Why Must We Join the Church? (1)

PMT 2013-035b by Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
Sharon OPC

Formal church membership is a covenantal obligation for the Christian, as Dr. Boer notes in the following message.

Today and next Sunday I want to speak about why it’s important to join the visible church of Jesus Christ.  Many people are confused as to how they should view the church of Jesus Christ.  Our creeds, the WCF and WLC, speak about a distinction between the visible and the invisible church.  This doctrine of the distinction between the visible and invisible church is a helpful doctrine if we understand what’s intended by those terms, “visible church” and “invisible church.”  Unfortunately, this doctrine has been so misunderstood and so abused that many ministers and theologians prefer not to even use those terms anymore.

You see, a lot of people think this way: “There are basically two ways of looking at the church.  There’s the visible church, which is denominations and congregations and having your name written down on the membership rolls of a congregation.  And then there’s the invisible church which is composed of all true believers who are really saved.  The visible church,” they reason, “is composed of some true believers and some hypocrites and people who are either purposely ‘faking’ belief in Christ, or who think they’re true believers but they’re not.”

Having those two definitions in mind, some of these same people then take the next logical step and say, “Now, what’s most important after all?  That I have my name on the membership rolls of a church, or that I really believe?  Why, the important thing is that I’m really a Christian, that I’m really a true believer.  So who cares about membership?”

Now, given that understanding of things, being a member of the visible church is then pretty much optional, isn’t it?  And so what’s happened is that there are many people today who say they’re believers, but who, for one reason or another, aren’t members of the visible church.  Either they’ve never joined the church in the first place, or they were members once, but they just let things slide so that they’re members no longer.  Or perhaps they’ve moved away and never joined another church in their new location.  Or maybe the church they joined did something they didn’t like, so they left and started attending another church and never joined that church.  Or possibly they no longer even attend church any more, thinking to themselves, “Well, as long as I’m a true believer, I’m a member of the invisible church and that’s what counts, after all.”

Well, I want to make sure that you understand: that’s not what the framers of our confession and catechisms had in mind when they talked about the visible and invisible church!  And that’s not the concept of the church that the Scriptures teach us!

Nowhere do the Scriptures give us the impression that membership in the visible church is optional, or that it’s unnecessary.  Nowhere do the Scriptures teach us that as long as a person believes the Gospel, he’s saved, regardless of whether or not he joins the visible church.  That may be what you’ve heard in a Billy Graham Crusade or in some other evangelistic ministry, but that’s not the Biblical view!

The only reason the distinction between the visible and the invisible church needs to be made is to teach people that visible church membership alone can’t save them.  That’s what the Roman Catholic Church was teaching during the time of the Reformation.  Many people believed that as long as they were members of the visible church and partook of the sacraments, they were automatically saved.

But the Scriptures clearly teach that being a member of a church and partaking of the sacraments, by themselves, saves no one.

You must also be a sincere believer.  You must also be one who has true faith in Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the Scriptures.  Church membership alone can’t save you!

But never, anywhere in the Scriptures or in our creeds – never are we given the impression that the visible church is optional or unnecessary.  In fact, the Scriptures and our creeds teach us the exact opposite!

I want to take some time today and next Sunday to look at the Scriptures and at our creeds, as well as at some of the writings of our forefathers in the faith on this matter.  I want to show you how clearly God’s Word speaks regarding the importance of membership in Christ’s church.

Let’s start with the Scriptures so that you can see that those positions stated in our creeds and explained by our forefathers are Biblically derived.

I would direct your attention, specifically, to Acts 2:47 which I’ll quote first from the KJV: “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”  (The NIV says And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”)  Either way, we see that those who are called, “saved,” were added to a visible, tangible body, the church.

The text says that “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”  The Lord added to the church, His covenant body, those who should be saved, and that’s the way it’s always been.

If you look at Acts 2:37, Peter has just finished preaching his sermon at Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit has been poured out.  Tongues of fire have rested on the apostles, and now Peter is preaching a sermon.  And in summary, he says, “This Jesus Christ that you Jews crucified and put to death on the cross has been raised from the dead, according to the OT prophecies, just as He said, and now this same Jesus has been exalted, and is sitting on the highest throne in heaven, with all power!”

So in other words, you all are in big trouble!”

And the Jews were immediately convicted.  V. 37 says, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'”

Now I want you to take careful note as to Peter’s response to that question.  V. 38 tells us, “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized.”

In other words, “Repent and join the visible church.”

He says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children [That’s the same covenant promise given in the OT to the Jews and their children, but now he says it’s even…] for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

That meant that now, even the Gentiles, who once were far off from those covenant promises – even those Gentiles are now given those same covenant promises, if they will repent and join Christ’s body, the church.

V. 40 continues, “With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.'”

And then v. 41 says, “Those who accepted his message…” raised their hands and said, “I’m a believer,” and they were saved?  No, that’s not what it says!

“Those who accepted his message…” walked down the aisle and knelt in front of the altar and they were saved?

No!  That’s not what it says either.

Here’s what the text says:

“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

And then a little later, v. 47, the verse we just read, says, “The Lord added to their number [meaning the number of those added to the membership rolls of the visible church”] daily those who were being saved.”

When these people believed, they were baptized.  And when they were baptized, they were added to the number of those who were members of Christ’s covenant body, the church.

A lot of people think being on the membership rolls of a church is not necessary.  A lot of churches don’t even have membership rolls.  But if that’s the case, then they don’t understand the Scriptures.

You find this same process all through the NT Scriptures.  Those who believed joined the visible body of Christ and became part of the “number” of that group.  If they had children, their children were also baptized into Christ’s body, the visible church.

This was nothing new.  In the NT, baptism replaced OT circumcision as the sign and seal of entrance into membership in God’s covenant.  This sign and seal of the covenant was given to the children of believing parents in the OT, in most cases, while they were still infants, only 8 days old.  Baptism, the sign of covenant membership in the NT, is also to be given, therefore, to all the children of believing parents.  If believers in the OT refused to circumcise their infant children, they weren’t allowed to be members of the covenant or to partake of the Passover.  It’s a great sin to refuse the covenant sign of baptism to the children of believers.

If those who are baptized into covenant membership later fail to live as God’s covenant people, once they become “of age” themselves – if they’re found to be living in unrepentant sin, or if they refuse to profess their own faith in Jesus Christ, they’re to be disciplined by the church and exhorted to repent.  And if they fail to repent, those members of the church are to be cut off from the covenant by being put out of the membership of the visible church.  That’s what the Bible teaches!

Duane Spencer, a minister in the OPC who is now dead, wrote a book entitled, Holy Baptism:  Word Keys Which Unlock the Covenant.  It’s one of the best books on the mode of baptism in print.

Spencer shows from the Scripture that sprinkling or pouring, from above, is the proper Biblical mode of baptism, even though we would recognize that those baptized by the improper mode of dunking or immersion have still been truly baptized.  But the mode of baptism that’s taught by Scripture is sprinkling or pouring “from above,” just as the Holy Spirit, Whose cleansing is represented in water baptism, comes down upon men “from above.”

But I want to quote from the introduction of Spencer’s book, since it deals with our topic for today: membership in the visible church (This introduction was written by James B. Jordan):

Holy Baptism is the sign and seal of the covenant.  It is not the sign and seal of eternal election, for God alone looks on the heart.  Man looks on the outward appearance, and we as Christians need to know whom we are to count as and treat as fellow Christians.  Do we count as Christians those who have a flaming testimony?  Or only those who speak in tongues?  Or only those who talk about spiritual things the same way we do, whom we feel at home with?  The answer of the Bible, and of the Church of all ages is this: We count as Christians those to whom God has given the visible sign of baptism, provided they have not been excommunicated from the visible church… Thus we always count our children as Christians and treat them as such…The sprinkling church thus does not presume to read the hearts, but treats only of the visible things, leaving the invisible to God.  [James B. Jordan in Duane E. Spencer, Holy Baptism:  Word Keys Which Unlock the Covenant (Tyler, TX: Geneva Ministries, 1984), pp. xi-xii.]

That means that we do not treat a person as a Christian, the moment they say they believe in Jesus Christ.  We treat them as a Christian when they identify with Christ, by joining His covenant body, the church.

It was no small thing, in the NT, to be cut off from the visible church.  To be outside the church meant to be outside the covenant.  And the promises of the Gospel are made only to those within God’s covenant.  To be outside the body of Christ means to be outside of Christ.  We don’t want to be outside of Jesus Christ.  In the Bible, the only people who were considered to be in Christ, were those who were members, in good standing, in Christ’s body, the visible church.  And this is so plain on the face of the whole NT, it’s a wonder people have missed it!

Listen very carefully to what the WCF says in summarizing what the Bible teaches about this matter.  You can follow along in the back of your blue, Trinity Hymnals, if you wish, on p. 686.  Either many people don’t read their confession of faith or they’ve simply missed this point:

WCF XXV:II.  The visible Church [Here it gives a brief description of the visible church and then it continues, “The visible Church…”] …consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

There you have it: There is no ordinary possibility of salvation outside of the visible church!  That’s what the Westminster Assembly found that the Scriptures teach.  That’s what the brightest and most sanctified, theological minds in all of England and Scotland concluded from God’s Word.  And they weren’t alone.

The Belgic Confession, written prior to the WCF, is even more pointed on the matter.  Article XXVIII is entitled, “EVERY ONE IS BOUND TO JOIN HIMSELF TO THE TRUE CHURCH.”  The title kinda gives away the point, I realize!  But here’s what it says:

We believe, since this holy congregation [speaking of the visible church in general, not an individual congregation – JKB] is an assembly of those who are saved, and outside of it there is no salvation, that no person of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it…

And that this may be the more effectually observed, it is the duty of all believers, according to the Word of God, to separate themselves from all those who do not belong to the Church, and to join themselves to this congregation [again, that’s not talking about a particular congregation, but the congregated body of Christ’s church in some location – JKB], wheresoever God has established it, even though the magistrates and edicts of princes were against it, yea, though they should suffer death or any other corporal punishment.  Therefore all those who separate themselves from the same or do not join themselves to it act contrary to the ordinance of God.

Did you feel the force of that statement?  It says you must join the visible church, even if that means you’ll have to suffer punishment at the hands of the civil government.  Even if it means you’ll be put to death by the magistrate, you must join the visible church of Jesus Christ!

Both of these creeds follow the Biblical teaching of John Calvin, that prince of exegetes, who taught the same thing in numerous places in his writings.  For example, here are two questions and answers from Calvin’s Genevan Catechism:

Master [That’s how Calvin addresses the student – sort of like “Mr.”  The student is asking a question here.].  Why do you subjoin forgiveness of sins to the Church?  [In other words, the student is asking, “Why is it that the forgiveness of sins can be received only in conjunction with the visible church?”]

Scholar.  Because no man obtains it without being previously united to the people of God, maintaining unity with the body of Christ perseveringly to the end, and thereby attesting that he is a true member of the Church.

Master.  In this way you conclude that out of the Church is nought but ruin and damnation?

Scholar.  Certainly.  Those who make a departure from the body of Christ, and rend its unity by faction, are cut off from all hope of salvation during the time they remain in this schism, be it however short.  [John Calvin, “The Genevan Catechism” in Tracts and Treatises vol. II (Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 1983.  [Vol. 2 is a reproduction of the Calvin Translation Society edition of 1849]), p. 52.]

John Calvin taught, and our creeds agree, that the Scriptures teach this truth: “Outside of the Church is nothing but ruin and damnation.”

I would not be doing my job as a minister of the Word of God if I didn’t point that out to you.  This is information that every person on the face of this earth needs to know!  “Outside of the Church is nothing but ruin and damnation.”

Now of course we know that God is able to save people that never join the church.  God sometimes does some rather extraordinary things that are beyond our comprehension.  That’s why I appreciate the way the WCF puts this truth.  It says that outside the visible church, there is no “ordinary” possibility of salvation.

The thief on the cross was saved, and we know that he wasn’t baptized into the visible church while he hung on the cross next to Jesus.  But that was certainly an extraordinary case.  After all, he couldn’t join the church, since he’d be dead in a few hours.  And when you think about it, he did make a public profession of his faith in Jesus Christ as he hung upon the cross next to Jesus.

And then, Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, personally and publicly, received him into membership in His body when He said to him, in Luke 23:43, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

I’m sure the same would be true of a person today who truly believes in Jesus Christ, and who fully intends to join the church as soon as possible, but who perhaps dies suddenly before that happens.  Or consider a child of believing parents who dies shortly after he’s born, or even before he’s born, and so isn’t baptized.

We would consider such individuals to be saved, nonetheless.  But those are “extraordinary” situations.

And even if we were to allow for the possibility that God, in His sovereign power, could decide, immediately and supernaturally, and apart from any of those outward means of preaching, and church membership, and the sacraments, to zap someone with salvation, we’d still have no basis on which to expect such things.

We have no promise, no revelation on which to hope for such things.  When God lays out before us the only way of salvation in the Scriptures, then that way is the only basis for our sure hope of salvation.  Any other way of salvation is merely wishful thinking on men’s part.

So let’s be perfectly clear.  According to the Scriptures, as understood in the WCF, and as understood in the Belgic Confession, and as understood by John Calvin, (and many, many others could be added), there is no ordinary possibility of salvation for you, if you refuse to join the visible church!  If you refuse to join yourself to the body of Jesus Christ, you don’t have any Scriptural basis on which to hope for salvation.

And it should, of course, go without saying, that that means you must be a member of a true church and not an apostate one.  A person could be a member of the Mormon Church, for instance (if you want to even call that heretical group a church), and still not be a member of Christ’s true body.  The Scriptures command us to join with a church that preaches and teaches the whole counsel of God.  That means that we should join a Reformed and Presbyterian church, because that’s the only kind of church that seeks to proclaim God’s Word in all its fullness.

Now we know that there are no perfect churches, of course, but it’s our duty to join with the most faithful church we can find.  If we would have the true God as our God, then we must have God’s true Word as our guide.

The very first Commandment, in Exodus 20: 3, says, “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Now what does it mean to “have” a God?  And how do we “have” a God?  Well, think about it, how do you “have” a husband or a wife?  How do you “have” a spouse?  Do you “have” a spouse the moment you say, “I love you?”

“I love you.  There, now you’re my spouse.”

No.  It doesn’t work that way.

Even if you’re really, truly in love with this other person, does that mean you “have” them as your spouse?  No.

What about if you’re living together?  If you’re living with them and you see them every day and every week, does that make them your spouse?  No.

You “have” them as your spouse only when you enter into covenant with them, that is, when you marry them.  Only then are they your spouse, by covenant, not before!

Well in the same way, God says, “Don’t ‘have’ any other gods before me, and that implies the opposite: you must have Him as your God.  And you get Him as your God by entering into covenant with Him.  Apart from that covenant, you see, you have no claims on God.

In fact, John Calvin makes an interesting statement in this regard in his comments on Psalm 24:7.  He says, “…for what is the purpose of the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments, of religious gatherings and of the whole external order of the church except to unite us to God?”  [John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. IV, pp. 409-410.  Comment on Psalm 24:7.]

The outward preaching and hearing of the Word of God and the outward visible signs and seals of baptism and the Lord’s Supper – all of these have the purpose of uniting us to God, by joining us to Jesus Christ.  These are the ways and means which God has ordained to bring us into union with Jesus Christ.  Apart from these outward means of the visible church, we’re not joined to Christ.

Therefore, we must let nothing stop us from identifying with Jesus Christ through His body the visible church.  In order to be saved, we must be in covenant with Jesus Christ.  We must be members of His body, the visible church.

This is not simply one man’s opinion.  We’ve seen that this is the consensus of many orthodox teachers throughout church history.  We’ll see even more evidence for this next Sunday, since there’s so much more evidence to present.

The Scriptures teach us this.  Our confessions interpret the Scriptures as teaching this.  Our forefathers in the faith interpret the Scriptures as teaching this.  Our Orthodox Presbyterian leaders interpret the Scriptures as teaching this.  And all of these witnesses agree: Membership in the visible church is not optional.  It is necessary for us to join the church if we are to have any sure hope of salvation.  Because, as our confession says that the visible church is that body, “outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”

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16 thoughts on “Why Must We Join the Church? (1)

  1. Matthew Doyle December 4, 2013 at 8:47 am

    What if you live in a rural area where the vast majority of “churches” are either deniers of the Gospel or are so Arminian that any Reformed person would not be welcome? And if there is a Reformed church, it would require you driving a 150 miles round trip each Sunday which in the middle of winter is not only unreasonable but unsafe. Also, would the author of this article conclude that the late Reformed Baptist A.W. Pink was unsaved since he was not a member of any visible church for a good part of his life even when churches were available for him to attend?

  2. Kenneth Gentry December 4, 2013 at 9:00 am

    Regarding your current location: I would still publically, formally, corporately worship God among his people at the best possible church. There I could take communion, sing his praise, witness baptism, fellowship with his people, and more.

    Regarding A. W. Pink: I love his writings. He was an effective communicator of the gospel. Unfortunately, he was a troublesome, self-absorbed fellow who could not get along with people. Though this link is biased against Pink from the get-go, it does cite some issues (and provide the documentation) that I have heard over the years: http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2013/01/a-w-pink-glorifying-god-by-disobeying.html

    Rather than following Pink in not assembling together in Christ’s church, I would follow Scripture. Rather than alienating myself from God’s people, I would worship with them and gently try to teach them. We have to wonder: if everyone was a loner for Jesus, where would the Christian faith be today? Paul rebuked the Corinthians for the WAY in which they conducted their church life, but never urged faithful Christians to STAY AWAY from that church.

  3. Jeffrey K. Boer December 4, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Mr. Doyle, I don’t know your location, but sadly, there are many people today in locations where good churches are hard to find. The bottom line is that in order to have the assurance of God’s promises in His covenant, you need to become a member of that covenant through membership in a visible church. God can save people outside the covenant (even A.W. Pink, if He so chooses), but we have no promises, no guarantees from Him outside the covenant.

    Some options would be: 1) Search the various Reformed church websites to see where the closest Reformed church is located (OPC, PCA, RPCGA, RPCNA, ARP, CRPC, CRC, RCA, Etc.) 2) If there’s nothing within reasonable driving distance, find a church that, although imperfect, is a true church of Jesus Christ, and join it — this may require a judgment call on your part — perhaps get the advice of a pastor you trust to help make that determination. 3) Become a member of a true church that is farther away, and get their permission to attend a local, less perfect church, while attending the good church a bit more sporadically. 4) Contact a local Reformed presbytery or classis and look into the prospects of starting a new, Reformed church in your area. 5) Move.

    Regarding whether or not men such as A.W. Pink are saved, it is not in my purview to make that determination. I am to treat members of true churches as Christians and encourage other professed believers to join themselves to a true church in covenant with Jesus Christ where they can partake of the signs and seals of the covenant and find assurance.

  4. Jeffrey K. Boer December 4, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    Here is an article I wrote on “Finding A Biblical Church.” The version on this website is the 2007 version:
    http://www.all-of-grace.org/pub/others/findchurch.html

  5. Matthew Doyle December 4, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    “Regarding whether or not men such as A.W. Pink are saved, it is not in my purview to make that determination.”

    With due respect Dr. Boer, I think you did that in your article. Not only regarding A.W. Pink, but everyone else who for whatever reason is not a member of a local church.

  6. Matthew Doyle December 4, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    “Rather than following Pink in not assembling together in Christ’s church, I would follow Scripture.”

    Of course, I neither said nor implied that either me or anyone else should follow Pink rather than Scripture. And I would assume that Pink didn’t think he was doing that as well.

    “Rather than alienating myself from God’s people, I would worship with them and gently try to teach them.”

    That assumes that I haven’t attempted what you have suggested. It also assumes that I am the one who is doing the “alienating.”

  7. Kenneth Gentry December 4, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    I’ll be honest. I have never gone to a church and felt they didn’t want me there. I could imagine that happening if I complained about their theology or something.

  8. Jeffrey K. Boer December 4, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    Mr. Doyle wrote: “Regarding whether or not men such as A.W. Pink are saved, it is not in my purview to make that determination.”

    With due respect Dr. Boer, I think you did that in your article. Not only regarding A.W. Pink, but everyone else who for whatever reason is not a member of a local church.

    Mr. Doyle, it is the Westminster Confession of Faith that teaches that outside the visible church there is no “ordinary possibility” of salvation. I take that to mean that God can use His extraordinary providence to save anyone He pleases. The point is that Mr. Pink, and anyone else who refuses to enter into covenant with Jesus Christ by joining His body, the church, is outside the covenant and has no basis, therefore, for assurance of salvation. The promises of God are to His covenant people in Christ Jesus, not to those outside the covenant. So while I have no basis to assure Mr. Pink that he is saved, I also have no basis to say that he is not saved. I leave that up to God.

  9. Matthew Doyle December 4, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    One does not have to “complain about their theology.” Often it all it takes is for them to know that you don’t agree with their “every jot and tittle.” And then if they ask you to explain your differences and you do, game over. I’m glad you haven’t experienced such. Perhaps in your part of the country it is rare. Here in the “graveyard of evangelism” it is quite common. Mostly among Arminian evangelicals and even among some who claim to be reformed. And no, I don’t deny any of the cardinal doctrines of the faith. I’ve spent my life defending them in public and in private forums.

  10. Matthew Doyle December 4, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    Dr. Boer wrote:

    “In order to be saved, we must be in covenant with Jesus Christ. We must be members of His body, the visible church.”

    What is the clear implication of this statement? One who is not a member of a local congregation is not in covenant with Jesus Christ and is therefore not saved. So while you said ““Regarding whether or not men such as A.W. Pink are saved, it is not in my purview to make that determination.” As I noted, you had already made that judgment not only about Pink, but about any and everyone who is not a member of a local congregation. You couldn’t have been any clearer.

  11. Matthew Doyle December 5, 2013 at 8:55 am

    Dr. Boer said:

    “Mr. Doyle, it is the Westminster Confession of Faith that teaches that outside the visible church there is no “ordinary possibility” of salvation. I take that to mean that God can use His extraordinary providence to save anyone He pleases. The point is that Mr. Pink, and anyone else who refuses to enter into covenant with Jesus Christ by joining His body, the church, is outside the covenant and has no basis, therefore, for assurance of salvation. The promises of God are to His covenant people in Christ Jesus, not to those outside the covenant. So while I have no basis to assure Mr. Pink that he is saved, I also have no basis to say that he is not saved. I leave that up to God.”

    Of course, we all realize that no one can know infallibly the state of another man’s soul. But let’s say for the sake of the argument that instead of A.W. Pink we were talking about Dr. Gentry. Based upon Dr. Gentry’s writings, teachings and life over the years, neither you nor anyone else would have the slightest doubt that he is a child of the Covenant. But if like Pink, he were not a member of a local church, to be consistent to what you have written and stated you would have to say of him, “So while I have no basis to assure Dr. Gentry that he is saved, I also have no basis to say that he is not saved. I leave that up to God.” But according to your initial post, you would have every basis to say that he, Pink and anyone else who is not a member of a local congregation IS NOT SAVED.

    “In order to be saved, we must be in covenant with Jesus Christ. We must be members of His body, the visible church.”

    That’s a categorical statement, Dr.Boer. It’s either true or false, but one thing it is not, it is not subject to further clarification.

  12. Jeffrey K. Boer December 5, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Mr. Doyle, I understand your objections to my statement, “In order to be saved, we must be in covenant with Jesus Christ. We must be members of His body, the visible church.” I understand your point that it’s either true or false, and not subject to further clarification.

    I guess I could have said, “In order to have any assurance of our salvation, we must be in covenant with Jesus Christ. We must be members of His body, the visible church.”

    But what I said is simply what the Scriptures command regarding salvation, is it not? “What must we do to be saved?” “Be baptized, every one of you.” So if a person wants to be saved, he is commanded to join the covenant. I take that to mean that we have no assurance of salvation and no promise of salvation outside the covenant. Does this mean that God cannot or will not save a person who’s not baptized?

    I also said in the sermon, “If you refuse to join yourself to the body of Jesus Christ, you don’t have any Scriptural basis on which to hope for salvation.”

    So I don’t limit God in His ways. He’s the One Who commanded church membership as the “way” or the “commanded means” in order to be saved. But God is able to work outside this normal, “ordinary” route. We’re simply given no assurance that He will do so. I believe that God can change a man’s heart on his deathbed and bring him to salvation, even though’s he’s never made a profession of faith, never been baptized, and never joined a church. But I don’t encourage people to put their hope in the fact that He will do so, because they have no promise to that effect.

  13. Daniel December 11, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    I am not Reformed, nor do I really consider myself Arminian, I simply wish to know the truth, to understand the Scriptures as a whole and to follow Christ. I guess I’m saying, even if it is cliche, that I want to be Christian without extra labels and indentifiers.

    One thing that concerns me about this article is that there is barely, if any, support of your idea of “joining” a church found in Scripture. Paul said that we are members of the body of Christ individually. I see that as spiritual, not some earthly “congregation” mindset. I am a member of Christ’s body whether I meet with others or not. To say otherwise is to claim John on the Isle of Patmos was “cut off” from the covenant because he was isolated in exile. Or what about Paul when he entered cities where there were no believers, how could he stay in covenant relationship with Jesus?

    Might we have mistaken our traditions and creeds for what God’s word actually says? Personally I don’t care what Westminster thinks, they were fallible men, as was Calvin. The definition of God’s church is very simple: Wherever two or more are gathering in my name there am I among them.

  14. Kenneth Gentry December 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Daniel:
    Thanks for your note and interaction with the article on Church Membership. Your question is significant enough that I have decided to answer it in a two-part study beginning 11/18/13. I hope you will read my defense of church membership.

  15. Daniel December 13, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    Wow, well thank you Mr. Gentry for wishing to answer my question in such detail. I hope my response did not come off as whiney or self-important. I only wish to obey God’s word and do His will. I have found the opinions of the church throughout the ages are diverse enough as to put a big question mark on what doctrines are true or false. Something may appear to be biblical without being true (various studies on millennial views, which you are quite familiar with, show this to be the case). My view of the church has undergone a radical shift based upon books such as “Pagan Christianity” and “Re-imagining Church” by Frank Viola, as well as what the Holy Spirit has personally been showing me clearly revealed in His Word. I believe there should be a corporate existence, yet it is not such a government as most current churches subscribe to. It is really Paul’s idea of ekklesia: individual members of Christ’s body gathering together.

    My point is two-fold: One, it is clear that the body of Christ, while visible, was and always has been a spiritual reality, birthed by the Holy Spirit, joined together in the fellowship of the Spirit. In Paul’s day this is clear, when he came to a city with Barnabas or Silas, the ekklesia of Christ came to that city. “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name there I am among them” is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant “tent of meeting”, it is the temple that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 2, a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

    Two, the “church” is not an institution, but an organism, a living breathing body, it is not started or established by apostles (church-planting is unScriptural) but birthed by the Spirit of God. This spiritual body is found throughout the earth, it is “a spiritual house” made up of individual “living stones”. When they gather together they are an assembly of Christ, so then there can be many gatherings (churches) in houses and cities (Rom. 16:5, Col. 4:15), but one body (Eph. 4:4). There is one body and one Spirit, the two are inexorably linked. We were in one Spirit immersed into one body, all of us were made to drink of one Spirit. For this reason to talk of “church membership” is not only silliness, but it is unBiblical and furthermore impossible. As T. Austin Sparks so well once put it: You cannot put a bunch of roses in a vase and say they are “one”, they may be a congregation, but they are not joined together by life. Instead the body of Christ is a rose bush.

    The reality is that though one member of the body is thrown into prison, isolated from the rest of the body, yet he is still one with the body, he is still a member whether he has physical fellowship with them or not. I am not discounting the need for fellowship, as the writer of Hebrews put it,

    “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another…” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

    This is only just that: assembling together, with two or three in the fellowship of the Spirit, stirring each other to love and good works and exhorting one another. Of course we wish to meet with more and more brothers and sisters, but my point is that there is no institutional individual church. The church is that sublime thing that happens when one believer pressed to prayer and love for His Savior seeks out others of like-mind with kindred spirits and souls such as his. And once finding such brothers and sisters of the Spirit, made one in the word of truth, he joins with them in fellowship, breaking bread together, and worship of God the Father through Jesus Christ. Together these believers go out and do “work of the ministry”, but not before strengthening each other, building one another up in Christ Jesus, all of them following after Him on the path of self-denial and cross-bearing. They reach the day when all in this world is nothing to them and everything else becomes vanity except their union with Christ and one another. They seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

    I am sorry, but I don’t see this in the institutional church, and frankly I don’t see the institutional church in Scripture. However, I look forward to your study, and hope some of what I have written makes sense.

  16. Kenneth Gentry December 15, 2013 at 9:11 am

    I will be considering issues related to your comment in an upcoming series. Stay tuned!

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