Church membership is not an empty candy wrapper | Ephesians reflection by Shaun Alex Thomas | Our Stories | Christ Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC)

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Church membership is not an empty candy wrapper | Ephesians reflection by Shaun Alex Thomas

Posted on 14 Jul 2021 by CERC

Hamburger earmuffs. Shoe umbrellas. Church membership?

The Shaun of 3 years ago wouldn’t have blinked an eye at lumping these three seemingly disparate items into the same bin of pointless frivolities that are of no use to anyone. But not only would the Shaun of today not dispose of church membership as if it were nothing more than an empty candy wrapper, he instead cherishes the reality of being a member of God’s covenant people on earth and thanks God every day for grafting him into the church. 

What was it that so radically changed my outlook on the value of the church, and by extension, the value of church membership? Through the CERC membership course, I was directed to this excerpt from the Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book IV, Chapter 1), featuring an astute treatise on the necessity of the church, by the renowned French-Genevan Reformer, John Calvin: 

“Since, however, in our ignorance and sloth (to which I add fickleness of disposition) we need outward helps to beget and increase faith within us, and advance it to its goal, God has also added these aids that he may provide for our weakness. And in order that the preaching of the gospel might flourish, he deposited this treasure in the church. He instituted “pastors and teachers” [Ephesians 4:11] through whose lips he might teach his own…I shall start, then, with the church, into whose bosom God is pleased to gather his sons, not only that they may be nourished by her help and ministry as long as they are infants and children, but also that they may be guided by her motherly care until they mature and reach the goal of faith.

When I first read these words, the pride that I had worked so hard to keep hidden all my life, began to swell up with furious indignation. I, Shaun Alex Thomas, am a highly skilled engineer and intellectual – how dare someone who has been dead for centuries pronounce me to be a helpless infant who needs to be nourished by “outward helps”? And I’m apparently ignorant and lazy too? Please. 

It was only after going through Scripture, Ephesians in particular, that I realised that Calvin’s words, though they may taste bitter as you swallow them, are nevertheless faithful to God’s Word, and like so many other bitter medicines, are veritably good for you. For us to truly grasp just how desperately we need the church, we first need to remember who we once were

For us to truly grasp just how desperately we need the church, we first need to remember who we once were

We were dead in our trespasses and sins, in which we once previously walked (Ephesians 2:1). As if that wasn’t bad enough, we were also separated from Christ, having no hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). And if you still think our state of affairs was something that we could get out of ourselves, think again – it’s in our very DNA to be against God; we were by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). By God’s sovereign grace, he has re-created us to be His workmanship, so that we would walk in good works (Ephesians 2:10). Now, we are not to arbitrarily decide what sort of “good works” we want to do.  Instead , God clearly means for the Christian’s good works to be within the sphere of the church. When Paul urges us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called (Ephesians 4:1), he means that since we have been called to be Christian, we must act consistently with our newly created selves. This is precisely why the victorious Christ (Ephesians 4:8-10) Himself gifted the church His Word ministers (Ephesians 4:11), not so that they would alone do all the work of building up the church, but that every member of the church would be equipped to contribute to the growth of the body so that the body builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16).

This is indeed a profound truth and something I would never have realised if I had remained dead in my sins – praise God for breathing life into me and opening my eyes to the truth of Jesus and His Church! 

Jesus has just one goal for His church- that we may grow up to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). It is precisely this goal that He has for us that made me realise that if I’m not a part of His church, if I’m not committed to His church, if I don’t wake up every morning thinking about how I’m going to be diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit (Ephsians 4:3, 13) – I’m never going to reach Christ’s goal. Instead, I’ll be tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). Have you ever seen what happens to a baby bird that is left on its own without its mother? I realised that if I didn’t commit to Jesus’s church, that one day, that could very well be me, a baby bird stuck in its nest, dying without its mother’s nourishment and care. 

Heavenly Father, in light of all what You’ve taught me on Your Son’s church and knowing my natural disposition to be like a naughty school child rebelling against a despised schoolmaster – give me the power to walk worthily in my calling to which I have been called and be committed to your church, that I might be guided by her motherly care until I mature and reach the goal in the faith. Father, keep me Christian. 

A special shout out to my church! – It was through the CERC membership course and serving in CERC as a membership candidate for over a year and a half, that this former-despiser-of-church-membership developed a radically different perspective on both what it means to be Christian and, following from that, what it means to be a part of Jesus’s body. 

On top of that, CERC is currently going through the “God’s Story ft. Ephesians” series, which has helpfully buttressed the insights I had gleaned from the CERC church membership course. Hope to see you there too! Let’s grow to maturity together 🙂