This past Sunday we “officially” welcomed some new people into church membership, people who have been attending and actively involved in our church, who have now consummated a relationship that already exists. We made a public, binding covenant with one another. The implications of this are both thrilling and profound. If you want to read more about why we do this and what it means to our church, you can check it out here.
One of the best books on church membership out there is Jonathan Leeman’s The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love. In light of this past Sunday morning it seemed appropriate to share a brief yet wonderful excerpt. He begins by noting that Paul, from 1 Corinthians 13 “grabs back the pretty lyrics of 1 Corinthians 13 from the wedding party and reads it to the local church. He continues this way:
Do you want to exercise, practice, enact, embody, and define the glorious love of heaven, he asks us? Then do it in a local church, a church where factions are pitted against one another (1 Cor. 1:12-13), where people have big heads (4:8), where members are sleeping with their fathers’ wives (5:2), where members are suing and defrauding one another (6:1-8), where members are getting drunk on communion wine and not leaving enough for others (11:21-22), where spiritual gift one-upmanship is rife (chaps 12-14), where the meetings are threatened by disorder (14:40), and where some are saying there is no resurrection of the dead (15:12). Bind and submit yourself and your gifts to these kinds of people. Love them with patience and kindness, without envy or boasting, without arrogance or rudeness, not insisting on our own way, not irritably or resentfully, not rejoicing at wrongdoing but rejoicing at the truth.
People often complain about the sinners they find in the local church, and with good reason. It’s filled with sinners, which is why Paul calls Christians to love one another by bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. If you won’t love such backstabbers and defrauders like this, don’t talk about your spiritual gifts, your vast biblical knowledge, or all the things you do for the poor. You are just a noisy gong. Don’t talk about your love for all Christians everywhere; you are just a clanging cymbal. But if you do practice loving a specific, concrete people, all of whose names you don’t get to choose, then you will participate in defining love for the world, the love which will characterize the church on the last day perfectly because it images the self-sacrificing and merciful love of Christ perfectly.
And what Christian doesn’t want to be a part of that?