Many theological institutions and ministries spent much of 2017 commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, one of the greatest revivals in the history of the church.
But the church in our day is once again greatly in need of reformation and revival! Among other things, because of the neglect of pastoral care and church discipline, the Lord’s sheep are scattered, harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (see Mt. 9:36). This, I believe, is one big reason why the Lord is raising up churches such as Redeemer in various places.
People make solemn membership vows to God, promising to be subject to their brothers and sisters in the Lord. But often they take those vows very lightly. Again and again, members attend their church for a while. Then they disappear without ever speaking to anyone. They join other churches without ever bringing their grievances before the church they left (in direct disobedience to our Lord, Mt. 18:15ff.). Rather than seeking to resolve their grievances in a biblical way, they simply leave. Such people don’t perceive Christ as actually exercising any authority over them through the church. They don’t perceive themselves as having any “one-anothering” responsibility to their brothers and sisters in the body. They seem to have no love for their brethren or desire to bear the burdens of the body to which they’ve sworn loyalty. And what’s the result? Christians, churches, and the witness of the gospel to the world have grown weaker and weaker.
The situation has become so bad that the very idea of church membership has come to require defence. Much more can be said, but in a nutshell:
- God commands Christians to obey their leaders (Heb. 13:17).
- He also commands Christians to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2).
- These obligations mean nothing unless they are undertaken towards particular believers with particular leaders.
- To take on such obligations is, in effect, to take a membership vow.
Not only that, but also:
- The leaders of a church need to know specifically whom they are responsible to serve (Mt. 20:20–26; Acts 20:28–31). The Good Shepherd knows his sheep by name; so must his undershepherds.
- Hence, it’s not asking too much for believers to let them put their names on a list.
- Such a list is, in effect, a membership list.
Accordingly, one component of the reformation and revival of the church is shoring up this notion of living church membership – of shoring up the commitment of the leaders to shepherd the particular sheep that Christ has entrusted to them while at the same time shoring up the commitment of the members to love one another, to bear one another’s burdens, and to bear with one another in specific.
[adapted from Evangelical Reunion by John Frame]