What does it mean to be a member of the Glenwood Church of Christ? Does it mean you have your name on a list, your picture in the directory? Does it mean this is where you attend church on Sundays, or simply a formality if you had to fill out a form and you had to put something on the line that says “religion”?
We treat church membership pretty loosely here. We’ve never had much of a membership process. We don’t have a form to fill out, no vote is taken. We don’t pressure people to commit to anything, and we want everyone to feel comfortable and at home when they come.
But, we’ve treated membership so informally that I’m guessing there are some of you here today who have been attending for years and couldn’t really say whether you are officially members or not.
Now, that doesn’t mean we’re going to start running background checks and fill out applications and run prospective members through a series of tests before we accept them into membership, but we need to better define our expectations and have a process in place that gives our new members a real sense of belonging and purpose.
Three weeks ago I spoke about the privileges and blessings of being a member of a congregation: I am known, I am needed, and I am loved and cared for. [Picture – jigsaw puzzle] Then two weeks ago I talked about the responsibilities that go with membership – things like attending regularly, giving generously, and being involved in some ministry that serves the Lord and people. It also involves allowing the elders to shepherd your soul and submitting to their leadership. And finally, looking after and caring for each other as members of the Glenwood church family.
This morning, I want to challenge us as a family to seriously consider what church membership means in our life together. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that when we become a member of a congregation, we essentially enter into a covenant relationship with the elders and with the church family as a whole.
Now, understand the difference between a covenant and a contract. You enter into a contract with your insurance company – you pay your premiums, they cover a portion of your health care costs. You don’t pay your premiums and your contract with them is null and void. And the fact is, that while they benefit from your good health, you don’t get a call from the president of the company to check up on you and see how you’re doing. If you go to the hospital, they don’t come and visit you and bring flowers and meals when you get home. They don’t make sure your kids have a ride to school and pray for you in their board meetings.
Covenant relationships are a completely different kind of association, because the fundamental foundation of them is a relationship. And what distinguishes covenants is the unconditional commitment that is at the heart of them. Let me explain what I mean by that. God loves you unconditionally – no strings attached.
Paul says exactly that in Rom. 5:8, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” His love was not dependent on us getting our act together spiritually – he loved us while we were still sinners – in fact, he loved us when we were still his enemies.
In Eph. 2:8-9 Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.” His love is unconditional – it is not because of what you do that he loves you in the first place and nothing you can do will diminish his love. As one song phrases it, he cannot love you more – he will not love you less.
When we are baptized, we enter into a covenantal relationship with God. We are saved by the blood of Christ on the cross, not because of anything we have done that merited his salvation. And it changes our lives – listen to how Paul describes that in the very next verse: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
We do good works because of God’s love for us. But some people try to turn that upside down. They think, “if I do enough good works, God will love me. If I obey the commands and do everything God wants me to do perfectly, maybe I’ll have a chance for heaven.” But God loved you before you ever knew you needed to be loved, and certainly not because you worked so hard you obligated God to love you. The essence of our relationship with God is a covenant in which God committed his love to us unconditionally.
Now, does that mean there are no obligations or responsibilities that go with that relationship? No, but the motivation has been transformed from a duty performed in order to earn God’s love, to a service given because of God’s love. And so, when I am baptized, it is not in order to obligate God to save me, but to willingly submit myself because he loves me.
When Diana and I were married, did she say “I do” in order to make me love her? No, I already loved her and those words were the expression of her willingness to unite herself to me because of that love.
God loves covenants. He binds himself to us in covenants. And so covenants are the basis of our relationships in marriage and in the church.
So, let me ask you, what does that do to our relationship in the church and more specifically in a local congregation?
Well, just like marriage, there will be a lot of “for better/for worse, richer/poorer, sickness/health” kinds of ups and downs in a congregation. And the point of all that is that we’re in this together. We have willingly and intentionally bound ourselves together with a church family to share our lives together. We don’t bail on each other at the first sign of trouble and rough roads. We don’t check out because someone down the road makes us a better offer. We hang in there and weather the storms and endure the struggles and we rejoice in the blessings – together.
Isn’t that what characterized the first congregation there in Jerusalem? Acts 2:41-47 “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
“Devoted to fellowship, meeting together, everything in common, breaking bread in their homes, eating together, adding to their number.”
Everything in that passage points to the fact that they had committed themselves to each other and were sharing their lives with each other. And it went way beyond showing up at the same building on a Sunday morning. If you think that’s all church is about, you’ve missed the boat and you’ve robbed yourself of some of God’s richest blessings.
Church is about relationships. Church is about committing yourself to each other in good times and bad. That’s why the Hebrews writer says, “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first” (Heb. 3:13,14). That’s why later in his letter he urges his readers, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). He’s not haranguing his brothers and sisters to go to church to obey some kind of legalistic demand on their lives, but because that’s where they get the kind of encouragement and support and fellowship they need to make it in life.
He’s saying, don’t miss out on that by being somewhere else doing something else. And if that doesn’t describe what you get when you come to church, examine the depth of the relationships you have at church. Are you holding back, are you holding out? And like we asked three weeks ago, if the church were to be taken away from you – the fellowship, the worship, the relationships – would it affect your life in any significant way?
You see, the nature of covenant relationships is that they matter to us. They matter deeply. Contracts come and go – we switch cell phone companies and don’t think a thing about hurting someone’s feelings, we refinance with a mortgage company and the CEO doesn’t invite us over for dinner. Covenants are different. When we enter into a covenant, we’re entering into a relationship with people. They matter to us and we matter to them. As Paul said, we “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15); and “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor. 12:26).
When we become a member of a congregation, we enter into a covenant relationship with each other. And I think it’s important that we be a little more specific about what that means right up front. We need to talk a lot more about the blessings of being a member of the Glenwood church, and we also need to lay out the expectations and responsibilities that go along with that membership. We need to be more pro-active in knowing what’s going on in each other’s lives instead of seeing an empty seat for a month of Sundays, wonder what happened to Sister So-and-so, then shrug our shoulders and think someone (meaning someone else) really ought to call her and find out.
I want to matter enough that someone will call to find out what’s going on in my life. The opposite of love is not hatred, it is indifference. And when nobody cares, there is no covenant, and we’re back to being a room full of strangers who happened to show up in the same place.
And you know why we should matter to each other? Because we first matter to God. It is God who loved us so much that he sent his son to die for each and every one of us. And when Christ died, he died for the church. In that passage in Eph. 5 that we read so often at weddings, Paul is talking about the relationship between Christ and the church – “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:25-27).
The church is his bride, precious and beautiful, and when he returns again, he is coming for her. If the church matters to Christ, the church should matter to us. Not the ideal church out there that you dream about being a member of, but the real church right here, right now that you are a member of – warts and all. Let’s commit ourselves to God and to each other this morning to start living out that covenant with our lives.
Let’s start to work on relationships here in the body that matter deeply to us and make a difference in our life and in someone else’s life.
If you’ve never done it before, if you’re not really sure where you stand, I want you to come forward this morning and say “I want to commit myself to this church family. I want to be an active member and be a part of growing God’s kingdom right here.” And we’ll welcome you into the family and commit ourselves to being there for you.
Posted on Sun, January 26, 2014
by John Roberts