Session Two | Life Together in Covenant Church Membership
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:11–22, ESV)
We are going to come back to that, but quick a quick recap of last night. We introduced the theme to the retreat this weekend which is life together. We are considering what it means as Christians, hopefully on a very practical level, to do life together. What does that look like? Last night I outlined that the nature of the Christian life is that it is a covenant relationship. We no longer view our relationship to God and we no longer view our relationships to each other in a way like a contract. We view them as a covenant. What we mean by that is that we enter into a relationship where we take on obligations to one another. We see this most clearly in the New Covenant where God has made a covenant his his Son. All the covenants God made throughout history, all the humans failed and they were not steadfast and faithful in their love, so we needed someone else to come and mediate a covenant. Jesus came and did that. By putting out faith in Jesus we actually enter into what is the New Covenant. A New Covenant with God that is an eternal covenant and a relationship where he has nothing but faithfulness and loyalty and love towards us. The reason we can sing the song behind us with confidence “I will never leave you” “He is always with us”, why can we say that? Why can Jesus say that before he ascends to Heaven “Behold, I am with you always” even to the end of the age. Because for the people of God before, there were times where they were sent away. There were times because of their sin and rebellion, that God in a sense departed from them. So how can we know for sure that God will never leave us or forsake us and will always be with us, and is nothing but for us? We can know because of the New Covenant that has been made. We are in Jesus Christ. He is the perfect, obedient Son. He is the righteous one. He lives out the covenant relationship perfectly. He did fulfilling on the cross, perfect obedience so that those of us now, who are not perfectly obedient can have all of those promises as if we were. The second benefit that Jeremiah prophesied is that “I am going to write my law on your heart and give you my Spirit”. So we are not the save as the people in the Old Covenant, we have actually been transformed. We are imperfect and still sinful but there is a difference in our life now by the work of Jesus and the gift of his Spirit so that we can for the first time exercise loyal love towards God and love towards others. Even if it is imperfect, it is real.
We are going to look at this morning what it means for us to live out this life of relationship with God and each other. Specifically how that looks in the local church. We are going to talk this morning about Church membership. My big idea today is that Church membership is a covenant relationship between Christians where we enter a formal agreement and we take on obligations and responsibilities to love each other in a steadfast, faithful, loyal way. I want to propose from the Scriptures is that the only way to live out the Christian life, a life of covenant faithfulness to God and other Christians is in a local body. It does not mean that all the way we love is done in the context of the local church but what I mean to say is that you can not live the Christian life faithfully and not be a member of the local Church.
I don’t mean you just sign a paper. I don’t mean you join a club. I mean you commit yourself to a group of people and you exercise steadfast love and faithfulness to one another.
People tend to see Church membership in one of two ways. One way is people tend to see membership to a club, kind of like a volunteer thing. It’s not a mandatory thing but if you like this “club” and your interests are aligned to a degree, something you can signup for. It is not a necessary thing, it’s just a good thing, a helpful thing. Not many people would say its a really bad idea. But there are others who see Church membership as an invasion of autonomy like a cult. “Why do I need to become a member, I’m a member of the body of Christ. I am part of the Universal Church. Why do I need to join a Church? We are all one in Christ. I like to go to multiple churches and fellowship wherever because I actually believe in the unity of the body.” Maybe through bad experiences, which are very real, through a misunderstanding of what Church membership is, malpractice in the Church, when they hear “Church membership” they think of a cult. They think it’s just some power grab of some leaders who control people and get them to do their will.
But Church membership really is like a family relationship. When I say it’s a covenant relationship, I want you too see Church membership more like a family. Your obligations should be more like a family obligation.
The verse in Ephesians that we read says the point of your life is that you were not part of God’s covenant, he didn’t have an agreement with you to enter into a relationship with you. It says “You were without hope in this world.” There was no hope of you knowing God in this life whatsoever. Why? Because you were “strangers to the promises”. God did not say that he was going to do this for you. But then we came into a relationship with God. How? It says, “Through the blood of Jesus Christ”. We came into God’s covenant family through Jesus Christ and its says, “Now in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” So what the Church is now is a group of people who are being built into a place, a temple where God’s Spirit dwells. He says, that “We are members of the household”. A lot of people look at this verse and rightly say that he is talking about all Christians, he is not talking to the Gathering. He is speaking to all Christians. All Christians everywhere are being built into the temple of God. All Christians everywhere have been brought near by the blood of Jesus. All Christians everywhere are part of the citizenship of Heaven. “So whats all this talk about the local Church? Sounds like a very decisive, narrow-minded, disunity thing?”. That is somewhat of an understandable sentiment. Where does the Bible even say this? This is what I want to go through this morning.
My thesis is that everything we are suppose to do as the household of God, as the family of God, as the temple of God, can only happen not as we spread ourselves out and have vague relationships everywhere, but as we come together in concrete, covenant relationships together as the local Church.
Local Church membership in Scripture is not explicitly stated as such, but assumed everywhere. In other words, Jesus and the Apostles had no concept of the Christian life lived outside of formal church membership, where we covenant with one another, formally and with faithful hearts. 1 Cor 5:1-13,
“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…”
So Paul is writing to the Church and saying that there is such a gross sin here and that some guy is actually sleeping with his Fathers wife. It’s such a perverted thing that even the non-christians think its perverted.
“..And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?…”
The problem with these people is not just that this is happening but they are not even upset about it. They are not doing anything about it. They are not even showing the world that this is not what it means to follow Jesus.
“…Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 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…”
Paul is saying that they are to cast this man out, but when are they to do it? Are you to knock on his door and go to his house in a couple of weeks? Does one person have the authority to kick him out of the Church? Do two people have the authority? What does he say? “When you are assembled”. When the whole church comes together, there is an authority here. At the Gathering, we do not believe that Elders, or anyone in the Church has the authority of the Church in and of themselves alone. The ultimate authority of the Church, below Jesus Christ and the Word of God is in the members of the Church. The authority that is given to leaders is a delegated authority, it’s a relationship of submission and respect but it does not mean that we are the ultimate authority. It is a delegated authority. We see that implied here. Every church member has a responsibility to their brother and sister. In this case, to not tolerate gross sin in their midst. This is what I mean by covenant relationship. Just because someone doesn't not believe in church membership, this doesn't mean they don’t have the responsibility. If I were to get up one day and decide that I don't think that I should raise my daughters, would it change the fact that I still have that responsibility? No. It would just mean that I am failing at it. If I choose to leave my wife and kids, does it mean that I don’t have that responsibility? No it doesn’t. It means that there is just an empty seat at the table. It means that the responsibility is not being fulfilled. Every Christian has responsibility to one another and this happens in the context of the Church.
“…Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with 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…"
There is an important diasctintion that he is making. There is a distinction between those who are in the world and those who are part of Christ’s body. He is saying not to have anything to do with people who are sexually immoral but I don’t mean people who are not Christians because if I said that you would just have to leave the world because everyone is sexually immoral. All of us are sinners and people who do not know Jesus, don’t know any better and they are totally lost. If he were to say have nothing to do with sinful people then there would be no gospel because we would never have been found. Jesus came for the unrighteous not the righteous, for the sick and not the healthy. What he is saying is in your group, among you, you need to care about holiness. You need to care about representing Jesus. But notice there is a distinction: those that are inside and those that are outside of the church. And you need to have that because on one hand you need to care about the purity of the church and on the other hand you need to not be afraid to hang out with sinners. A church that is not clear on “inside” and “outside”, and church membership, and covenant relationships, will tend to either totally lock up and say no one and nothing comes in, or totally abandon people around them. So if we understand my relationship to you as a Christian, my responsibility to you is different then my responsibility to my lost neighbour, that changes everything. The nature of our relationship really matters. He is saying there is an inside and an outside.
“...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 even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”” (1 Corinthians 5:1–13, ESV)
How many times have you heard someone say that it is wrong to judge people? That is both true and false. It depends who and it depends how. This is why we need to understand our relationships. We need to understand what my responsibility is to these people. He says you are not to judge those outside. What this means on the ground is the church’s role is not to go around and tell everyone only that they are lost and sinful , that’s not what Jesus came to do. He did tell us that but he also extended grace, he extended the good news to us.
He says God judges those outside the church but what did he say about those inside? That we are to judge one another. He says elsewhere, maybe in the same letter, when Christians are fighting with one another and they have a lawsuit going on, they are going to take it before the court, he says wow wow wow, what are you doing? You can’t even settle a lawsuit among yourselves? How are you going to judge the world? The world. You can’t even understand how to sort out justice and righteousness in your relationships together but the role of the church as we read in the New Testament is to be judge of the world with Christ. You can’t even handle a lawsuit. The church is to be a very judgemental place, do you have a category for that? Not judgemental as mean, not judgemental as punitive, not judgemental as I will punish you and condemn you, not in that sense. But we are to judge rightly within the church in a way that we are not to judge those outside the church. He is making a distinction.
I want to draw out several things:
1. Churches have an ‘inside’ and an ‘outside’ (1 Cor 5:12). There is a difference between who inside the church and who is outside. We are responsible to know who that is. If it is wrong for us to judge those outside, if it is wrong for us to withhold fellowship from someone in sexual sin who is outside the church, yet it is wrong for us to have fellowship with people in sexual sin who are inside the church, then we need to know who those people are. And not knowing who those people are does not get us off the hook.
2. Church members are expected to know who does and who does not belong to the church (1 Cor 5:9-12).
3. Christians are under the authority of the church, such that if they persist in unrepentant sin, they are to be excluded from it (1 Cor 5:4-5, 13, Matt 18). Christians are under the authority of the church. This is the reason why most Christians, including me, all resist church membership. We resist the covenant relationship on the ground. We like the idea in the clouds but when it comes to submitting ourselves, making agreement to a relationship that comes with obligations, what that means is that you have to live up to it. Here we see the Christian is under the authority of the whole church, so we believe that in our church. We all believe, Me, Rylan, Chance, and all of you, that we have the exact same responsibilities to the whole group, to the whole church. If I was to fall into this category, it would be brought before the church and you guys would exercise church discipline. I am responsible to you and you are responsible to me. This is really hard.
We are about five years old. By far, the hardest part about being a family is having family members leave and having family members fight and having family members sin. It is really easy to function as a church on a very surface level and most Christians do this and we are not above it. Why is that easier? Because you don’t have to deal with the pain of it. If we have a responsibility to one another, do you know how hard that is? It is a lot easier if I just preach at you every week and we have some good music playing and we kind of just stay on this level and we don’t ever go beneath the surface, because it means we never have to deal with it. It means that I will never have to say I have to get involved now, not to condemn you, not to punish you but because you are my brother, you’re my sister. When it comes down to it, we don’t love each other that way. We are fundamentally selfish in our flesh. We don’t want other people in our lives and if we are honest, we don’t want to be in other people’s lives. It is such a hard thing when someone is in sin and you love them and care about them and you go to them because someone who is in sin almost always thinks you are the bad guy for doing it. You’re being controlling, you’re being abusive, you’re being over the top, I don’t need you, I don’t want you. Just because it says this is what we have to do and how we are to relate to one another, doesn’t mean it is easy. It’s very hard. I think if we start living the Christian life in membership with one another, we will understand what Jesus said “Pick up my cross” because apart from a covenant relationship with one another, you always have a back door. It’s not hard following Jesus with a back door overtime its hard. You have an obligation to care for your brother and sister; to pray for them, to lift them up, when they are wandering- to go to them; not to judge not to condemn them but to rescue them as a shepherd goes for his sheep. But that is hard and if we don’t take up that obligation and if we always take that back door,we will never grow in love. Never grow in love. Never grow in love. A lot of churches want to talk about love but when it comes down to it, love is hard, love is painful, love hurts. It sucks… and it’s wonderful. That is what the Christian life feels like.We are going to take this year and learn these things until we are actually a family who cares about one another, who takes responsibility for one another.
4. Christians are told to submit to their leaders, which means giving up our autonomy and putting ourselves under the church’s authority (Heb 13:17).
"Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to zgive an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Heb 13:17
5. Leaders will give an account for those entrusted to their care, which means they have to know who those people are. (Heb 13:17). Which means that they have to know who those people are. I want you to see this. If Christians are told to submit to their leaders and leaders are told to care for Christians, you need to know who those people are. It’s like marriage; I am married to Rebecca, she is my wife. I have certain covenantal obligations to my wife. Ephesians 5: lay myself down for her, give her instruction, nourish her, cherish her. I am not responsible to Gabby in the same way, or to Julie, or to Jody or Marissa. I do not have that responsibility to them, I do not have the obligation to live as a husband to them. I don’t. I have that obligation to one woman. God help me. You need to understand the nature of the relationship to know your obligations and you need to know who is part of that relationship. We need to understand our relationship to one another. If Christians are to submit to their leaders, then we need to know who they are. Unless there is a covenant relationship, unless there is an agreement saying that I am responsible to you, you are responsible to me to a set group of people including specific leaders, there is no way you could submit to your leaders in a Biblical sense. There is no way. What people do, is they gather around themselves mentors. Mentors are not church leaders. You need mentors, hopefully in a church there will be mentors, hopefully you have lots of mentors outside of the church, but they do not have the responsibility over your souls. Here is the other problem: authority is always tied to responsibility. What your responsibility is determines the authority that you have. Someone outside of our local church does not have the responsibility for your soul like I do, like Chance does, like Rylan does. Your other Christian friends, God bless them, may be far more godly then I am, but they will not give an account for your life if you are a member of our church they way that I will. They will not. It doesn’t matter if you disagree with that because the fact of the matter is that the Bible says that I have, whether I like it or not, a responsibility to those under my care. The same way a husband does for a wife and a father does for a child, that even if we ignore it and try to change the family structure, it does not change the fact. It just means there is a dad somewhere who is failing, there is a marriage somewhere that is falling apart or there is a church somewhere that is dysfunctional. In order for me to know who I am responsible to, there is an implicit relationship. Leaders can know, if you do this, are you someone who is inside or someone who is outside? It also means that the church members know who they are to submit to. Someone who is not responsible for your soul , does not have authority over your life. We can expand this to the greater church; does our church have the authority to go to another church and kick someone out of their church? No. Why don’t we? Because we don’t have the responsibility. Our responsibility is to come together as a family, and live out the Christian life as a family. Church membership is something we all take hold of.
Without church membership, the Corinthian church could not exclude someone from their fellowship. It’s about removal of fellowship.
Enemies of Covenant Relationships in Church Membership
1. Individualism: we see our Christian life primarily as a personal faith. Make all our decisions based around our personal needs wants. Our culture loves this and celebrates this and the church has really bought into this. When we become a member of the body of Christ, we become fellow partakers, we move from this life of being alone to being part of the family. An individual way of looking at our faith is totally unbiblical. Our world lives with a deep fear that the worst thing that could happen is that you lose you individuality. You know what Jesus says? You have to lose your individuality. And when you lose your individuality you actually become the most human. We think that if we lose are individualism we become a fraction of ourselves; no that is how we find it. We become truly human when we see our lives relating to other people. We don’t lose ourselves we find it.
2. Consumerism: relationships are primarily for what I can get. Is the worship good. Are there programs and services that I like? Is the leadership amazing? Do I like the music? A consumeristic view of the church. This is not a covenantal view. A covenant relationship view says: what can I give. How can I serve. How can I love. I have an obligation to love and to serve.
3. Self-Autonomy: I have right to rule and govern my life. Nobody has authority over me. This is our view in our flesh. If this is your view categorically, you would not be a Christian. You would not be someone who follows the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The great call of the early church is “Jesus is Lord”. Being a Christian means that you are not your own. He purchased you with his blood, you belong to him and you belong to his body; everyone of us.
4 Hype:excitement masquerading as unity and love. A covenant relationship exists through good times and bad. We are united in relationship through Christ; not the crowd, not the excitement. Our unifying factor is Jesus.
5 Seeing the church as a common-interest group. Relationships are founded on common interests; whether it be marriage where you go to a church who has a lot of married couples, or you go to a church that has a lot of kids, or you go to a church that has a lot of singles, or a church with a big youth program, or you go to a church because it has a young adults group- that’s a common interest group, not a church. That is forming your relationships on a contractual manner, not a covenant manner. A Covenant relationship is united only by covenant with God in Christ and each other, not common interest.
A covenant relationship means we recognize our ‘obligations’ towards one another, not simply ‘our rights’.
“This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” (1 Corinthians 9:3–5, ESV)
“If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 9:12, ESV)
We know we are living in covenantal relationship with each other when we don’t first think, ‘this is what you owe me’, or ‘this is what I deserve’, or ‘you’re not meeting my needs’, but rather, ‘this is what I owe you’. This is my obligation to you. How can I meet your needs
A covenant relationship with each other means we first consider the common good, not our own private interests
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:1–11, ESV)
We know we have understood God’s love for us when we stop looking out for our own interests, like Jesus, and instead do what’s best for others. We don’t try and use the church for our agenda. We don’t come to church with an agenda. We simply come to serve, and seek the ‘building up of the body’ (1 Cor 12, Eph). Imagine if we were to love one another like this?
other sermons in this series