The following series of articles comes from David Cloud and gives us some helpful insight into how to really make the most of being a member of a church. I am so grateful for the church that Jesus Christ loved and gave Himself for, and I want to have a right relationship with the church, which is his body, his bride. I would not agree with every point he makes, but I think there is alot of good truth in what he writes.
A few years ago I received a letter from a young couple who exhorted me as follows: “Your book on separation is very good, but you may want to add a caveat that a person must have a better church to separate to before he separates from a church. We were shocked at the liberal doctrines held by the fundamental churches in our city.”
Later they wrote to me and shared with me more detail about these things. Following are specific things that they mentioned:
(1) Their former pastor did not teach that women should not work outside the home, and the wife of the associate pastor worked. (2) The church held parties or fellowships on Valentines Day, Halloween, and Christmas. (3) The pastor allowed a divorced person to work in the bus ministry. (4) The pastor failed to correct publicly certain erroneous statements which were given during testimony times and certain (supposed) erroneous statements which were made by visiting preachers. (5) The pastor failed to do anything about missionaries who joked and told stories in the pulpit. (6) Though the church took a stand for the KJV, this man did not think there was sufficient teaching on the subject of Bible versions. (7) The pastor “used humor to break the tension” in his preaching, whereas this one felt that sober- mindedness required that such levity in the pulpit cease. (8) The pastor seemed to prefer to let God change people about such things as appearance (long hair, ear rings on men, etc.) rather than approach them directly.
The couple eventually wrote and said they had “separated” from this fundamental Baptist church and from its pastor “because of his liberal teaching on remarriage, women working outside the home and his refusal to correct error.”
It is natural that in any church we will find things with which we do not agree. To practice Bible separation based on the type of things discussed in this letter, though, is not proper or healthy, in my estimation. These are not matters of “liberalism” or apostasy. These are matters of preference, or, at best, relatively minor issues. Church members must deal with many such things.
While we are to separate from error, we are also exhorted to submit ourselves to pastoral authority and to exercise grace in the church. I believe there are many types of things with which we can disagree in a church while continuing to submit ourselves to God-ordained authority. There does not have to be a contradiction here.
I know of others who have separated from practically all churches because none of them take what they believe is a proper stand in all matters. Many times these are good people who want to stand for the Word of God and who want to contend for the truth in a confused and apostate hour. (Many others, though, are contentious people who simply refuse to submit to God-ordained authority.) I praise the Lord for anyone who has a zeal for the truth in this wicked hour, but I also believe there are some important lessons in the Word of God that can help us deal with the complex matter of church membership.
I believe the following thoughts, which are an enlargement of my original reply to the aforementioned couple, can help us to have a more fruitful attitude toward the assembly in spite of the many problems and imperfections we find there. I have thought and prayed a lot about these things, so please bear with me while I offer seven things we must know and do in order to be a fruitful member of a New Testament church. I think of these things as “keys to fruitful church membership.”
NO ECUMENISM OR COMPROMISE
Let me hasten to say that I am utterly opposed to ecumenism and compromise. I realize that New Evangelicals and ecumenists take some of the things we will deal with in this article and misuse them to excuse their disobedience. They speak much of love and liberty, but they take verses on these subjects out of context and refuse to deal with the enormous amount of material in the Word of God on other subjects, such as separation, rebuking sin and error, apostasy, and discipline.
In this article I intend to deal with grace and liberty and submission to the church, but do not think that I am thereby ignoring the responsibility to stand for truth and righteousness.
Those who know us will not have to be told this, but I say this for the sake of our readers who do not know us. For twenty-six years, we have stood unapologetically for Bible separation. In this instance, though, we are dealing with other equally important matters.
SEVEN KEYS TO FRUITFUL CHURCH MEMBERSHIP
1. WE MUST HAVE AN ABIDING RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST
The first and foremost key to fruitful church membership is a real and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.
“Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:67-69).
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:4).
“And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28).
In order to submit to godly pastoral leadership and to have spiritual discernment to know right from wrong in churches, one must be born again and have the indwelling Spirit of God. Many church members who cause unnecessary problems in the church and who injure the welfare of the church do so because they do not have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. They do not have spiritual discernment, they walk after the flesh rather than the Spirit, they do not know how to submit to authority, and they do not care how they harm the church, because they are not born again. The Bible warns that God will deal severely with those who harm His churches. “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:17). The reason many troublemakers do not fear God’s retribution for their actions in the churches is that they are not saved.
In order to be a fruitful church member year after year, one must not only be saved but he also must abide in Christ. He must walk in fellowship with Christ the Saviour day by day. When we walk with Christ and have our eyes upon Him, we do not become offended at what man does in this world. “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165). This is why some church members throw up their hands and quit or become disgruntled and spiritually ineffective when they witness a pastoral failure or some such serious problem in the church, whereas other church members keep on for the Lord in spite of any discouragement that comes their way. They are disappointed when men fail them, but they do not quit or turn aside because their eyes are upon One who never fails!
Abiding in Jesus Christ is the most crucial key to fruitful church membership.