Joel R. Beeke
For an annual fee, you can be a member of your community recreational center, where you have access to its exercise equipment and swimming pool. If you choose never to visit the building, it's no problem. You can sit at home and eat ice cream all day and never get your membership revoked. So long as you pay your dues, you are a member. Similarly, you can be a member of a book club that offers great deals on books. Club mailings say you are under no obligation to buy anything; you can return a book at any time and cancel your membership.
In such a cultural setting, it is not surprising that membership in a local church has also become non-demanding. In many churches only a fraction of their "members" attend worship. The church leadership is partly responsible for this easy membership by not upholding biblical standards and discipline. Responsibility can also be laid at the feet of people's wrong views of the church, such as when people view the church like a museum, or a shopping mall, or a social club, or a community service program.
To correct a faulty view of the church, we must go back to the biblical concept of the church. The Bible tells us the church is the body of Christ. A Christian, then, is a living part of a larger body of people. That is the essence of Ephesians 4:10–16, which says the church is a living organism. It is a spiritual and relational body; each Christian is a member much as a hand or foot is a body part. Christ is the head of this body. He and all his members are bound together by the Holy Spirit and the bond of true faith.
This truth has profound implications for what it means to be a member of the church of Jesus Christ. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:10–16 that membership in the church is all about Christ. We will focus our attention on five marks: Christ's Word, his person, his people, his kingdom, and his image. We will examine what it means to be a faithful member of the body of Christ in each of these areas in the (1) personal, (2) public, and (3) practical dimensions of our lives. Thus, the five marks will unfold into fifteen characteristics of a faithful church member.
Ephesians 4:11–13 tells us that Christ gives pastors and teachers to the church to the end that "we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." The primary tool the exalted king uses to build the house of God is his Word as taught by the pastors and teachers of his church. Therefore, the first mark of a faithful church member is receiving Christ's Word—not merely as an individual reading his Bible at home but also as a worshiper listening to Bible preaching.
1. Personal hunger for the Word. In 1 Peter 2:2, the Apostle Peter urges all Christians to thirst for the sincere milk of the Word, "that ye may grow thereby." If you are sick and have no appetite, you only feel nauseous and restless when served a delicious meal. Some people experience the preaching of the Word like that; a sermon makes them uncomfortable. They blame a minister for preaching too long, but the problem is that they have no hunger for the Word. Even a simple meal of meat and potatoes is a feast to someone who is hungry. So it is with a person who has a healthy appetite for the preaching of the Word.
2. Faithful attendance at corporate worship. Hunger for the Word in church is expressed publicly by faithful attendance at church worship services. Hebrews 10:25 says we must not forsake assembling ourselves in corporate worship. Biblical worship makes "the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Col. 3:16). Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892) wrote, "There is no worship of God that is better than hearing of a sermon ... it stirs all the coals of fire in your spirit, and makes them burn with a brighter flame."
3. Active listening to the Word. Jesus describes four kinds of listeners to the Word in the Parable of the Soils, only one of which receives the Word, perseveres in faith, and goes on to bear abundant fruit. In Luke 8:18a, Jesus says, "Take heed therefore how ye hear." Pray on Saturday for tomorrow's worship. As you come to church, remind yourself that you are going to the throne of God to hear him speak. John Calvin (1509–1564) wrote, "Whenever the gospel is preached, it is as if God himself came into the midst of us." What an awesome thought! When you sit before a preacher, stir up your mind to listen actively, alertly, and reverently, as one who hears the living voice of God. Don't expect to be spoon-fed like a baby. Cut your food and chew it for yourself. Think about what the preacher is saying. Take notes on the sermon, giving special attention to the main points, Scripture references, and personal applications. Listen with humble self-examination. Listen with delight at the words of life.
The first mark of a faithful church member is receiving Christ's Word from his appointed pastors and teachers.
Christ gives his Word to call us into union with him (Rom. 1:6; 2 Thess. 2:14). In Ephesians 4:15–16a, Paul commands the saints of God to grow into Christ in all things. Christ is the head of his body; all our growth, which lifts us into closer communion with him, comes from him. Therefore, one must be a member of Christ to be a member of the body of Christ. Paul challenges us in 2 Corinthians 13:5, "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" You are not truly in the church until Christ is truly in you. This too has personal, public, and practical characteristics.
4. Personally trusting in Christ. Colossians 2:6–7 says, "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving." True church members receive Christ personally as prophet, priest, and king (for that is what "Christ" means). We receive Christ by God-given faith (John 1:12–13). This faith is active trust; it rests upon God in Christ for salvation. William Ames (1576–1633) wrote, "Faith is the resting of the heart on God ... . We believe through Christ in God." Do not assume you are a believer because of a response you made or something you experienced years ago. Ask yourself, "Am I trusting in Jesus Christ alone to make me right with God, to rule me and to guide me?"
5. Making diligent use of the sacraments. I am not suggesting that baptism and the Lord's Supper have the inherent power to save. Trusting in the sacraments for your salvation is idolatry. In its historic Reformed usage, sacrament means a public sign and seal of the covenant between God and man. Sacraments are also called "ordinances," for Christ ordained their use for the worship of his people. They are a means of grace, the Word made visible. They are not empty rituals. They are Christ's command (Matt. 28:18–20; Luke 22:19). Membership in Christ's church demands that we publicly receive holy baptism and partake of the Lord's Supper, trusting that, as Christ's ordinances, they are means by which he works in our hearts and lives.
6. Practical obedience to Christ. In John 14:15, Jesus says, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." He adds, "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them ... loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" (v. 21). Obedience is the best expression of love for Christ and the way to experience more of the love of Christ. Thomas Boston (1676–1732) was a champion for the gospel of free grace among the people of Scotland. Yet he reminded us regarding Christ's church, "They have delivered up themselves unto him, to be ruled by him, as well as to be saved by him; to be governed by his laws, and not by their own lusts, as well as to be saved by his grace, and not by their own works." Does your obedience show that you are truly one with Christ?
Receiving Christ's Word is the first mark of a faithful church member. Union with Christ's person is the second mark.
The third mark of a faithful church member, according to Ephesians 4:16, is being "fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth." Joint here refers to a ligament or tendon that holds together the bones and parts of the body with great strength. Romans 12:5 says, "So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." This is more than outward association, like a shoe tied onto a foot; it is the way a foot is tied to the rest of the body, sharing the same life-blood and nervous system. The membership of a church is more than a voluntary association. Its members are interconnected and interdependent, as well as accountable to one another. How does this play out in personal, public, and practical characteristics?
7. We are personally connected by love. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:9–10, "But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more." Each member of Christ's body should love his brothers and sisters in the Lord, and each member should grow in love for the church. Perhaps you do many things in church. But do you love the people?
8. We publicly confess our faith. It was after Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ that the Lord said, "I will build my church." (Matt. 16:18). Earl Blackburn writes, "The first responsibility of church membership is loyalty to the church. By loyalty to the church, I mean fidelity to the teachings of the church so far as they are loyal to the Word of God ... . It is only right, then, for a church to ask someone who desires to be a member to be loyal to its doctrinal position as defined in its statement or confession of faith." A personal confession of faith is required for church membership.
9. We practice hospitality. Personal love and public confession become practical in hospitality. First Peter 4:9 counsels, "Use hospitality one to another without grudging." The church aims to be a family, and nothing characterizes a family as much as maintaining fellowship and eating meals together. Extending hospitality to others in the church, however, is far more than sharing food; it is sharing love and life, especially with those who may otherwise be deprived of it. The church in the United States desperately needs to practice such hospitality, for many times visitors will attend a worship service for months without ever being invited into a member's home.
The third mark of a faithful church member is connecting with Christ's people. The stronger the tendons and ligaments which hold together a body are, the stronger the body will be. Likewise, the strength of the church depends upon the strength of our friendships.
Ephesians 4:16 describes the next mark of a healthy church as the "effectual working in the measure of every part." Every part of the church must do its job. We all have different gifts, and we all need each other. Some people are gifted in helping the hurting; others are good at teaching. One Christian can give much money to help the poor and spread the gospel. Another is anointed with the spirit of prayer. Each member has a role to play in the advancement of God's kingdom. To be the body of Christ, we must be Christ's hands and feet on earth and cooperate with each other in the Holy Spirit to accomplish the Father's will.
10. We personally serve with zeal. Serving Christ must arise from the zeal of our hearts. God's mercies to us propel us to sacrifice ourselves for him (Romans 12:1), and our service to him takes shape according to a believer's particular gifts (vv. 3–8). Every believer should be fervent in serving the Lord. Fervent literally means burning hot, like water heated to boiling or metal heated to the point of glowing. Are you burning for the Lord? If you are zealous, you don't need a title or personal invitation to serve at a meeting or ministry. Offer yourself humbly to the elders to happily take on the difficult and mundane jobs for the sake of Jesus Christ's kingdom.
11. We publicly witness for Christ. In Ephesians 4:15, Paul says we should speak the truth in love. In this context truth is the knowledge of the Son of God (v. 13), or Bible doctrine (v. 14). A faithful church member speaks the truth to his neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family members. Be confident that the gospel is the power of God for salvation. Behind its words stand the infinite power of God and the finished work of Christ. When you speak the gospel, you are unleashing a lion! It is God's instrument on earth to advance his kingdom. So seek first his kingdom by being a public witness for Christ.
12. We practice good stewardship. We make our commitment to Christ's cause practical by giving money. Jesus says in Matthew 6:19–21, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Our money is a temporary gift to us, like Monopoly money which is useless when the game is over. Our life is also over quickly. A wise church member gives as much money as he can to advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Are you tithing to the church? Are you supporting the kingdom cause?
The fourth mark of a faithful church member is serving others for Christ's kingdom.
Christ "maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love," Ephesians 4:16 says. God wants the body of Christ to grow in him. Ephesians 4:13b says the goal of this growth is "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." Our growth will not be complete until we, the church of Jesus Christ, reflect our Lord in his splendid holiness and righteousness. What a glorious destiny we have, to be conformed to the glorious image of God's Son! A faithful church member pursues this growth all his life long in personal, public, and practical ways.
13. We are personally humble. In Ephesians 4:1–2a, Paul says, "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation [or calling] wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness." The first quality of a worthy walk with Christ is "all lowliness," that is, humility. We were once spiritually dead in our sins and trespasses, but in his great love, God made us alive with the miraculous power of Christ's resurrection from the dead (Eph. 2:1–5). That truly makes us humble. Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) said that by gospel humility we are "brought sweetly to yield, and freely and with delight to prostrate ourselves at the feet of God." One test of our humility is how we respond to the leadership and correction of our church's elders. Do we clothe ourselves with humility and receive the Word meekly?
14. We faithfully attend prayer meetings. In addition to private intercessory prayer, we reveal our quest for spiritual growth by participating in prayer meetings of the church. Acts 2:42 says of the first Christ-followers, "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." The early church gathered often for prayer (Acts 1:14, 24; 3:1; 4:23–31; 12:5, 12). Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892) realized that though his church only had a few people when he came, "yet I could never forget how earnestly they prayed," as if they could see Christ "present with them, and as if they must have a blessing from him." Christ teaches us to go to the Father seeking his Spirit like hungry children asking their father for bread. A faithful church member seeks spiritual growth for his church by joining in prayer.
15. We engage in meditation. In Christian meditation, your mind hovers over a biblical truth like a bee over a flower to draw out its sweetness. Meditation is taking time mentally and emotionally to digest what you learn from listening to and reading God's Word. Without proper digestion, you will not benefit from the nutrition you have received. Thomas Manton (1620–1677) said, "Faith is lean and ready to starve unless it be fed with continual meditation on the promises." Meditation is crucial for growing in Christ's image. Psalm 1:1–3 says that the man who meditates daily on the Scriptures flourishes "like a tree planted by the rivers of water."
Ephesians 4:10–16 shows us five marks of a faithful member of Christ's body. A faithful member receives Christ's Word, unites with Christ's person, connects with Christ's people, serves others for Christ's kingdom, and grows into Christ's image. In every respect, church membership depends on the church's living head, Jesus Christ.
These marks unfold into fifteen ways to exercise faithful church membership. Can you circle each one of the fifteen characteristics as present in your life? If not, how do you need to change? Go to your pastor and tell him you want help growing in those specific areas.
Faithful to Christ
Receiving His Word
1. Hungry for Word?
2. Attending worship?
3. Actively listening?
Joined to His Person
4. Trusting in Christ?
6. Obeying his laws?
Connected to His People
7. Loving the people?
Serving His Kingdom
10. Zealous to serve?
Growing in His Image
14. Prayer meeting?
Remember that how we treat the church is how we treat Jesus, for the church is his body. Therefore, the stakes are high. How dreadful were Christ's words to Saul in Acts 9:4, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" If you abuse Christ's body, you abuse Christ. If you neglect Christ's body, you neglect Christ. On the other hand, what unspeakable joy the faithful servant will experience when the king of kings comes with his holy angels, sits upon his throne, calls you by name, recounts your acts of service to his people, and says, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matt. 25:40). Strive therefore to be faithful members of the body of Christ!
 Dr. Beeke uses the King James Version throughout.
 Robert L. Dickie, What the Bible Teaches About Worship (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2007), 53.
 John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, trans. William Pringle (repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 3:129.
 William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, trans. John D. Eusden (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968), 80–81 (I.iii.1, 8).
 Thomas Boston, A View of the Covenant of Grace (Choteau, MT: Old Paths-Gospel Press, n.d.), 197.
 Earl M. Blackburn, Jesus Loves the Church and So Should You (Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2010), 108, 121.
 The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 2, Religious Affections, ed. John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), 312 [III.6].
 Lewis Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1992), 270–71.
 The Complete Works of Thomas Manton (London: James Nisbet, 1874), 17:270.
Joel Beeke is the senior pastor of the Netherlands Reformed Church (a Heritage Reformed church) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and serves as president and also as professor of systematic theology, homiletics, and church history at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. Ordained Servant Online, January 2012.