apologize when he has not presented the truth clearly or accurately.

I want to follow these two warnings with two encouragements.

The first encouragement has to do with the ability of ordinary church members to carry out this calling. I can imagine that some reading this have thought: “I’m not really sure I can do this. I’m just a simple church member, after all. I haven’t gone to college and seminary like my minister has. How would I be able to tell if what he is saying is right or not?” The fact of the matter is, you are able to do this! From a child you have known the holy scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15). You have been anointed with the Holy Spirit, so that you are a prophet capable of knowing and speaking God’s Word. There is, of course, room for growth in all of us. Members can grow in this ability by the study of God’s Word and the Reformed confessions, as well as reading solid, Reformed books and magazines that help us understand God’s Word. But you can do this!

The second encouragement has to do with the importance of this responsibility. In an earlier post, we described our calling as church members in terms of building God’s house. God’s house is built through the means of faithful preaching of the gospel. And one of the means that God uses to ensure that there is such faithful preaching in the church is by the attentive listening of the members.

Be encouraged, therefore, noble believers! You are privileged to be used by Christ in the grand endeavor of the building of his house! Receive the Word with all readiness of mind, and search the scriptures daily, whether those things are so!


Previous posts in this series:

  1. Lively Stones in God’s House
  2. Time To Build!
  3. Bound to Join
  4. A Hard Day’s Rest

Church Membership (1): Lively Stones in God’s House

This article first appeared as a blog post on the RFPA website and was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa.

Lively Stones in God’s House

What’s your attitude toward the church?

How highly do you value your membership in her?

How seriously do you take the responsibilities that you have as a member of her?

I intend with this post to begin a series of articles on church membership, in particular the callings that we have as active, living members of the body of Christ.

The subject is significant because the calling is significant. Christ, as King of the church, has given to us important callings as members of his church, callings that we must take seriously, and callings that serve the well-being of his church. Nothing less than our best efforts are permitted. The churches where we have our membership need this of us.

Without minimizing the importance of this work, I also don’t want to place the wrong emphasis upon it. The reality is that I need the church more than the church needs me. Thanks be to God that the gathering, defense, and preservation of the church does not rest in my hands but in the almighty hands of Jesus Christ. I need the church as a child needs its mother. It’s within the womb of mother church that I receive life. Mother church feeds me, first with milk and then with meat, and makes me grow. Mother church chastens me when I sin and encourages me in faith and godliness. Apart from mother church there is no salvation.

At the same time, we cannot use this as an excuse to shirk the responsibilities that we have toward the church, as thankful children have responsibilities toward their mother.

The subject is significant as well because there are many wrong attitudes toward active membership in the church.

One danger that is becoming more and more common today is total neglect for the instituted church. The youth leave the church in droves. “Members” never darken the door of the sanctuary, other than an obligatory visit on Christmas or Easter. Some claim to be Christians and yet say that membership in a church is not necessary. The meetings that they have in their homes on Sunday are sufficient.

Another danger is that, although we are members of an instituted church, we are largely inactive and live on the fringes of the congregation. Our membership is limited to the hours of worship on the Sabbath day. Perhaps we say that we don’t have time to devote to the church.  Perhaps we say that we don’t have an outgoing and social personality. Perhaps we think that we don’t need anything from the other members. Perhaps we simply don’t feel like putting in the effort that is required.

Another danger is that we have the wrong perspective on church membership and the communion of the saints. Our perspective is not that we ought to serve others, but we think that others must serve us. Paul Tripp writes, “I am persuaded that the church today has many more consumers than committed participants. …For most of us, church is merely an event we attend or an organization we belong to. We do not see it as a calling that shapes our entire life” (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, xi-xii). Often the result of having this perspective is that we are left soured and bitter toward the church because she does not meet our expectations. We don’t feel that others are giving us the attention that we need. And the temptation is for us to withdraw from the church.

Another danger is that we think this calling applies only to the officebearers. We might think that the only ones who really have work to do in the church are pastors, elders, and deacons. We members of the pew can rest easy. Certainly it is true that the officebearers have responsibilities in the church and lead the way in this work. But the Bible calls all members of the pew to be active in the church. This year we celebrate the five-hundreth anniversary of the Reformation, and one of the truths that Christ restored to his church at that time was the priesthood of all believers. The Reformed faith highly honors the office of believer in the church. And it is necessary that we take seriously the duties that Christ gives us in this office.

…to be continued.

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