Church Membership And Our Witness To The World

What does it mean to be a member of a local church? Those who take church membership seriously recognize it comes with a lot of responsibilities. The faithful church member attends worship regularly and engages meaningfully in the divine service. They pray for the needs of the flock and volunteer their time, talents, and money to support the church’s various ministries. But joining a church also entails the responsibility to see others join, too. A new church member must never be content to be a church’s last member. Witness and evangelism is part and parcel of belonging to a church, as we learn from Jesus’ Great Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt 28:19–20)

I believe we often hear these words and divorce them from their fulfillment within the church. What Jesus is commanding here is not simply for us to get conversions. Baptism is mentioned, which is the initiation into the visible church. The Westminster Confession says that baptism exists, in part, “for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church” (28.1). In other words, baptism was never meant to exist apart from the church, such that Jesus is essentially saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, bringing them into the church.

Further solidifying this view is the next step commanded by Christ: “. . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” That is certainly not something that can occur in a single conversation. It entails frequent, consistent, in-depth instruction in God’s Word—like the kind you get in the weekly pulpit ministry of a church. Moreover, whose responsibility is it to ensure that believers “observe” the commandments of Christ and put them into practice but the elders of a local church (see 1 Pet 5:2–3)?

Therefore, the Great Commission finds its fulfillment not in conversion but in the church. This means that the church member who takes the call of witness and evangelism seriously recognizes that we want more than just a “decision for Christ”—we want a disciple of Christ. Conversions are critical, and we praise God that by his Spirit he enables us to help bring them about. But that same Spirit also empowers us to bring new converts into the care of the church and walk alongside them as they grow in their faith. This is what the Great Commission is all about.

How are we to go about fulfilling this immense responsibility? Beyond apologetic or evangelistic conversations with the lost, the Bible clearly teaches that an important way in which people are drawn to church is through her holiness. That is to say, when the church behaves like the church, she is different than the world, and this difference is attractive.

Peter writes, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet 2:12). The word honorable could also be translated as “beautiful” or “attractive.” There should be an attractiveness in a believer’s lifestyle, an allure that can counter and conquer the allure of sin in the world, so that those who do not know Christ would see him in us and would rather have what we have than have the sin that is calling their name. Do you have an attractive lifestyle? I am not talking about a lifestyle that makes someone drool with envy, but one that makes their heart beat with a fundamental longing. Instagram is for the former; the church is for the latter.

This makes me think of a letter that nineteenth-century Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne once received regarding his preaching. Someone had visited his church and wrote, “I heard you preach last Sabbath evening, and it pleased God to bless that sermon to my soul. It was not so much what you said, as your manner of speaking that struck me. I saw in you a beauty in holiness that I never saw before.”1

This, then, is one of the most important—albeit most difficult—responsibilities of the church member: to live a life that looks like Christ’s. We are to die to sin and live to righteousness, “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work” (Col 1:10; see also Phil 1:27). We must “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and . . . live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12). It is hard work, but God uses it to draw others to himself, because something remarkable happens when we pursue holiness: the image of our maker is made clearer, brighter, and more conspicuous in us—and people are drawn to him. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, when we as the church live out our identity as “the light of the world,” others will “see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:14, 16).

Members of God’s church sever their allegiance with sin to make a better one with Jesus. They commit to sanctification and pursue purity, adding to—not detracting from—the alluring splendor of the body of Christ. We are most useful to the world when we are most distinct from it. Therefore, in obedience to the Lord’s commission to make disciples of the nations, members of the church recognize that their responsibility is not simply to worship the Lord, but to do so “in the beauty of holiness” (Ps 29:2; KJV).

Notes

  1. Jordan Stone, “The Life and Ministry of Robert Murray M’Cheyne,” Tabletalk 53 (March 2023).

Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from the author’s volume Church Membership (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2024) in the Blessings of the Faith series.

©Jonathan Landry Cruse. All Rights Reserved.


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    Post authored by:

  • Jonathan Landry Cruse
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    Jonathan Landry Cruse pastors Community Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Kalamazoo, MI, where he lives with his wife and children. He also serves as an editor for Modern Reformation and is the author of several books, including What Happens When We Worship (RHB, 2020), The Character of Christ (Banner of Truth, 2023), and Church Membership (P&R, 2024).

    More by Jonathan Landry Cruse ›

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