In yesterday’s post, I attempted to lay the foundation of the doctrine of church membership, which was the introduction of my sermon this past Sunday. Today I want to publish the remainder of the manuscript, edited for blog publication, with seven commitments Christians must make to be a church.
1. Christians Must Regularly Assemble
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And 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 10:23–25).
The first commitment Christians must make to be a church is to regularly assemble. The very meaning of the word church implies assembling together—it’s an organized assembly of people. The organization comes together for the right worship of God, the right observance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and the right discipline of its members. To be a church means to gather together (cf. Acts 2:42, 46). The writer of Hebrews ties in this principle when he admonishes his readers to hold fast to their confession and not forsake the assembling of themselves. Rather, the assembly is the instrument of encouragement for the Christian.
2. Christians Must Work and Pray for the Unity of the Spirit
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to 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 maintatin the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1–3).
Secondly, to be a church, Christians must commit to work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In the context, Paul is moving from the indicatives of the gospel—what God had done in Christ—to the imperatives of the Christian life. The Christians life looks like something—a worthy walk. There a humility, a gentleness in manner. Christians of all people should be humble and gentle in their demeanor. There is a patience, a forbearing of one another. Why are these things needed? Why is this the first command that Paul gives when turning to how to live the Christian life?
One reason these things are needed is that Christians are assumed to be around each other—a lot. Paul assumes that Christians will be around each other. When he says “one another” he’s talking about Christians. And when he says to walk in a manner worthy…with one another, he assumes they will be near one another for extended periods of time.
But why do they need humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness? It’s because even though Christians are made alive together with Christ (Eph 2) and saved by grace, they still struggle with an inherent sin nature. Just as the spinning of a merry-go-round wants to send the children outward away from each other, the inertia of sin drives us away from one another. An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by another force. We must work and pray for the unity of this body because of what sin is doing to each of us. God is working in us to conform us to the image of his son, and sometimes it is very ugly. We must work and pray for the unity of the Holy Spirit in the bond of peace
3. Christians must love one another with a genuine affection and care
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35).
Friends, without love for one another in the gathering of Christians, the gospel loses its power. Christians are to display God’s glory to those around them. Is this true of us? People in our community should be able to look at you and how you treat others in this church and know that you belong to Jesus.
This genuine affection is displayed in a few ways:
- Love watches over and faithfully admonishes one another (“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” [Galatians 6:1]).
- Love is always ready to forgive any offense. “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 3:12–13).
- Love speaks for edification, not lying, deceit, slander, or gossip. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:29–31).
- Love confesses sins to one another and prays for one another. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).
4. Christians must disciple those under our care and within our sphere of influence
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4). Jesus tells his disciples and by implication all his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).
As Christians, then, we must proclaim the gospel in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and wherever else the Lord allows. And then we must seek to teach those under our care and influence everything the Lord has commanded.
5. Christians must rejoice and weep appropriately with one another
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15).
Christians should be both the happiest and saddest people on the planet. They should be ready to celebrate God’s work of grace in another’s life or the birth of a child or the offer of a job or a promotion or the sale of a home or learning of a new truth. Christians ought to rejoice at each other’s happiness.
But Christians should also be sad along with those who are experiencing the loss of a job or the loss of a home or the loss of a loved one or the challenge of hard circumstances. Christians also weep with tenderness and sympathy at each other’s burdens and sorrows.
6. Christians must please God by resisting sin and pursuing holiness
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:12–14).
As it has been said, “Be killing sin or sin be killing you.” We must actively pursue the resistance of sin and the pursuit of holiness in our lives.
7. Christians must defend and maintain a Christ-exalting ministry in the church
- Supporting and upholding authority and preaching of the Bible as expressed in the statement of faith and taught by the pastors (2 Tim 4:2)
- Supporting and upholding the right administration of the ordinances (Acts 2:38; 1 Cor 11:26)
- Supporting and maintaining the discipline of the membership (Matt 18:15–20; 1 Cor 5:9–13)
- Cheerfully and regularly contributing to the ministry, the needs of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel to the nations.
These commitments are normally written in a member covenant, and that is what I intend for our church to review. These commitments are among the fruit of repentance, they are what it looks like to be a Christian. Therefore, our church ought to make these to one another to be a church of Christ. The covenant should require a clear evidence of repentance, yet be wide enough to allow for the conscience. It should not require commitments not explicitly in the Bible.
In God’s providence, I posted a blog entitled “Why a Church Needs a Covenant.” Perhaps that will serve the reader with supplemental information to this post. In the coming Sunday nights, I will be teaching through the covenant I will be recommending to the members.