|Believing and Belonging|
|Written by Dr Rowland S. Ward|
|Tuesday, 24 June 2008 14:21|
Believing and Belonging
Commitment to the church of Jesus Christ
The Bible says that the church is a gathering of people who belong to God because they believe in his Son, Jesus Christ, as Saviour and Lord according to the Bible. The Bible places great emphasis on the importance of the church. It is called the people of God, the Body of Christ, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. It is also called the Bride of Christ and God’s flock.
Every Christian should desire to be openly associated with – and officially a member of – a biblical church. To help think through this let’s consider a few questions about church membership.
What is the authority of the Church?
The church has authority to teach ‘all that Christ has commanded’ (Matthew 28:18-20) and only that. The elders of the church have authority to administer church affairs in line with what Scripture teaches and the rules of good order and love, so that believers are encouraged and built up.
What is Church Membership?
When you unite in an official way with a congregation of believers, you become a member of that church for whom the elders take responsibility. In the PCEA you join a local congregation by profession of faith and baptism - if not previously baptised - by reaffirmation of faith, or by a letter of transfer from another church.
When you join the church you become a ‘communicant member’ - because you have the privilege of participation in the Communion (the Lord’s Supper). You are also entitled to the other privileges of membership, including baptism for your children. The sacrament of baptism (by sprinkling or pouring) is the sign of God’s covenant promise, and publicly acknowledges that your children are part of God’s family too. They become communicant members once they profess faith in Christ for themselves; often this occurs in teenage years.
Why Should You Join the Church?
The Bible calls upon believers to publicly profess what they believe. Believers are to submit to the elders, and the elders need to know for whom they are responsible.
Indeed, rather than drifting from church to church, we should want to be committed to the worship of the Lord, and witness to him in a biblical church. Visible expression of our unity in Christ is important.
Many times the New Testament reminds believers of their responsibility to one another. We are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:12). In other words, being together means we can help one another to grow into maturity, rather than developing odd ideas or practices because we isolate ourselves (Hebrews 10:23-25).
Christ is the Head of the church, ruling it by his word and Spirit, but also using the human instruments of the elders of the church to encourage and strengthen all believers in their love and service for the Lord and for each other (Acts 14:23; 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4).
What are the Responsibilities of Church Membership?
*Consistent faithful attendance on the worship services will encourage and strengthen you and others (Hebrews 10:24-25). Through the services and other meetings you have the opportunity of becoming equipped ‘for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up’ (Ephesians 4:12).
*Giving money to the work of the Lord as he has prospered you enables the public preaching and teaching of God’s word, and the support of missionary outreach at home and overseas. Such giving should be regular, cheerful and sacrificial. ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Corinthians 9:7).
*Supporting the elders as they seek the welfare of the flock. Sometimes genuine loving concern includes church discipline with a view to reclaiming a straying believer.
What are the Privileges of Church Membership?
* Satisfaction in pleasing the Lord by giving expression to your faith by public membership of his church.
* Access to the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) that Christ has appointed in his church.
* Opportunities to serve and to develop your spiritual gifts.
* Having the oversight of the elders.
* Having a voice in the election of office-bearers and deciding important matters that may be brought by the elders or deacons to a congregational meeting.
* Being able to share in the wider work of the Gospel through the denominational connections of the PCEA at home and overseas.
How Do I Become a Member?
In most cases a Christian who wants to join a particular church will attend the services and meetings for a while, and then approach the minister or elders about membership. Opportunity to learn more of the teachings and ministries of the church will be given.
The elders will speak with you about your faith in Christ, your knowledge of the most important teachings, and your desire to live consistently with faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord.
Once approved by the Session (the elders’ meeting) it is normal to announce your admission to the congregation. Particularly for a first profession, admission may occur at a public worship service where the person is asked several questions along the following lines:
1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the true and complete word of God, and do you believe the interpretation of the Scriptures taught in this church to set forth the true message of salvation?
2. Do you believe in the only true God, distinct in three persons - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit - who of nothing made the heaven and the earth and all that is in them, and still upholds and governs them, so that nothing comes to pass, whether in heaven or on earth, without his holy will?
3. Do you admit that by nature you are a sinner, unclean before God, and that in your thoughts, words and deeds you have often broken God’s commandments; and do you now declare that you are heartily sorry for all your sins?
4. Do you confess your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour, and do you promise in dependence on the Holy Spirit, to serve God with all that is in you, and to participate gladly in the life and work of his church?
5. Do you agree to submit in the Lord to the rule of the elders in this church, and to heed their counsel as they seek to shepherd you in the ways of the Lord?
A Church and the Church
The PCEA is part of the one body of Christ throughout the world. Different groupings of Christians have arisen because of historical circumstances such as difference of country or language, as well as conscientious differences on lesser matters. The PCEA does not unchurch other Bible-loving churches who differ from us on less important matters. We are happy to have fellowship with true Christians of whatever name, and welcome them to the Lord’s Supper. Although office-bearers subscribe to the Westminster Confession as a faithful summary of Scripture teaching, we do not require other communicant members to agree in every detail with what we teach and practice.
Some churches have added a great deal to the teaching of the Bible so that the word of God is made of no effect through such traditions (Mark 7:13).
Some once evangelical churches do not now require belief in such basic teachings as the inspiration of the Scriptures, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, his incarnation, virgin birth, sinless life, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection and future visible return in glory. The sexual ethics of the Bible may be ignored. This is a very sad situation God will not overlook.
Some churches seem preoccupied with making people feel good, with an entertainment style worship and emphasis on our prosperity rather than on God, and his saving grace in Christ.
So it is vitally important to honour Christ in our church life, and to choose a church home wisely.
How does a Presbyterian church operate?
The Greek word for an elder is presbuteros. Presbyterian churches are cared for by mature Christian men, chosen by the congregation and set apart to this work. There is no hierarchy of people as in an Episcopal system, for all elders are equal in respect of ruling power. Office-bearers pledge to adhere to the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith as a correct summary of Scripture teaching.
In the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia procedures derive from the Scottish Church reformed by John Knox and others in 1560. The experience of over four centuries has been adapted to our needs as the longest established Presbyterian and Reformed church in Australia, which is increasingly including people of many ethnic backgrounds.
The minister and elders in a local congregation form its Session. There may also be deacons to care more specifically for the finances, both of the church and those in need. If a problem arises in a local church and cannot be satisfactorily resolved by the Session there is access to a regional body of ministers and elders called the Presbytery. The Presbytery also looks after other matters, including making provision for congregations without a minister, and supervising calls to duly qualified ministers. Similarly, there is a further national body called a Synod. It meets once a year.
So the local congregation is connected with other Bible-believing Christians through our denominational structure. This larger fellowship helps us serve together in mission work and other church-related ministries. We also express our unity with like-minded believers by membership of the International Conference of Reformed Churches.
|Last Updated on Sunday, 14 December 2014 15:29|