Tuesday, September 8, 2015

COVENANT MEMBERSHIP


The spouse of Christ cannot be adulterous; she is uncorrupted and pure. She knows one home; she guards with chaste modesty the sanctity of one couch. She keeps us for God. She appoints the sons whom she has born for the kingdom. Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.” - Cyprian, "Treatise on the Unity of the Church


 When I first began to pastor, I was in many ways an idealist when it came to people and the church. I naively believed that a church could be built naturally with the right people that would love each other, support each other, participate and grow in discipleship, and they would build that church through fierce loyalty to each other and toward God Himself. I thought such a journey would be very organic and natural, and I shunned the bureaucracy that I grew up under, including that of church membership. I thought of such as unnecessary and frankly, I believed that the premise had little or no biblical support. I believed rather it was a manmade device invented for control and status.

So when I began to broach this subject of "Covenant Membership" I had to seriously seek the Lord and scripture, and I did so rather skeptically. Over time however, I had to come to the conclusion that church membership was not simply a throwback to dogma and denominationalism, but rather a testimony of both a church body as well as the individuals within it that make it up. In truth, it is also a often necessary dynamic, especially when a church reaches a certain size and a certain missional reach insomuch that there needs to be the ability to plan and organize if we truly want to viable in the kingdom battle and not waste time and resources.


So in brief today, why are we pursuing the practice of Covenant Membership?


 If you have been in any of the three classes that take place every week at JFB,  you no doubt over the last year have received a far more in depth discussion on this issue, but for our purposes today, I will attempt to be succinct and brief. Firstly, I must say that Jesus loves the church.  Not just this church, but the church as a whole...the church as a premise, a practice, a vehicle from which to launch the battle and a home for which to nurture the troops. Paul strongly teaches that living out the faithful Christian life is virtually impossible outside of a local church.


But the church today is undeniably in crisis. From the outside and from within. The onslaught from the outside is to be expected and warrants little comment as we all know it comes today, has come for hundreds of years and will only increase until the coming again of the Messiah. But the cancer from within has caught the loving local church by surprise because many that call themselves Christian today...even "faithful evangelical," appear through many colors and stripes. The title has lost its punch, its credibility, it’s criteria and now even it’s very meaning.


Thus, it is even more critical today to ask questions, seeking clarity, and calling for transparency and testimony...both verbal and physical, of the nature of one's beliefs and level of commitment. Jesus spoke of "building His church" in Matthew 16:18, and spoke of the churches power and duty of church discipline (Mathew 18:17)over those who call themselves Christian and righteously and correctly seek to be participate in a corporate local body of believers. Paul speaks in great length on the issue of the church: what it should be, how it should act, what it should do, and how it is to operate.


So many folks, whether they have sat down and concretely considered the matter, still see the church as here to give to them. To ‘do for them’, to ‘accommodate them’.  But the church is clearly and scripturally  not that at all, but a place for individual gifts to come together in unity to be a “body” in which to greater serve both the lost world and each other. 


Thus at its core…at its simplest dynamic, the question comes down to this: can we count on you? It’s not a difficult question. Even Jesus asked it. When things got hard after a lengthy period of ministry together , and the message became difficult to swallow, John 6:66 says that “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”

 

Many of those who began failed to finish. They were not all in. They were not committed for the long haul. Jesus at that point (verse 67) said to the twelve, "Do you also want to go away?" As the years of ministry progress, it becomes very important…critical even, to know who is truly with us and who is just visiting, enquiring, searching, or even those who are shopping or even those looking to be appeased and accommodated.


There will always be those who are here only until things get difficult, or things get personal, and then they are out of here.  Unless that premise is considered and one decides before hand how he or she will respond to such, you will likely not survive it. This document...this agreement,  is an effort to provide and even cause such a personal conversation to occur. Some of those were here last year at this time, and are no longer here this year. The same will be the case next year and year after.


You know…for I have addressed it previously, that there has at times been whining and complaining in the past as to this fellowships activity schedule, so we went out of our way to stress the voluntary nature of these activities. Then there were the complaints that such events even existed because some felt bad or WOULD feel bad if they did not attend those optional events, because people might think they aren’t good Christians! But if you are just participating in church activities for that reason, wouldn’t that by very definition make you a “bad Christian?”  Because you are living a lie… and living in legalism not it grace and love!


Yet there are many here who want to 'go on.' You see, church membership is not asking MORE of you, but merely asking you where you stand and whether we can count on you to continue. No one wants to go to battle only to look around and not find any of his fellow fighting buddies! We’re not signing in blood or requiring a deposit. We are simply asking you…as Jesus did his, “do you want to leave also? Are you with me?”  And for some, the answer rings down through the ages… as Peter said “where would we go? The answers of life are here.” So covenant membership is for them. I know they are with me, and they know I am with them.


Of course such runs against our current culture. Nobody wants to promise anything these days. We are a deeply self centered society, we loath the idea of placing ourselves in any future situation where I might have to sacrifice myself and my wants, pleasures, and desires, for someone else. But you see, that is the very essence of the church…the innate core of body life. And that’s why some struggle and have always struggled to be a part of one. Because they do not love as Jesus loved…that unilateral, eternal and faithful love that is not merely professed but actually lived out in physical form. 


Another aspect is the issue of accountability. No one likes to be corrected! But again, such is Jesus Style. I don’t know that anyone has been so deeply dealt with around here that we said “get behind me Satan” as Jesus said to Peter! But may you remember that that relationship runs both ways…and we as leadership stand responsible and accountable to you also, and expect correction if we move away from scripture or the Spirit walk.


But it really comes down to the question “is all of this here that important to you?” Is it “worth it?” If the answer is yes, then Covenant membership is for you. If it is not, then again, such is not for you. For those who do not seek Covenant Membership, you are and will always be welcome here in this church! But we are all given a greater clarity as to where you stand, and that can only be a good thing, right? Christ and the things of Christ must always be presented with the greatest honesty and clarity and transparency possible.


You are not therefore a “B” list individual if you are not a covenant member. But , and I repeat myself herein, many of the people here at JFB do not want us to slide into the monument and memorial phase of "church." So many churches have done so across the country. We want to go on. We are not done yet. We want to finish well. And we cannot operate and schedule and move according to ‘bottom’ of the commitment deck. We will and we must always do so 'from the top.'  For it is and always will be our  job here to teach, disciple, mature and love you into the kingdom and then into eternity. The question we are asking is "are you with us?"