On a Lord’s Day not too long ago, my wife and I stood in front of our fellow congregants to be received as members of the church we had been attending for more than two years. The pastor, smiling, yet with all seriousness, asked us the following five questions (and I paraphrase):
- Do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners, justly deserving God’s displeasure, without hope save in His sovereign mercy?
- Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and do you rest upon Him alone for salvation?
- Do you now promise, relying upon the Spirit’s grace, to endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ?
- Do you promise to support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?
- Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the church, and promise to study its purity and peace?
Publicly answering each of these questions served as our entrance into a solemn covenant with God and His church.
The only problem with this idyllic scene is that I have failed this covenant miserably in the short time since I made the commitment. Sure, the first three questions are Sunday school no-brainers, but they are ironically no more important than the last two, for in them the first three questions are realized or lived out. That is, a life of grace that hopes in God’s sovereign mercy, made available by Christ alone, and perpetuated by good works in the Spirit, manifests itself in a life that supports the church’s worship and work, and that submits to the government and discipline of the church, and therefore promises to study its purity and peace.
Most important, whether other churches verbalize these five questions or not, this oath transcends denominational lines, thereby drawing our focus back to God’s prescribed means for promulgating the Gospel—the church. If the church is to remain true to her calling, membership in any local congregation must mean entering into a covenant with God, simply because a congregant ought to be, by definition, a bondservant of Jesus in the family of God.
Since the church is the radiant bride of Christ, how much more should she expect the commitment of saints who are more concerned with worshiping the Almighty in Spirit and in truth than attempting to convince the world that church-goers are everyday, ordinary people?