Uniting with the Church
by J. R. Miller
To unite with the Church is to take one's place among the followers of the Master. It is a public act. It is a confession of Christ before men. It is not a profession of superior saintliness. On the other hand, it is a distinct avowal of personal sinfulness and unworthiness. Those who seek admission into the church come as sinners, needing and accepting the mercy of God and depending upon the atonement of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. They come confessing Christ. They have heard his call, "Follow me," and have responded. Uniting with the Church is taking a place among the friends of Christ; it is coming out from the world to be on Christ's side. There are but two parties among men. "He who is not with me is against me," said Jesus. The Church consists of those who are with Christ. This suggests one of the reasons why those who love Christ should take their place in the Church. By so doing they declare to all the world where they stand—and cast all the influence of their life and example on Christ's side.
Secret discipleship fails at this point. However much we may love Christ, however intimate our fellowship with him may be, however sincere our friendship for him, he misses in us the outspoken loyalty of a true confession which proclaims his name in its every breath. Secret discipleship hides its light and fails to honor Christ before men. Uniting with the Church is a declaration that one has joined the company of Christ's disciples.
Disciples are learners. Young Christians have entered the school of Christ—have only entered it. They do not profess to have attained perfection; they profess only to have begun the Christian life. Jesus took his first disciples into his school and for three years taught and trained them. He made known to them the great truths of Christianity which he had come to reveal—truths about God, about his kingdom on the earth, about duty. Then he taught them how to live. In like manner the disciples of Christ who enter his Church now become his pupils. They may be very ignorant—but this is no reason why they should not be admitted to the school of the great Teacher. They should not wait to increase their knowledge before they become his disciples. The very purpose of a school—is to take those who are ignorant, and teach them. But one condition of admittance as a pupil, is a desire to learn and a readiness to be taught.
Of the first Christians, after the day of Pentecost, it is given as one of the marks of new life in them—that they continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching. They were eager to learn all they could hear about Jesus, and therefore they lost no opportunity of listening to the teaching of the apostles, who had been with Jesus for three years. Young Christians should always be eager to learn. This is one of the objects of Church membership. In different ways is this instruction given.
A Christian home should be a school of Christ. The Christian mother is Christ's first apostle to her children who should learn from her lips, the great lessons of life. Home teachings come first when the mind is open and the heart is tender and sensitive to impressions. The Sunday-school is designed to do an important work in teaching the young the truths of Christianity. The pastor is a teacher. He has been trained to be an instructor of others in knowledge of God and in the way of life. He expounds the vital truths of the Scriptures and also interprets them for daily life. The private reading of the Bible is another way of learning the things we need to know to make us wise unto salvation.
But knowledge is not all. Bible knowledge alone, does not make one a godly Christian. One might know all the great facts and doctrines of the Word of God, might be a profound Bible scholar and a wise theologian—and yet not be an advanced or even a growing Christian. We are to learn to live Christ—as well as to know the truths about Christ.
Jesus in his teachings, makes a great deal of obedience. "You are My friends—if you do what I command you." John 15:14. We are to learn to be patient, meek, gentle, long-suffering, compassionate. We are to learn to be humble, kindly affectioned, unselfish, truthful, sincere. We enter Christ's school, to be trained in all the qualities which make up the true Christian life. Jesus is not only the teacher—his life is the textbook which we are to study. Part of his mission to this world was to show us in himself what a true and complete human life is. He was sinless, and he realized the full beauty of obedience to the divine will. We are to look to his life to learn just how to live, the kind of character we are to seek to have, the meaning of the lessons which his words set for us. We are in the school of Christ to be trained in all Christian life and duty. The lessons the Bible sets for us we are to learn to live out in common life. Every word of Christ sets a copy for us, as it were, and we are to learn to write it in fair and beautiful lines.
For example, it is not enough to learn from the Beatitudes that certain qualities are praised by the great Teacher; we are to get the Beatitudes into our own life as quickly and as perfectly as we can. So of all the teachings of Christ—they are not for knowing merely, as one learns the fine sayings of favorite literary writers; they are for living. They are to become lamps to our feet and lights to our path, and they are to be wrought into the web of our character.
The object of the Church in this training of disciples is well expressed in the words of Paul—"to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." Ephesians 4:12-15.
This thought of the Church as the school of Christ and of young Christians as entering the school is very suggestive. We are not to expect perfection—but we have a right to expect an increasing knowledge of spiritual things and also spiritual growth in all the qualities which belong to Christian character. We should become more patient, more loving, more unselfish, more helpful, more faithful in all duty—more like Christ.
Uniting with the Church brings its duties. It allies us with Christ and makes us coworkers with him. We are not to think merely of what the Church may do for us—but also of what we may do for the Church. Church loyalty is a mark of true and wholesome Christian life. One need not be a narrow sectarian to be a good Church member; but one will always be the better Christian for being entirely devoted to his own church and enthusiastic in all its life and work. Anything that weakens a man's loyalty to his own particular church hurts his spiritual life and lessens his usefulness as a Christian. church. They should be interested in all its work of saving souls and promoting the cause of Christ. They should regularly attend its services. They should contribute for its support. They should study its interests and seek in every way to extend its influence. They should keep the Church in their prayers, daily making supplication for it. They should bring to it always the best they have to bring, not of gifts and service only—but also of love and personal helpfulness. It is a high privilege to be a Church member, and one who has such honor should seek to be worthy of it—as the Church is the body of Christ in this world!