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Something I wrote last week that I thought I would post here . . .
Why Church membership?
I have been asked this question a few times over the past couple of years. Why should I join a (or your) church? Why can’t I just keep going and attending without joining? The Bible doesn’t say anything about church membership.
This is a good question that I think we would do well to explore. For I think it reflects the days in which we live, where “joining” is no longer seen as a good thing. And not just for churches - organizations all across the board are experiencing declines in membership, whether they be civic, social, or religious. It is a sign of the times.
First off, there are a few things to be said.
First, is it true that the Bible doesn’t say anything about church membership? Well, not exactly. It doesn’t speak about congregational membership, but inclusion into the church as the people of God, the body of Christ, by circumcision in the Old Testament and by Holy Baptism in the New Testament, is very important. And so there is a sense of “joining” in the Bible.
Now, where do today’s “congregations” fit into the picture? They are the visible manifestations of the church in the world today. Each congregation is not only part of the church, but is the church in the fullest sense. Each congregation, no matter its size or building, has the fullness of Christ in His Word and Sacraments and so is the church in that place. What this means for today, I think, is that to be in the body of Christ (a baptized Christian) but not to belong to a congregation which is the church in that place, is not a picture that fits in with the biblical witness. One was circumcised into a people, a community. One is baptized into a people, a community.
What has complicated this for us today is the mobility of our society and the plethora of churches that people can, and do, attend. In the not too distant past, one was baptized, catechized, married, and buried, from the same church. Not so today. This is a rare exception to the rule. Instead, people frequently move from place to place, and “church shopping” has become a reality to be dealt with. What church will I attend? Will I join? Do I have to join? Why?
Which brings us to the next question: Why can’t I just keep going and attending and not join?
Well, you can do this. Maybe some pastors will draw the line and force a decision at some point, but I think this is something that people are doing. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Where this becomes a difficult subject is when people have been burned and hurt by churches they have been members of, and do not eagerly want to experience that again. And I think that is understandable. They feel vulnerable and at risk. So maybe it would just be better to not join and just be there . . .
As I thought about this, it seemed to me that this is the same argument that many folks today make to avoid marriage and instead just live together. I don’t need a piece of paper (I don’t need to join); we’ll just live together (I’ll just attend); that doesn’t mean I don’t love them and am not committed to them. But what does it mean? For yes, it does mean something. In truth, this is done because it is easier to walk away; there is no real commitment.
Now, certainly, there is a difference here: living together apart from marriage is sinful, and we’re not talking about sin with regard to church membership. But I still think the analogy is apt. Especially because the relationship between Christ and the church is described in the Bible how? As a marriage! Christ as the bridegroom and His church as the bride. They become one flesh.
As any husband and wife can tell you, marriage involves a certain amount of risk and vulnerability. Your spouse is now going to see you at your worst. You are making a serious commitment. You are opening yourself and your emotions up and so there is the possibility of hurt. Your love may not be returned. Sinful spouses sin. Forgiveness is needed.
So it is also in the church and with church membership. Joining a church is a commitment (vows are made before the congregation!) and there will be a certain amount of risk and vulnerability. And yes, there will be sin. The church is full of sinners that will act like sinners (count on it!), and much forgiveness will be needed.
And so faith is needed. Spouses have faith in one another, certainly; but for a Christian couple, it is faith in our Saviour that keeps a marriage together. That this is the spouse He has given me and who I need. That this is the spouse I am to lay down my life for. That this is the spouse who’s going to need my forgiveness and who is going to need to forgive me. And it may be scary. Couples get “cold feet” before they marry; maybe we are hesitant to join a church because it isn’t exactly what I wanted. Maybe not. But perhaps it is the church you need. The church that your Saviour is giving you, to feed you and strengthen you. The church that also needs you.
To join, then, is an act of faith and commitment, to the heavenly bridegroom and to that particular congregation. It is to promise faithfulness and love and forgiveness; a vow which the congregation, in turn, makes to you. And like in any marriage, there will be good days and bad days, but through it all is the promise of God to bless, and there are great blessings in a Christian marriage and in being a member of a congregation.
Are there “divorces?” Times when people are forced to leave congregations? Surely. And they hurt, just like a divorce. And it takes time to heal. So take the time to heal! That is important. But equally as important: confess your sin and receive the healing love and forgiveness of the One who will never fail you; the One who is perfectly and always faithful; the One who laid down His life for you on the cross, to wash you clean and make you a spotless bride. Pray that He will give you the faith and love to forgive those who sinned against you, and then live that faith boldly! Fully confident that our Saviour is working in you for your good, and through you for the good of others.
Friday, October 29, 2010
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Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I am slowly reading my way through the book At Home in the House of My Fathers and came across a very interesting sermon by CFW Walther on the Office of the Holy Ministry (p. 146ff). What is interesting here is that he follows Luther in interpreting Romans 12:7-8 as a kind of “job description for pastors.”
In the ESV, these verses (6-8 to give context) read: Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Reading the translation as it is given above, most modern interpreters apply these verses to all Christians in general. Luther, however, does not. And he does not because he translates what is rendered above generally as "service" (Greek: diakonia) as more specifically "Office" (German: Amt). So for Luther, one of the gifts given by God is the Office of the Holy Ministry, and what those in this Office then do is listed in five participles: teaching, exhorting (admonition), giving (concern for the poor), leading (discipline and order), and mercying (concern for the sick, weak, and dying).
Now, don’t let the punctuation in the English verses above make you discount this theology and think Luther a bit crazy on that account - that we obviously have here a list of things that cannot be broken apart as Luther has done. The punctuation was added by editors of the Greek NT later, and in examining the Greek (though I am no Greek scholar), it seems that Luther’s interpretation is indeed possible.
Why don’t we see it that way today? Perhaps because we have been so infected with the “everyone a minister” theology and an aggressive egalitarianism that chafes against the idea of Office. But seeing things here as Luther does honors the Office but does not harmfully aggrandize it, as some would accuse. For clearly, the Office is an Office of serving (diakonia), and of serving the people of God. To highlight the distinction of the Office then becomes a good and wonderful thing for the people of God, who receive the service of the one God has “called and ordained” and placed into their midst to serve them.
It is exactly the “everyone a minister” theology - that seeks to highlight (elevate?) the people of God - that actually harms them. For while yes, the people of God have their service of love to neighbor as well, by making everyone a minister, we rob them of the Office that the Lord has created for them and their benefit. The result is what we often see in churches today: the pastor and people in competition with each other and robbed of their joy, instead of the pastor joyfully serving his people, and the people joyfully receiving his service.
Walther says that “Luther always and very correctly translated diakonia with the word office or Amt” (p. 152) - and not the more general word “ministry.” I do not have the time today to look at the other places in Scripture where this occurs and how that would change our look at things, but what an interesting exercise that would be! And I think this is very worthy of more study and discussion in our church today, to help clarify our theology of the Office, and the Call, and the role of pastor and people, which seems to have gotten a bit muddy of late. It is often said that we need this discussion in our church today - so let’s start here, with Luther and the theology of diakonia = Amt. If Luther is right, what are the ramifications of this for us today?
(If you want to see Luther’s German Bible translation of a passage, go to biblegateway.com and select to see the Luther Bible of 1545.)
Sunday, August 1, 2010
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Monday, June 14, 2010
Helped a parishioner paint and clean their house yesterday after church in preparation for their move today. (A military family) Made for a long day. But it was not only me, but my kids and a bunch of folks from church came to help. We'll miss this family, but know they have already found a good church in Colorado and will be well cared for there.
A couple of links for you today:
(1.) This one is a good quote from the 4th century that should apply to our synodical conventions today - which seem to have become (in recent years) mired messes of political putridity. (And yes, I made that word up!)
(2.) This one is a spoof on BP and the oil spill. Pretty funny!
Have a great day.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Monday, May 24, 2010
Which led me to then think of the fact that we are children of our heavenly Father, and that we are all different too. And so our Father in heaven, in His perfect love for us, does not treat us all the same - but knowing us and loving us, treats us according to who we are and what He knows we need. And so while He loves us all the same, He blesses us differently, disciplines us differently, and leads us differently, which is how it should be.
Therefore, it is exactly because God is perfect love and perfectly loves that we should not expect to all be treated exactly the same. We sometimes fall into that trap of thinking that if God gives to one, He should give to all in the same way. Not at all. That is not love - that is mass production, and God doesn’t mass produce. Instead, He creates each individual life through a father and mother, specially created for them, and whom He will love through them.
Now, sinful parents do sinful things and do not always parent perfectly or with perfect love. Hopefully they try, but that is not always a constant either. One of the things sin has effected, and sometimes devastated, is our family relationships that were created by God for our good, not our harm. But what good news we have, in that our Father in heaven has dealt with our sin and restored His relationship with us through His Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.
For what is constant from our Father is not what He gives us in this world and life, but what He gives us through His perfect love in His Son - His forgiveness, life, and salvation. This (and it seems to me this is what Galatians 3:28 is about) is the same for us all. And so what is constant in our life is not us or what we have, but our triune God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
My mother used to tell me that being a strict parent wasn’t bad. By being strong in things that didn’t really matter so much (like bedtimes, curfews, and TV watching), my children would know that I would also be strong in the things that mattered; that they could count on me to be there for them when it mattered most. And by being loving and strong in the things that matter most, they also knew that I would be loving in the little things - even if they disagreed with me.
How true as well for God. By His love for us in the thing that mattered most - our eternal salvation - by sending his Son to die for us on the cross, we know that He is loving to us in all other things as well; the earthly things that don’t matter as much. We know that we can count on Him in all things, and know that in all things He is loving us with His perfect love - even if we may not understand, or even disagree from time to time.