Below is the concise summation of an excellent chapter from an amazing book simply titled, “Church Membership” by Jonathan Leeman. In this chapter Leeman answers the question, “How does a Christian submit to a Church?” He provides eight excellent answers that are worthy of prolonged meditation.
Paul looked right into the eyes of the Philippian church and told them to submit to one another’s good, just as Christ had submitted Himself for their good.
The same is true for us and our local churches. Just as Christ submitted His whole life for our good, so we should submit our whole lives for one another’s good. It’s not as if there is some area of our life that is exempt from considering the interests of others better than our own. Specifically, we should give ourselves to our churches publicly, physically, socially, affectionately, financially, vocationally, ethically, and spiritually.
We should submit publicly. We should submit ourselves to our local church publicly, by which I mean officially. They should join a church by committing to the local body of believers where they will regularly receive the Lord’s Supper. Jesus publicly identified Himself with His church. We should publicly identify with Him and His people as well-by joining a church.
We should submit physically/geographically. We submit physically by gathering regularly with the church (Hebrews 10:25). Now, let me raise the stakes a little. If you can, “consider others better than yourselves” and “look to the interests of others” by living geographically close to the church. When a person lives within walking distance of a church or clumps of members, it’s easier to invite people to one’s house for dinner, to watch one another’s children while running errands, to pick up bread or milk at the store for one another. In other words, it’s just plain easier to integrate daily life when there is relative – even walkable – geographic proximity.
We should submit socially. Churches should be more than social clubs, but they shouldn’t be less. Our friends are the ones we imitate and follow. The local church should be a place where Christians form and shape one another for good through all the dynamics of friendship.
We should submit affectionately. We should share our affections with one another. Listen to what Paul says to the Corinthians, “Have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:25-26). He commands us to rejoice with the bother who gets a big job promotion and all the money and prestige that come with it. Can we? He commands the 31 year old single woman who longs for marriage to rejoice with the 22 year old woman when she marries. Can we?
We should submit financially. Christians should look for ways to fulfill biblical commandments like these, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (also see Galatians 2:10; 1 John 3:17; 1 Cor. 616:1-2; Romans 15:26).
We should submit vocationally. Christians should submit their vocations to their churches. For every Christian this means recognizing that the lives of our fellow members will stretch on for eternity, while our jobs will not…Some of the best nonstaff elders in a church are not the men who move up the professional ladder but the men who are willing to move down it for the sake of the church.
We should submit ethically. This does not mean making the church an absolute authority any more than a child should regard his or her parents this way. Rather, Christians should look to the church for ethical instruction, counsel, accountability, and discipline in matters that are addressed by God’s Word.
We should submit spiritually. I mean three specific things. First, we should seek to exercise our spiritual gifts for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7). Second, we should build up one another in the faith through God’s Word (Jude 20-21). Third, it’s the people for whom we should intercede regularly in our prayers.
So, what does this look like in your life? In what ways are you submitting to your local church?