Friday, January 7, 2011

Progressivism, Individualism and Covenant Church Membership

The progressivism of a modern culture produces people, thinking or unthinking, who stand not upon weighty words expressed in covenant but ever progressing ideas and morals that aim at change. This progressivism is married to an individualism in the church today that erodes the foundations of meaning she is built and lives upon. Individualism puts man and his needs at the center of existence, and all reality orbits around the individual to bring him happiness and fulfillment. If individual happiness and fulfillment is not being found then the progressive reality must be altered at whatever the cost for the glory of the individual. As a church looks back at God’s faithfulness to a particular church for five years and ahead to his promises to that church made in his Word, what will keep that church from giving way to this same progressivism and individualism?

The answer is tied to a foundation of and commitment to covenant church membership. Membership carries with it the idea of binding. The church is God’s gathering of his redeemed into a particular people. Those people become the “body” or “living stones” or “a holy nation”. Yet in all these metaphors for his church there must be something that binds them. That which binds his church together is the common confession of the one true God in his triune nature as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Therefore all who have been born again by the Spirit of God for faith in Jesus Christ for salvation have the right to be called the children of God. And a people who gather together in the name of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit calling upon the Father in Brunswick with a same people from another county, state or nation can say they are the church and members of one another. However, there is a bond in that situation that is missing. There is the bond of particular membership or covenant vows.

The bond that is necessary in the church for her to continue in faithfulness toward the future is the bond of covenant membership vows. While our nation continues not fully overthrown by progressivism two people shacking up together cannot call them selves “married”. They have not been joined together through the exchange of vows, they have only said, “I like you”. Therefore they are not bound. And the same is true in the church. A person who confesses faith in Jesus Christ as Lord through the Spirit claiming to be a child of God cannot shack up with his church. He must submit himself to the Lordship and government of his Savior by binding himself together with a particular body of other believers through the taking of vows. This idea is out of vogue and has been and the insistence on this seems antiquated. C.S.Lewis said in The Weight of Glory, “The very word membership is of Christian origin, but it has been taken over by the world and emptied of all meaning. … I am afraid that when we describe a man as ‘a member of the Church’ we usually mean nothing Pauline; we mean only that he is a unit—that he is one more specimen of some kind of things as X and Y and Z.” Therefore because “membership” has lost its meaning we have no place for it in our progressive minds and lives. But membership is the declaration to the world that we belong to Christ and to a particular church that we are members of one another (Rom.12:5). A groom gathered at the alter to be married would be foolish to stand by making vows to his wife while making googly eyes with someone in the congregation, or at the reception to spend the whole time dancing with another woman. He has just declared to others and to his wife in the vows and the exchanging of rings that he belongs to her and no one else.
When the church considers covenant membership vows she must consider her covenant God. God has revealed himself as the Creating and Redeeming God. And in his creating and redeeming he carries this out in covenant. In relationship to himself he decrees, speaks and acts in perfect accord with the relationship he has to himself in his unchanging eternal nature. When he creates and redeems man he does so by way of a covenant relationship. He binds himself to the creature making promises and keeping them in love. We enter into relationship with him through his covenant of grace where he binds himself to us and us to himself. Therefore our covenant membership vows are a reflection of and are carried out in obedience to his glory. As he keeps covenant with his church so his church keeps covenant with him in living in his church in an accountable manner through member vows. To deny covenant membership vows is to deny the very nature of God and his work in creation and redemption.

Taking and living by vows in his church is necessary for all those professing faith in Jesus Christ. Progressivism tells us to abandon this antiquated way of living by words and “traditions” that are not relevant and necessary today. It says change is needed in the church and we see where these ideas have landed us today. Those words cannot be trusted. They must be changed to fit our changing culture. Individualism tells us that if a person or a group of people are not meeting your needs then leave them and go where you can offer something of yourself and get something from others for the bettering of self. Taking, renewing through repentance and faith, and continuing to live by covenant membership vows is neither progressive nor individualistic. It is faithful covenant keeping proclaiming to the world that you belong to God in Christ because of the work he has done toward you and in you. And it is professing to one another in the church that you belong to one another in love and truth.

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