What Is A Church?
Throughout Scripture, God is continually creating and calling forth his people for the display of His glory in a grand narrative of redemption and reconciliation.
In modern English, the word “church” has come to mean, “a building where Christians worship.” But church buildings were not used until about 300 years after Jesus rose from the grave! In the Bible, the Greek word ekklesia is most often translated “church.”
The word means “congregation” or “assembly,” referring to a gathering of God’s people. In Titus 2:14, we learn that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.”
The universal church is the means by which God is fulfilling His purposes in the world (2 Corinthians 5:17-20). In light of this reality, the opportunity to join a local church body is much more than a commitment to consistent attendance; it is a sacred call to be involved in the redemptive work of our graciously-loving and sovereign God.
“The church is the community of all true believers for all time.” - Wayne Grudem
Why Membership Matters
Does it really matter if I’m a member or not? Why do I have to take a class to even become a member? Why do I have to sign anything? People often ask these questions about our membership process, skeptical as to why there seem to be so many “hoops” to jump through.
It’s true. We take membership seriously and with a lot of gravity. Committing yourself to a body of believers is weighty. But it’s also wonderful. When Covenant Members join, they commit to a spiritual family that provides encouragement and support. They are called to a biblical degree of responsibility, service and sacrifice to their brothers and sisters. Our elders and leaders also pledge to assist our Covenant Members with care, counsel, prayer and teaching.
What Is A Covenant?
Since creation, and even before it, God has chosen in His relationship to man to be defined by specific promises. Throughout the Bible, God has established parameters in which His people are intended to act and has given promises of how He will move on their behalf for them. Wayne Grudem in Systematic Theology defines a covenant as this: “an unchangeable, divinely imposed legal agreement between God and man that stipulates the conditions of their agreement.”
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. - Jeremiah 31:33
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. - 1 Peter 3:18
Grudem’s definition hits as formal and stiff. Unchangeable, legal agreement, and divinely imposed are rarely the words that roll off of people’s tongues when they are discussing common, everyday covenants (if they even are discussing or thinking about it at all!). Marriage is probably the most common covenant that is thought about. Husbands don’t woo their wives hearts with imposed legal agreements or romance them with unchangeable conditions. The fear is that our culture, and every culture in history, has too flippantly dismissed the magnitude of the covenants, agreements, and promises they are making to a simple feeling and preference, which is not how they were intended. God’s promises do not change when He gets frustrated or disappointed.
Covenants are not only the foundation to membership in the church, but they are the foundation to the Christian life. They have to be formal, rigid and stiff in order to brace God’s people from the onslaught of living in a fallen world.
In most cases, agreements between two parties are only as strong as the weakest party. For example, an individual that doesn’t have the money to pay back a loan in which they borrow will inevitably break that agreement/covenant. No matter how much he wants, doesn’t want to, or tries with all his might, if he doesn’t have the capital, he will default and sever the agreement.
The beauty of the New Covenant is that even though we do not have the capacity or ability to keep our end of the covenant, Christ does. And will. God did this before we even knew that a covenant existed. He chose us to be His people and sent His Son to die for us in order “that he might bring us to God.”
So what does this have to do with us being a member of Providence and why does this even matter? Doesn’t this seem like splitting hairs?
In the church, and the local manifestation of it at Providence, we are bound to live by God’s covenant and conditions in order to obtain His promises. We cannot live in the grace of God if we are continually in opposition of Him. We cannot associate ourselves with Christ’s body if we are intent to destroy it. Those are but a few of the conditions of the agreement. Therefore, when we covenant with Christ and Providence (God’s local body), we are binding ourselves to something beyond ourselves.
The beauty of the gospel is that in the New Covenant, “an unchangeable, divinely imposed legal agreement between God and man that stipulates the conditions of their agreement” becomes the most beautiful and freeing promise imaginable. These black and white legal words become a beautiful song, a colorful landscape, and a vivid poem to the follower of Christ. This is only because as Jeremiah says, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” God will keep this covenant in us, on our behalf, in the person of Christ.
In covenant membership, we are making an unseen covenant and promise a seen reality to the world around us. To press it further, our covenants with our spouses, families, and Providence become the canvas in which we can display the earthly depiction of a wonderful heavenly reality.
What Is Church Membership?
One of the practical and tangible outworks of God’s covenant with His people is local church membership. God’s covenantal love has purchased us and drawn us into relationship with him as well as a covenant community of other believers. That covenant community is called the church.
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…” - Romans 12:4-6
The universal church is the global collection of all who ever have, do currently and ever will know God through Christ Jesus. The local church is just a small but important piece of that much larger body, and local church membership is simply an acknowledgement and formalization of what is already true in the relationship between believers in that local body.
All throughout Scripture, believers are called to (among many others things) love one another, outdo one another in showing honor, live at peace with one another, teach, exhort, comfort, serve, bear the burdens of, forgive, encourage, and seek to do good to one another. While there may be other secondary or tertiary means through which believers strive to walk in obedience to these commands, the primary means is the local church.
The most common metaphor for the church in Scripture is that of a body: the body of Christ. A healthy body requires that each member does its part well. A healthy church requires the same. “For just as a body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12). It’s a beautiful illustration of how we are each given different spiritual gifts and each created to serve different functions.
Membership in the local church is about covenanting with others in the church as a community of faith on a unique and common mission. It is an affirmation and agreement to contribute to the good of the body rather than consume from it. It is an obligation to sacrificially seek the good of others in the body of Christ by taking the general call toward service and the many commands listed above and actually living out that call and those commands within a particular group of people. In addition, the body under its head Jesus Christ (Col. 1:18, Eph. 5:23) is to live out the mission of God in reconciling the world to Himself.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. - 2 Corinthians 5:17 - 20