God has given to us His perspicuous or transparent Word of revelation. According to the dictates of this clear infallible Word, we must worship God. Therefore, the question: Have you ever given account before the face of God for your present church membership? Some persons in the church never even consider this question. Others, when they do ask themselves this question, cannot give an answer. Others give wrong answers. Why are you, believer, a member of the church where you are now? How do you account for, before the face of God, allegiance or membership in a church?
Christ said to his disciples, “Follow me!” By this command Jesus called his disciples to an exclusive association and fellowship. The “follow me” implies that one is commanded to forsake his aimless wandering or to leave a former association. One could not and may not be both a follower of the Pharisees or Sadducees and be a follower of Christ. Those persons who called themselves “the people of God,” but of whom Christ said that they were of the synagogue of Satan, would be called out of the sphere of the lie to be joined to the Church at Philadelphia in the sphere of the truth (Rev. 3:7-13).
The command to follow Christ Jesus always posits an exclusive relationship to Him. The exclusiveness of this relationship is necessitated by the demands of love. One’s love of Christ precludes fellowship with those who oppose Him. Follow me! Forsake the world, the lie, the humanistic desires, activities, goals of men, and every false prophet who says, “Here is Christ,” or “There is Christ.” The love relationship of Christ and His Bride is an exclusive relationship. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Consequently, we have a problem as individual saints. Our problem is: how can we know that we are indeed “following him”? Are you and I able consciously to give valid reasons why we worship where we do? Earnest believers want to be the Church in the world. That is, they want to be organized as the Church of Christ…the manifestation of that one organism called the body of Christ. How do you know that you are not numbered among those who persecute the Church of Christ thinking they do God a service? (John 16:2). There are now many self-deceived persons who hate and persecute God’s people thinking that they do God a service.
The problem for the individual believer is that there are hundreds of separate, distinct denominations or sects or cults which all call themselves “the Church!” In many small towns and villages there are ten to twenty different unaffiliated churches. Thus the question: where must I be a member? Where do we heed the command of Christ, “Follow me”? Why did you join and why are you now a member of this or that particular church? The Methodists, Adventists, Unitarians, Mormons, Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Pentecostals, Reformed, Roman Catholics and others all claim that they are the Church, and they all claim that the command of Christ. “Follow me” can be fulfilled in their respective organization.
In addition to this problem, there are those who aggravate the issue by declaring that it does not make any difference where you go to church. They claim that all and every church are more or less good churches. Others advise us to join that church which is convenient. These same people laugh to scorn those who travel seventy or eighty miles one way to attend a particular Protestant Reformed congregation far from home. Still others advise that we should join one of those congregations which would be to our social and financial benefit; certain church memberships are good for business and open up avenues of esteem and honor in the community. And, finally, we are told that after all it does not really make any difference where you go to church because we all serve the same Jesus. I for one know, however, that not every organization that calls itself church preaches the same Jesus. Most preach and hold to a false concept of who Christ is!
One young man of another church said to me some time ago: “Why do you people get so bent out of shape when someone contemplates leaving your church? We don’t think anything of it when someone leaves our church to go elsewhere.” By this remark this young man, of course, revealed a confused or reckless attitude towards church membership and the command of Christ, “Follow me.”
How do we solve this problem? The believer who earnestly inquires into the reasons for his present church membership judges the validity of these reasons in the light of Scripture. This self-interrogation presupposes that we have not the right to worship God as we please. The standard of proper worship is the Bible. The Scriptures either approve or condemn our worship. The Scriptures declare who God is and how He will be worshipped. God determines what is proper worship, not man. This fact is often forgotten. Man, lawless man, thinks he has the right to determine what is a proper confession, a proper prayer, a proper song through which to praise the holy God. Our Savior said that they that worship God must worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24). Through preaching, confessing and singing the truth of God’s Word, God is worshipped. One cannot worship the living and true God through false doctrine. Let he who would minimize the seriousness of false doctrine know that false doctrine precludes the possibility of the worship of God. One cannot worship God with lies. He that, because of false prophets, speaks evil of the way of truth (II Peter 2:2) has been deceived and what he calls worship is not proper worship at all.
Through the confession of the truth of Scripture God is worshipped by us. Christ Jesus is the truth. To know, believe, and confess the truth of God’s Word is to confess Christ’s name in the world to the praise of the Triune God. The Scriptures are the God-given standard whereby we are to know the truth as it is in Jesus Christ. Thus, we must ever search the Scriptures. We must ever be numbered among those “who searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).
The individual believer is duty bound before God to join himself to that Church where the truth of God’s Word is loved, preached, and defended. Where the truth of God’s Word is preached, the sacraments properly administered, and church discipline faithfully exercised; there Christ Jesus speaks, rules, and feeds His people. He that would worship God according to the Scriptures must place himself under the faithful manifestation of the one office of Christ. Where there is faithful preaching, the proper administration of the sacraments of Christ, and faithful exercise of church discipline…there is the true Church. Through membership in that Church we properly worship our God and Savior.
No one may leave that church. Everyone is duty bound to join himself to this true church. Practical or carnal considerations of distance, business opportunities, convenience, and social considerations may not determine whether we will join or whether we will leave that true church. That decision is easily discerned by those who search the Scriptures as the only standard of truth.
At one time or another, God’s people find themselves in apostatizing institutions of the church where false doctrine and worldly mindedness reigns unrebuked. What must such earnest believers do? Can members of the body of Christ Jesus tolerate and condone false doctrine? They must “come out from among them” and heed the command of Christ Jesus, “Follow me!” They just join themselves to that church (or form a new institution of the Church) where the truth of God’s Word in Christ is preached. Remember, to forsake false doctrine is to turn to Christ as Calvin reminds us in His letter to Sadolet.
At other times God’s people find themselves hated and scorned for their confession and membership in the true Church and are tempted to leave this church because of the scorn heaped upon them. But they may not! To do so would be disobedience. Sin! Rather, when the weight of “suffering as a Christian” (I Peter 4:16) becomes too great to bear, then let God’s children turn to Him in prayer seeking strength from Him to continue along this narrow pathway that leads to life everlasting.