Church Membership, Biblical? Helpful? Part 3

When God created Adam and Eve, there was no question as to who was in charge. God’s kingly benevolence along with Adam and Eve’s creaturely subservience were both on clear display. Even Adam and Eve’s plummet into sin could not diminish the authority relationship between Adam, Eve, and their sovereign God. By the time biblical history reaches Noah, post-flood, God adds a name to this kind of Creator-creature authority relationship—covenant. God uses covenant to describe the relationship between himself and his people, summarizing the intricacies and mutual expectations of that relationship.

Covenant, just as a pebble rolling down a loose slope soon turns into an avalanche, rumbles through biblical history—Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel—until it crashes into the pages of the New Testament in God’s culminating covenantal work, the doing and dying of Jesus Christ. Covenant is what stands behind God’s progressive dealings with his people.

Covenant is more than ethereal well-wishes from a distant deity. As God gave his law, his people learned how to live out their covenant identity in real life practically. God expected Israel to live as his faithful covenant people to remain in and enjoy the tangible benefits of the covenant, namely: the promised land. As history moved to and beyond the cross of Jesus, the gracious conditions of God’s gracious covenant promise remain, even as the temporary and incomplete nature of Israel’s old covenant make way to the eternal and complete nature of the new covenant in Jesus. The New Testament is replete with commands to gospel obedience, to walk in step with the gospel and the Spirit, to obey the commands of Jesus with real benefits and dire consequences (i.e. Ananias, Saphira, or the Corinthian church at the table.) The vertical covenant between God and his people was established and maintained by God with the expectation that the people of God would and will shape the totality of their lives according to it.

There is also a horizontal aspect to the covenant of grace just as there is a vertical element. God makes covenants with covenant mediators on behalf of the people those mediators represent with the expectation that the same requirements will bind those people, rewards, and punishments. Specifically, as this relates to the New Testament people of God, Jesus is the church’s mediator, who, through the eternal covenant, has brought Christians to God with a collective identity as siblings, saints, co-heirs, and stewards. God’s covenant does not only change how the redeemed vertically relate to God it also changes how they horizontally relate to one another. The adopted orphan comes to God as gracious Father (vertical covenant) along with all his other siblings (horizontal covenant).

Just as the vertical dimension of the Christian’s covenant relationship with God requires tangible expressions of everyday covenantal living, so the horizontal dimension requires the same. One example of this are the pervasive one another commands scattered throughout the New Testament. Another example is the necessity of church membership. There isn’t a membership process outlined in any of the 66 books of the Bible. Paul didn’t append a membership covenant to his Philippian epistle. But there is clear and ubiquitous evidence in the New Testament that the earliest Christians lived in accountable (covenant) community with one another. Church membership is the natural and expected, tangible expression of the horizontal dimension of the covenant of grace. Many Christians pursue personal holiness (vertical covenant) with zeal while neglecting or denying the necessity for church membership (horizontal covenant). Christians cannot expect to thrive if they intentionally ignore God’s covenant blessings.

Updates

  1. Congregational Meeting - Our annual congregational meeting will be held on November 6 at 6:00 PM at Culpeper Christian School. Come and hear about where we’ve been in 2016 and where we think we’re headed in 2017.
  2. Pass this Along - If you received this post by email, did you know you can send it along to someone else who might be interested in learning more about Christ Covenant?
  3. Give - Christ Covenant is still growing toward self-sufficiency. Why not give today?