A Healthy Church Member is a Committed Member (Part4)

July 20, 2014 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

How to Recognize a Good Church   It was December of last year, 2013, when I started the series on What is a Healthy Church Member. This was a topical series to reinforce the theme of our 17th church  anniversary which was “Bringing All to Maturity and Many to Leadership.”   Today, as we celebrate our 18th anniversary, we willstill be focusing on the same theme,and this may go on even till our 19thanniversary. Now, if you have observed, the series on the Healthy Church Memberhighlights only the first part of our theme, which is “Bringing all to Maturity.” When we’re done with this topical series, we will go back to our default mode of sequential exposition of a particular book of the NT, and also touch on the second part of our theme, which is “Bringing many to leadership.”   I hope, that by the time we finish this series on What is a Healthy Church Member, we will have seen more Christians becoming members of a local church and committing themselves to it, and experiencing significant spiritual growth in the lives.   Ok, now, for today’s anniversary message, I want to conclude our study on the 6th mark of a healthy church member, which is a committed member. Under this topic, we have looked at several things:  
  • Profile of a church-dater and reasons for church-dating
  • Biblical support for Church membership
  • Why Every Christian Should Be A Committed Member Of A Local Church
  What I have been trying to convince you of as we’ve been looking at this 6th mark is simply this: if you want to be a spiritually healthy Christian, you have to be a member of a local church and be committed to it. There is no way you can reach the level of spiritual maturity God desires for you unless you become identified and committed to a specific local assembly of believers following the leading and direction of God. This commitment is manifested by your attitude, attendance, involvement, giving, accountability and submission to that assembly.   As I said before, although the Bible does not contain any explicit command for Christians to become official members of a church, “we believe,” as our church manual says, “that to properly and effectively fulfill the expected functions of a local body of believers, formal commitment by every member is assumed.”   Again, here are some of the reasons why formal commitment is assumed in the NT:  
  • The meaning of the word "join" in Acts 5:13 (“None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.”) makes sense only in the context of membership. The Greek word Luke used that's translated here as "join" literally means "to glue or cement together, to unite, to join firmly." “Join” is used in the New Testament to describe a man being joined together to his wife in marriage (Mt 19:5). It means being joined in a sexual relationship to a prostitute in 1Co 6:16, and being joined to the Lord in one spirit in salvation in 1Co 6:17. And so the word join in Acts 5:13 doesn't refer to just an informal and merely assumed kind of relationship.
  • There are so many passages that show our responsibility to otherChristians such as love one another with brotherly affection, serve one another, forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, and consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Most of those commandments are directly given to local churches and are intended to help those churches be what God wants them to be. Those commands make sense only if you are a committed member of a local church.
  • The instructions for church discipline in Mt 18, especially that portion that says, “tell it to the church,” would not be doable if there is not formal membership.
  • The instructions for church leaders to shepherd the flock is practicable only in the context of membership. How can a elders oversee the flock if they don’t even know who they are and if these people they are commanded to oversee have not submitted to them.
  • The NT church practice of keeping a list of widows in 1Ti 5:9 makes sense in the context of membership
  • The formal correspondences between established local assemblies make sense only in the context of membership. 1Co 16:3 - And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.
  Now that you’ve learned these things about church membership, what should you do?   If you are already a Christian and you are just dating the church, then I exhort you to stop living independently or having the “consumer” mentality and start to submit yourself for membership in a local church. Present yourself to the church for baptism as a symbol of identification with Christ and His church. Be identified as a member of the church. Make yourself accountable to the members and submit to its leaders. Now if you are already a member of a church, reaffirm your commitment in your present church. Discover your spiritual gifts and through that church begin to serve. Don't just attend to be served but begin serve others and love them. Also make yourself accountable to others and submit to the leaders.   Don't make that excuse that the reason you are not joining the church is because it is imperfect. There is no perfect church today, just as there was no perfect church during New Testament times. The NT church faced the same problems we face today.  
  • In Acts 5 we read of hypocrites in the church. Remember the incident about the husband and wife whom God killed because they lied about the sale of their lot.
  • In Acts 6 we see complaining and grumbling among groups in the local church. Greek-speaking Jewish Christians vs. Hebrew-speaking Christians because of unfair distribution of food and funds.
  • In Acts 15 we read legalistic members of the church. These church members claimed that people need to be circumcised and obey the Law of Moses in order to be saved.
  • In the latter part of chapter 15 we find church leaders quarreling that resulted in a separation of ministry.
  • In chapter 2 of Paul’s letter to the Galatians we read of the church leaders Peter, Barnabas and others living in hypocrisy and compromise.
  • Read 1Corinthians, and you find a whole assortment of problems:
  • Divisions over Christian Preachers (1–4)
  • A member having sexual relations with the second wife of his father (5)
  • Members of the church bringing othermembers to court (6:1–11)
  • Sexual immorality and going to temple prostitutes (6:12–20)
  • The wealthy shaming the poor during the Lord's Table (11:17–34)
  • Elevating speaking in tongues above others spiritual gifts (12-14)
  • Questions re the resurrection (15:1–58)
  The NT shows that the early churcheshad their own share of moral and doctrinal problems but the Lord Jesus nor the apostles did not say to the believers to reject the church or to stop joining it.The instruction of the Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul was to remove unrepentant sinners from the local church. They never told Christians to live independent of the church because there was no perfect church. In fact, despite the problems of the church of that period, the author of the book of Hebrews wrote that believers should not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage and to stir up one another to love and good works, and all the more as they see the day of Christ's return and judgment drawing near (Heb 10:24-25).   Today, I want to conclude this series connected to committed church membership with some guidelines on how to discern a good church. In order to do that we need the instruction of the Word of God. On the basis of the Word of God alone we will be able to discern to which local church we must join ourselves.  

How Do We Recognize A Good Church?

  [Note: Though not quoted verbatim, most of the words or ideas in this study are from Richard W. De Haan, former president and teacher of RBC Ministries from 1964 to 1984.]   Many people are drawn to a church by its beautiful buildings. Others are more interested in the size of its membership. Still others are attracted by its choir or musical program. Many are attracted by the personality or the ability of the pastor to communicate or entertain the listeners. Some look for a church with a good program for young people and children. There are also others who are drawn to a church because of loyalty to a denomination, its location, or friends or business prospects who attend. Others look for a church that make them feel special.   None of the reasons I gave you are biblical reasons for recognizing or choosing a good church. The most important thing to consider in choosing a church is what does it believe and teach. As someone said, “I’d rather be in a church that meets in an old broken-down building with no choir, an out-of-tune piano, and a stammering preacher who teaches the Word of God than attend a church that’s proud of its beautiful buildings, magnificent choir, or eloquent minister yet denies or ignores the clear teaching of Scripture and lacks the presence and power of the Spirit of God. What is believed and preached in a church is all-important!”   The very first thing you look for in choosing a good church is its doctrine.  

1.    A good church holds fast to the essentials of the faith.

  • Ac 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching.
  • 1Ti 4:13,16 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. … 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers
  • 2Ti 4:2-4 says, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
  I want to give this clarification. Let me repeat what is common knowledge. There is no perfect church. And, I’m sorry to disappoint some of you, but you may never find a church with which you agree on every belief and practice. So it is important to point out the essential doctrines that all true churches should believe and if they are present, you can confidently identify with that local church, work in it, and worship there with enthusiasm and joy. But if these fundamentals are missing or denied, beware!   What are the essentials of the Faith?  
  • Bible
  • Trinity (beliefs about God, Christ, HS)
  • Man
  • Salvation
  • Church
  • End times

a.    Scriptures Alone (Sola Scriptura)

A good church will be correct, first of all, in its beliefs about the Bible. It will believe and teach that the Bible is the inspired Word of the living God. The Lord has given us the Scriptures, His infallible written revelation to man.   2Ti 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.   A true church believes that the Bible is entirely trustworthy, sufficient, infallible and supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct. A true church believes that all the 66 Bible books are equally inspired and that they are the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured.  

b.    Trinity

The second way to recognize a good church is to examine its belief about God. No church can possibly be sound in doctrine if it rejects the teaching of the Bible regarding the Trinity. The Bible teaches that God is one (Dt. 6:4) but at the same time, in this one God is three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is God. The Son, Jesus Christ, is God. The Holy Spirit is God. And each of these three members of the Trinity is a Person. They have always existed. They are equal in power and knowledge. Yet they are so unified in their essence that they are not three gods but one God.   The Bible presents the first person of the Trinity as the Father. He is light and there is no darkness in Him. He is love, but he is also a consuming fire (Heb 12:29) who punishes the evildoer. No teaching about God can be called biblical if it fails to recognize His holiness as well as His love. It must acknowledge His hatred and judgment of sin as well as His pleasure of righteousness. A minister who preaches God’s love without ever mentioning God’s wrath is not presenting the whole truth.   The Bible also presents the second person of the Trinity as Jesus Christ, the Son of God. A true church presents the full deity and humanity of Christ. The Bible teaches that Christ is truly God and truly man. The deity of Christ, for example, is explicitly stated in the opening verse of the gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). Paul says  in Col 2:9 that in Christ, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”   But Jesus is not only God, He is also man. The fact of our Lord’s deity and humanity is clearly indicated in Philippians 2:5-8. He was born of the virgin Mary. During His life on earth, He as a man became weary, He was hungry, and He suffered physically. Nevertheless, He was truly God. This is a mystery which we accept by faith. If a church denies the absolute deity and genuine humanity of Christ, then it is not a true church.   A church that is correct in its Christology will also believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. It will teach that Mary was a virgin when Christ was born. A church that is correct in its Christology will also believe in the atoning death of Christ. It will teach that Jesus, the sinless One, died on the cross for sinners. Yes, He died as our substitute. A church that is correct in its Christology will also believe that Christ literally arose from the dead.   The Bible also presents the third person of the Trinity as the Holy Spirit. Some people think of the Spirit is some force or just an influence that comes from God. But the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is a Person and He is God. And since He is God, He is also co-equal and coeternal with the Father and the Son. So beware of those who deny the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit.  

c.    Man

A good church will also be correct in its understanding of man. A good church teaches that man was directly and literally created by God and that man was created in the image and likeness of God. A good church believes that Adam and Eve fell into sin and that in Adam's sin the whole human race fell and therefore all human beings who are born into this world are born with original sin, with the exception of Christ. Man is spiritually dead and he is totally incapable of any spiritual good nor can he repent and believe to be saved, except by the grace of God. Only through regeneration by the Spirit of Christ can salvation and spiritual life be obtained.  

d.    The Way of Salvation

A good church will be correct in its understanding of the way of salvation. It will proclaim the message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8-9). A good church will deny that salvation is in any sense a human work. Human methods, techniques or strategies by themselves cannot accomplish man’s salvation. Now in saying that salvation is by grace— completely apart from human effort—we are not denying the importance of baptism, church attendance, or living a good life in obedience to the commands found in God’s Word. Not at all! All of these things are vitally important. But they are not done in order to be saved. Rather, they follow as the fruit, the result, the evidence of a genuine conversion experience. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  

e.    The Church

A good church will be correct in its belief about the church. The word church may refer to either the invisible universal church or to a visible local assembly of believers. The universal church consists of all who have received Him as Savior, regardless of color, race, standing, or denominational label. It’s the one true church. The visible local church refers to local assemblies of believers—groups of Christians who meet regularly for worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and the observance of the ordinances.   A good church will recognize the distinction between a local and the invisible church. Its members will acknowledge that their assembly or denomination is not the only true church. They will not exclude from the body of Christ those believers in Him who don’t have their particular ecclesiastical label. Rather, they will see all who have placed their trust in Christ as fellow members of His body, the one true church. They will accept them as brothers and sisters in Christ.  

f.     Endtimes

Finally, a good church will be correct in its understanding of the endtimes and the coming of Christ.   Richard De Haan, a well known Bible teacher in the 20th century said:   The most momentous and far-reaching event in human history was the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ nearly 2,000 years ago. There is much more to the story of Jesus, however, than His first coming. His virgin birth, His sinless life, His bodily resurrection, and His ascension into heaven are all facts of history—but they are not the end of the story. There’s much more. That which lies ahead is glorious! The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is coming again. When He does, we shall see the complete unfolding of God’s great plan of the ages.   I realize that even within evangelical circles, people disagree about the endtimes. But our differences must never become occasions for division and strife. Rather, let’s remember that in spite of our various convictions, as brothers and sisters in Christ we can love one another just the same. The important thing is this: We agree that Jesus Christ is coming again. Any church that denies His personal return as an actual, future event falls short of the standards for measuring a good church.   In addition to its belief in the second coming of Christ, a good church will also recognize the reality of both heaven and hell.   Bible-believing Christians are looking forward to a beautiful place called heaven. Based on their faith in God’s Word, they anticipate with delight the joys that await them in their eternal home. And this hope brings healing to the wounds of their earthly existence and quenches their sorrows.   A good church not only believes in a place called heaven, but it also warns unbelievers of a real place called hell. If you believe the Bible, you simply cannot avoid the fact that there is a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned. One of the marks of a good church is its belief in and its scriptural teaching about both places.  

2.    A good church is characterized by biblical preaching.

  It is not enough for a church to hold on to the essentials in order to be considered a true church. Some churches will claim that they are true church because they keep a document that tells them what they believe in formally. You may find this in their Statement of Faith yet in practice, they deny these cardinal and orthodox doctrines. Keeping an orthodox statement of faith while at the same time hiding it from the congregation by not preaching it or burying those truths, will cause a true church to degenerate into a false church.   A good church will have a biblical message. It will be a place where the Bible is believed and faithfully preached. Paul wrote to Timothy:   2Ti 4:1-5 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober- minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.   From Richard De Haan:   Paul said, “Preach the Word!” And that’s one of the first things you should listen for when looking for a church home. Is this a place where the Word of God is preached and practiced? Or are the messages from the pulpit mere moral sermonettes intended to tickle the ears of fickle Christians? Are the messages mere expressions of the preacher’s opinion, or are they proclaimed with the authority of the Scriptures behind them? Is there not only “milk” for spiritual infants but also “solid food” for those who have matured in the faith? Paul said, “Preach the Word!” And that’s exactly what is done in a good church.  

3.    a good church administers the ordinances as Christ instituted them.

  The Lord Jesus Christ has sovereignly instituted and appointed two ordinances to be observed by the church to the end of the world. The one is water baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19-20). The other is the Lord's Supper (1Co 11:26).   Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Savior, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper.   The Lord's Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.  

4.    A good church worships and prays.

  • Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
  • 5:18-19 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart
  • The early Church was devoted to prayer. 1Ti 2:11-4 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

5.    A good church exercises genuine fellowship.

  From Richard De Haan:   Five qualities that are characteristic of a church that exercises genuine fellowship:  
  1. The members of an ideal church are loving. Speaking to His disciples, Jesus said in Jn 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
  True fellowship involves loving with a selfless desire for the good of others. It’s reaching out to those who need the encouragement of genuine love.  
  1. The members of an ideal church are caring.
  1Co 12:25-26 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.   Caring includes such activities as praying for one another, visiting the lonely, ministering to the sick, and comforting the bereaved. Through prayer and the practical demonstrations of loving and caring, we fulfill the biblical admonition, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Sorrows are lessened and joys are increased when others share them. It’s encouraging for a believer to know that his brothers and sisters in Christ are praying for him. How wonderful it would be if every member of the church really felt cared for!  
  1. The members of an ideal church are forgiving.Believers in Christ should be ready at all times to forgive those who have wronged them.Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Eph. 4:32).
  1. The members of an ideal church are forbearing. The apostle Paul, writing to the Ephesians, indicated to believers that they were to walk “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). If we are really “bearing with one another in love,” we are patiently making allowance for the weaknesses of others. Irritability and impatience are selfish responses, totally out of keeping with Christian character.
  1. The members of an ideal church are submitting.
Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you  

6.    A good church is evangelistic in spirit.

  From Richard De Haan:   A good church will recognize the importance of bringing lost souls to Christ. The Lord Jesus Himself announced “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10). A good church will have an evangelistic mission. It might also have a deep social concern for the physical and material needs of people; but if that becomes its primary mission, and evangelism is given a back seat, then its priorities have been confused. A sure sign of a good church is a burden for lost souls.   This is not to say that the right kind of church should have aninvitation for unbelievers every Sundaywithout exception. Evangelism can be demonstrated in other ways such as through home Bible studies, personal witnessing of its members, radio and television outreaches, home visitation programs, and other ministries that may be appropriate to a church in its own community.   Evangelism also goes beyond getting people saved. A good church will have a concern for promoting Christian discipleship and growth.   Closely related to evangelism is missions. A good church will have a strong missionary outreach. It will have a global concern. Jesus told His followers to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). Also, in Acts 1:8 our Lord said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  

7.    A good church has a regenerated membership.

  From Richard De Haan:   A good church will have a regenerated membership. If a church membership includes unsaved people (good as they may be, and of the highest reputation and respect in the community), beware! If it welcomes into its membership men and women who have never been born again, it is not a good church.   Again, please don’t misunderstand. We should encourage the unsaved to come to church, to hear the Word, and to be confronted with the good news of God’s saving grace. But to receive them as members before they are saved and to give them a voice and a place in the affairs of the church is to stain its purity, compromise its principles, and diminish its power.   Paul commanded in 2Co 6:14-16:   14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,   “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God,and they shall be my people.  

8.    A good church has biblical church leadership.

  Elders or overseers have a very vital role for the well-being of churches. This can be seen in the following passages:  
  • Act 14:23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
  • Tit 1:5 --The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.
  • Ac 20:17,28 –17 From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church... 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
  • Heb 13:17 --Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
  They should therefore be chosen according to the principles laid down in Scriptures such as those found in Titus 1:5-9 and 1Ti 3:1-13.  

9.    A good church applies biblical discipline to correct its faults.

  A true church administers biblical discipline in order to preserve pure doctrine and holy living.  
  • Mt 18:15-17 If your brother sins against you, [c] go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' [d] 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
  • 1Co 5:9-13 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people-- 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."