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Posts Tagged ‘church membership’


Rules for Walking in Fellowship - Puritan Treasures for Today (Owen)Last month I was talking to an old friend about membership issues. Since he loves the Puritans, I mentioned that he might want to read Rules for Walking in Fellowship by John Owen. I did this because I had begun reading it and thought it might be pertinent in our current discussion. His response was that the church plant he belonged to studied it as they considered their membership vows.

This is a VERY short book that begs to be taught as a Sunday School class. I’m not sure I’d use it for membership vows, but it clearly is helpful in communicating the responsibilities to the pastor, the church and one another.

In his introduction to the reader Owen lays out his presuppositions about the church, laying some things on the table. He lays out an observation that “men for the most part spending their strength and time more to oppose things they disagree with than to practice the things they and others agree are most necessary.”

Owen divides his treatise into two parts. The first, Rules for Walking in Fellowship with Reference to the Pastor or Minister who Watches Over Your Souls, covers 7 responsibilities for church members. The second part, Rules to Be Observed by Those Who Walk in Fellowship, to Remind Them of Their Mutual Duties toward One Another, covers 15 responsibilities for members to one another.

Each of these rules or responsibilities expresses the rule, provides some proof texts, a brief explanation and a list of motivations. They are about 4-5 pages so this book could be used for devotional reading over the course of a month. If you take time to address each of the proof texts, this could easily be converted into a Sunday School curriculum for study and discussion.

Some of these rules seem obvious but in his day and ours they are obviously not obvious to everybody. For instance, the first rule could be stated as: show up! In a small church your absence is easy to notice. When attendance is low it can be very discouraging for a pastor especially if he doesn’t know why you are absent. Some people are good about communicating (letting you know about vacations, travel etc. that may affect attendance). When someone or a family is absent for a few weeks, past experience and the fiery darts of the Evil One can create fear and suspicion: have I offended them, are they looking for a new church etc.. Pastors are humans, and have wounds from the past too. If you get to know them you will likely discover those wounds and act accordingly.

He also reminds people to pray for their pastor. I’ve been often encouraged to know that people are praying for me, especially in difficult seasons. At General Assembly in 2018 someone told me about pastor prayer teams, so I developed one and update them periodically. I mention important meetings or events as well as some personal things. I want to help people know how to pray for me.

“This is a burden that congregations often lay on the shoulders of ministers, that they may not leave their post under any circumstances whatsoever, while those who lay the burden on them will often freely leave the pastors and their ministry without any cause at all.”

He reminds them to pay their pastor. I’ve heard some people say their job is to keep their pastor humble, and they often try to do that financially. Enable your pastor to care for his family in a way enjoyed by most of your members. They don’t need to join the jet set but they should only be eating beans and rice every day if the rest of the congregation is too.

“Prayer is the great engine by which to prevail with the Almighty and the sure refuge of the saints at all times, both on their behalf and also of others.”

People also need to pray for their church, as well as the afflicted. Pray for the congregation, that the programs would accomplish God’s purposes for the people. We should pray for the peace, purity and prosperity of the local church. On a personal level we should also pray for those afflicted by illness, financial problems, relational difficulties, being victims of crimes and more.

People should not simply pray for the unity of the church, but work (make choices) that preserve unity and peace in the local congregation. Sometimes that means submission on secondary matters. Sometimes that means bearing with other’s faults (another rule). This also means being wary of those who divide the church.

People shouldn’t simply pray for the afflicted but may also have opportunity to bear their burdens, particularly the poor. They should be willing to associate with the lowly instead of using church to climb the social ladder.

“Let pity, not envy; mercy, not malice; patience, not passion; Christ, not flesh; grace, not nature; pardon, not spite or revenge be our guides and companions in our life’s walk.”

We see many practical ways to be involved with one another here. These are practical ways to study the peace, purity and prosperity of the church.

Sadly, many take a very low view of church membership vows in our day. Some churches don’t even have church membership, meaning that people aren’t explicitly agreeing to walk together. There are times when changing churches is wise, and even necessary. But people are often influenced with a consumerist mindset and push aside the obligations the have taken upon themselves. I’ll be reminding our congregation of those vows at our upcoming congregational meeting.

 

1. Do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?

2. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?

3. Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ?

4. Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?

5. Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?

Every member of our congregation has confessed to being a sinner in need of redemption in Christ. This means each member can and does sin, and some of those sins are against members of the church or harm the church. Those sins put the peace, purity and prosperity of the church at risk. They need restoration, reconciliation and repentance. This means that some people may be disciplined, but all have promised to submit themselves to the government of the church while studying purity and peace. These vows are intended to shape how we live or walk together in Christ’s church. More churches should be talking about these things.

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If you think I’m about to do a political rant, this is not it aside from saying I’m tired of the ad hominem arguments already.  I’m talking about those books that pastors and elders use that provide the instruction necessary for the church and denomination to run smoothly.  They outline procedures that are to be followed.

I spent over 10 years in the ARP.  The Form of Government was called the FOG, for a reason.  There were certain things that weren’t as clear as you’d want them to be.  Latitude was granted in particular areas.  It was not designed to spell out everything, just the necessary things.  For 10 years I used this book and got to know it fairly well.  I pretty much knew where to look for the information I needed at particular times and in particular circumstances.

I spent all that time in the same presbytery.  I had a leadership roll, chairing 2 different committees at different times.  I was “somebody”, for the lack of a better term.

Then things changed.  I moved into the PCA.  I am a “nobody” again.  I haven’t gained any trust and respect.  Sometimes that is painfully obvious- like at our last meeting.  But maybe I’m just being too sensitive. They have no obligation to listen to me, much less to follow my advice.  It is just tough being low guy on the totem pole after all these years.

(more…)

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My, he's a squirmy one!

My, he is a squirmy one!

It was long overdue.  This is what happens when you don’t have a call and you are a Presbyterian.  My membership is with my Presbytery, not a local church.  This complicated & delayed the process of baptizing CavSon.  [I have a few posts on the Reformed position on baptizing infants- not all views on infant baptism are the same.  I forgot to put a post up about mode of baptism.  This week, Lord willing.]

Amie has now joined the local PCA church in which we worship.  Yesterday morning we had him baptized.  Our friend Danny, who is the Associate Pastor, handled the explanation and vows.  I handled the squirming son, and the actual baptism.  It took quite some time as Danny kept losing his place due to the side show going on around him.  CavSon kept wanting to play with the ear piece from the wireless system I had on since I was preaching.

May blessings break upon his head.

May blessings break upon his head.

He did much better when I actually poured water on his head.  He seemed to like that.  Of course, he had been working up a sweat.  Afterward he wanted to play with the rest of the water, which was not a surprise to either of us.  It was great for CavDaughter to watch this.  She was up there with us initially, but she was quite antsy too, so we had her sit with friends.  She’s on the video.  We talked with her a little bit about it the previous day or two.  She knows she has been baptized, and we should show her that video.  She’s fascinated by pictures of herself when she was a baby.

We received word while we were in Jacksonville that his new birth certificates had arrived at the lawyer’s office.  I picked them up this morning.  Now we can work toward his U.S. citizenship.  But he is now part of the visible church, which is great news in my book.  May his adoption into our family eventually result in his being adopted into God’s family.

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