Church is Not a Volunteer OrganizationMay 10, 2016
by David Garner
Several months ago, I wrote an article entitled “Jesus is Head of the Churches,” in which I sought to describe the practical implications of Christ’s headship in our churches. Over the course of this last year, worship in various places and conversations with pastors and congregants have compelled me to revisit vital aspects of the church and membership in it. Not withstanding relentless prompts flowing from the past year’s conversations, one could hardly speak too often about the importance of the church: that body for which Christ Jesus died and about which the all wise God set his affection from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3–6).
Prior to creation itself, almighty God purposed to secure a family of people for himself. Carrying out this heavenly predetermined plan bore a humanly inconceivable price tag. According to divine plan, the eternal Son of God was to take on human flesh (Rom. 8:3), to suffer the humiliation of human existence in a cursed world (Heb. 2:10-18), and to face the indignity of the cruel cross (Gal. 3:13). So he did. What God determined, he delivered. The cry from the Savior’s lips boldly announced the impenetrable mystery and the unfathomable cost to redeem you and me: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Ps. 22:1).
This blessed Son delivered us from darkness to light. He retrieved us who were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1) and gave us his resurrected life. We were transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Beloved Son of God (Col. 1:13). In Christ’s holy sacrifice, we who were children of wrath became the children of the heavenly Father. Objects of divine displeasure became the prized and precious family of the Almighty. The sovereign God turned us who “were not his people” into “his people.”
To situate church membership in our thinking as one welcome facet of our lives or a compelling option among a myriad of others, makes a mockery of the elective love of God, the redeeming work of Christ, and the gospel’s hegemonic scope.
Redeemed sons and daughters of God, we now enjoy our place in God’s family by the Son’s curse-crushing work. We are the people of God, loved, forgiven, and cleansed. We are those called, united by one faith in one God, washed by the blood of one Savior. We are body of the redeemed. We are Christ’s church. As the people of God, we have taken on a new identity, bear a new name, and enter a new set of relationships, privileges and obligations. Every facet of our existence is now defined by membership in God’s family, identity with Jesus and solidarity with his people.
Gospel grace and gospel truth can never be severed from Christ’s vital, visible, and kingship over his people, his church. The glorious Spirit-genetic connection enjoyed by the people of God—united to their Savior, in communion with him and others of his people—literally surpasses every other institution, including the human family. The work of Christ creates irrevocable bonds and an indissoluble identity for his newly created people. Stunning in every respect, the beauty and bounty of Christ’s church should captivate us.
But mere interest and intrigue fall well short of a gospel response. Christ’s work surely impresses us, but it accomplishes infinitely more. It creates—and therefore, demands—far more than a grateful heart and recalculated motivations. While it surely wows and woos, the work of Christ builds a new household with a heavenly set of family honors and duties.
Here then is the point. To situate church membership in our thinking as one welcome facet of our lives or a compelling option among a myriad of others, makes a mockery of the elective love of God, the redeeming work of Christ, and the gospel’s hegemonic scope. The gospel does not add the church to our priority list; it subjects every one of our endeavors to our new identity in God’s family. The gospel does not snuggle with our prior existence and religion-ize our thinking; it captures us in the glory of Christ forever. The gospel swallows us whole; it does not nibble around the edges. . . .
An Interview with Richard GaffinMay 10, 2016
by Peter Lillback