Fourth, do you firmly resolve to commit your whole life to the Lord’s service as a living member of his church?
When you make public profession of faith, you not only promise that you will serve God, but also that you will do this as a member of the church. Church membership belongs to a mature faith. An ancient church father famously said: “He that wants God for a father must have the church for a mother.” In the Belgic Confession we confess (Art. 28):
We believe, since this holy assembly and congregation is the assembly of the redeemed and there is no salvation outside of it, that no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, no matter what his status or standing may be. But all and everyone are obliged to join it and unite with it …
That is a strong statement: “There is no salvation outside of it.” Do you agree with it?
The church of Jesus
What do we mean by “the church”?
The question for profession of faith says: “… as a living member of his church.” The Lord’s church. Jesus’ church.
What do we confess about the church in the Apostles’ Creed?
Read Heidelberg Catechism q&a 54. When did the church begin? Who belongs to it? What is the basis of the unity of the church?
You profession of faith is not meant as a vow to one particular congregation, or even to a church federation. It is a vow to be united with Jesus’ one, worldwide church.
But this one church of Jesus is not an abstract thing. The church is not merely a bunch of believers living in isolation. The church is the assembly, the gathering of God’s people. Being the church implies doing things together. To worship together. To have fellowship with each other, at least locally.
You are a living member of Jesus’ church when you participate in the activities of a local congregation. Your faith remains incomplete unless it is put into practice in the fellowship with other believers. Your “membership” in a local congregation is meaningless unless you are actively involved.
At the heart of church life is the communion [= fellowship] of the saints. This has two aspects, listed in q&a 55 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
- “First, that believers, all and everyone, as members of Christ have communion with him and share in all his treasures and gifts.” This is the aspect of worship: spending time with the Lord in a meaningful way. Learning about the salvation and other gifts he gives us. Growing in faith and love for him. Giving thanks to him and praising him. To have communion with Jesus means following him. We do this not as separate individuals, but together as the people of God.
- “Second, that everyone is duty-bound to use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the benefit and well-being of the other members.” This is the aspect of fellowship: spending time with our fellow believers in a meaningful way. Encouraging them. Learning from them and/or teaching them. The Bible is quite clear that loving God means that you love your brother and sister, and the fellowship of the church is the primary way of putting that love in practice.
Our worship and fellowship activities often take place in our church buildings. Can there also be church worship and fellowship outside of it? Give some examples.
As you commit to be a mature member of the church, it is good to know what is expected of you as a member. Your basic duties as a church member are simply the duties of every Christian believer. Gather with your fellow believers in worship, as often as you can, in official worship services but also at other times. Participate in the fellowship of the church. Think of others as your brothers and sisters—the church is like a close, intimate family!—and care for each other in that way. “Use your gifts readily and cheerfully for the benefit and well-being of the other members.” Respect the way the Lord has structured the church: with ministers and elders who have leadership over you. (We’ll discuss the details later.)
In the Canadian Reformed churches, these duties are shaped in specific ways.
- We have chosen to gather for worship twice on Sundays. While the Bible does not require this, it is important that you join when we worship together.
- We must all contribute to the proper functioning of the ministry of the church, including its building, finances, and so on. Every year the elders publish the budget of the church and how much each member should contribute on average. If at all possible, make sure to contribute your fair share. If you don’t, others have to do it for you.
- We strongly encourage you to join a Bible study group, and/or classes that may be taught at church. It is important that we keep learning (and help each other learn), and such a study is also a great way to fellowship.
- The church needs people with special gifts and skills: leadership, organization, music, creativity, and so on. You may be appointed to a committee to help with the work. You may be asked to become an elder or deacon. Maybe the Lord encourages you to take the initiative. Even the simplest tasks (e.g. nursery attendant) are opportunities to serve the Lord by serving his people.
- Be involved in outreach activities, charity, etc. of the congregation. Give of your time, energy, or money to be part of the mission of Jesus in the world, witnessing the gospel and showing the mercy of Jesus.
When we discuss these practical things, let’s never forget the principle. All of these activities are part of belonging to Jesus’ church. Worship and fellowship is not merely a duty; it is a natural things to do if you know your Saviour and love his people. Giving to church and participating in its activities are never goals in themselves, but part of the mission of Jesus in this world.
- Make it practical. How many hours per week do you expect to spend specifically on church activities? How many dollars per month? In what other ways could you contribute actively?
Memorize: LD 21 q&a 54.
Journal item: Suppose a 10-year old asks you what it means to belong to the Christians church. Give an answer in four or five paragraphs. In each paragraph, talk about the things you do as a church member and briefly explain why. Use simple language that a child can understand.