by Bob Hall
In the grand scheme of issues facing Christianity these days, it’s a rather banal, somewhat boring topic, right? Wrong!
All of a sudden, in light of the impending decision from the U.S. Supreme Court regarding same sex marriage (caveat: same sex marriage is no marriage) we are being told, not only to update our by-laws but also to tighten up on church membership. Hmmm. It might be a prudent tactic in light of the legal ramifications stemming from how the court decides but I would hope that that is not the only reason to do so.
Let me boldly assert that church membership is a Biblical and, therefore, a necessary practice. Whenever this subject comes up in discussion, we get raised eyebrows, quizzical looks or downright disagreement. Where in the Bible does it say you have to explicitly have your name on a church roll? The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t, when expressed in those terms. Actually, the Biblical language is stronger.
Many think of the church as nothing more than the aggregate of all those people in the world who confess Jesus Christ as their Savior. So when I asked a man, who had his own rather funky, eye-catching modified van, gospel-mobile itinerant preaching ministry, are you part of a church? by which I meant, who sent you out? who commissioned you? His response was, I’m a member of the church throughout the world! He was most certainly reflecting the prevalent view of the church.
It is true that the universal church comprises all those who confess Christ throughout the world together with those who have gone on before us and are currently around the throne worshipping our Lord. But without the local particular church, the concept of the universal church is little more than that, a concept. Let me explain.
There is much talk about unity these days across denominational lines and I’m all for it insofar as unity does not come at the expense of orthodoxy. The problem is that unity seems to be more about activity than accountability. Unity is a bunch of churches banding together to bring in hot shot music groups and big name preachers for a big splashy Gospel event. It will be well promoted and well attended. Fine. I just don’t think that’s where the real church unity lies.
The real unity comes into play when believers move from one church to another where both happen to be faithful to the Gospel. Most pastors seem to be ecstatic to have new people walk in their door. Very few ask where have you come from? Why are you leaving that church? Can we contact that church? Whatever happened to letters of transfer? Okay, I’m hard pressed to give chapter and verse but it seems to me a valid way of acknowledging the universal body of Christ. After all, if someone is under discipline, or about to be under discipline in church A and then ducks out and starts attending church B, shouldn’t the latter know that? I’m not making this up. By the way, here is where some libel issues could come into play in the near future.
Back to the earlier question, where in the Bible does it say you have to have a church membership? How about Matthew 18:15-20 and I Corinthians 5 for starters? Here we have the Scriptural basis for excommunication whereby the unrepentant offending believer is formally put out of the church. Such action presupposes a formal entrance into the church. I can’t divorce you unless I’m married to you.
This also brings us to the idea of the local particular church. If there is a formal entrance into the church, it must be in its local particular expression. What is that formal entrance? Explicitly, it is water baptism (Matthew 28:19-20; I Corinthians 12:13). Implicitly it is by way of covenant.
The covenant is the Biblical way to establish defined relationships. When there is more than one Biblically orthodox church in the town, what makes one a member of this church and not that one? a covenant, an explicit promise before God to walk in the ways of Christ in submission to this particular expression of His church. I’m a married man but what makes me married to one woman and not other married women who made similar vows? the marriage covenant made with this particular woman.
Another important feature of the church which presupposes a formal membership is that the church is constituted an organism not an organization. The New Testament is replete with references to the church as a body. An organization has a top down hierarchical flow chart. The lower one is on the chart, the more insulated that person is with others in the organization. An organism, on the other hand, means that all the parts are somehow interconnected. True, there is a hierarchy of sorts but when this body is functioning properly, each part affects all the others for better or worse. If I stub my toe or get a grain of sand in my eye, my whole body feels it.
The church, Biblically speaking, is a caring, sharing covenanting together body of believers with whom Christ has entered into a New Covenant. When one reads the letters of Paul, one reads about believers who know one another, care about one another, who build one another up in Christ, and, yes, who occasionally fight with one another.
Moreover, the church is at the end of the evangelistic loop, “teaching them to observe all things . . .” There seems to be, these days, an unbalanced emphasis in evangelism to get people through the salvation door but not enough emphasis to get them on the path beyond it. It is in the body life ministry of the church where we see who is really committed to Christ. This is the way we understand the evangelistic task here at BHOF and we thank you for praying for us to that end.
by Jack Roberts
Recently, thirty teen boys spent their Friday night in “the building.” They came to play basketball, but they received much more than the fleeting pleasure of competition: they heard the Gospel. Under the leadership of Sham Ninah, Angel Rodriguez, Dwayne Hobbs and Ryan Prins, “Battalion” continues to attract these unchurched, neighborhood teen boys. Northern Frontier (the camp ministry of Christian Service Brigade) has an especially appropriate motto for our Bronx context: “Because boys will be boys men.” Usually, between 20 and 30 boys gather, willing to tolerate ‘the religious stuff’ for the opportunity to play ball inside at night. The presence of mature, Christ-honoring men who show interest in them is an unusual experience for most of them…and they keep coming back. “It’s better to build boys than to mend men,” is another wise observation, but neither are easy. Friday nights at BHOF occasionally require timely, peace-making intervention; they always require vigilance. Seeds are being planted and watered: we are looking to the Lord of the harvest for the fruit.
Emily Prins, Zuleima Reyes, MeiLing Roberts and Jeannette Sepulveda graduated from their college programs. Angie Roberts will marry Brian Glaser in June and move to Philadelphia; it will be a bittter/sweet transition for her, the Roberts’ family and BHOF since this has been her home since birth. The Decker family bought the Abarca house, which is next to Naomi’s (The Eagles’ Nest,) and their presence will enhance the influence of BHOF in the community.
Hope Academy is finishing its first year and will double its enrollment and staff in September. The school has been a significant asset to the ministry here and afforded many opportunities to share the gospel message with the families of the students: we expect many more.
ESL has also been a meaningful venue for interacting with people from our community who are not exposed to Scriptures. There is more opportunity with these eager students, but we cannot expand until we can add a few more teachers.
One more matter for praise: we received the Final Certificate of Occupancy for the building on May 20! It has been eleven years since we broke ground, but the wait and the experience have been invaluable for our maturation. We are even more certain that the Lord is in this and He wants us here still.
As always, the prayer of God’s people is crucial in our efforts to be faithful to our calling here. Thank you.