Jeremiah 20:9 reads:
But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.
What excites you? Seriously! Are you already thinking about the Super bowl? Does Gods word and the things of God burn within you as the super bowl? If not, you should pray.
Is everyone here members of a biblical church?
What do you think Church Membership is?
Why is it important?
Our goal in this class is to establish some groundwork that supports the biblical doctrine of membership.
We will BRIEFLY discuss the church it’s governmental system, it’s local and invisible expression. We will discuss church polity, i.e. offices and officers. Once we get this onboard we can discuss membership. Biblical membership is directly related to the local church. Hence, we need to understand a bit about the different distinction related to the term ‘church’ itself first.
The WCF says that outside of the church there is no hope of salvation.
“II. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.
III. Unto this catholic and visible Church, Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world; and doth by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.”
What do you think this means?
You might say, “Scott, surely there are men outside of the local expression that are indeed in Christ!” This is true, however, The elect are referred to in scripture as the ‘called out ones’. What exactly are they called out of? The world? Yes, the world. What did Jesus say? ‘My sheep hear my voice and they follow me’? Yes, they follow His voice and know when and what Christ speaks of. In that, the elect will submit to a local expression and submit to oversight. They will attach themselves locally to Christ’s bride for their well being. This is what the divines of Westminster meant when they said, outside of the (local) church, there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. The sheep submit to the hierarchical system put in place by the Lord Jesus Christ. All of the elect will attach themselves to a local church, eventually. As Jesus said, ‘the truth will set you free’. The error of independency will reconcile with truth and that man or woman will submit to membership. There is no way that God will leave an elect person without biblical oversight. This is exactly what Westminster meant when they said, “the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”
Independency is schismatic; No believer is a free floating vessel unto himself. Bannerman’s book on the church is an excellent read and I would encourage all to get a copy and read it on the subject. Look what Bannerman says of schismatics:
“A schism should not be made, nor a separation from the church be granted, merely because of some error, sacramental reason, or other cause, provided the foundation of true religion is retained and other human opinions merely added to it”
Johannes Althusius, Politica, 1603
What is the church?
Upon regeneration, one is immediately added to the invisible church. The local expression handled differently-there is an interview with leadership. You are asked questions in front of the congregation so that the church body and leadership can witness your being added based on your confession.
The NT epistles were written to churches; Some individuals. Sometimes it is directed at the invisible distinction. It is important to think about the passages as you read to see how it is being rendered.
Example: In the book of Revelation, the 7 churches are mentioned. Obviously, these were local churches. There is mentioning of removing of lamp stands. These are not physical lamp stands. They are spiritual.
The church is not a NT phenomenon; Even though you will not find the term ‘church’ in OT literature. You do see cognates of the word, i.e. congregation, synagogue, etc. Dispensationalism says that there is not an invisible church and that the NT is where the church started. In some ways, they are right. In the NT, the physical church is fully established; In the Old testament, it was of a different organization, but none the less a church.
Archibald Bruce writes:
In consequence of the laws delivered at Sinai, the church of God assumed a more regular and settled form. It was then changed from the patriarchal state to a national establishment. The whole people were taken into a peculiar religious covenant, and became “a kingdom of priests” to the Lord. The many ceremonies and external services then added, served to preserve them a distinct people, and chiefly respected their public national worship. A regular priesthood was selected, and divinely ordained, not indiscriminately out of any nation or tribe, but one whole tribe of Israel was consecrated instead of the first-born, to act “in things pertaining to God,” not for a single house, city, or tribe, but in name of the whole people incorporated into one.
Whenever Gods people gather as a organization, it is considered the local church.
Eklessia. This is a Greek words meaning, The “called out ones”.
The church was established in Genesis 3 along with the protoevangelion, i.e. the gospel. With the proclamation of the gospel, comes the resultant church. It is much less formal and established here, but none the less there.
The literal expression, one that you can actually touch, was out of the Pentecost movement, as depicted in the Book of Acts.
Ch 14 of the WCF states:
III. Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly, holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the New Testament.
Belgic Confession, article 27:
“This church has existed from the beginning of the world and will be to the end, for Christ is an eternal King who cannot be without subjects.”
When Christ instituted the church, He set up church officers and laws for the running of that church using a government hierarchy.
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,
1st Presbyterian of Coral Springs is a local church; it is a local expression of Christ’s church. If there is no local expression, membership would be futile as the elect are members universally where Christ is the head. However, how would we receive the sacraments, tithe, etc? Christ commands that we baptize and have the supper-it lends credence to a local setting.
Are you receiving the sacrament without having official oversight? “What do you mean, Scott, when you say official oversight?” Are you a member of a local church with elders looking out for your soul? “Do I need that?” The scriptures say so:
Heb. 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
If you are taking the sacrament without this oversight, you are in error. Is it sinful? Possibly.
It is important when reading scripture to discern between the 2 expressions. They are not synonymous.
When the New Testament discusses the visible church it usually refers to a visible assembly of saints who have been called out of the world by the gospel, who profess belief in Christ, and who meet and work together as a body
1 Cor 12:12 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. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.
Acts 8 And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
Acts 9:31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, git multiplied.
Acts 13:1 1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, oBarnabas, Simeon who was called Niger,1 Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
Eph 5:22 22 zWives, submit to your own husbands, bas to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as dChrist is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit fin everything to their husbands.
Remember, the local church is made up of believers and unbelievers. Membership does not make you elect.
See handout and read:
“nulla salus extra ecclesiam”; outside of the church there is no salvation
What do you think this means?
R. C. Sproul writes:
“The visible church may be distressingly and sorely fractured and fragmented into all different kinds of denominations and groups, but the invisible church is the true body of Christ. Everyone who is in Christ, and in whom Christ dwells, is a member of this one universal church.”
Examples of the universal church:
Eph 5:23 “Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body…. Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it”
2 Tim 2:19 Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”
2 Tim 2:20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor.
The invisible church is:
J. Gerstner writes:
1. Infallible (it knows its Master’s voice and will not follow a stranger, John 10:5).
2. Indestructible (nothing shall separate it from “the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus,” Rom. 8:39; no one shall take it out of His hand, John 10:28).
3. Indivisible (“that they may be one, as we are,” John 17:11; “I am the vine, ye are the branches,” John 15:5).
4. Invincible (“the gates [defensive weapons] of **** shall not prevail [or stand] against it,” Matt. 16: 18; “the meek shall inherit the earth,” Ps. 37:11).
5. Universal (“out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation,” Rev. 5:9; “the field is the world,” Matt. 13:38; “God so loved the world,” John 3:16).
Heb 13:7 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
1 Tim. 5 speaks of a recorded list of widows
1 Cor 12:25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. 26And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
Acts 14:23 So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Membership is important for oversight; Christ has ordained men to watch over our souls. This happens locally. It cannot be replaced universally. Christ builds His church on Earth. You cannot stay at home and watch church-that doesn’t work.
Acts 14 25 Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.
27 Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
In the book of Acts people who believed in Jesus were added to the church. “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them…. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Ac. 2:41, 47).
Does this mean that such people were added to the invisible church and went about life as before, except now with a private commitment to Jesus? No. They became part of the Jerusalem church and submitted themselves to the apostles.
Membership is imperative because the church is called to discipline it’s people
Without membership, church authority is mocked. An ecclesiastical function that presupposes church membership is church discipline. Can a person be cast out of an organization without first joining and being a part of that group? Of course not. A person who is not a member of a church cannot be disciplined by that church.
Think about excommunication. Is everyone familiar with the term?
Excommunicated implies that a person is communicated to something. To be excommunicated is to have that communication removed. One cannot be excommunicated from a thing they have no relationship with. Example: No membership churches.
You see how this mocks Christ and His command to watch over, to discipline if need be, to guide. What does the scriptures say about rearing our children? Spare the rod, ruin the child? No discipline in the church and it fails to be a church.
So, membership is important on a number of fronts:
1) To communicate yourself locally as Christ commands
2) To biblically submit to Gods ordained overseers.
3) To partake of the Lords supper-you have to be a member
4) It gives biblical structure to your life. Christ speaks often of the body of Christ-this language has a dual meaning- it literally means Christ’s physical body sometimes and other times, it refers to the extension of it, i.e. the church.
The Bible teaches us that the Church is a local, visible, independent Body of believers.
· The Church at Corinth – 1Corinthians 1:1-2.
· The churches of Galatia – Galatians 1:2
· The saints at Ephesus – Ephesians 1:1
· The saints at Philippi – Philippians 1:2
· The saints at Colosse – Colossians 1:2
· The Church of the Thessalonians – 1Thessalonians 1:1
· The Church at Antioch – Acts 13:1
· The churches of Macedonia 2Corinthians 8:1
· The Church of Ephesus – Rev. 2:1
· The Church in Smyrna – Rev. 2:8
· The Church in Pergamos – Rev. 2:12
· The Church in Thyatira – Rev. 2:18
· The Church in Sardis – Rev. 3:1
· The Church in Philadelphia – Rev. 3:7
· The Church of the Laodiceans – Rev. 3:14
- Membership, Schism and the right time to leave a local church.
Who in this class loves their church? Well, give us some time and you will see that in any relationship, you will have challenges. No relationship is perfect and the church is a family; families have problems. You get enough people together in one spot and you’re bound to have an issue from time to time. This is realistic. To disregard this fact is illogical and will cause a crash.
At the front of the doctrine of the church is the fact that Christ is head; it is His bride. When we consider these things, it should cause us to understand that when we look on the local institution it cannot be seen through eyes of flesh; we need to understand the spiritual gravity of what we look upon. We do not look upon the Holy as we look upon earthly institutions. The White house is not equal to God’s Church. Neither are The Colossus of Rhodes, The Great Pyramid of Giza, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, The Lighthouse of Alexandria, The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, The Statue of Zeus at Olympia, or The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Christ’s church is more glorious as it houses the elect of God and in it, God speaks to His people. Nowhere else can this be said to occur as when God speaks, He speaks through the minister. Look what Titus says:
1:3 but has in due time manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior;
Gathered together under one roof are His sheep; the shepherd at the helm, staff in hand. Ruling and reigning. Prophet, Priest and King. When we take membership vows it is not to the local church we are vowing, but to God.
5. A vow is of the like nature with a promissory oath, and ought to be made with the like religious care, and to be performed with the like faithfulness.
6. It is not to be made to any creature, but to God alone: and that it may be accepted, it is to be made voluntarily, out of faith and conscience of duty, in way of thankfulness for mercy received, or for obtaining of what we want; whereby we more strictly bind ourselves to necessary duties, or to other things, so far and so long as they may fitly conduce thereunto.
Luke 12:8 “Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. 9 But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.
Rom 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
1Tim.6:13 “I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession;”
From the PCA Book of Church Order: Chapter 57:
(All of) you being here present to make a public profession of faith, are to assent to the following declarations and promises, by which you enter into a solemn covenant with God and His Church.
1. Do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?
2. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?
3. Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ
4. Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?
5. Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?
Hebrews 13.7; Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
Hebrews 13.17; Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
Eccl 5:4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed— 5 Better not to vow than to vow and not pay. 6 Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands? 7 For in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity. But fear God.
Matt. 5:33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your “Yes’ be “Yes,’ and your “No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
You get the point, I am sure; I discuss in this paper later on, our vow to our local church is akin to our marriage vows. Sure, we may not stay here in this local assembly, but we will remain, if true believers, to God’s local representation here on Earth for our duration while alive. All local churches are related in degree. We hold to the same confession. The PCA is a large group. We have unity. We love each other even though we don’t know each other personally; we pray for our missionaries-most of them, we have never met or broken bread with. What was Christ’s prayer? That we would be one? Yes. In light of that, one cannot remove the personality out of each local expression and hence, here is where the problem lies. Since people are different, the representations of each local congregation will be possessed by characteristics of the leaders guiding. For instance, Pastor Rick and Pastor Drew are not the same men; their personalities came out in their styles of preaching. This style became a representation of First Presbyterian. Our session is the backbone of that representation. Just because Pastor Drew has a conviction does not mean he can work that into the representation by default; it must be passed through the session. Truth is verified through God’s people.
If you give any church enough time, because of our sinful natures you will eventually get displeased with something going on here. Christ’s bride is a spiritual institution lead by imperfect people; Even though we have God’s word to guide us into all truth, interpretations vary; this is not to imply that no one is on the same page with the main tenets of the faith-we are! Some of the secondary items that are worked out in real time, differ based on culture etc. For example, polity. What if we changed to a Psalm singing only church; how would that affect you? Would you leave? Do you think that is a good reason to leave? What if the session decided that the evening service is not voluntary, but compulsory. Would that be reason enough to leave. What if we changed to having the Lord’s supper only once a year?
In this age of church hopping, I believe it is vitally important to discuss what we have actually in front of us when we covenant with our local church.
‘I don’t like the worship here any longer’.
‘Our worship service goes on and on’.
‘Why can’t we have visual aids’ or ‘We should never use visual aids!’
‘Church ABC had their pastor come in on a zip-line the other day-what can’t drew do that?”
‘I can’t make any real friends.’
‘There are no outreaches that I can serve in’.
‘We don’t have contemporary worship services-I like contemporary music’.
‘I believe we should have the supper, weekly’.
‘The pastor does not speak to me’.
“Why doesn’t the church use the King James Version bible?’
‘The church is too_____ for me’.
‘I am not getting fed’.
‘I hold to a strict understanding of the regulative principle of Worship-this church is breaking it!’
‘There’s a ______ in the church who I don’t like-I’m leaving as it is easier to leave then correct this relationship!’
We could go on. No church is perfect. In fact, if you look at our dear confession it states that there are no perfect churches:
Chapter 25 of the WCF states:
IV. This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less, visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.
V. The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error: and some have so degenerated as to become apparently no Churches of Christ. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth, to worship God according to his will.
‘are more or less pure…..as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered and public worship performed’. The purity of the church is established according to the level of wisdom God gives His people. A church in the jungles of the Amazon may be less pure than First Presbyterian church, none the less, a true church as long as the 3 marks are present. Notice the next section tells us, ‘The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error….some have even degenerated to synagogues of satan’. In other words, even the best churches, the most pure have mixture and error; some have had their candle stands removed by Christ for their liberal offenses.
This brings us to a place where we might ask, how can we tell that we are in a God honoring congregation? How do we know we should stay here? Should I look for a better church, one that is more faithful than ours, after all, God doesn’t want us advocating, endorsing or indulging sin, right?
As previously mentioned, the 7 churches in the book of revelation remained true churches even in light of their offenses; some of them serious.
Sardis: ‘I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.’
Laodicea: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot.”
Ephesus: ‘….you have left your first love.’
Pergamos: “But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. “
Thyatira: “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. 21 And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. 22 Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. 23 I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.”
Smyrna and Philadelphia passed the test; at least up to this point. No charges against them.
In light of all the above, these churches remained churches. Christ warns of removing their lampstands:
Rev 2:1 ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:
Rev. 2:5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.
Removal of lampstands is akin to removing the blessing of being considered a true church. You can see here that Christ still considered these churches faithful. Do we see anyone in scripture leaving a church for another congregation outside of being sent ministerially? None. The level of covenant commitment is obvious.
What about the church of Corinth? What kind of issues plagued them?
1) There were divisions, personality cults, and cliques.
2) Carnality outweighed spirituality.
3) Sexual perversion, fornication, incest, and adultery were commonly practiced and accepted.
4) Pride, worldliness, and materialism reigned within.
5) Church members were taking one another to court.
6) There was rebellion against apostolic authority.
7) There was a failure to discipline members had fallen into sin.
8) Marital conflict and mis- understanding concerning those who were single were evident.
9) There were abuses of liberty.
10) There were abuses of God’s intended roles for husbands and wives.
11) They were failing to properly observe the Lord’s Supper.
12) It is not hard to understand how there could also be serious perversion of the spiritual gifts.
13) There were also heresies concerning the resurrection.
~The above notes taken from here
If you look at the level of problems the church of Corinth had, in light of our age, they were much worse of than most of our churches, yet, they remained a church; Paul did not abandon them nor cut them off. Look how Paul addresses them:
1Cor. 1:1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,
1Cor. 1:2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:
1Cor. 1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1Cor. 1:4 I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, 5 that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, 7 so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Again, from the WCF:
II. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.
It’s important to make the distinction between leaving a church that you believe is sinning, which strikes your conscience, and not attending a church at all. Leaving a church for another ‘purer’ church, sure. Leaving a true church, one that has the 3 marks that make it a true church for no church is problematic. Even in light of your conscience, to just quit going to church because you feel there are no other churches that align with your beliefs is not an excuse; Unless there are no true churches in your location, just leaving to quit attending altogether is heretical. We know the WCF says that there are ‘less than pure’ churches out there-ones that have not denigrated to even ‘synagogues of satan’ yet. We have the example in the book of revelation in relation to churches with major problems, yet, they remains true churches with lampstands. This must be considered in light of considering leaving your local assembly, especially if you have nowhere else to receive the means of grace.
IV. This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less, visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.
The following passage in the book of Revelation, telling God’s people to ‘come out from her’, i.e. a church that has had it’s lampstand removed for it’s error are anathematized; It cannot be considered in light of the 7 churches in Revelation that remain true churches nor the erring church in Corinth. Nowehere in the scriptures do we see people leaving their local congregations due to sin-nowhere do we see exhortations to abandon churches for sin.
Rev. 18:1 After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory. 2 And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! 3 For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.”
Rev. 18:4 And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. 5 For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. 6 Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her. 7 In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; for she says in her heart, “I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.’ 8 Therefore her plagues will come in one day—death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her.
Rev. 18:9 “The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, 10 standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, “Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’
How fast are we to pack our bags when we see our church falling short. The above should be a rebuke!
I know many people who have quit attending church based on the idea that there are no pure churches left-even though the confession tells us so and Christ promises that even the gates of hell will not prevail in rgerads to His bride; These people have various complaints. One must consider one’s conscience in this regard; If I felt that the Regulative principle was being broken, I could have a serious issue here. I could find a church that is purer in this, but I can promise you one thing, there will be something else I will find over there. I have never been in a church where I could not find a problem. It is important that we understand that no church is perfect-however, we should pursue perfection in light of Christ. As I have mentioned often, there is only one truth and it is our job to find out what that is as Christ has called us to worship is spirit and truth. To leave church because you cannot bear the burden like the apostle Paul bore is prideful and irrational; how is one to receive the sacrament of one is not in church? You are absent form the means of grace to your own ruin. Your independency has driven you right into a corner and to your eventual demise; you recall that the WCF says that ‘outside of the church, there is no hope for salvation’. This is the local church, that is spoken of.
The pastor and elders have a great responsibility; at the heavenly level, they will be judged at a higher level than you or I.
James 3:1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”
The pastor is but a man; flesh and blood and surely not perfect; leaving a church after you have covenanted with it because you have an issue with the pastor is suspect on many levels; Did God lead you here? I am sure you thought long and hard about membership before submitting. Since we are presbyterian, all of us are subject to oversight. No decision is made independently of the church and or session. If one has an issue with the pastor, it should be brought to the elders. If it is personal, i.e. I don’t like his accent, you need to repent. If it is theological, again, that needs to be addressed with your overseeing elder and then if it is a valid concern, it will go to the session and then the pastor will have an opportunity to address the issue.
Well, you may ask, “Scott, surely there are valid reasons to leave a church, no?” Yes there are. However, most people in this age do not go the correct route.
The first reason one leaves a church is always for another orthodox institution. Sometimes people have to move to another location. One should never leave an orthodox church for a lesser church. How would one determine if the church they are choosing to move to is valid? The 3 marks that make the church a true church must be there. Your pastor and elders should be able to assist in making the right choice. Another reason often used is for another church in the same town. As long as you are a member in good standing, i.e. not under discipline, you are free to leave; the pastors of both churches should communicate in this exchange; letters of transfer should go out. One question to ask is should you have committed to membership to begin with? Would God have lead you in a wrong decision? Have you prayed and studied about this change of heart?
Sometimes, the church you are in doesn’t have the ministerial scope of what God has grown you into over the years. For instance, you are inclined to attend a jail ministry and your church doesn’t have such an outreach. First church south, does. Do you switch? Have you asked an elder if we could consider starting one? Have you given the elders and session ample time to pray about it? Witnessing ministries? Abortion ministry. Hurting divorcees. There are plenty of things we are not doing here-we can’t do everything. God has gifted First Presbyterian in specific ways; we have gifts and we execute on those gifts as God leads.
You should never leave a church based on emotion. For instance, as mentioned, you are having a problem with a person in the church. You are angered over our lack of ministries. You are upset that the pastor does not preach more often on doctrine. There is no altar call. We don’t sing Stephen Curtis Chapman songs; You dislike singing Hymns. You prefer Vineyard music. Someone mentioned the tithe. We are selling our old building. We always talk about money.
A friend of mine mentioned that back in the day when the PCA was still PCUS, he had a impromptu conversation with Jonathan Gerstner; He asked Gerstner, ‘Should we leave the PCUS?’ Gerstner’s reply was scathing: “haha you’d leave your own mother if she was dying of cancer”. Gerstner understood submission and vows.
It is right to leave a church when heresy is present; for example, the gospel is being presented in a erred way, i.e. Arminianism. You understand that the god of Arminianism is not the God of the scriptures. Arminianism is heresy as defined by Dordt some 400 years ago; So much is couched in this doctrine and in that, you are right in leaving. The distinction between sin and apostasy must be considered. Sin is not a reason to leave; we are all sinners. You’ll ruin a church when you arrive if you are running on this pretense. Apostasy means that the Gospel is gone. Examples of apostasy might be, homosexual leadership, female pastors, redefinition of the Gospel, etc.
The other issue that must be considered is Presbyterian polity; no person functions independently of another-to think that way is baptistic. Everyone is accountable to someone else. Example: Was the session approached? Should issues of this nature go to Presbytery and even GA? Yes, they should! You might say, “Scott, what if the session is ignorant or they are ilicit-what then is one to do?” Well, I have to trust in the session. Wasn’t it God who placed that session where they serve? Could they be wrong? Yes, they could. Does God make mistakes? Never! Won’t the Holy Spirit lead us into all truth? You need to sit tight and pray. Submit. Remember, our polity and your level of faith is only evidenced in your understanding of polity. Will we only submit in things we agree with? What kind of faith is that? I would rather leave the faith, one that is so weak that I cannot trust in Christ who actually heads it up, for atheism. Thats how our polity functions. if one is to disregard this polity, it is flat out schismatic and sinful. Any lawful reason to separate would be supported and endorsed by leadership; if the session rejects it, there are avenues available to the layperson to move forward without actually sinning; it would behoove all of us to stand fast as to disregard this idea is no better than independency.
How is church membership like a marriage? Well, the church is the bride and Christ the bridegroom. The church local is as much the bride as the church universal. Each member is as important as the other and all play a part in the marriage. When one takes a vow to attach themselves to a particular church, much like when they take vows to their spouse, it is not meant to be temporary. Membership should be considered binding. People today just leave as the wind blows: ‘The worship is better down the street’. “I like their mission mentality over there!” “They don’t hold to a tithe!” “Their preacher moves me more than my pastor”. “I will have more opportunities at First Church West”. Let me give you a clue; It’s not all about you! God has ordained and decreed where you sit. If you are a believer and are not in sin, good chance that you are within God’s perfect will. Submit, dig in, pray hard and wait on the Lord. Abandoning your vows to your local church by leaving for the silly reason you did is ridiculous. Well, you may say, “Scott, are you saying that members should never leave their local bodies?” Of course not. We send missionaries. These things are acceptable. However, leaving your local church for a church down the street, imo, is weak at best. ‘What if the church I attend is too far for me to travel and I find one closer to my home-Can’t I transfer my membership?” Yes you can. Do it correctly though. Meet with your pastor and explain the issue; He will call the receiving church’s pastor and chat with him; recommend you; give you a letter of reference and transfer. Does this actually happen? No, and thats the breakdown. The bride is a bit schizophrenic due to it’s members being poorly taught. Which brings us to the issue of discipleship here in America, if you can call it that.
Leaving churches nowadays is the norm; Most times it is because the member is displeased and whining. Many people in this age refuse to buckle in for the ride. They refuse to suffer under restrictions, oversight and biblical submission. They bail out when the going gets tough. You don’t see this ever in scripture! This is obviously based upon the illicit understanding of what membership actually means. All of us who have left churches are aware of the destructive paths we have left-all the damaged relationships. Is this not akin to a divorce?
As I said earlier, most people don’t get this. Whose fault is that? The leadership, for not teaching the doctrine properly. What is the effect from failing to teach the doctrine of membership properly? A bunch of non committing, non submitting, schizophrenic club attenders, not biblical church members.
Finally, Marriage is a covenant. In the same way, when we take membership vows, we are covenanting with the local body; we are saying to God, ‘for better or for worse’. Do we believe this? No.
Ecclesiastes 5:4 When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. 5 Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.
Job 22:27 Thou shalt make thy prayer unto him, and he shall hear thee, and thou shalt pay thy vows.
Psalm 61:5 For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name..
James Woods writes:
“Yet this we affirm, that albeit there be in Churches, corruptions, not only in the conversations [walks] of many persons, but also in some things in the Worship and Ordinances, yet if they be not such corruptions as evert and destroy the foundation and substance of Religion: But there is therein, the substance of the Gospel orthodoxly preached, the Sacraments for their substantials agreeable to their institution, the way to be kept is, purge out the old leaven. And there is neither in Old nor in New Testament, warrant for separating from, or pulling down and rooting up such Churches.”
Woods is saying that most decisions are not biblically warranted-in most cases, it comes down to an issue of convenience only. You might wonder, why is it that just a person or two leaves? If there is great error, why is it that the church by an large are not heading for the door? Don’t we hold to the idea that ‘in the counsel of many, there is safety’? Doesn’t God use His people to confirm truth?
Most people leave a church and haven’t sweated over the decision. I’ve left a few churches in my walk; One was Arminian-that was justified. Another was credo-I had a large change in theology-that was justified-however, in the initial stages, my oversight asked that I sweat over the issue, meet with them to pray and discuss and I rejected that idea. That was sinful on my part. They were an orthodox congregation and I did not understand polity at the time like I do now. I should have gladly invested the time with men who loved me dearly, even to this day. I repented of this to my old pastor just the other day.
Before I close this paper, I would like to address what vows are not; Since we are speaking of vows made to God and our churches, it must be acknowledged that any vow we take be based upon God’s word alone and according to the biblical doctrine of the church. In that, all vows must have a direct relationship to scripture. It cannot be pressed upon the members conscience to hold to any vows that are not within the realms of the bible. There has to be limitations; for example, can a member, based on their vows to the local church be held accountable to non compulsory things. Example, the church is meeting on Saturday for a yard sale. Wednesday nights for bible study. Church picnics. Cleaning of the church facilities. Sunday School. Help someone move. All of the mentioned items are not compulsory as the bible does not show them to be compulsory. Our vows to God and church have a direct relationship to worship. We are obligated to attend worship on the Lord’s day; the prayer meeting on the Lord’s day. If the church meets twice a day on the Lord’s day, there is an official call to worship and all members are obligated to attend. One might say, ‘Scott, aren’t these other things beneficial to the body? Yes, many of them are. However, we cannot bind the conscience of any member where the scriptures do not. Sunday school is beneficial-no one would argue with that and if the members are able, they should attend as God leads. But that is the extent of the responsibility in regard to their vows.
I am attempting to help you understand the biblical scope of membership and how you should interpret it in light of God’s word. Much prayer and sweat should be spent on the decision; You have made a grand decision attaching yourself to this church. It is not like joining a gym or a chess club. If you believe in God, you must think spiritually about this item. The flesh is deceitful. The mind of men is sinful. We must always put on the mind of Christ, surely in things that are spiritual. Pray hard. Seek counsel from the elders. Remember, if you ask enough people, those outside of your church family, you will eventually find the answer you are seeking. You demand a King and God will surely give you one.
I pray this paper helps you understand this important doctrine.