Over a six-month period in our Family Meetings at Grace, we will be following the outline of Thom Rainer’s I Am a Church Member. We want to discover, or rediscover, what it means to be a healthy part of a healthy local church because, in a wretched world, it’s easy to forget or lose sight of who we are in Christ.
As we continue to consider what church membership is, we reflect on what has already been discovered. In Thom Rainer’s book, he mentions that there are two very unhealthy tendencies regarding church membership in our day. The first is that we join a church expecting others to serve us, feed us, and care for us. The second is that we don’t like hypocrites, but fail to see our own hypocrisies. While reading 1 Corinthians 12, we concluded that membership is a functioning membership. Everyone is a contributor and God has gifted each one for service as part of the body.
This means that unity is one of the most important things about the membership of a church. Rainer’s next chapter addresses unity in the church. In fact, he insists that unity is critical. If we are considering the organized church as a whole, it seems like a difficult thing for us to use the words church and unity in the same thought. The disunity of people, I fear, causes much more damage than we realize and its effects linger on and on. What does Scripture have to say on the topic?
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love — the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful. Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
In the previous section of Scripture, Paul has written that if we are in Christ, we have died to ourselves and have been raised to newness of life. Therefore, we put on these things as part of the singular body of Christ. Since the local church is a part of the body of Christ and every member of the local church a member of the singular body of Christ, the members of each local church are encouraged in the same way. The goal is firstly the worship of Christ who saves and it is secondly the unity of the body.
So, there are certain attitudes encouraged within the members that facilitate proper worship and unity in the local church:
acceptance of one another,
forgiveness if anyone has a complaint against another.
In these things, we put on live- which is the perfect bond of unity.
As members of the body of Christ, we let the peace of the Messiah control our hearts,
resolve to be thankful in all things,
let the message of the Messiah dwell richly among us,
teach and admonish one another in all wisdom,
sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts,
we do everything in the name of Jesus.
By the attitude we keep as individual members, the organizational church will rise and fall. God will still accomplish His work because He is faithful to do so. If we do not have spiritually healthy members, how will we ever grow as a spiritually healthy local organized church? Our goal is not to simply have as many members as possible. Our goal is to have healthy members who are being sanctified and raised up by Christ, having the same attitude of Christ by grace. Healthy membership means that when people come in, they will feel as though they have entered into a safe haven and where they don’t have to worry about being condemned. While for members, there has to be evidence of Christ’s regenerating work in our lives, we should show the very mercy of God to all people who want to attend and experience the attitude of a church body that is really following Christ. Our presence should be refreshing for the community, not overbearing.
If we experience disunity, we know that it is our own desires that cause it:
“What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires.
Adulteresses! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. Or do you think it’s without reason the Scripture says that the Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously?
But He gives greater grace. Therefore He says:
God resists the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.
Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.
Don’t criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:1-12).