“Don’t stop at knowing!”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor of Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Applying the science of biblical interpretation, will enable us to know what God has said. Once we arrive at what He said, there is a tendency to stay there. I would exhort you to move forward to apply what God has said. One area of applying what God has said concerns joining a local church. There are some in the evangelical world which place a very low priority on church membership. There is one clear observation that we can make concerning the New Testament. The human authors, especially the Apostle Paul did not write much on church membership because he assumed that those whom Christ made His own would naturally seek to invest themselves in a local body of believers. Church membership was assumed.
A genuine believer is one who has been born again by the Spirit of God working in concert with the Word of God. When God raises the spiritually dead, He makes him a new creation. As a new creation, He gives new desires. Believers have a desire to worship God, or you may be used to saying, “Go to Church.” Therefore, believers desire to find a body of believers with whom they can worship God.
The biblical doctrine of adoption necessitates Church Membership. God Adopts the sinner into His family by an act of His free grace. The adopted are heirs of His promise in Christ, namely heaven. We know that the Bible teaches that God sanctifies those whom He adopts into His family. Sanctification is God’s process of change in every believer. He works in each one causing him to respond by the ongoing mortification of sin. Believers work out their own salvation because God, the Holy Spirit works in them to make them more and more like Christ.
Likewise, the Bible teaches that salvation is God past act, His ongoing work and His future promise. Christians have been saved, are being saved and will be saved! The Christian’s desire to worship God with brothers and sisters in Christ is the motivation to invest in a local church. Church membership is the God-ordained normal means by which Christians live out their adoption.
Christians gather to: praise God, pray to Him, and hear Him speak both in the reading and proclamation of Scripture. As a result, believers are edified or if you choose to use this word, fed.
Believers grow spiritually by participating in corporate worship. Therefore, finding a church is critical for living in Christ, applying God’s adoption. A believer desires a church in which he can grow up into Christ. As a result, it is necessary to know what constitutes a “true church”, that is, one that preaches the pure word, administers the two sacraments as Christ ordained them and exercises biblical Church Discipline. These three marks of a true church were re-discovered by the Protestant Reformers of the 16th Century.
These three marks are revealed in the Bible. They are necessarily present in every local congregation that calls itself “Christian.” For emphasis I repeat them. The first mark is that the pure word of God is preached. The second is that the two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are administered in accordance with Christ’s institution. The third is that Church Discipline is exercised in accordance with God’s word.
Christians are often deceived by pragmatists and others who base supreme value on “what works” to grow in numbers. Christians too often seek churches with the right programs, or an age group of those of similar life circumstances. It sometimes seems that God-centered worship and ministry has fallen on “hard times”, especially in the American Evangelical Church.
But, against man-centeredness stand the marks of a true church. I encourage all who profess Christ to seek out such a local church. Be intentional about seeking a local church that is God-centered rather than man-centered. God has ordained that Christians will grow spiritually through the ministry of a local church centered on Him. Don’t settle for fancy or entertaining skits, programs or social circles. If you are the father of a family, you not only need the spiritual growth possible in a faithful church, but your wife and, if the Lord has blessed you, your children need to be in a church that is God-honoring, Christ-exalting and Bible-centered. Once you find one, invest your God-given gifts and talents for the glory of God.