After publishing Part One of this short series back in September, I had hoped to take up the topic again in October. The brother of our Lord warned his readers to always consider their plans to be tentative at best, and dependent upon whether or not it was God’s will to bring those plans to fruition (James 4:13-15). While it was evidently not His will that I complete this series in October, I am pleased to be able to do so now.
In my previous post on this topic I focused primarily upon things that one should and should not look for when choosing a local church; today I will discuss what one’s disposition should be toward his church home once it is chosen. To be part of a local congregation is the duty of every Christian (except in the rarest of circumstances), and brings with it certain privileges as well as solemn responsibilities. Let us consider some of these responsibilities.
6. Be available.
First, availability. While I concede that strict Sabbath observance is often rendered difficult or impossible in our secular age (even for me), every effort should be made to be free of other responsibilities when the church gathers for corporate worship, and one should strive to be present at these services except under the most extreme of circumstances. In Westminster Shorter Catechism 88 we read,
The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
It is in corporate worship that we hear the Word preached, receive the sacraments, and unite in prayer, and thus it is of primary importance that we be present, attentive, and engaged when the congregation gathers for worship.
Still, there is more to being part of a church than being present for Sunday services. Every church is dependent upon the efforts of its members to carry out its various responsibilities. Sunday School classes need to be taught, benevolence ministries need volunteers, and outreach efforts need hands and feet. More mundane needs such as cleaning floors and making coffee must be addressed. Prayer meetings need to be attended and the various needs of the church’s leaders and membership, as well as concerns of the broader church, state, and society must be brought before God on a regular basis. More informally, individual Christians require fellowship, encouragement, the meeting of physical needs, and occasionally admonishment. While each of us has different gifts and circumstances that will enable us to be more or less engaged in the work of the church at any given time, we are all responsible for doing what we can.
7. Be committed.
Secondly, one should be committed to the church one chooses. As I mentioned last time, the “perfect” church doesn’t exist; any church you visit and join will be full of sinners! Redeemed sinners (one hopes), but sinners all the same; sinners who at their best are warring against their own tendencies toward hypocrisy, gossip, selfishness, immorality, and any number of more “obvious” sins while also struggling to maintain orthodoxy of belief and practice. You are unlikely to be in any church for very long before someone says or does something that “rubs you the wrong way,” and perhaps even the leadership of the church will take a position with which you disagree regarding some matter of secondary importance. Nevertheless, one must resist the urge to “jump ship” at the first sign of difficulty or disagreement.
Americans are, to a fault, an individualistic lot, and Christians in our land have little difficulty with abandoning one church and finding another whenever something is not to their liking. This should not be the case at all! It is not the responsibility of the church to do everything “your way.” Rather, the task of all in the church is one of mutual submission. Remember Paul’s words to the Philippians:
Do nothing from rivalry 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. (Philippians 2:3-4)
Of course, there are times when one must leave a church, but these should be exceedingly rare. Our commitment to the local church should not be fickle, but enduring; one in which fellow Christians are willing to, when needed, set aside their preferences and pet ideas in a spirit of love and humility, always seeking the good and the growth in grace of each and every member.
8. Be submissive.
Though this directive can be unpopular, believers are commanded to be subject to the leadership of the church. The author to the Hebrews wrote,
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)
In the church government prescribed in Scripture we find a type of republican government. The congregation chooses its leaders (cf. Acts 6:3) according to the qualifications for each office as presented in Scripture (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). Once chosen, these men bear ruling authority (in the case of elders) or authority in managing the temporal affairs of the church (in the case of deacons). While the members of the congregation have some “say so” in who their leaders are, once duly appointed these men have an authority and solemn responsibility which is deserving of respect, submission, and, most importantly, prayer. After all, while office bearers are worthy of honor, they also will give an account of their service to God.
Christ’s church is not a democracy. The Lord Himself is our King and Head, and those that serve as church officers do so as His ministers. Unless those officers are demonstrably guilty of some gross sin or teaching erroneous doctrines (both circumstances which are to be addressed according to the instructions of Scripture), we are to dutifully and joyfully submit to them.
9. Be thankful.
Fourthly, be thankful for your church, its leadership, your fellow members, the meeting place you have, and for the opportunity to gather to worship the risen Christ. If you live in the United States or in another land where Christians are free to assemble openly without fear of persecution, be thankful for this. American Christians in even medium-sized cities have a plethora of local churches from which to choose, and as I mentioned earlier, are sometimes too quick to move between these assemblies for the flimsiest of reasons. Meanwhile, our brothers and sisters in some places endure great hardship and sometimes travel great distances to find even one faithful church. Instead of complaining (whether verbally or in your own mind) about minutia that aren’t to your liking, be thankful for the church you have, and for the ministers and office bearers that take responsibility for the care of your soul.
Most of all, be thankful for God’s gracious provision of eternal life in Christ for all who believe, and for His mercy in enabling you to both hear and believe the Good News.
Finally, pray. Pray for the growth of your local church both in numbers and in faithfulness to Christ and His Word. Pray, again, for the men that God has raised up to care for your soul and for the souls of others in your local congregation. Pray for the spread of the gospel in your community, state, nation, and world. Pray for those that endure suffering of various kinds for the sake of Christ. Pray for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the members of your congregation.
And, yes, pray for yourself, that you would have opportunity and willingness to serve Christ and His church in whatever capacity to which you might be called, and for wisdom and courage to see and to seize those opportunities, whether great or small. Remember the words of our Lord, “One who is faithful in very little is also faithful in much….” (Luke 16:10)