Thursday, May 26, 2011
The Vision (5/26/11): The Mandate of Local Church Membership
Image: CRBC's home education co-op group and their families took a field trip to the farm of one of our attending families in Madison to see chickens, goats, rabbits, and llamas on Friday, May 20, 2011.
Note: Daniel Houseworth is our first Ruling Elder at CRBC. We set him apart to this office on February 13, 2011.
As a CRBC elder, one of my greatest desires and fervent prayers is to see our congregation grow spiritually and numerically. However, the numerical growth is not what you are likely thinking. My immediate vision for “church growth” is to literally add to our membership roll regularly attending brothers and sisters in Christ who show no inclination to be a part of another local church.
With this desire in mind, I want to share with you part of an article I recently read in the Winter 2011 edition of The Founders Journal entitled, “The Household of God: An Introduction to the Church,” by Steven B. Cowan, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Apologetics at Southeastern Bible College in Birmingham, AL (note: it is not yet available on the Founders Ministry website, www.founders.org). While I encourage everyone to read the entire article when it is posted online, there is one part in particular that I want to draw to your attention. In the closing section of the article, Professor Cowan writes, “For Christ’s purposes for the church to be fulfilled, for His purposes for you (emphasis added) to be fulfilled, you have to make a covenant commitment to a local church...” These particular words should resonate with those who heard Pastor Riddle’s preaching this past Lord’s Day on 1 Samuel 12 and his discussion of covenant renewal. Today, the people of God – regenerate believers – participate in a covenant renewal ceremony every time we gather for worship, and God’s covenant with His people is most prominently displayed for us when we participate together in the Lord’s Supper during our afternoon worship service.
Professor Cowan highlights the very nature of this covenant community – the local church – by examining Acts 5 and focusing on verses 12-13, “12 And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. 13Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.” These verses follow the Holy Spirit striking down Ananias and Sapphira for their sin, and the locals clearly exhibited not just a healthy fear of divine judgment, but they understood the consequences of joining the church. Professor Cowan points out that “[w]hat we need to note here is that the church was seen as something that could be joined and this tells us that the church had a clearly defined membership. It was known who was in and who was out. But we can go further than this by looking more closely at the word ‘join’ that Luke uses in the text. The Greek word used here is kollaō [κoλλάω] and it means ‘to glue’ or ‘cement together.’”
While kollaō has a mundane usage in the New Testament (such as the reference to dust clinging to one’s shoes in Luke 10:11), this same word is used in the following passages to exhibit intimacy:
- 1 Corinthians 6:16 describes being joined in a sexual relations,
- Matthew 19:5 uses the root word to describe when a man is joined to – literally cleaves to – his wife,
- 1 Corinthians 6:17 describes our spiritual union with the Lord.
It is these latter uses that well describe the formal nature of being “cemented together” as members of a local church. Does this not fit with the building metaphor that is used throughout the New Testament, like in Ephesians 2:19-22? “19Now therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
Professor Cowan closes the article with this admonition: “The early Christians understood their duty to be committed members of a local church, the household of God. It is important that Christians today understand this, too. To shun this duty is to shun Christ’s gift to you. To neglect church membership is to neglect your obedience to Christ. If you love Jesus, you love what he loves; and Jesus loves the church. If you are a Christian, but not a member of a local church, you should make this your first priority.”
If you are a believer and a regular attendee at CRBC or any other local church, I encourage you to take seriously the requirement to be joined to a local church. In Ephesians 5: 25 we are reminded that Christ loves the church and died for her, and the illustration used in the verse is that of a husband and wife. In that same vein I plead with you to leave the world and cleave to Christ; be joined with your fellow believers in the local church. Only then will we all covenant together in the fullest sense as we gather on the Lord’s Day to worship our triune God.