Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. ~2 Timothy 2:15

About Me

I am a young man who is following God's call into pastoral ministry. I have been so blessed with the privileges which the Lord has granted me. I am blessed to serve the Mt. Joy congregation in Mt. Pleasant, PA. I am constantly humbled and amazed at what the Lord is doing in my life.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Don't Starve Yourself Spiritually

In Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses told the Israelites, “And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Part of the purpose of the Lord providing the manna for His people in the wilderness and giving them strict instructions pertaining to it (such as collecting only enough for the day with the one exception being the day before the Sabbath where they were able to collect enough for two days) was to teach them that not only does their life depend on physical food but also knowing and obeying God’s Word. Just as physical food is necessary for our life, so is the knowledge and practice of God’s Word.

What happens if you go an entire day without eating anything physically? You will be hungry and probably feel weak. And if you skip a whole week of meals, even more so. If God’s Word is compared to physical food, what does that say about what happens to our spiritual lives if we go a day, or even worse, an entire week, without ever opening up the Bible to read and study more about the God who made and saved us? Far too many Christians today are starving themselves spiritually by neglecting to set aside time each day to study God’s Word. This explains why so many are weak spiritually. They are not daily getting nourished by God’s Word that brings life. Why several give into temptation so easily. They aren’t being reminded each day of how much more precious the Lord Jesus Christ is compared to sin. Why some struggle to make decisions. They are not continually having their mind renewed by God’s Word to grow to think their thoughts after His.

Waiting until Sunday morning for Sunday School and to hear the preaching of God’s Word is not enough! That’s like eating a huge breakfast on Sunday morning and then not eating anything again until the next Sunday morning. You would practically be destroying your body and lacking what you need to function fully through the week. Many would never dream of doing that yet that is exactly what they do to themselves spiritually. We need to know God’s Word more than we realize. It is essential for our spiritual walk with the Lord, serving as the water to grow and mature us spiritually.

We need to understand that God’s Word is food for our souls. For those who claim that they are just too busy to actually sit down and really look at what the Lord is saying, recognize that you obviously aren’t too busy to stop and eat each day. Why is that? You know you need food and crave it. Take this as a reminder of just how much you need God. Maybe the reason you are not craving Him so much is due to the lack of time that you spend in His Word daily. If you have been born again, then the Holy Spirit has given you a new nature that desires to know God more. God is the ultimate delight of your soul. The reason you should long to read and study His Word is because you love and want to know Him more. If such a desire is not present, you need to examine your heart and it may indicate that you have yet to be born again.

I often have people ask me for good and trusted Bible preachers and teachers that they can read or listen to in order to help them with their daily intake of God’s Word. I am always happy to direct them in hopes that the Lord will use it for their sanctification (their growth in grace). Allow me to share some of the names that have greatly benefited me personally in my own growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. A simple Google search can help you locate their websites and books. They are, in no particular order, John MacArthur, John Piper, Alistair Begg, R. C. Sproul, Mark Dever, David Platt, Matt Chandler, Kevin DeYoung, Paul David Tripp, Paul Washer, and Steve Lawson just to name a few. For the ladies, Jen Wilkin, Nancy Leigh Demoss Wolgemuth, Elizabeth Eliot, Nancy Guthrie, and Gloria Furman are some good ones to help you both study the Bible more and understand what you are studying.

Allow me to end this article with the following quote by Ray Comfort: "One day I asked a congregation if they without fail read the Word every day, and was horrified that no one (not even the pastor) raised a hand. So I made a habit of asking congregations and individuals “Do you read your Bible every day without fail?” When professing Christians offered their sad and pathetic excuses, I would ask them if they fed their stomachs daily. Then I would ask, “Which comes first—your Bible or your belly?” and let their conscience do its duty. How about you? Do you love God enough to give Him a few minutes each day to speak to you?"

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Monday, July 10, 2017

Happy 508th Birthday John Calvin!!!


I will bow down toward your holy temple
and I will praise your name
for your love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.

~Psalm 138:2

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
~2 Timothy 2:15

Let the pastors boldly dare all things by the word of God. . . . Let them constrain all the power, glory, and excellence of the world to give place to and to obey the divine majesty of this word. Let them enjoin everyone by it, from the highest to the lowest. Let them edify the body of Christ. Let them devastate Satan's reign. Let them pasture the sheep, kill the wolves, instruct and exhort the rebellious. Let them bind and loose thunder and lightning, if necessary, but let them do all according to the word of God
~John Calvin

Today marks the 508th birthday of John Calvin, one of the instruments God used to spread the Reformation throughout Europe. One could easily argue that he is one of the most influential theologians in history next to the apostle Paul and possibly Augustine. Personally, he is one of the "Johns" whom God has used to greatly impact my life and aid in teaching me His Word. (The other three being John MacArthur, John Piper, and John Charles (J.C.) Ryle). Regardless of whether you agree with him theologically or not (while through my study of Scripture I wholeheartedly affirm, embrace, and cherish the doctrines of grace he purported, I differ with him on his understanding of infant baptism and church order), there are things we all can learn from his life and ministry which had at its heart the glory of God. A fresh look at Calvin teaches us several things:

1) The Importance of the Word of God
The backbone of Calvin's ministry was the Word of God. This was central to his work in Geneva. In fact, upon seeing the many problems which existed in the church at Geneva, Calvin concluded that the only remedy to the problem would be to preach God's Word and let God straighten the people out through it. Calvin labored at teaching the flock that God had entrusted to him what God had communicated to them through His written Word. He preached ten sermons every two weeks at the same time writing several commentaries which he has blessed the church with today. His belief on the centrality of God's Word led him to preach through the Scriptures verse by verse. Such a commitment is shown in his return to Geneva after his banishment to start preaching from the exact verse he left off at his last sermon three years prior. He is known as the "prince of expositors." Every minister would do well in making the Word of God the foundation of his ministry. Every born again believer would do well in making the Word of God the foundation of their life and work; whatever God has called them to do.

2) The Importance of Embracing, Proclaiming, and Sharing the Glory of God
Calvin had one thing which drove his actions. This was his zeal for the glory of God to be made manifest and shared. The impetus for the strong commitment of teaching God's Word just discussed came from Calvin's perspective that to honor the Word of God would be to honor the God of the Word. He felt that the best way to display God's glory to the people was to preach God's Word which revealed His glorious work of redemption throughout history. He even stated at the end of his life that "I have written nothing out of hatred to any one, but I have always faithfully propounded what I esteemed to be for the glory of God."1 Such a commitment to living for the glory of God should be one which envelopes our lives as well. Paul tells us that Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Nothing should be a higher priority for the Christian than seeking to bring glory to God in everything that he or she does.

3) The Importance of Scholarship
Calvin was a pastor-theologian; something many claim today can't exist. In one moment he could write a treatise explaining what Scripture actually says about "free will" and then in another minister to one who was grieving the loss of a loved one. In fact, Calvin at first could not see how the two went together. He desired to be a scholar and write books concerning the faith. His whole purpose in writing The Institutes of the Christian Religion, his "magnum opus" respectfully, was to teach the pastors who were suffering persecution in France the faith that they were dying for. However, God continued to direct the Reformer to the pastorate where he used his scholarship in his teaching. He was not only a pastor shepherding his flock but a scholar seeking to teach God's Word as thoroughly and clearly as possible. It is interesting that for many decades historical scholars were perplexed with what translation of the Bible Calvin used in his teaching. It was not until recently they realized the reason for their mystery. Calvin did not use a translation but translated the original Hebrew and Greek on the spot from the pulpit without ever mentioning a Hebrew or Greek word! Such scholarship is usually laughed at today with ministers who desire to accurately handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) and pine over what God originally spoke in the original languages with them being accused of wasting their time on frivolous matters. I actually think the church would benefit more from scholarly pastors such as Calvin as well as Jonathon Edwards and John Piper which have followed him.

4)The Importance of Dedication
Calvin's hard work in ministry is enough to make the busiest pastor today in 21st century America appear lazy. Not only did he keep up with his extensive preaching schedule and strive relentlessly to write his commentaries, he also visited people in their homes and managed his administrative responsibilities at his church. He also had a wife and kids to minister to, some kids which I believe he took in. He never would have had time to waste hours in front of a TV or playing video games (not saying that these are wrong but we do need to be careful how we spend our time-Ephesians 5:15-16). These would have slowed him down from the work of ministry. Upon his latter years in poor health, people begged him to take a break. He was even preaching in his bedroom when bedfast. The Reformer's answer was "What? Would you have the Lord find me idle when he comes?"2 Unfortunately, and not admirable, he occupied himself so much with the work of the church that he did not take care of his health. (Something the current commentator as well as others would be wise to take heed about.) Calvin's dedication to what God called him to do reminds me that no matter how overwhelmed I feel with what God has on my plate, I can accomplish what He would have me to do if I rely on His strength in His grace.

5) How God Uses Men Despite Their Many Flaws
Calvin is another reminder of how God uses the most flawed men to do His perfect work. The Bible is full of those who had several weaknesses which would have hindered their effectiveness if it had not been for God's supernatural work both in and through them. Abraham had wavering faith, Jacob was a trickster, Moses couldn't speak and clearly had a problem with his anger, Jeremiah was too young, Gideon was unsure, David committed adultery and murder, Samson was a womanizer, and Peter denied his Lord. Yet, inspite of all of these, and possibly because of them, God chose to use such weak vessels so that He might get the glory. Calvin is no different. He had his flaws. Just the mention of the name "Michael Servetus" brings the sober reminder of Calvin's role in his execution and no discussion of the church's role with the state is complete without a reference to Calvin's Geneva and how the merging of the two entities was disastrous. This birthday is not a celebration of Calvin. He was a mere man who was nothing. Instead it's a celebration of a great God who sovereignly chose to work through such a weak vessel to bring reform to His church for His glory as He had purposed. Calvin was just an ordinary man who was used by an extraordinary God. Just as we also are. Praise God for John Calvin and the work that He accomplished with his life and ministry. May God use us, as insignificant as we are, to further His Kingdom for His glory as He sees fit.

In Christ,
Lee
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

1 John Dillenberger, John Calvin, Selections from His Writings (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1975) 110.
2Preface to John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009) xiv.

The Regulative Principle in Practice



            Last month, we discussed what has been called the “regulative principle;” that God’s Word must direct or regulate our corporate worship together. It is clear that God is not only concerned THAT we worship Him but also HOW we worship Him. When we are left to ourselves to determine how to worship God, it inevitably leads to sinful ways of doing so. Israel’s case with the golden bull calf serves as a prime example of this (Exodus 32). They took matters into their own hands and wound up greatly dishonoring God and participating in idolatry. God wants us to have the greatest joy and biggest blessing in worshiping Him as He deserves to be worshiped, so He doesn’t leave us guessing on how to conduct our worship in a way that pleases Him. He spells it out for us in His Word, setting boundaries for us to operate within. And when we come to the Word, we find that those boundaries are to read the Word, preach the Word, pray the Word, sing the Word, and show the Word. Since our worship must be centered on God, it only makes sense that it would be centered on His Word where He has specifically revealed Himself to us. To the way that these directives work out in practice, we now turn.

            Read the Word. Paul instructs Timothy to Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13). An essential component to our gathering together for worship on Sunday mornings should be the reading of passages of Scripture. This is why the “Call to Worship” is a Scripture reading, why we read a verse or two before the taking up of the offering, and the passage that is preached is first read. It is as God has directed us. Unfortunately, many congregations today have moved away from much Bible reading in their services. But it is so powerful just to hear God’s Word spoken audibly without any comments or explanations. The Spirit can work to grip our consciences and direct us away from ourselves to our Savior in the reading of the text alone. That of course doesn’t mean that the preaching of the Word is not as important though. In fact, God calls for both to occur in our worship together.

            Preach the Word. Paul also told Timothy to preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2 Timothy 4:2). God does not only want His Word read before the company of gathered saints and perhaps visiting unbelievers but also desires for His Word to be proclaimed with the point of what He is communicating in a passage both explained and applied so that His people may be encouraged, challenged, and grow further in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). It is through the preaching of the Word that unbelievers are brought to faith in Christ and believers find their faith strengthened. As we looked at two months ago when I preached on Nehemiah 8:1-8, God has given us a good model both for preaching and the appropriate response to the sermon by the congregation with Ezra and the Levites’ preaching of the law to the returned exiles.

            Pray the Word. In the context of giving instructions for how worship should be conducted in the Ephesian church, Paul says that I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people (1 Timothy 2:1). We are to be praying together as a body, expressing our adoration to God, confessing our sins before Him, and admitting our great need and dependence of Him. My wife and I recently visited a congregation while on vacation and it struck me how little we prayed together. The service didn’t even open with prayer asking for God to direct us to Himself and prepare our hearts for this wonderful time together! It was basically just a time of singing and the sermon with the offering plate passed in the middle. We certainly heard God speak to us from His Word but didn’t have much opportunity to speak to Him. He wants to hear from His people as well during our worship.

            Sing the Word. Now we come to the music in our worship. How does the Word of God direct our singing and making music before the Lord? We are told in Ephesians 5:19 to address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. This indicates that there are different types of songs that we should be singing together. I think that it is good for us to not only sing the old classic hymns with their rich theology pointing us back to Christ and His wonderful work but also newer songs that have recently been written that encourage us to look to the Lord as well. After all, the early church would not have been singing the hymns we sing today since they weren’t written yet! And as for the instruments used in our singing, the Bible provides quite a list for us to choose from (see Psalm 150 for example). Much more than just an organ and piano! The main thing in regards to our music in the worship service is that it is something that we can sing together which encourages us to center ourselves on Christ and the gospel.

            See the Word. And the Bible also directs us to continually see the gospel placed on display in the ordinances; baptism (Matthew 28:19) and communion (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Both of these communicate visually the life changing work of Christ on our behalf. Baptism the changed life that the gospel brings where a new believer identifies with Christ’s death and resurrection and communion the precious body of our Lord and His blood shed in our place. Communion must be practiced often until the Lord’s return.

Let’s seek to worship God according to how He desires to be worshiped. That way He will be honored and pleased and we will be edified and grow. He knows what He is doing in His instructions to us! 

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Why Membership Matters



What does it mean to be a member of a local church? Does it carry any great significance? Is it simply having your name on a roll? Are there any expectations for those who become a member of a local congregation? Can someone just get baptized, join the church, and then never have anything to do with the church from that time forth? Does membership actually matter?

By the way that many people treat it today, you wouldn’t think that it does. Many congregations are full of just casual church members instead of committed ones and too many names on a registry who have little or nothing to do with the congregation at all. Some people appear to take it more seriously to be part of a country club than they do a member of a local congregation. I am convinced though that church membership is very important and something that a Christian who desires to be obedient to Jesus cannot neglect. A faithful Christian will become a dedicated member of a local faith community focused on bringing God glory through the growth of its members and the spread of the gospel. My goal in this article is to show you, from Scripture itself, what church membership is all about according to God and the commitment that He says it calls for. And maybe even persuade some of you to take your membership more seriously if you are not currently doing so.

Perhaps the first issue we need to deal with is whether Scripture supports the idea of having official membership in a local congregation. Not only will we see that they did but also some of the practical reasons why they found it necessary. We find evidence throughout the New Testament that the congregations kept a record of who belonged to them and were no longer part of the world. They formally or officially recognized who had joined the fellowship. For instance, Luke reports that the company of believers right before Pentecost numbered around 120 (Acts 1:15). One could surmise that this group knew those in the number by name. They obviously had a record of them for such a number to be given. Later, the Lord added 3,000 souls to this number (Acts 2:41). This group remained committed to one another and the cause of Christ as they continued to grow (Acts 2:42-47). So we see a group committed first to Christ and then to one another seeking to be obedient to the Lord's "Great Commission" (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15). A picture of church "membership" even if it wasn't called such at the time.

Also, the fact that the Bible instructs elders, the leaders of local congregations, to "oversee" and "shepherd" the flock that God has called them to indicates that they must know who their "flock" consists of (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2-3). How difficult would it be, without a membership list of who constitutes their flock, for an elder or pastor to recognize who God holds them responsible for? Keep in mind that this is no small issue. Hebrews 13:17 points out that these leaders will have to "give an account" of the souls they are entrusted to watch over. A membership list serves to specify who these ones are and who they aren't. There obviously has to be a way to distinguish between those of this elder's flock and those who do not belong to that flock.

Furthermore, Scripture speaks of removing an unrepentant immoral professor from the fellowship in the practice of church discipline (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:2). For someone to be "kicked out" of the visible church, they must first have been seen as being a part of it. You can't officially "remove" what first officially wasn't "accepted." This points to some sort of membership list or acknowledgement that the early church must have kept in order for them to painfully remove names on it in such cases of unrepentant sin. To designate that they no longer belonged and should be treated as someone outside the fellowship represented in Jesus' words as a "Gentile or tax collector" (Matthew 18:17). Paul also speaks of a difference between "those inside the church" and "those outside" (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). How can one know who are "inside" and "outside" without some formal list or record?

So, as you can hopefully see, the idea of some sort of membership concept indeed has been present since the very beginnings of the church. The Bible not only supports the idea of a believer officially becoming a member of a local congregation, but also specifies what such membership entails. And to the specifics of what that is we  turn to next.

Membership Entails Affirmation
In Matthew 16:18, we find the first mention of the term church in the New Testament. Right after Peter gives the proper identification of Who Jesus is, that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God (v. 16), Jesus states that He will use him as an instrument to establish the Church. Peter will serve as a rock for this living organism that Jesus will build. The other apostles would also help lay this foundation, with Christ serving as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). Jesus also tells Peter that He will give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven (v. 19). This indicates an authority bestowed upon Peter and, probably by extension, the other apostles. It is the authority of heaven itself. In a very real sense here Jesus could be indicating that the church that He will establish through the apostles will be the earthly representation of His heavenly kingdom. That the church will serve as an ambassador of heaven. An ambassador communicates the will and decisions of their king while in a foreign land. Any decision the ambassador makes is only the decisions that the king had already made. Thus, whatever the ambassador binds, will be only that which has already been bound by the king. (The Greek phrase used here is unusual. It appears to indicate a future reality that has already been settled in the past. One could translate it as whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.)

We see this ambassadorial work with the apostles as Jesus goes about the business of building His church throughout the book of Acts. When the first group of Samaritans came to faith in Christ, the apostles, representing this new church that had begun construction, had to come to pray for them, lay hands on them, and a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit occurred (Acts 8:14-17). The question should be raised as to why a few of the apostles had to come from Jerusalem to do this. Why Philip did not take it upon himself to do it? I think the reason actually goes back to the authority that Jesus gave Peter and the apostles as Christ’s ambassadors. We are seeing here the keys and the binding and loosing at work. Peter and John merely affirmed the faith of these new converts through the prayer and the laying on of hands. God had saved them through their reception of the message but this sought to confirm their profession of faith. Likewise, church membership serves as a way that the church affirms one’s profession of faith based on the evidence of the fruit of a changed life which should be visible if one has truly been born again. It does not save but the church acts as God’s authority on earth, under the authority of Christ and His Word, to basically say with receiving one into membership: “We recognize you as belonging as part of us. You too join us in representing Jesus on earth.”

If it helps, think of the church as an embassy for the kingdom of heaven here on earth. America has several embassies in foreign countries all over the world. Each American embassy not only declares the country’s interest in the foreign land that it is in as an ambassador role like referenced above but also serves to protect the nation's citizens who are living in that foreign country. For instance, say an American citizen in China loses their passport. They would have to go to the American embassy in China for them to verify that they are indeed a US citizen and would be supported by the embassy. The embassy doesn't make them a citizen of the United States but acknowledges that they are while in this foreign land. Membership in a local church is a congregation publicly acknowledging, protecting, and supporting a citizen of heaven who lives in this foreign land which is not their true home.

This is why we at Mt. Joy require all membership candidates to have an interview with the pastor and at least one of the deacons. We, as leaders of the congregation, to the extent that we are able, want to make sure to affirm those who exhibit evidence of being "in Christ" as part of the fellowship. In this interview, questions are asked pertaining to how one came to faith in Christ and their understanding of the gospel.

Membership Entails Commitment
God never intended for the Christian life to be lived alone. He does not save anyone individually and expect them to be “free agents,” roaming here and there. His desire is for them to be committed to each other in the context of a local congregation of His followers. How else can one live out all the one another commands in Scripture (Leviticus 19:11; John 13:14, 34, 35; Romans 1:12; 12:10, 16; 13:8; 14:13; 15:7,14; 16:16; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 11:33; 12:25; Galatians 5:13, 15, 26; 6:2; Ephesians 4:2, 16, 32; 5:19, 21; Philippians 2:3-5; Colossians 3:9, 13, 16; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9, 18; 5:11, 13, 15; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; Hebrews 3:13; 10:24, 25; 13:1; James 4:11; 5:9, 16; 1 Peter 3:8; 4:8, 9; 5:5; 1 John 1:7; 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12)? Perhaps the clearest picture we have of this is found in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. In this chapter, Paul describes the church using the imagery of a human body made up of its various parts. God’s Spirit has given each believer a specific gift that should be used for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). The purpose of any spiritual gift is to edify or build up each other in the faith and to be used to serve one another (1 Peter 4:10). This indicates something that cannot be done at home away from other believers and something that would be difficult to do hopping from one local congregation to the next. Committing to suffer with the members of a local congregation in their suffering and to rejoice with them in their rejoicing can only be done if you have taken the time to, in a sense, live among those members and get to know them (1 Corinthians 12:26). Keep in mind that Paul writes to a local congregation in Corinth when he gives this instruction.

So the commitment of membership is to live together in community with and minister to the needs of the other members of the congregation. Let's dig a little deeper into what this means. It certainly requires more contact with other members of the congregation than just once a week on a Sunday morning. There should be sharing as a family of faith throughout each week whether that would be through getting together with other individuals or families from within the congregation or even just a simple phone call or card to check on others. This also means that a member should not be as concerned about getting their own needs met or desiring to be served by others but rather how they can serve others within the local body of believers. Far too often people selfishly ask, what can the church do for me. John F. Kennedy's famous instruction years ago could be reworded for church members today as "Ask not what the church can do for you, ask what you can do for your church."

Sitting at home and not joining a church really is not an option that the Bible gives (Hebrews 10:24-25). Take a moment to reflect on these words by Benjamin L. Merkle, "A Christian's relationship to the local church should not be like a dating relationship where both sides are constantly guessing how the other views their relationship. Many Christians today want to date the church, making no formal commitment. The biblical picture of our relationship with Christ is not dating but marriage. Therefore, it is appropriate that we have a formal commitment to Christ's visible church" ("The Biblical Basis for Church Membership," Those Who Must Give An Account: A Study of Church Membership and Church Discipline (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2012) 40).

Membership Entails Accountability
In the second mention of the term church in the New Testament, Jesus explains the accountability the church has upon its individual members. As recorded in Matthew 18:15-20, He lays out the steps in the process of what to do if you notice a fellow member in sin. The first step would be to point out their fault to them individually (v. 15). The hope is that this will lead the professing believer to see the error of their way and run back to Christ in repentance. However, if he or she refuses to repent and leave the specific sin, we are told to approach them again, this time with two or more witnesses (v. 16). If this still does not result in their repentance, they are to be called before the church and the entire congregation should reach out to them in love, calling for them to leave such a sin behind. However, if they appear to be so hard-hearted that he or she still refuses the reproach, drastically they are treated as if they were outside the church and thus as not belonging to the body of Christ (v. 17). Jesus then mentions the authority that He has given the church in these matters with the statement once again of them binding and loosing on earth what will have been already bound and loosed in heaven (v. 18) and that He stands with them in such a decision (vv. 19-20). (This assumes that the church followed His procedure as He had outlined of course). I must be careful here not to fail to state that the goal of such a process is actually restoration. This can be seen in the fact that Jesus’ teaching follows His parable of the shepherd leaving his 99 sheep to retrieve the one that has gone astray (vv. 12-14) and that it precedes Peter’s question concerning forgiveness (vv. 21-35).

When one becomes a member of a local congregation, they are actually saying that they want that body of believers together to hold them accountable for the way in which they are living. If they have an area of unrepentant sin in their life, they want the church to lovingly point that out. Any true believer who desires to live the holy life that Christ saved them for (2 Corinthians 5:15) would want this. We need each other for our growth in holiness! In a very real sense, our sanctification is a community project. Being a member of a local congregation is to say that I submit to this congregation and want them to hold me accountable for my spiritual growth and discipleship. I submit to their teaching and discipline. And discipleship consists of both teaching and correction. As you can visibly see, disciple and discipline are words closely related to one another.

So membership certainly consists of more than just having one’s name on the roll at such and such church. It involves having a local congregation affirm their profession of faith and recognize them as one of its own. It includes a commitment given to others in the congregation and their work together for the spread of the gospel. It is submitting to the congregation’s authority, which it enacts under the authority of Christ and His Word, to be held accountable for one’s growth and discipline in grace. All of this can be seen to be called for in Scripture. Do you see now why I stated in the opening of this article that a faithful Christian WILL become a member of a local faith community focused on glorifying God through the growth of its members and the spreading of the gospel? That church membership actually does matter? Mark Dever was right to label this as one of the "Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.

Allow me to end this article with one final convicting thought. We learn in His confrontation with Saul on the road to Damascus that Jesus identifies with His Church. He asked the terrorist who was deadset on killing Christians and destroying the Church, “Why are you persecuting ME?” (Acts 9:4). Not “why are you persecuting My Church?” This means that however we treat the Church Jesus views that as how we are treating Him. So if you want to have nothing to do with being a part of a local body of believers, then what does that say about your desire for Jesus? If you ignore the Church and do your own thing, what does that communicate about how precious Jesus is to you? I think that it is clear. If you truly love Jesus and desire to be obedient to His commands (which is how He Himself says that those who truly love Him demonstrate such love, see John 14:23), you will become an active part of a local congregation and take your membership in that body seriously. You will strive with the aid of God’s grace to love the people in that faith community (as difficult as that may be at times) as you love Jesus Himself. Take some time to evaluate how serious or lax you have been with your church membership. Are there some changes that you need to ask the Lord to help you make? Some steps you need to take to be more obedient to His Word and demonstrate your love for Him? Let’s make church membership meaningful again!

In Christ,
Lee
Soli Deo Gloria!!!