Married couples find that it is helpful to attend weddings, since they are reminded of the vows they gave one another. In a similar way, I hope all church members pay attention to the vows taken by the new members. We sometimes are tempted to think that it is the new members who will take our church forward in ministry, but the reality is that it is the faithfulness of all members – old and new – that enables us to be effective in serving God. Let me therefore remind us all of our membership vows, solemn promises that are most fitting for Christians to make.
The first promise is to support the church in its worship and work. Members support the church in its worship by attending regularly and participating in a spiritual and wholehearted manner. The Bible tells us not “to give up meeting together.” (Heb. 10:25) I can tell you that it encourages the preacher to have the members present and actively participating! But it encourages everyone to see their brothers and sisters faithfully gathering as a church. Allowing for illness or works of necessity and mercy, Christians ought to support the morning and evening worship services on the Lord’s Day, as well as activities that occur throughout the week whenever possible. Our attitude should be, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” (Ps. 122:10)
Church membership also involves supporting the church in its work. Under normal circumstances, each member should be actively involved in some form of service, whether it is teaching children’s Sunday School or helping in the nursery, ushering, visiting the sick, and inviting friends and neighbors to church. We all have spiritual gifts, and they belong not to us but to one another, and our gifts are to be employed in the church for the work of the gospel. We are “individually members one of another.” (Rom. 12:5) Moreover, we should all be faithful in evangelism and fervent in personal and corporate prayer.
Church membership involves financial support of the church. God’s Word teaches us to support the Lord’s work by giving regularly, proportionately and joyfully: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income.” (1 Cor. 16:2) Our regular pattern should be to tithe, which means giving a tenth of our gross income to support the church. But many of us will be able to give more, “for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7)
God has ordained elders and shepherds to oversee the church, and this requires that church members submit to this spiritual authority. “Obey your leaders and submit to them,” says the Bible, “for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” (Heb. 13:17) This surely implies that you should be praying for your pastors, elders, and deacons, who have a heavy obligation and are subject to spiritual attack. I especially want to echo Paul’s request that you pray “also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel… that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Eph. 6:19-20)
Our church membership vows include the promise to “study the purity and peace” of the church. This means that members are called to lead lives that will honor our Lord Jesus Christ, and that will encourage our brothers and sisters to mature in their faith. It is important how you live! Moreover, we are to study – that is, to actively cultivate – the peace of the church. Paul writes that we must bear with one another, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3) We should loathe few things more than that any of us should disturb the purity and peace of the church, and we should gladly suffer all manner of personal loss for the sake of the spiritual well-being of the church and its members.
None of these vows involve a special or onerous obligation. These are the normal commitments every Christian should happily make. And we will not find any of this burdensome. Rather, as we live together in Christ, thinking more highly of others than ourselves and being zealous for the gospel, God will bless us all together with righteousness, peace, and joy, and he will use our church for things that will last forever.
First published in The West End Herald, April 29, 2019