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From the promises to Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3) to the ultimate fulfillment of those same promises pictured in the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven (Rev. 21), Scripture is clear—God is saving for Himself a people.

Notice, I said people, not persons. In saying it that way, I don’t mean to suggest that salvation is not a personal matter or that God has no interest in individuals. He clearly does (Rom. 10:9–10). No, I chose people over persons to emphasize Scripture’s emphasis—that Christian identity is necessarily communal (1 Peter 2:9).

As our physical birth includes a network of family relationships, so too does our spiritual birth. This is why, when Scripture speaks of the church, it employs metaphors that call to mind profound connection.

  • Jesus is the Vine, and we are the branches (John 15:1–17).
  • Jesus is the cornerstone, and we are living stones being built into a temple (Eph. 2:20; 1 Peter 2:5).
  • Jesus is the Head, and we are members of His body (Eph. 4:1–16; 1 Cor. 12:1–27).

There’s not a hint of individualism or independence anywhere in those images. Nowhere does Scripture describe, much less prescribe, the Christian life as something that can be lived alone. In Christ, each Christian is related to every other Christian, and together we are the family of God (Rom. 8:14–16; Eph. 2:19–22). Deep commitment to and active participation in the church are nonnegotiable.

All this raises a question, though: How can we build and maintain real, vital, life-giving connection to the church over the long haul? Let me offer four suggestions.

First, we must become members of a church. When we hear the word “member,” we might think of paying our dues and fulfilling the requirements, and then we’ll get the benefits of the club. Church membership, though, is a reflection of Scripture’s language concerning the nature of the church. Paul writes in Romans 12:4–5, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Paul is saying that in the same way your hand is a member of your body, so every Christian is membered with Jesus Christ and other Christians. We are literally a part of one another. When we realize this, placing membership in a local church becomes a natural extension of what it means to be and live as a Christian.

We need the church. And the church needs us.

Second, we must commit to weekly church attendance. It’s one thing to be an official member on the church roll; it’s another thing to attend faithfully (Heb. 10:25). When we choose sports teams, music or dance recitals, or vacations over worship with God’s people, we are “showing our cards,” spiritually speaking (Matt. 6:21). Though we’d never say Little League baseball or a few extra winks is more important than worshiping the triune God, the reality is we live that way when we choose the world’s activities over attending church (Luke 14:26). Here’s the thing: if we truly love Christ, we will grow more and more in love with the things Christ loves—and chief among Christ’s loves is the church (Eph. 5:25). So, let’s commit to gathering for worship on the Lord’s Day. It’s there where our souls meet their truest treasure. It’s there where we’ll experience in increasing measure the joy of our salvation. It’s there where we’ll grow from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor. 3:18).

Third, we ought to be in fellowship with other Christians. As essential as Sunday worship is, it’s not enough. We need more than an hour or two once a week together if we hope to foster genuine trusting relationships. We need the church to be our constant companion for the whole journey of the Christian life. It’s no surprise, then, that Luke’s portrait of the church includes this description: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). Notice, the formal time of worship in the temple spilled over into informal fellowship around the table in people’s homes. These smaller gatherings provided opportunities to discuss the Apostles’ teaching, confess sin, pray together, identify spiritual gifts, meet needs, and share the gospel with inquirers. The same is true today. Regular participation in smaller gatherings cements our relationships and is the most natural context for the church’s ongoing work of discipleship and mission.

Fourth, we must maintain our membership while in transition. For a variety of legitimate reasons, we may decide to leave one church and attend another. When that happens, we ought to take the time to contact the leadership of our home church. Elders are called by God to give an account for our souls. It’s important that they know our whereabouts and why we’re missing from the flock (Heb. 13:7). We should be honest about our reasons for leaving and should discuss with them our plans for finding a new church, being open to their counsel. They can supply us with information about maintaining our membership during the transition and what’s required for a smooth membership transfer. Similarly, as soon as possible, we should get to know the new church we’re visiting. We ought to attend the new members’ class to learn more about the church’s history, vision, doctrinal commitments, ministries, and requirements for membership. If the biblical marks of the church are present and we’re at home there, we ought not delay in placing membership. It’s never healthy spiritually to maintain lengthy periods of loose association with the church. After all, we are branches, living stones—part of the body of Christ. We need the church. And the church needs us.

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From the January 2019 Issue
Jan 2019 Issue