Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Is Church Membership Important? (Part 4)

In part three we looked at the necessity of visible church membership for the reception of the Word and the sacraments. We learned that an individual might receive the benefit of the Word preached for a time without joining the church. But he cannot receive it in that condition perpetually, because the Word itself teaches the necessity of church membership. Therefore if one is benefiting from the Word read and preached, he will join the church. One way we see this is with regard to the sacraments. The Bible teaches that participation in the sacraments requires visible church membership.

In part four we will examine what the Bible teaches about church discipline and membership.

In 1 Cor. 11:27-31 we see church discipline connected with the reception of the Lord's Supper. The Apostle explains that there are worthy and unworthy manners of receiving the sacrament. Worthy reception amounts to the maintenance of the credibility of one's profession of faith (i.e. discerning the body). Therefore there are times when the Supper should be withheld from a person if the credibility of his profession is in question. This would constitute an act of church discipline. And since receiving the sacraments is dependent on visible church membership, therefore in this respect so is church discipline.  

Further in 1 Peter 5:1-5 we read, "So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

In this text the Apostle Peter exhorts his fellow elders (presbuterous) to be proper shepherds over the flock (i.e. "those in your charge"). They are undershepherds of the chief Shepherd. Christ rules his church through these men (Matt. 16:19; 18:17-18; John 20:21-23, cf. WCF 30.2). Further he commands individual believers to submit to the government of elders who have charge over them, saying "be subject to the elders."

This relationship between elders and congregants is only possible for those that have voluntarily associated with one another (i.e. believers) or are under the headship of one who has (i.e. their children). The elders could have no charge over anyone apart from this, since their rule under Christ is declarative and ministerial rather than legislative and magisterial. They declare God's word in service to his people. They DO NOT legislate their own words or force obedience.

And what is the goal of church government? 1 Pet. 5:6-11 concludes, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen."

Through church discipline God protects his covenant people from evil so that they may continue to be nourished in the faith unto eternal life. Therefore visible church membership is of vital importance.


In Eph. 5:25-30 we read, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body."

The Lord Jesus Christ loves the visible church. It is his bride. It is his body. How can a person claim to be united to Christ, and not also be united to his body? Just as a man nourishes and cherishes his own body, so Jesus nourishes and cherishes his church. He does this through the Word, the sacraments, and church discipline.

Much more could be said about the importance of visible church membership, but my prayer is that these short articles will help orient us to the fundamentals of the Bible's teaching, and that having been so oriented we might better love her and participate ever more faithfully in her worship and service.


Randy in Tulsa said...

Thanks, Jay for this very compelling, logical four-part series. I enjoyed it very much and especially appreciated how you supported your arguments with citations to scripture and the standards. I will recommend this series to our organizing pastor (when we have one) at Providence OPC in Tulsa.

M. Jay Bennett said...

Thanks Randy. I continue to lift you all up in prayer. May the Lord be with you.

Joe Rigney said...


My name is Joe Rigney. I found your blog through a comment you made about Edwards' view of the decrees at Tony Reinke's. You mentioned that you did your thesis on the subject. I'd be interested in reading it. Would that be possible? If so, my email is joe.rigney -at- gmail-dot-com. Thanks!