6: The Fruitful Roots of Humility
June 29, 2014 • Sean Higgins
Selected Scriptures Series: Membership #6 In 2 Kings 19 Hezekiah prayed to the LORD because Sennacherib (the king of Assyria) threatened to attack Judah. Assyria had already defeated Samaria, they "have laid waste the nations and their lands" (verse 17) and turned to overtake Judah which was not in a great position to fight. Hezekiah prayed that the LORD would save Judah. Isaiah prophesied that Sennacherib will be destroyed and even more than that, that Judah would grow strong. > The surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit http://upward....the zeal of the LORD will do this. (2 Kings 19:30, 31b, ESV) What a great picture of stability: **take root downward** and of influence: **bear fruit upward**. God would plant His people deep and prosper His people abundantly. They would be anchored and productive. In his inaugural sermon upon being called to pastor the church in Amsterdam, Abraham Kuyper remarked: > [N]o organism flourishes unless it can spread its roots freely and unfurl its crown of leaves in the fresh air. (Kuyper, _Rooted & Grounded: The Church as Organism and Institution_) Don't we want the same things in this place, to be rooted and fruited? When I was working in my own yard years ago, preparing to add a sprinkler system and newly seed the whole area, I tilled and re-tilled and re-tilled the same ground to prepare a place for thick, green grass to grow. As a church we need more tilling and fertilizer and water and sun. We don't need more soil, we need to keep working the soil we've got. We officially affirm our first group of members today. As we prepare to do that, let's remember why this is so great. The world certainly doesn't encourage us to think good things about church. Why would anyone think that a *church* or even *the* Church is important in 2014? What place does it have in Washington state, with a majority citizens who prefer the religion of "None." Besides, isn't Christianity about the heart, about an organic relationship with Jesus, not a religion? Doesn't church history demonstrate that institutions tend to mess up things for individuals? Yes. There are bad signs outside and inside the church. But what is hope good for? Hope is *some*thing when the likelihood is *no*thing. When the situation is most bleak is when hope is most useful and necessary. Our hope isn't in the church but we do have hope *for* the church. God has a great assignment for His church and great promises that attend us. His promises fly beside us and will escort us home. We are a kingdom outpost of heaven, an embassy of our home country in a foreign land. We are affirming citizenship with the privileges and responsibilities, some that are inherent and others that are accepted. Certain truths define us and motivate us and give us joy. When we get down, when humility spreads roots down deep, God will grow us up and out into an increasingly fruitful people. This message and these three points are intended to raise our hope anchored in humility. # We are created by and serve a God Who we can't fully comprehend. We are not our own idea. We didn't get here by our own wisdom or free will or luck. We are an organic people given life freely by God. He is outside of us working in us. > A church cannot be manufactured; a polity, no matter how tidy, and a confession, no matter how spotless, are powerless to form a church if the living organism is absent. (Kuyper, .ibid) It began in eternity past with the Father's election. He chose us for salvation (Ephesians 1:4, 5, 11), and that involves His predestination of a people, a bride for His son. His electing purpose begins with individuals but it does not end there. The Father desires to honor the Son with the church and has planned an eternity of loving fellowship for us with Himself. At the right time, the Father sent the Son and the Son willingly came for His bride. In order to win her, He lived and died and rose again for her (Ephesians 5:25). He purchased her freedom, ransomed her from sin, and intends to present her blameless to Himself. The Father and the Son sent the Spirit; Jesus told His disciples that He would in John 16 (verses 7-11, 13-15). The Holy Ghost regenerates, He indwells, He seals, He fills, and He empowers. He teaches us about God in truth. He excites our affections and produces fruit in us. He lives in us to help and make us holy. How can we--a people created by and through and for the Triune God--not become something great? He is all-in. What shall we fear? How could we not know the unity that the Son prayed for in John 17? We don't depend on us "to unit all things in [Christ]" (Ephesians 1:10). The doctrine of the Trinity humbles us up in hopefulness and out in fruitfulness. # We are saved by and incarnate a gospel that we do not deserve. The thing that messes all of this up is sin. Sin is why the Trinity had to get involved, why an outside force is necessary. Their particular work deals with our rebellion, our unbelief, our pride, our hate, and our death. The the good news answers all of these soul disasters from the inside out. The gospel brings life. The gospel grows love. The gospel makes humble. The gospel invites faith. The gospel transforms servants and sons. Like God, the gospel is outside of us. When it is well-defined, we have a place joyful place to live. We believe the gospel and we live it out by love through humble, hopeful, family service. "We who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you" (2 Corinthians 4:11-12). This is putting the gospel "in our mortal flesh," incarnating it. No wonder some people want to be a part. We do not always act this way but this is what we were made for. A church challenges sin for sake of forgiveness and belonging. We are the only people who can consistently address sin without being judgmental. We announce that sin has been judged. We know how to deal with haters because we used to be them. We alone have the tools to deal with conflict: peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-24). Do you know my strengths and weaknesses? Do any of either annoy you? If you don't know or if they haven't bugged you yet, just wait. We know, or will come to know weaknesses and sins of those around us. And we are called to bear with one another and even forgive each other as Christ forgave us. This is how gospel people respond. > walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1–3, ESV) The doctrine of the evangel humbles us up in hopefulness and out in fruitfulness. # We are united to and built into a body that is bigger than us. Only a Triune God would come up with such a purpose. Jesus promised that He will build His church (Matthew 16:18). He aims to show off His wisdom to the spiritual powers by uniting us together (Ephesians 3:10): Jew and Gentile are fellow heirs, male and female are members of the same body, young and old are partakers of the promise in Christ through the gospel (Ephesians 3:6). We have responsibilities including but not limited to our own personal walk with Christ. We also have responsibilities to one another. Our "What We Believe in Brief" includes a variety of one-anothers. Every member must agree with the WWBiB and these are our commitments. Together: - We proclaim Christ as Lord. - We practice the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper. - We assemble each Lord's day to worship as the communion of saints and to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. - We hold each other accountable in obedience of faith through Biblical discipline. - We affirm that the Holy Spirit gifts each member for the building up of the whole and that the pastors equip the saints for the work of the ministry until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. - We continue Christ's commission to make disciples of all nations and for the sake of following generations. - We trust that God is building His church by His Word and causes believers to persevere unto bodily resurrection and a heavenly inheritance, to the praise of His glorious grace. > speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15–16, ESV) The Trinity announces salvation in the gospel for gathering His church. The doctrine of the church humbles us up in hopefulness and out in fruitfulness. # Conclusion We are a people baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. > There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4–6, ESV) We are identified as those who belong with Him, who believe in Him, and who therefore belong with each other. We will continue to learn how to obey everything that Christ has commanded and, as we do so, may we see many more become citizens of the heavenly kingdom. We represent Christ on earth. We reflect Him to one another, to our city, to our neighbors, to our kids. We have supernatural reasons to be excited and to be hopeful in our future together with and for Him. - We have reason to be thankful. - We have reason to pray. - We have reason to join arms. - We have reason to be excited. - We have reason to read the Book. - We have reason to trust. If we do down, He will grow us up. As we are humbled before a God who is infinitely mysterious, infinitely gracious, and infinitely wise, our hope in Him will extend in fruit. May God grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.
5: Accounted in the Assembly
March 2, 2014 • Sean Higgins
Selected Scriptures Series: Membership #5 # Introduction After admonishing the Corinthians about a sexually immoral man who needed discipline, Paul instructed the church about Christians taking other Christians to court. In 1 Corinthians 6 he rebuked with a question: "When one of you has a grievance against another does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?" (verse 1) Then Paul reminded the believers that the saints will jude the world one day, so day to day cases ought to be easy by comparison (verse 2). Then he asked, "So if if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?" (verse 4) What a great phrase: *standing in the church* (ESV). Other translations scratch the point differently but to the same end; "account in the church" (NAS), "esteemed in the church" (KJV), "account in the assembly" (World English Bible). The word "standing" (from ἐξουθενέω) refers to recognized value, an accounting of merit or worth or significance. There are some people who are accounted as belonging to the church. They can be recognized and distinguished from those outside the church. The final paragraph of chapter 5 referred to the same distinction. Our *expectations* and our *dependencies* should differ depending on who we're dealing with. We should not expect "outsiders" to behave like insiders. We do not discipline or judge those outside. We do expect insiders, "anyone who bears the name of brother" (verse 11) to act like it. And we don't depend on outsiders to fix our squabbles. Not only does it not make sense to trust men in darkness to consistently apply justice, but our witness is defeated when we dare to depend on those who "who have no standing in the church." How does one come to have standing in the church, to be accounted in the assembly? Another way to ask it: What is the process to be recognized and affirmed as a church member? As with many things, the question is not whether but which. The question is not whether or not to recognize members but *which way will members be recognized*? If we are to obey God's Word when it comes to distinguishing insiders and outsiders, when it comes to doing good especially to those of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10), when it comes to how we treat those who bear the name brother and those who don't, then we must have some way to do it. And also with many things, there are more ways than one to mess it up. There are ditches on both sides of the road and a variety of running speeds; we could slip or we could hurtle head first. Some prefer a loose approach to recognize members. They don't need to talk about membership because they already know who the members are. But *how* do they know? What process did they use to determine it? Not talking about it as a process doesn't mean there isn't one. In fact, not referring to it may make it harder to explain, harder to duplicate, and harder to love. A danger with a loose approach could be that it is easier for people to fall through the cracks. Positives include that it stresses relationship; some might consider it more organic. It is similar to common law marriage: you've been together long enough let's call it good. For a church, how many Sundays or events attended qualify someone as committed? What level of fellowship with how many other people qualifies? Even the state sets some time standard for common law marriage, and most organic farmers still sow seeds in rows. Some prefer a bureaucratic approach. There is paperwork and maybe weeks of classes to attend with a formal certification upon the completion of the (obstacle) course. The process is better-defined, easier to duplicate, though usually not easier to love. An established process usually helps larger organizations to expose the joiners to a variety of leaders and ministries that they may not otherwise check out for themselves. It also gives the leaders greater confidence that some level of information has been gathered. A danger with a tight approach is that it can tend to feel impersonal, perhaps legalistic, and often tedious. Positives are that it makes things more manageable. Of course, many things that are managed are not by that fact meaningful. Meaningful but not the wrong sort of burdensome, relational but organized, explainable but without making it a factory, these are challenges. Membership requires wisdom no matter what approach we take. Before we get to a proposed process, I want to remind us of a couple things. First, *the purpose of membership is to recognize and affirm heavenly citizenship*. As we considered last week, every local church must identify and install elders, deacons, and members. The qualifications for leaders and for non-leaders are not the same, but there are qualifications to be considered "in" rather than "out." We don't *deserve* to be in. We have been made "partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (Ephesians 3:6) by grace. "In love He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 1:4-5). It was His choice for His sake at His cost, but as His people we have privileges and responsibilities. > A church member is a person who has been officially and publicly recognized as a Christian before the nations, as well as someone who shares in the same authority of officially affirming and overseeing other Christians in his or her church. (Jonathan Leeman, _Church Membership_, 29) Second, *recognizing and affirming a believer's status is body work*. In other words, the *church* affirms her members. If you are a part, then you should desire and seek to be received by every other part. If you are a part, they you are responsible to receive other true members *and* to reject counterfeits. The *church* is the pillar and support of truth (1 Timothy 3:15). The *church* hears and the church treats like a Gentile one who is disciplined (Matthew 18:17). The *church* has responsibility to deal with false teachers in her midst (as in Galatia). The *church* builds itself up in love even though the elders/pastors/overseers equip the saints for all their work (Ephesians 4:11-16). Providing a process for membership is only one way to equip you to do your work. Each part needs to do its part in affirming the other parts. Do you know what to look for? Do you know what to expect? Can you explain it to someone who wants it? Could you explain and lead your family in fulfilling the responsibilities? # The Process There are five stages to the proposed process for receiving and affirming members at TEC. ## Stage One - Questionnaire The first stage would involve a short, but vital list of questions. 1. What is your testimony of faith in Christ? 2. When were you baptized? 3. Are you in full agreement with What We Belief in Brief? If not, why not? 4. Have you read the larger What We Believe? Do you have any questions or concerns? 5. Why do you desire membership at Trinity? 6. What was your previous church? Why did you leave? 7. What is your family background? Have you been divorced? Kids? Since salvation requires a confession of faith (Romans 10:9-13), we want to know the man or woman's testimony of faith in Christ. Does he bear the name "brother" and what would make him say so? Since the first initiation rite of discipleship according to the Great Commission is baptism, we will ask about their previous obedience or their plan to make that public profession in water. The third and fourth questions provide opportunity to clarify their confession of faith and to discern their ability to help support and defend the truth. There is a baseline of things to be believed, "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Do they fully affirm that faith as we've tried to represent in the "What We Believe in Brief" statement? Next we'll ask if they've read the larger statement. If not, that's fine, though we would encourage them to do so in order for them to know some of our distinctive characteristics. The details in the longer document may keep someone from becoming frustrated later. If they have read it, do they have questions, disagreements, concerns? The fifth question is why the person wants to be a member at TEC. Since we want people to *love* their membership, that starts with knowing something about it. Do they know what they're getting themselves into? The final two sets of questions related to their church family history and their immediate family background. We would not encourage someone to join our local body if they are running from a previous body, or we would at least urge them to attempt to make the relationships right even if there are remaining reasons for a change. Regarding the family, this is good to know for a variety of reasons. ## Stage Two - Interview with an Elder We would encourage those who are interested to write out their answers to the questionnaire and then to seek an interview with one of the elders. Many of these interviews could be done after a service, perhaps some will be better over lunch or dinner. The purpose of this interview will be for the elder to compare the questionnaire with their comments and enable follow up questions in either direction. ## Stage Three - Recommendation to the Elders The interviewing elder will recommend (or not recommend) the candidate to the other elders at a regularly scheduled board meeting (which currently occur 2-3 times a month). The paper work will enable each elder to know more without all the elders conducting the interview and also without depending entirely on the interviewing elder's memory. ## Stage Four - Recommendation to the Church If the elders cannot affirm the candidate, then the interviewing elder would communicate why not to the candidate. If all the elders can affirm the candidate, then the board would recommend the candidate to the entire church at a Sunday morning service. This has at least two benefits. First, the affirmation is a body-work, not only pastoral work. The pastors would take the lead but not take all the responsibility. By recommending before affirming, the entire flock has opportunity to get to know a potential new member. L2L leaders should be excited. Some families in the body will be more excited to (and/or more capable of) seeking out these new people. But everyone will have the opportunity. Second, this process will provide a built-in opportunity to explain to others and be reminded ourselves about our individual and corporate responsibilities. If membership is going to matter, then we will be benefited by recurring reminders, similar to weekly confession and communion, and similar to attending a wedding that rekindles our own vows. ## Stage Five - Affirmation by the Church If the pastors and all the parts can affirm the candidate, then once a quarter we would take time during a Sunday morning service to formally receive new members. It won't involve any mantras or any back and forth Q&A. But somehow we will acknowledge and celebrate and pray for them as part of the assembly's worship. # Additional Thoughts The process would be the same for baptism candidates and those who are baptized here at TEC will be baptized into membership. We probably won't have as many baptisms as new members, though that could change, but we will recommend baptismal candidates for others to get to know them if they don't already. Understanding that our start as a local body was three years ago and that some of you have been here from the start, as elders we believe that this is still a reasonable process for everyone who desires to formalize their commitment. We do not desire to make church membership harder than getting into heaven, though church membership is an affirmation that you are going to heaven, and that involves some specificity. We, as elders, believe that this will help our due diligence with current members and that it will provide helpful reference for current and future elders. Since each of us has the same level of soul accountability, we think that this can supplement what we're already doing. We also know that it cannot replace personal involvement. Over the next couple weeks we hope to get feedback on this proposal, tweak and/or add anything we missed, and then make the questionnaire available. If, for example, we had questionnaires on March 16, we would work to recommend the first batch at the beginning of May (5/4) to affirm at the end of the month, the same time as the next elders/deacons affirmation. That would give eight weeks (ten from today) for people to think about it, ask questions, work through the questions, talk with an elder, etc. Then at the end of May (5/25) we thought it might be fun to have a BBQ for Family Fellowship. # Conclusion What about someone who wants the privileges who does not want to go through the process? Well, what is in their heart? Do they have different convictions, or are they being stubborn, or something else? Regardless, we'll have opportunity to work through some mess. That'll be good. > What is the local church? It's the institution that Jesus created and authorized to pronounce the gospel of the kingdom, to affirm gospel professors, to oversee their discipleship, and to expose impostors. (Leeman, 64) Members are saying about Jesus, "I am with Him." Members are saying about one another, "He/she is with Jesus." A process provides greater ability to affirm, not an absolute ability to affirm. We desire to strengthen our corporate ability to affirm faith rather than assume it. As with many things, we can do membership from fear or for opportunity. This is an opportunity to remind each part about his/her responsibilities individually and corporately. We must recognize and affirm fellow citizens somehow, with many deep ditches to avoid. A process by itself can't fix nominal commitment or guarantee that we will avoid every oversight or misunderstanding or formalism in the future, but it could help. The church is God's eternal purpose to show off God's grace and God's wisdom. > Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, *so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places*. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. (Ephesians 3:7–12, ESV) We have the privilege to be a part of that.
4: The Confession of Our Hope
February 23, 2014 • Sean Higgins
1 Timothy 3:14-16 Series: Membership #4 # Introduction In 1 Timothy 3 Paul provides the qualifications for certain offices in the church. He tells Timothy what to look for in an elder (verses 1-7) and what to look for in a deacon (verses 8-13). In the final paragraph Paul tells Timothy why he wrote about these things: so that he "may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God." A church has responsibility to recognize and affirm elders. This priority affects the universal church but applies to local ones. Timothy wasn't asked to oversee the appointment of elders in Rome or Jerusalem but in Ephesus. The same goes for deacons. A local church is responsible to recognize and affirm deacons. Paul provides qualifications for churches to recognize these types of men but he does *not* present a process in order for churches to affirm these men. He says to do it but he does not say *how* to do it. In fact, there are many times that in order to obey the Bible we must consider how the principle applies in our context. Modest is hottest, as the t-shirt says, but no verse tells us where to shop. We have a [process for recognizing and affirming elders here at TEC][elders]. The first time we did it included a few additional elements. We talked through the principles, explained the process, answered questions, posted it all on the website, and refer to it as elders and refer the flock to is so that they know what to expect from elders. Even though the process itself isn't outlined in Scripture, very little resistance was offered against the process because an elders' responsibility is significant (see Acts 20:28). It's important to get and keep the right men in office. The [affirmation process is similar for deacons][deacons]. They also have significant responsibility as they coordinate relief for physical needs. We talked, explained, answered, posted, and use that process, one which also included a few additional elements the first time through. The process attempts to apply the biblical priorities here in this local church. [elders]: http://trinityevangel.org/about/elder-affirmation-process/ [deacons]: http://trinityevangel.org/about/deacon-affirmation-process/ The local church must recognize and affirm her elders, recognize and affirm her deacons, and the local church must recognize and affirm her *members*. How to do it is not specified in the New Testament, but that it must be done is. The [first message in this series][members] used the illustration of a foreign embassy from Jonathan Leeman's book, _Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus_. A local church doesn't make anyone a heavenly citizen, but every local church bears the responsibility to recognize and affirm heavenly citizens. Again, there is flexibility in *how* we do it, but we must do it *some*how. [members]: http://trinityevangel.org/sermon/2014/church-building/ The first part of the process is *confessional*. That's where Christ started with Peter. How a man answers the question: "Who is Jesus" makes the difference. Jesus asked, "Who do people say that I am?" It's not enough to say that Jesus is a good man, not enough to say that He is a prophet (such as Jeremiah and John the Baptist), not even enough to say that He is a prophet who never died (such as Elijah). Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God." On that confession of faith Jesus builds His church (Matthew 16:13-20). Individuals must make the confession in order to be saved. > if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10:9–13, ESV) Jesus Christ is Lord. He is God, He is man, He is the only mediator between God and man. He is Savior. Heavenly citizenship belongs with those who believe and obey the King of heaven. These truths must be confessed by believers and confessed by the church. Consider the last paragraph in 1 Timothy 3 again. > the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: > He was manifested in the flesh, > vindicated by the Spirit, > seen by angels, > proclaimed among the nations, > believed on in the world, > taken up in glory. > (1 Timothy 3:15–16, ESV) The *church* is **a pillar and buttress of truth**. **Pillar** would have brought an unmistakable picture to Timothy's mind. The Temple of Artemis (a.k.a., Diana) was located in Ephesus where he was stationed and was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The structure measured 380 feet long by 180 feet wide and perhaps the most striking features were its 127, 60' tall marble columns some of which were studded with jewels and overlaid with gold. More important than their appearance was their function: to support the structure. **Buttress** is a word that refers to a brace or reinforcement that helps to guard and fortify. In other words, the church is called to defend the truth. Like battlements protect a town, so the church is to preserve and take care of the truth, making sure the truth doesn’t fall. It is not merely the elders or individuals within the church who support and guard the truth, it is the work of the entire church. And it is possible for churches to utilize short summaries of that truth as verse 16 does. There are at least a few different "confessions of faith" in the NT (e.g., Colossians 1:15-20; Philippians 2:5-11; here). None of them are exactly the same, but they all seek to condense a confession of Christ's lordship for the *church* to declare and defend. The same thing has happened in church history. From the earliest centuries after Christ, the church prepared and promoted confessions (or creeds, from the Latin verb *credo*: "I believe") of varying lengths with various emphases in order to proclaim and protect the truth. Though not inspired (and never claiming to be), the language of these confessions clarified through affirmations and denials what the Bible teaches and what Christians believe. Men are slippery sinners and will say they agree but mean something different by the same words. Most false teachers use Bible words, so these additional statements can help to "instruct in sound doctrine and rebuke those on contradict it" (Titus 1:2). We have [a statement of "What We Believe"][wwb] as a church. In the summer of 2011 we put it out for feedback and officially adopted it later in the summer. As the elders said at the time, we believed that a longer statement allowed for more clarity and more distinctions. That said, a frequent criticism was the size, printed at almost 60 pages with all the proof-texts footnoted. [wwb]: http://trinityevangel.org/what-we-believe/ Even then, and for now almost three years since then, I've had the task of drafting a shorter statement to go along with it. Though we do ask the elders and deacons to fully affirm the entire statement, we've never thought that a regular worshipper (or member) needed to fully affirm every jot and tittle in order to belong. The larger document describes our position on a variety of doctrines. As we approached this time of a more defined membership, it seemed appropriate to produce a shorter statement, written and hashed out by all the elders. This morning I'd like to present "What We Believe in Brief" and then answer four questions about it.
3: Forging Forgiveness
February 16, 2014 • Sean Higgins
Matthew 18:21-35 Series: Membership #3 # Introduction Can you imagine what our court system would do if everyone just did what they said they would? I have no idea what percentage of civil lawsuits consists of broken contracts, but I do have an idea why so many of those lawsuits exist. Human nature being what it is, we like the benefits that come from ambiguity. We are smart people. We know how to protect ourselves, how to make it hard for anyone to pin us down. We love loopholes and lawyers, as long as they're on our side. Employers and employees break agreements, contractors break contracts, spouses break vows. We break promises we make to ourselves. We can't even be counted on ourselves to commit to our own commitments to ourselves. How slippery is a man who will break his word to himself? A wise man doesn't avoid making any promises for fear that he'll blow it. The wise are wise enough to know that they need outside help not to blow it. They know that they aren't exceptional, they know they are prone to make exceptions. So they get clearer, they take it public, they ask for help *before* they need it. When did Noah build the ark? Before it started to rain. We do well to make preparations for our own sin floods, to plan for being weak when we're strong. We're talking about church membership. Two weeks ago we started addressing the privileges of membership. The first two privileges were: 1) specialized care from qualified and accountable men and 2) full body life, embracing that others need us, we need others, and our differences make it more delightful. No man *is* a body. This morning we'll come to three more reasons that membership is *AWESOME*. For what it's worth, we are taking a little time (today is the third message with probably two more to come) on the issue of membership *not* because we're concerned that people will hate it or even that they would walk away because of it. We're taking time because we're concerned that people are indifferent about it. It isn't the goal to force anyone to do it. It isn't the goal to keep anyone from hating it. Those are much too easy. We're after those who say, "I'm not really for it, but if that's what the elders want then I'll do it." That isn't the elders' job. That's not equipping you, that's herding you. We want you to *LOVE* it. We want you to tell your kids why it's great, to show your kids why it's great, to help them delight in the local church. This isn't shotgun membership. We want you to run like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber on his wedding day. Helping the members know their responsibilities and privileges is one thing. Helping them to know and *love* their responsibilities and privileges is impossible, and indispensable if each part is going to do its part to build up the entire body in love. # 3. Forgiveness Rehearsal We are not merely a team with skilled position players. We are not a corporation hiring to fill a variety of jobs. We are a body, a living and supernaturally connected people. How did we get connected? Through one Person, Jesus. And how did we get connected with Him? We are brought into the body by Christ's reconciling work, through His forgiveness. He got His Bride by laying down His life for her (Ephesians 5:25). So we are a *gospel* body, created by and for forgiving sacrifice. This is a privilege in two ways. First, *practicing forgiveness increases our witness*. The gospel is not only a message we tell about how God forgives sinners, the gospel is a way of life that illustrates forgiveness. Why do we proclaim Christ to the world? Why are we excited to tell others about Him? Jesus forgives rebellious, guilty enemies! But are we claiming to love Christ who forgives enemies and yet failing to obey Christ by refusing to forgive those who sin against us? When others sin against us (hurt us) we talk and act like we must be in the wrong place. I get that. But do we want to be like Jesus? If yes, then when we are hurt by someone else, we are in the exact right place. If we don't have need to forgive someone else, if we are never hurt by someone else, then we will have a small platform to say that forgiveness is awesome. By forgiving others' sin against us we say something about Christ's forgiveness of us. > Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:12-14, ESV) He sticks us together so we'll see how valuable forgiveness really is. He wants us to be examples of forgiveness, not simply talkers about it. Church membership provides a context of commitment to forgive others rather than to walk away when they hurt us. Though not exactly the same, a married couple approaches conflict differently because of their vows. They commit to work out problems together, not to work together until there are problems. Thankfully, Christ doesn't renege on His forgiving commitment. Second, *practicing forgiveness intensifies our worship*. How could someone sinning against us make worship better? Don't problems in the church dampen our worship? They could, but they don't have to. When we need to forgive we're reminded how much we've been forgiven. Think of the parable of the king wishing to settle accounts in Matthew 18:21-35. The point of the parable is that we are a kingdom community of forgiven forgivers. We forgive lesser offenses (against us) because we've been forgiven infinite offenses (against God). Every time we walk a mile in His sandals, forgiving others, our gratitude and adoration for Him intensifies. There is nothing supernatural, there is nothing gospel, there is nothing Jesus-like in loving those who love us. God created the world in the way He did to show off greater glory by loving enemies and forgiving rebels. He calls us to the same life. If you don't want that privilege, then you don't want His forgiveness of your rebellion either. Forgiveness rehearsal is an agonizing privilege for our corporate witness and worship. We want to get away when it's hard, when others injure us (buy a one way ticket on Southwest). Of course we do. No one is overjoyed looking ahead to that four hour conversation to work things out when you're already busy and behind. But as long as we are not in heaven, there is no way to make it so that we will never need to forgive someone who sinned against us. Members are committed to pursuing better joy and deeper intimacy with each other through forgiveness in Christ. If we do not forgive, we show we are not truly forgiven and are not part of the body (see Matthew 6:14-15). # 4. Faithful Wounding Wise men know this, > Faithful are the wounds of a friend; > profuse are the kisses of an enemy. > (Proverbs 27:6, ESV) It seems that a lot of Christians are happier at churches full of kissing. We want everybody blowing kisses and waving wands of flattery in our direction. Wise men know that true friends wound. Wise men also know that they are prone to need "wounds" from time to time, so they commit themselves to friends. In a similar, but even more specific way, > let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV) We "stir up," "stimulate" (NAS), "provoke" (KJV, NRSV), "spur on" (NIV). We rouse others to activity and, more than that, we brainstorm ("consider") how to do it better. If someone wakes up and his foot is asleep, he doesn't slander his foot and cut it off. "It's obvious this is the wrong foot for me. I'll go find another foot." He slaps and stretches and shakes and wiggles his foot to get it moving. Think about it like physical therapy. Repeatedly knead and rotate and stretch a repaired elbow. The treatment itself isn't necessarily enjoyable. It often hurts. It is good for the health of the part. It is also necessary for the health of the body. Some parts regularly need more attention, they keep getting into trouble. The navel may wonder why it's always being picked on. The gathered lint reflects on the stomach. A finger that won't stop bleeding may need to be cauterized so it won't make a mess everywhere. Again, we are predisposed to run from help if we think it will hurt. But, > Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1, ESV) In *The Pilgrim's Progress*, Ignorance preferred to be alone. "I take my pleasure in walking alone, even more a great deal than in company unless I like it the better." Of course he would. Isolation enabled him to enjoy his ignorance in (what he thought was) peace. (Penguin Classics edition, 146) It "helped" Talkative to go abroad, that is, to keep moving, because then no one knew him to pin him down. He was a "Saint abroad, a Devil at home." (82) Talkative didn't much appreciate the personal pressing upon. He wanted none of the accountability. But the accountability was for his own good. Especially as we remember "the Day is drawing near" (Hebrews 10:25), this work is even more important. What about when your friend goes too far? Even if a rebuke/wound isn't right you can still rehearse forgiveness. "I thought you were my friend." "I am your friend even though I was wrong. Please forgive me." If your friend *is* right, you will love him for it later. > Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; > reprove a wise man, and he will love you. > (Proverbs 9:8, ESV) # 5. Soul Protection The fifth privilege is connected with the first (specialized care) and with the fourth (faithful wounds). "Soul protection" could also go by the name Church Discipline. I understand that discipline, as with wounding, hurts. "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but it later yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11). God disciplines those He loves (see Hebrews 12:7-8; Revelation 3:19), so do parents (see Proverbs 13:24), and so must the church. Because we are not glorified, because sin remains, and because sin makes us stupid, sometimes we need outside help. Sometimes we need protection from ourselves. Leaders are assigned to watch over souls (Hebrews 13:17) and they must help their churches to protect the purity of the body (1 Corinthians 5:6-8) and seek the salvation of disobedient souls (1 Corinthians 5:5) in order that their spirit, the eternal part of them, would be safe for eternity. Matthew 18:15-20 is clear and crucial (along with 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, especially verses 2, 12-13). > If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17) What a privilege to be connected with those who love us so much and desire unity and intimacy so much that they will not sit idly by, letting us have some lesser joy and watching us destroy our souls. Membership is a privileged commitment to the joy of others so much that we will endure hard things, even their protests and insults and running away, for their sake. Membership is a way of saying you want to be protected in case you get to a point when you say you don't want to be protected. # Conclusion When we say, "We want you to love it," it seems an odd response to say, "We don't want to be forced." These messages and conversations are not intended to shove membership down anyone throat. They aim to put a steaming hot plate of sizzling fajitas down in front of you. We hope you take notice. We hope it looks good. We hope you realize the benefits *for you* in membership, the privileges of being openly and obviously committed to a local body. As good as it is, we don't glory in church life because everything is clean. We glory in messy church life because of the cross. Rosaria Butterfield recently wrote about the value of church membership for fighting sin. From her article, [You Are What and How You Read]http://(http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2014/02/14/you-are-whatand-howyou-read/): > Why does sin lurk in the minds of believers as a law, demanding to be obeyed? How do we have victory if sin's tentacles go so deep, if Satan knows our names and addresses? We stand on the ordinary means of grace: Scripture reading, prayer, worship, and the sacraments. We embrace the covenant of church membership for real accountability and community, knowing that left to our own devices we'll either be led astray or become a danger to those we love most. We commit to knowing that we may need help with our commitment. We join in clarity because we know that we are prone to evade in ambiguity. We sign up because we've been forgiven and forgiveness forges us together.
2: Signing Up
February 2, 2014 • Sean Higgins
1 Corinthians 12:12-26 Series: Membership #2 # Introduction We had a rip-roaring discussion yesterday morning with the men at our Life to Life leaders meeting regarding how weddings are a huge problem. We love marriage; it's weddings that stink. God explicitly said marriage is His idea, His institution, His illustration of His own Son's relationship with the Church. But weddings mess so many things up. Weddings often put a fake front on weak commitment. Weddings provide an opportunity for parents to control their kids. Weddings waste so much money (that could go to the couple, or to missionaries), they usually waste huge amounts of energy, and are a colossal waste of the community's time. Weddings don't even guarantee faithfulness. A big wedding or an expensive wedding, the whitest-white dress, the best brilliant cut diamond on the purest platinum ring, do nothing to settle heart issues. Sometimes a wedding may cause the couple to completely miss the priority of the marriage covenant. Why keep planing and funding weddings then? There is no verse that requires them. We who want to be biblical people ought to have clear verses to support our ceremonies. Before I get any further, this is a message on church membership, as was our discussion yesterday. Also, I asked for the best arguments against weddings, so it's not as if guys just wanted to hate. Also, the comparison is *not* about an equality between the promises a man and a woman make in marriage with the promise between a body part and the body in membership. The point of comparison belongs with the *how* we communicate what's in our hearts. We are more than thoughts, more than good intentions, more than answers to questions. We are persons. What we believe, the stories we tell, the lives we lead, and the rituals we engage in go together. It is possible to do it wrong, to be inconsistent, but it is not possible to do nothing. Doing nothing says something. A wedding, for all the perilous cliffs of insanity, adorns the promises. A wedding provides a public platform to love marriage. A wedding makes a statement about image-bearing, about families coming together and a new family beginning. A wedding invites the community to celebrate, to slingshot the couple into their commitment. It invites the community to help and encourage the new family, giving greater accountability to the two vow-makers. A wedding puts up a sign about what we, as a people, believe is important. All of us use signs, symbols, liturgy. Kneeling is liturgy. Prayer before meals is liturgy, so is dessert (or not) afterward. Covering your heart with your hand while saying the pledge of allegiance, standing up to sing the Star Spangled Banner, singing it before the Super Bowl, all these make statements. If someone doesn't understand the statement, we take that as an opportunity to explain the significance, not as a reason to abandon the sign. The sign connects us together. So church membership is *signing up*. I don't mean signing like a signature on the dotted line. I mean that membership is like hoisting a flag. You can explain what the church is. Your life shows commitment to the church. And it is also possible for a liturgical statement to uphold your joining as well as the congregations affirmation of your joining. It may provoke questions from your kids or your extended family. What a great opportunity to explain. When someone else goes through it, it may rekindle your own warmth and responsibilities. Last week we started a series about the big "B" and little "b" Body/body, the Church/church. Though they can be differentiated, they shouldn't be separated. A Christian is a member of the universal Body and that should be visible in a local body. It may take different levels of formality, but a local church affirms the heavenly citizenship of her members. It is a weighty and *privileged* relationship. What are the benefits of signing up? In other words, what are the privileges of membership? Or, Why Being a Member is **AWESOME**. This isn't just a message that you should be a member or that it's appropriate to be a member, but the privileges of membership. There are usually some particular privileges that belong to local bodies. For example, some churches require (often at the preference of their insurance company) you to be a member to work with kids, from newborn through high school, 18 and under. Some churches share their prayer request only among officially identified members. Church membership does brings with it a certain status and most of the *best* benefits are intangible. # 1. Specialized Care Church members (should) receive specialized care. Care means that members receive provision (fed and equipped) and protection (cared for and guarded), and specialized means that the care comes from leaders who are *qualified* and *accountable*. Elders/overseers/pastors/shepherds provide concentrated and skilled care for the sheep. They shouldn't be disconnected academic "experts" like PhDs. Nor should they be pragmatic "professionals" always watching the bottom line like CEOs. Yet, in a good church, those who lead and feed and guard should meet certain standards. First, overseers should be *qualified*. According to 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, pastors must demonstrate character. They must be recognized for integrity in aptly (appropriately, consistently) living what they aptly teach. They follow and model the counsel they provide. Second, overseers are *accountable*, and there are at least four levels of accountability. *Leaders are accountable to God first*. Hebrews 13:17 exhorts Christians, "obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account." Who is that account given to? They will answer to God for how they care. Acts 20:28 exhorts leaders to "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood." Does God care about His sheep that He sent His own Son to die for? How His leaders treat His people is a big deal to Him. They will give an account for how they watched over the souls of those for whom Christ died. They are also held to strict accountability as teachers (James 3:1, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness"). They will answer God for what they say and rightly dividing His Word to feed His people. *Leaders are accountable to the other elders*. The ones who are qualified should (though it does not always happen) be paying attention to one another. We have an annual process of review before one another. *Leaders are accountable to the entire church*. This is part of the reason that we invited all the men to read _Biblical Eldership_ and talked through it, chapter by chapter, for over a year so that everyone (who wanted) would know what qualifies and disqualifies an elder. Paul instructed Timothy, "Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear" (1 Timothy 5:19–20, ESV). A congregation has the obligation *not* to submit to certain types of gospel-denying pastors. Paul wrote Galatians to correct the *church* for listening to false teachers. If the flock can't get repentance or get him fired the flock should leave. *Leaders are accountable before the entire community*. One of the qualifications is that an overseer "must be well thought of outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil" (1 Timothy 3:7). *Everyone* is watching. There are benefits of, and even need for, peer care. The New Testament is full of mutual, "one another" responsibilities (i.e., love, instruct, care for, comfort, serve, encourage, stir up). In addition, the Holy Spirit convicts as a sort of self-diagnosis, or better, God in us helps us to examine our own souls and provides prescription through illuminating the Word. It's also true that no shepherd other than Jesus is perfectly knowledgeable, let alone always available, thoughtful, truthful, and tender. Shepherds may hurt the flock, even if unintentionally. However, why would you *not* want to see a doctor who was recognized as qualified to help your health? WebMD is great. But can it compare to someone who's given their life to listening and observing and studying and then helping others be healthy? And wouldn't you also prefer one who was accountable, unable to do "whatever" experimental treatment he wanted without consequence? God has given pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12). When they do their work well, they save both themselves and their hearers (1 Timothy 4:16). They are called, charged, trained, equipped, and accountable for the souls of the sheep. Why wouldn't you want to follow a qualified, accountable, willing, and eager example (cf. 1 Peter 5:2-4)? And how do you expect them to know that they are responsible for you unless you identify yourself as part of their flock? Teachers have a class roll; they know who they are supposed to teach. Additionally, because they see the students day after day, they are better able to instruct according to observed strengths and weaknesses and usually do so from growing personal affection for the students. There ought to be a way of "signing up" with local flock for the sake of receiving specialized care. # 2. Full Body Life Men were never created to be alone from the beginning (Genesis 2:18), and Christians are never saved to be alone either. Yes, Christians are saved individual by individual. No one is saved because they are a church member. However, if you are a saved person, you are a member of a bigger body. We, "though many, are one body in Christ and individually members of one another" (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:27). The spiritual reality of our interconnectedness can be ignored or disliked but it can't be undone. In the fullness of body life we are learning to reflect the eternal, joyful, intimate realities of the Trinity. In the church, we relate to others who are different than us but who are equally valuable before God. In some sense, others are *more* valuable to us because we are helped by being connected to those who are gifted differently. This is an advantage to us in three ways. First, *you are needed by others*. No matter what sort of gift or service, no matter how strong or weak, "to each has been given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:7). That's reality. The Holy Spirit is working through you in some way for *us*! "God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose" (12:18). We can't do what you can do! We need you! For example, the eye shouldn't feel "forced" to perform but rather open up to the privilege of doing its part. The eye shouldn't think it's a burden to keep the rest of the (stupid) body from running into walls. Instead, the eye should be excited every morning to open wide to help. Second, *you need others*. Just as others can't do what you can do, so you can't do what others can. You are made to be benefitted and blessed by receiving encouragement and service from others. They see when you stand, they sing when you weep, they admonish when you're idle, encourage when you're fainthearted, and help when you're weak (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:14). Third, *together, we live in shared sorrow and joy*. When we actively do our part (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:14-20, no member of the body can say he isn't needed) and when we appreciate others doing their part (12:21-24, no part of the body can say it doesn't need another part), then there is "no division in the body" and "the members have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, then all rejoice together" (12:25-26). Why wouldn't you want the privilege of diffused suffering (spreading out the intensity)? And why wouldn't you want the privilege of compounded rejoicing (multiplying the intensity). "Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment" (Proverbs 18:1). Likewise, a member of the body separates itself from its own body to its own harm. Why wouldn't you want to have your strengths fill weakness and your weakness covered by others' strength? Full body life is Trinitarian, it is *very* good, it is a privilege. "Signing up" for membership helps everyone identify who they are supposed to be serving for. # Conclusion Membership cannot, by itself, fix anything. It probably won't turn a nominal participant into a committed member. But it is an attempt, from wisdom based on biblical implications, to help disciples grow. Membership compliments a lifestyle of commitment to the church with symbol/ritual, it does not question it. The church is the most glorious GMO on the planet (Grace Modified Organism). God plants us next to each other on purpose. > Christians are like the several flowers in a garden, that have upon each of them the dew of heaven, which, being shaken with the wind, they let fall their dew at each other's roots, whereby they are jointly nourished, and become nourishers of each other. (John Bunyan, _Christian Behavior_, quoted in Brown, 173)
1: Church Building
January 26, 2014 • Sean Higgins
Matthew 16:13-20 Series: Membership #1 # Introduction We confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9). We announce that Christ the Lord was born in the city of David (Luke 2:11). We proclaim that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord of all (Acts 10:36), that through Him are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8:6). We guard our teaching so that it agrees with the sounds words of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 6:3). We trust that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). We count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord (Philippians 3:8). We wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:7). We anticipate the heavenly voices saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever" (Revelation 11:5). The church is built on this foundation (Acts 4:11-12; 1 Corinthians 3:11): Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, our Lord. Jesus told Peter just as much in Matthew 16. Jesus asked His disciples who men said He was and Peter confessed, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). Jesus replied that this was no ordinary acknowledgment. It took heaven to reveal this to Peter. Then Jesus said, "I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (verse 18). We understand that Jesus refers to Peter's confession, to Jesus' identity, not just to Peter himself. Jesus builds His church on recognition of who He is. Jesus is Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3). He is the Head of the Body, the church (Colossians 1:18). He is preeminent over everything (Colossians 1:18). He is fully God, fully man, and the only mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5). He is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15). We are His body on earth (1 Corinthians 12:12, 27; Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:18). We hold fast to Him as our Head, from whom the whole body nourished and knit together grows with a growth that is from God (Colossians 2:19). We are the sheep of His flock (John 10:15-16). We are citizens of His kingdom (Philippians 3:20), a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28). We receive His kingdom while we live in foreign territory. The King is in heaven and the He is coming again (Philippians 3:20). The King has stationed us here to work for Him, to reflect Him, and to call others to worship Him. We are people of dual citizenship. Jonathan Leeman, a pastor at Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C., compares the church to a *foreign embassy*. Local churches are outposts of the heavenly kingdom all around the world. Embassies don't make anyone a citizen, but they do recognize and affirm citizenship. They protect citizens. An embassy "declares its *home nation's* interests to the *host nation*" (27). This is similar to Jesus giving Peter the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 16:19). Keys work on doors. Doors open to let in and close to keep out. Jesus gave authority to Peter and the apostles to open the embassy doors or to close them, to affirm heavenly citizenship or not. In Matthew 18:15-19 the process of church discipline does the same thing, and the language of binding/loosing on earth and heaven is used. If a professing disciple of Christ stops behaving like Jesus is Lord, there are necessary steps to urge that citizen to behave like one (and that goes for church leaders, too, see 1 Timothy 5:19-20). If he refuses, then he is no longer affirmed. John MacArthur summarizes: > [A]ny duly constituted body of believers, acting in accord with God's word, has the authority to declare if someone is forgiven or unforgiven. The church's authority is not to determine these things, but to declare the judgment of heaven based on the principles of the word. When they make such judgments on the basis of God's word, they can be sure heaven is in accord. In other words, whatever they “bind” or “loose” on earth is already “bound” or “loosed” in heaven. When the church says the unrepentant person is bound in sin, the church is saying what God says about that person. When the church acknowledges that a repentant person has been loosed from that sin, God agrees. (MSB, Matthew 16:19) Jesus says the *church* (not just the church's leaders, though they have the first and most responsibility) has authority that represents heaven on earth. That authority exercises by affirming whether or not someone is a Christian, whether or not someone is truly a citizen of His kingdom, whether or not someone is a member of Christ's church. That leads to questions such as: What makes a meeting of people a *church*? What makes someone a *member* of a church/the church, or how does someone *become* a member? How does a church affirm, or deny, membership? What kind of "membership" are we talking about? Big "B" Body membership or little "b" body? What distinguishes the big "B" and little "b"? Why are we talking about all this now? ## Why now? At the very first family meeting of Trinity Evangel Church on Sunday night, January 9, 2011 I said, "Church membership has yet to be finalized." We had reasons for *not* working on membership at that point. We had other things to work on first. We didn't have affirmed elders, deacons, or an official statement of doctrine. We had a high percentage of *aching*, or in other cases confused, sheep. We had built-in commitment costs for many. We also had a small percentage of unfamiliar sheep. The elders--again, those who were not officially affirmed yet--didn't have much time to die for life, to invest in the trust account. Since many of the sheep were coming out from under submission-demanding shepherds, we needed *time* to lead differently, to *earn* submission. There was only as much definition as we could give week by week and our gravitational pull was not that strong. Things are different now. Some ground-level trellis has been in place for a while. We also have had real-life opportunities to consider how to unite new families into the vine. ## Different Sorts of Opportunities In terms of opportunities, there are some attenders who eagerly desire to be formally recognized and affirmed. There are other types of opportunities as well, since we have some members who eagerly desire not to be formally recognized and affirmed. I haven't lived at any other time in church history so my ability to compare is limited. But my observation and, to some extent, my experience, tells me that people don't always appreciate authority and accountability, whether that is in the home, in government, and even in the church. In our particular milieu, the religion that the citizens of Washington state most identify with is "None." While there are a variety of church goers, not many of them seem to be *committed* to local bodies. Why is that? Maybe they had a bad experience. Maybe they were treated harshly by pastors or by fellow friends. Guns don't hurt church people, church people hurt church people. Rather than subject themselves to that sort of treatment again, they keep their distance. Maybe they think that submission is inappropriate in any situation, or submission is alright as long as no one talks about it. Maybe they have a strong dislike for authority. Maybe a previous authority overextended his reach. Maybe they have a case of spiritual FOMO, afraid to commit to anything or anyone for fear that something or someone better will come along. Some view membership as legalistic, exclusive, divisive, even unbiblical. People bring all sorts of ingredients to the discussion, from ignorance, to hesitancy, to skepticism, to resistance, up to probably the worst, apathy. Many mindsets in our culture are individualistic, anti-authoritarian, or anti-exclusivism (which in the church looks like a doctrinal version of egalitarianism). People don't want to be left out but they don't want to sign up. But a discussion on church membership is, like almost everything else, an opportunity for personal care and patience with those who hate it or just have questions about it. There's no hurry. Before we go any further, this is also an important place to say *Thank you*! Many of you could not be more committed and bring joy to the entire body. Many of you have given up friendships and reputation and more to worship here. Many of you are growing, desire to grow more and love more and die more and enculturate for Christ. This is an opportunity in our local, anti-join, anti-organization context to make a statement, an opportunity to stand out by stepping in. # The Rationale for Membership We will deal with the universal constants (things that apply to all churches everywhere) before the cultural particulars (things that may be different in a given circumstance), the principles and privileges of membership before recommending a process for it. First, *all Christians are identified as part of the church (universal), Christ's Body*. That happens by (spiritual and confirmed by physical) baptism. Colossians 1:18 and 24 are two verses (among many) that reveal this identification. Christ "is the head of the body, the church" (Colossians 1:18). A few verses later Paul said "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (1:24). The "Body" of Christ is also called the "church" of Christ. He is the Head and all the members are not the head but make up various parts. "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). Every Christian is identified as a member of the church, Christ's Body. Every true believer is a citizen of this kingdom. Second, *the church is identified by local expressions of the Body*. Theologians speak about the "universal" or "invisible" church compared to local, visible churches. Every genuine believer across all nations and generations is part of the universal church. While the New Testament does occasionally reference this sense of "church," the Bible usually features local expressions as the way we see Christ's Body on the ground. Think all the geographical identifications of the Epistles: Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians. Those are *places* where the church exists. Churches are *not identified by families*, let alone individuals. That's why houses churches where every dad is a pastor are troublesome. While father's have spiritual responsibilities for their families, and while pastors may be fathers, not every father is a pastor. Paul instructed Titus to "appoint elders in *every town*" (Titus 1:5). A church is also *not identified by ministry*, meaning a church ought not be defined by any other common interest (stage of life, marital status, hobbies, entertainment preferences) than Christ. Every Christian is identified as part of the church, Christ's Body. The church is recognized in local expressions as the universal church is incarnated, in-bodied in neighborhoods. Therefore, *all Christians should be identified with a local body*. The only New Testament Christians not immediately identified with one local body were apostles. Apostles were planting local churches. Modern day evangelists and missionaries ought to be sent by a local body, or perhaps by a group of local bodies partnering together, trying to create more local bodies as they go. Professing Christians who are not identified with a local body should stop dating and get married (to a church) already (hence Josh Harris' book, [_Stop Dating the Church_]http://(http://www.amazon.com/stop-dating-church-family-lifechange/dp/1590523652/), now under the title [_Why Church Matters_]http://(http://www.amazon.com/why-church-matters-discovering-family/dp/1601423845/)). Too many seem to want the privileges of the universal body without the hassles (and there are multiple messes) of the local body. Others seem to want the privileges of the local body without the hassles (and there can be some) of membership. Here is our opportunity to consider our responsibilities and our privileges together *regardless* of if or how we format a membership database. # The References for Membership This still isn't what I want to talk about most, but I know enough to know about the objections that church "membership" isn't in the Bible. We want things to be in the Bible. Here are four observations from the New Testament for seeing membership as something normal, good, and prudent. ## First, keeping roll in Acts. The church counted "three thousand souls" in Acts 2:41 and "five thousand souls" in 4:4. In 2:47, 5:14, and 11:24 believers were added by the Lord and "to the Lord," and according to 16:5, "so the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily." I don't know what spreadsheet software they used, but they kept track of who was in and who wasn't. Numbers were counted, numbers were added, those numbers were totaled. They paid attention to who professed faith in Christ. ## Second, assigning shepherds a flock. Hebrews 13:17, though exhorting sheep to obey and submit, assumes that the sheep know who their leaders are. > Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Let's assume for a moment that everyone wants to obey *what* the passage commands. *Who* are the characters? Which **leaders** are you called to obey and submit? Any elder at any church? I think it's also fair to assume that the leaders knew what sheep they were assigned and for whom they would give an account (the same is true in Acts 20:2). This dance of leading and following requires that the partners can identify one another. Imagine leading, feeding, and protecting sheep without knowing which were yours and which weren't. To give a good account of souls, shepherds need to know the souls that they can affirm and those who are not ready to be affirmed. ## Third, taking care of widows. 1 Timothy 5:9-16 provides instructions to the (local) *church* for taking care of widows. Only a certain kind of widow is to be "enrolled" in order that the "church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows." Households and relatives bear the first responsibility (verses 3-8) and the church bears the next level of responsibility. That requires that there is an identifiable church that "enrolls" and "care(s)" for her own widows. It doesn't mean that unbelieving widows are valueless, but it does mean that those recognized as *in* the church are cared for *by* the church as of first priority. ## Fourth, disciplining members who disobey. These passages are clear and crucial: Matthew 18:15-20, especially verse 17 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, especially verses 2, 12-13. > If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17) That sounds like a particular group of people. We don't put an add in the newspaper or tweet it out to the universal church. > It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. (vv.1-2) How can you "remove from among" if you don't know the "among" to remove from are? > You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (v.5) I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with the sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler--not eve to eat with such a one. For what I have to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the even person from among you." (vv.9-13) Obedience requires knowing who the church is so we know who were are supposed to discipline (only those in the church). It also requires that the leaders know who is a part and who isn't so they know who to tell it to. In order to "tell it to the church," the church must be identifiable. In order to have someone "removed from among you" and "purge the evil person from among you," from "those inside the church," there must be a way to identify who's in and who's out. In order for the protection to work, the disciplinee should know, the other members should know, and those outside the church should know. We don't need a stack of signatures and initials like filling out mortgage loan paperwork before disciplining, but does that mean we should have nothing formal at all? # Conclusion Leeman offers this definition in his book, [_Church Membership_]http://(http://www.amazon.com/church-membership-represents-building-churches/dp/1433532379/): > Church http://membership...is a declaration of citizenship in Christ's kingdom. [It] is a formal relationship between a church and a Christian characterized by the church's affirmation and oversight of a Christian's discipleship and the Christian's submission to living out his or her discipleship in the care of the church. (64) Yes, there is freedom on *how to formalize* membership but, somehow, *membership should be recognized*. That will look different in different places. A church of 20 in a Muslim country that meets to the risk of their lives won't have the same process as a church of 200 or 2000 in a more culturally acceptant city drawing members from a 30 minute driving radius. How should *we* (all of us, not just the elders) recognize and affirm our members? How loose is too vague to be clear and meaningful? How formal is too tight to be appropriate and rewarding? How can we unite new members to the body? How can we encourage members of the body by attendance to be fully committed to their responsibilities to one another? We have a common confession: *Jesus is Lord*. We believe it. We base our lives on it. We gather to worship around it. We tell it to our neighbors. Jesus said He would build His church. He also gave the church responsibility to represent Him on earth and affirm the heavenly citizenship of her members in local outposts.