The local church member could be identified by a variety of characteristics. Among these are:
- Commitment to the local body (and all this entails, e.g., weep with the weeping, rejoice with the rejoicing);
- Submission to their fellow church members and leaders (this includes submitting to their oversight, teaching, and if necessary, discipline);
- They visibly represent Christ to their surrounding community; and
- They engage together in corporate prayer and corporate worship.
But there is yet another characteristic of the local church member that I wish to highlight in this post and the next: the local church member is one who enters into the grace of discipleship.
Discipleship is a lifelong process for the Christian. It is the way that a believer becomes more like Christ. It is the way we pursue our growth in sanctification. And discipleship may just be the most overlooked, yet most important, identifying mark of biblical church membership.
I once preached a sermon on church membership where I used the term “Christian nomads.” This is a term having a similar meaning to “church hopper” that I used in my last post. A Christian nomad is self-declared believer who is more of a separatist – one who is content to be separated from a local fellowship of believers. They may indeed visit various churches, but are more content to live out their life alone.
But is this God’s will for a true believer? More specifically, can a believer in Jesus Christ be shaped into Christlikeness and holiness if he or she rejects a commitment to a local church? For this answer, we turn to the Word of God.
The Increasing Dangers of the Times
Let’s look at Peter’s second epistle to his fellow believers dispersed abroad. At the conclusion of the letter, Peter says:
14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these [the new heaven and new earth], be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:14-16)
17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:17-18)
What is the apostle saying to these Christians?
Strive after holiness. Peter reminds them that because the Day of the Lord is imminent – and that the heavens, the earth, and the elements will be burned up, we ought to be a people that strive for holy and godly conduct (v 10-15).
Watch out for false teachers. “Ignorant and unstable” people will appear and are in the world who “twist” the truth of the Scripture. Paul, John, and Jude also warned of these false teachers that would come (2 Corinthians 11:33ff; Galatians 1:6-9; Titus 1:10ff; 1 John 2:18ff; Jude; et al), even into the church “to deceive, if possible… the elect” (Matthew 24:24).
Examine yourself. Since they “know this beforehand,” these Christians are to “take care” that they don’t fall away from their own “stability,” (v 17); and
Seek to know Jesus more! These believers are to continually “grow in the grace and knowledge” of Christ (v 18).
If this Christ-denying deception is a reality in the world today (John also says it is, see 1 John 4:3), then how can we resist falling into deception? I mean, the reason why deception is so deceptive is because it sounds true. Further, how can we best experience Christian growth to maturity?
The Local Church: Our Protection and Source of Encouragement
To answer this, I am reminded of the letter to the Hebrews, specifically chapter ten, verses 19-20; 23-25:
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh… 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Okay so, the writer of the Hebrews has just finished a beautiful dissertation on the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice in order to bring the people of God to Himself. Jesus made the way into the presence of God through His substitutionary death and glorious resurrection. Therefore, he writes, “let us hold fast” our confession of Christ “without wavering,” because Christ is faithful to finish what He has begun in us (v 23). And yet, immediately after this, the writer tells us something very similar to what Peter said in 2 Peter 3: the Day of Christ is drawing near.
Brothers and sisters, we are called to increasingly grab hold of our blessed faith, stand strong in Jesus, and with flinted-face, wait with joy and expectancy for the return of Christ! How, then, are we to be on guard against the rampant deception in the world that would work to destroy our faith in Christ? Further, how can we experience the grace of God in our lives and develop into Christlike Christians?
Hebrews tells us: consider one another (v 24) in order to spur on in each other a greater love for Jesus, His bride, and this world. In other words, he wants my own personal discipleship to benefit my brother’s faith. And where is this discipleship, best experienced? In the fellowship of the assembly of Christ-followers (v 25). It is there in the local church gathering that God will shape us to become like His Son. This shaping takes place on a Sunday morning during the sermon, during a conversation between two mothers in the nursery, in the loving, redemptive rebuke of an erring brother, within the context of a small group gathering – the list goes on. Whenever brothers and sisters get together, God is breaking down self-centered, self-gratifying, sin-promoting independence, and replacing it with Christlikeness, humility, and others-centered dependence (Philippians 2:4).
Consider One Another!
Far too many believers are left unguarded and under-encouraged in this rapidly intensifying fight of faith! There are too many Christian nomads roaming about, trying their hardest to endure another day alone. But God has called His body to dwell together in the fight of faith so that we might stay encouraged and grow in boldness with each day that passes. Can we have such a spiritual camaraderie apart from Christ’s body, namely, His local body?
I encourage you this week to consider your brethren in your local body. They (and you!) need to be spurred on to love, accountability, good deeds, encouragement, and warned of the dangers of sin and the deception that seeks to destroy. After all, the more we consider one another, the deeper we will journey into the grace of discipleship. God has called us to it!
Next week I’ll give you some reasons why I think our discipleship happens most effectively in the local church.