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Church Member's Handbook
By Joe T. Odle
Broadman & Holman PublishersCopyright © 1962 Broadman Press
All right reserved.
The Meaning of Church Membership
"I'm now a member of a Baptist church."
Millions of persons utter these words with a joy in their hearts that is inexpressible. They have found Christ as Saviour, their sins are forgiven, and there is peace in their souls. As Christians they have obeyed the Lord's command to follow him in baptism and unite with his church; they have found great happiness in this new relationship.
Many, however, who speak those words fail to comprehend their significance. Sometimes they live for many years without ever seeming to learn the real meaning of membership. This should not be true. Every member should know the seriousness and sacredness of his commitment. It is surprising that so many hold membership without realizing their privileges and opportunities or accepting their obligations. Surely this is not because of a determination to be indifferent. They have not been brought face to face with the real meaning of church membership, nor have they had its various aspects laid on their hearts. In this chapter and throughout this booklet, we seek to set forth some of these things.
Just what is this organization to which you belong? It is a New Testament church. Dr. George W. McDaniel defined a local church as "an organized body of baptized believers equal in rank and privileges, administering its affairs under the headship of Christ, united in the belief of what He has taught, covenanting together to do what He has commanded, and co-operating with other like bodies in Kingdom movements" (The Churches of the New Testament, p. 23).
The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest institution that the world has ever known. Christ established it during his personal ministry, and he is its Head (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18). He promised that he would be with it through the ages and that the gates of hell should not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18; 28:20). To it he gave the Great Commission and the ordinances, and for it he went to the cross (Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; Eph. 5:25). He loved the church, and he wants his churches to honor and glorify him as his representatives on the earth (Eph. 3:21; 5:25-27).
The Lord's churches have the greatest task ever assigned to any individual or group in the world's history-carrying the glorious gospel of Christ the Saviour to every nation and tongue. No other commission like that has ever been given or will ever be given. In carrying out this work, the churches have done more for the world than all the governments ever organized, all the other institutions ever established, or all the armies ever assembled. World history has been changed by the work of Christ through his churches.
We see then that we have a great privilege in being members of Baptist churches. They are churches with a glorious beginning, a blood-written history, an illustrious present, and a future as bright as the promises of God. They are churches that have held true to God's Word through persecution and tribulation and whose members have been numbered among the faithful. They are churches that today have a membership of more than twenty-five million, and are growing rapidly as they carry the true gospel message to a lost world. Truly it is a privilege to be a member of a Baptist church.
Membership also brings us great opportunities. These include opportunity for fellowship in the finest company that can be found and opportunity for Christian growth, development, and training through the various departments of the church organization. We have opportunity for Christian service through the church in the name of Christ to those at home and around the globe. Where else can we find such opportunities to live for God and our fellow men?
Membership places upon us an inescapable obligation-an obligation to make the church and its work first in our lives. It is an obligation to use our time and our talents for the glory of God, an obligation to support the work with our presence, our influence, and our means. Churches are never stronger than their membership; and a membership of worldly, careless, negligent, stunted Christians will prevent a church from accomplishing much for the Lord. There is need for every member to be consecrated, trained, and enlisted in active service. We are under obligation to be the very best members possible under the leading of the Lord.
We see then that membership is a privilege and an opportunity that entails great obligations. Too many members have not learned these things. Their churches mean little to them, and they mean little to their churches. Dr. E. P. Alldredge, who for many years served as secretary of the Department of Survey, Statistics, and Information of the Baptist Sunday School Board, once said that 60 per cent of the members of the average church were unenlisted. That condition must be changed. Won't you help change it by making your membership really count for Christ?
The Church Covenant
The church covenant is a voluntary agreement by members of a Baptist church whereby they promise to conduct their lives in such a way as to glorify God and promote the ongoing of his church. Every member should study it carefully, refer to it often, and seek to live by it. It clearly outlines the obligations of church membership. The form of covenant in wide use in Baptist churches is as follows:
Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and on the profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, we do now in the presence of God, angels, and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another, as one body in Christ.
We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this church, in knowledge, holiness, and comfort; to promote its prosperity and spirituality; to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the gospel through all nations.
We also engage to maintain family and secret devotions; to religiously educate our children; to seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances; to walk circumspectly in the world; to be just in our dealings; faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our deportment; to avoid all tattling, backbiting, and excessive anger; to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage; and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our Saviour.
We further engage to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember each other in prayer; to aid each other in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech; to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the rules of our Saviour to secure it without delay.
We moreover engage that when we remove from this place we will, as soon as possible, unite with some other church, where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God's Word.
The obligations of church membership outlined in the covenant are all scriptural, as may be seen from the following study.
I. Salvation and Baptism (John 1:11-12; Matt. 28:19-20).
II. Duties to the Church
1. To walk together in Christian love (John 13:34-35).
2. To strive for the advancement of the church and promote its
prosperity and spirituality (Phil. 1:27; 2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Cor. 7:1;
2 Peter 3:11).
3. To sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrine (Heb.
10:25; Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; Jude 3).
4. To give it pre-eminence in my life (Matt. 6:33).
5. To contribute cheerfully and regularly (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor.
6. To carry my membership when I move and be active in church
work wherever I live (Acts 11:19-21; 18:24-28).
III. Duties in Personal Christian Living
1. To maintain family and secret devotions (1 Thess. 5:17-18;
2. To religiously educate the children (2 Tim. 3:15; Deut. 6:4-7).
3. To seek the salvation of the lost (Acts 1:8; Matt. 4:19; Psalm
126:5-6; Prov. 11:30).
4. To walk circumspectly in the world, and to be just in our dealings,
faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our deportment
(Eph. 5:15; Phil. 2:14-15; 1 Peter 2:11-12).
5. To avoid gossip and excessive anger (Eph. 4:31; 1 Peter 2:21;
Col. 3:8; James 3:1-2).
6. To abstain from sale or use of liquors. (Eph. 5:18; Hab. 2:15).
7. To be zealous in our efforts for Christ (Titus 2:14).
IV. Duties to Fellow Members
1. To watch over one another in love (1 Peter 1:22).
2. To pray for one another (James 5:16).
3. To aid in sickness and distress (Gal. 6:2; James 2:14-17).
4. To cultivate sympathy and courtesy (1 Peter 3:8).
5. To be slow to take offense, always ready for reconciliation (Eph.
Every child of God should desire to grow spiritually. This is scriptural, for 2 Peter 3:18 says, "Grow in grace." When we are saved, we do not immediately become full-grown Christians but are only "babes in Christ." As "babes" we are commanded to "grow." To remain a "babe" is a shame and a tragedy. Only by growing spiritually can we please God and glorify him in our lives.
How can a Christian grow in grace? A large book, or a series of sermons could be written on this subject, so we cannot give a comprehensive discussion here. The following principles, however, can be outlined.
1. Be sure that you are born again. Certainly you cannot grow spiritually if you are not a child of God. The Lord said, "Ye must be born again." We are born again when we repent of sin and commit ourselves to Christ as our personal Lord and Saviour. Make sure of your salvation.
2. Unite with one of the Lord's churches, and go to work for him. Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. He wants us to love it and give ourselves to it. You cannot expect to grow spiritually if you do not obey the Lord's first command to you as a Christian-to unite with his church. You cannot live as good a Christian life outside the church as in it. Make your church the most important interest of your life. Attend the services, and participate in the activities. Matthew 6:33 says, "Seek ye first" the work of the Lord. We must do this to grow.
3. Cultivate your devotional life through Bible study and prayer. The Bible is God's Word to us. Read it daily. Read it through. Read it by books and by subjects. The more you read it, the more it will mean to you. You will thus be better equipped for service to the Lord. Prayer is God's child in conversation with him. The Bible says, "Pray without ceasing." Pray daily. Pray about everything. Pray as you work. Have a secret place of prayer. Establish a family altar in your home-a time when all the family is gathered together for Bible reading and prayer. We cannot grow spiritually if we do not develop the devotional life.
4. Make much of Christian fellowship. Let you closest friendships be with other Christians. Visit their homes and invite them to your home. Such fellowship is rich and blessed and will be a great strength for you in resisting temptation and growing spiritually.
5. Separate yourself from the world (2 Cor. 6:14-18). The world is against God (1 John 2:15-17). We are in the world, but we must not be of the world. Let us separate ourselves from everything that is worldly, everything that would hinder our work for Christ. As long as we hold on to worldly things we cannot grow spiritually.
6. Use and cultivate your talents for the Lord. Every Christian has abilities which he can use for God. Use your ability to speak, to sing, to handle business, to bring joy to needy hearts, to teach, to organize, or whatever your talent may be. The church needs that which each member can do. Dedicate yourself to Christ today (1 Cor. 12:12-31).
7. Read good books and other Christian literature. Every home should have religious books and periodicals. Subscribe for the denominational weekly paper and mission journals. Do not let the wrong type of books and other literature have a place in your home.
8. Be honest toward God in the use of your money. Every Christian's income belongs to God. At least a tenth of it should be brought to God's house regularly. If you are dishonest toward God in matters relating to money, your spiritual growth will be stunted. Study carefully chapter 7 of this book.
9. Exercise self-control. Satan is ever seeking to hinder our Christian lives and the Lord's work by bringing jealousy, ill-temper, and selfishness into our hearts. Church work has often been hindered by some Christian who sought to be "bossy" or was non-co-operative. Such a spirit is of the devil. If it appears in your life, destroy it by Bible study and prayer.
10. Seek the counsel and help of your pastor. He is one of the best friends you can have. God has set him in the church to aid you, to teach you, and to lead you. Confide in him. Work with him. When you are in trouble, he will be ready to help you. When you are tempted, he will fight with you in your battle with Satan. When you need spiritual counsel or guidance, you will find no better earthly friend than your pastor. As you walk with him, you will be walking closer to God; seek his fellowship.
11. Live for Christ one day at a time. Each morning you awake to find that God has given you a new day to use for him. Live for him every minute of it-in your business, at your job, in your home, in your social relationships, and wherever you are. Live for him in the quiet moments, those times when you are alone. This does not mean that you will neglect the responsibilities of your business or home, but it does mean that you will so live that the spirit of Christ is manifested in your life.
Live for Christ twenty-four hours a day. If you fail, as you sometimes will, confess your sin in repentance and ask God to help you overcome it. Sometimes Christians give up when they fail once. That is not God's way. His Word says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Peter denied the Lord, but he did not turn away in despair. He came to the Lord in repentance and was forgiven. Later he became the mighty preacher of Pentecost. Do your best to resist the tempter: but if you sometimes fail, do not give up. Get up, get right, and go on.
Excerpted from Church Member's Handbook by Joe T. Odle Copyright © 1962 by Broadman Press
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.