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Church Membership Protects Us

February 07 2018
February 07 2018

Nobody ever wants to go to court. Lawsuits and trials are messy, expensive, and painful. They are loaded down with red-tape and procedure. As much as no one ever wants to go to court, there are times that we have to. When a serious crime has been committed, a trial might be the only way to prevent further offense. The threat of a lawsuit can restrain people and organizations from otherwise harmful behavior. We don’t want courts, but we need them. We need them to protect us.

We’d like to hope the church would be better than that, but occasionally experience shows us otherwise. Sometimes church members abuse each other. Sometimes pastors abuse their congregations. Sometimes congregations abuse their pastors. What are we supposed to do in a time like that? We look to church membership. Church membership gives us a court.

One of the vows that every member of the PCA makes is this: “Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?” This vow is a wonderful thing – because it offers us protection. It challenges us to work out our hardships (“promise to study its purity and peace”), but it also gives us a court when we can’t (“the discipline of the church”). I’ll show you how this works by revisiting the three examples I mentioned above.

What about when two members abuse each other?

Often people can work it out themselves, confessing their own sins and extending forgiveness to the other person. But what about extreme cases? The session can step in and help mediate a solution. Because members have vowed to submit to the discipline of the church, we’ve all committed before God to work together towards a solution in a way that a visitor or a regular attender hasn’t.

What about when a pastor abuses the congregation?

In the PCA, the pastor can’t do whatever he wants. And this is good! Being sinners in need of grace, pastors can be heavy-handed or insensitive and hurt members of a church. If that happens, the best thing to do is go talk to the pastor and try to work it out. But what if that doesn’t work? You can take your complaint to the presbytery and get a hearing, because presbytery has authority to discipline the pastor when necessary. It’s not just members who vow to submit to the discipline of the church. Pastors do too!

What about when a congregation abuses the pastor?

Pastor Don and I often talk about how grateful we are for this congregation. Truly, God has been good to us! But not every pastor is so fortunate. Sometimes individual members, sessions, or even whole congregations can mistreat their pastor. Gossip and slander isn’t as uncommon as we might hope. In cases where the pastor and the other parties can’t work it out themselves, the pastor can also take the issue to the presbytery to resolve and presbytery has the authority to correct the session if they sin against their pastor.

Let’s be frank – no one really wants to dwell on these topics. Unfortunately, on this side of glory, hurting each other is a tragic part of church life and some of us avoid church membership so we can jump ship when that happens. But less commitment isn’t the answer, more commitment is. Church membership is valuable because it gives you recourse in those most difficult and painful cases. Membership vows offer us the protection of a shared commitment.


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