Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Church Membership and the Marriage Covenant

Marriage is a covenant that cannot be dissolved by any human authority.  Jesus said in Matthew 19:6, "Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."  The condition of a marriage might not be good.  He or she or both might neglect, disobey, or fail, but the covenant of marriage is not broken by these.

Marriage isn't a contract.  Contracts are broken when one or more parties fails to keep its promise. Scripture compares a covenant to the ties between a parent and a child.  Isaiah 49:15-16 reads:
Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.
Parents are committed unconditionally to their children, even when children misbehave.  In a marriage covenant, vows are exchanged "for better or worse."  In a contract, if one side doesn't follow through the obligation ends -- not in marriage, because marriage is a covenant.

Scripture compares church membership to the marriage covenant.  I'm writing this because I don't think most people think that way about the church.  Joining a church is not like joining a gym or a golf club.  Ephesians 5:23 says, "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church."  In Ephesians 5, you read how Christ sees that covenant from His end.  Verses 25 through 27 read:
Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
The covenant into which Christ entered results in His giving Himself and sanctifying and cleansing for the good of His bride.  Jesus isn't in it for Himself.  He's in it for us.  As the bride, we've entered into that covenant freely and voluntarily.  I'm sure that people don't often get what that means and don't see it as the same.

As you've read this so far, I'm guessing that some of you have a hard time with this idea, that is, that your church membership is like a marriage covenant.  When you read the New Testament epistles, that's how it reads.  This is why love of the brethren is such a big deal in 1 John.  It's why Jesus commands His disciples to love one another in John 15.

The marriage covenant changes the identity of two people.  There are now one flesh.  Everything they see, they now see through the perspective of the other.  In a church covenant, a member looks at His life through His church.  Covenantal commitment is the norm through all of scripture.  There is an in and an out to it.  You are either in or you are out.  Noah and his family were in and everyone else was out.  In 1 John 2:19, John writes:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
This is obviously church membership.  When someone takes off, it just proves that he was never there in the first place.

When people take off from a church, they are not taking their covenant seriously.  They are not looking at the church like Jesus describes it (her).  It's very common today, that people decide they are going to go, and then they expect the church to approve.  They are treating their relationship to the church as something worse than a contractual relationship, but closer to a contract than a covenant.  I say closer to a contract, because when the church isn't everything they want it to be, they think they are permitted to leave the contract.  Those terms are set by them and they can stay or leave however they want.  Scripture takes this covenant way more seriously.

I say that people take it less serious than a contract, because the people very often do not obligate themselves almost at all.  They don't see there being that kind of authority in a church.  I think that most people treat their credit card contracts more serious than they do church membership, which is a stronger relationship, because the one in and with the church is a covenant.  People don't take the church seriously, like Jesus takes it, because they are not taking Jesus Himself seriously.  They don't take what He says seriously.  They are very superficial in their relationship to the church and much more serious about other temporal and less meaningful relationships.  This shows their disrespect to the church and the church covenant.  This also reflects on their salvation as seen in 1 John 2:19 above.

In Matthew 18:18 talks about church membership like being bound and church discipline as being loosed.  It's very serious.  Someone loosed by a church is someone not regarded as saved.  It's like the person was never a member in the first place.  He's not viewed any longer in the covenant community.

The church possesses the ordinances, baptism and the Lord's Supper.  Christ gave those to the church. Neither of these save someone, but they do show the strength of this covenant.  Someone doesn't get baptized unless he is saved.  He gets baptized to say he is saved.  In so doing, he joins the church. The Lord's Table is communion with the Lord's body, as pictured by the elements.  At the point of communion, everything is to be aligned with Jesus Christ and His body.

Baptism and the Lord's Supper are not just rituals.  They are symbolic of the covenant that someone has.  They have entered into the church and are continuing in the church, in its communion. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are signs of the covenant.  Baptism is a sign of a death of the old life and a new life.  At His Table, when Jesus said, "This is my body," He wasn't saying it was literally His body, but symbolically, His body as a sign.  These are both signs of this covenant that we have.  They are not the covenant, but they symbolize the covenant.  Baptism brings someone into the church and the Lord's Table keeps someone in communion in and with it.

The covenant is so serious that when someone takes of the symbol unworthily, he is guilty of the body of Christ, and he could die because of it.  That's what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11.  People should take church membership seriously.  Leaving a church should not be an easy thing to do.


Bill Hardecker said...

Amen. I would add that we will also be held accountable at the judgment seat of Christ for active and faithful church membership, too (1 Cor. 3:11-15). In Heb. 13:17, the pastor will give account to God as they watch for souls or the flock (Acts 20:28). Church membership will be a huge item at the judgment seat. It ought to matter to all who desire to please the Lord.

Thomas said...

Good points and an important way to look at church membership. Following the same line of thinking, you have people who want to take advantage of all the benefits of church membership without the commitment of the covenant of church membership. That's like wanting to take advantage of all the benefits of marriage without the commitment of the covenant of marriage. I wonder what God thinks about that!

Anonymous said...

Bro. Brandenburg,
So then, we really should not advise a person to leave their church. What is the "adultery" that a church could commit that would allow a person to divorce/leave it? Or should they not leave it, even because of "doctrinal adultery"?
Thanks for the article.
Vic Crowne

Kent Brandenburg said...

Bill and Thomas,

Thanks and good points to add.


I actually am a no-divorce/no-remarriage person. A covenant is unconditional.

This is why joining the church in the first place is such a big deal. If the church though changes or the member changes, whichever one goes unscriptural, the 1 John 2:19 says, they are not of us or they would no doubt have continued. It also means some type of active vigilance to keeping a church on the right track. Nevertheless, it is this serious and people should take it this way, because it is how scripture presents it.

Unknown said...

Hello kent,
Theres an asssumption that leaving a church or church problems are bad, it does make people nervous. However following what God says is more inportant than what man says. God says ,"Come out from among them and be ye separate, touch not the unclean thing".
I did get into a long conversation with a friend of mine a couple weeks ago about divorce. He said that the acceptance and permission of divorce has resulted in the spread of homosexuality. It used to be frowned upon to get a divorce before the hippies and drug attics came along. Having said that, I dont have a personel beef with people that are divorced or practicing homosexuality, I have a solution to the pain and suffering that these sins are causing.
Come face to face with a holy righteous God and repent. Fear God, not in a reverential or repectful way, but fear him in a way that literally makes you tremble and scared. He has power not only to take life away from you, but he has power to cast you into the abyss of hell.
Once the church and society that we live in reach a certain point of rebellion the only solution is judgment. We see in the Bible there is hope. Jonah preached judgment and the people put on sackcloth and ashes and repented, i think they even put sackcloth on the animals.
I probably sound a little harsh , but im preaching to myself. There is hope with biblical straightforward teaching and willingness to see things the way God sees them.
As far as churchmembership goes i didnt know what the loosing and binding meant in Matt 16 but now i know. I shared this post with my wife, and she is coming around to the teaching of church membership, but it may take some time.
Also, thought you might like to know the church im currently attending had a special guest. My old youth pastor!!
Anyway, for those of you reading this, the only Kent I knew , was the Kent before the collapse of the Belin wall.
I have not seen him or spoken to him in person since that time.
He was a great college basketball player that was very familiar with the glass backboards at MBBC. Im sure he would much rather be throwing freethrows than tinkering with the comment box. Thanks Craig

Unknown said...

I wanted to add one more thing, it goes to show you how peoples lives knit together in a happy local church. I really dont know what kents life is like now, other than what I read on his blog,but the Brandenburgs that I remember where a quiet,kind,wonderful family. L

Kent Brandenburg said...


I appreciate your comments. There is similarity in the break down of the family and the break down of the church today. God ordained institutions break down when they don't follow God's Word. On the other hand, it can go very well if we are vigilant. There will always be problems to deal with, but we can do that by the grace of God.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I'm going to answer a comment I published, then recognized whose it was, someone who I think likes his free agency without church authority.

I haven't said that a church is the bride of Christ, but I am saying that church membership is like a marriage covenant. I'm not saying, "is a marriage covenant," but comparable. It is serious. I am saying that based on how the NT treats it. I think most people don't treat it this way because they have a weak soteriology and they want to function as free agents. When we are married, we are bound. Jesus said that church membership was to be bound, see Mt 18. And He treats it very seriously. That Greek word, "bound," is in Mt 18:18 and Rom 7:2, used of membership and of marriage. You've got to deal with that, GC. In Matthew 18, members are bound in locality, not something bigger than that. Does something universal, invisible practice church discipline, GC?

It's hard to understand your questions, so it is hard to answer them. In Romans 16:1, "the church" (tes ekklesias) is in Cenchrea, so "the church" is local only. It seems to be bounded by locality there. In Acts 20:17, same thing, Paul called for the elders of "the church" at Ephesus. Christ's church is local. There isn't a universal invisible marriage of a universal invisible man and woman either. The man and the woman of Eph 5 are local.

In Eph 5 the husband is the head of the wife "even as" Christ is the Head of the church, speaking to the church at Ephesus. The "even as" makes a sharp comparison. Church membership is seen in Acts 2:41, 5:13 (where it says that others would not "join them"), Paul in Acts 9:26, in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Corinthians 5 talks about being inside or outside of the church. In Romans 12, someone doesn't fit into the body as a body part (a member) thinks more highly of himself than he ought to think. 1 John 2:19, I mentioned someone being with or not with, continuing with or not continuing with. They are not "of" because they are not "with," which mirrors Mt 18:15-20.

I think that churches ought to fellowship with one another, which is the point of 3 John 6-9. We deal with that in our book, A Pure Church.

Anonymous said...

I will have to ask if you would explain a few things. I am a layman, and this is what God called me to be, so how it would be from a pastor's viewpoint I do not know. What I do know is what my father taught me by his example all of my life: that when a church rejects truth as evidenced by a pastor refusing to deal with sin or to teach the Bible aright, to go out from them and to burn the bridge lest it harm himself or his children. What do you advise when a pastor is guilty of adultery, or condones it among his people, and the board refuses to put him out? Also, if a church begins to use contemporary music, and you have spoken of this being wrong, what do you do then? Suppose you have talked to the pastor and the board about these changes and nothing is going to be done? Am I missing something here?

Unknown said...

Dear kent,
If someone had been divorced and then remarried should they be allowed to join a Bible believing church? They both were saved after their marraige.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I mentioned church membership, not membership of a single church. I also commented earlier that you can be longer "of a church" and, therefore, not "with a church." Jesus wasn't welcomed in the church at Laodecia. This is why this is "as a" marriage covenant. It is, so it is serious. There needs to be a commitment to the church. It is a commitment to His church though.


Salvation and scriptural baptism are the two basis for church membership. If someone is saved, he can join, no matter what he was before he was saved. 1 Cor 6, Paul mentions a bunch of horrible sins, and he says to the Corinthians, such were some of you. Were.

Unknown said...

Not to be to technical, but if you leave a local church for reasons beyond your control and you start attending another local church and you believe God would have you attend this new church, are you saying that its inportant to discuss church membership with the pastor of the new church your attending? Or should you do further research into the Bible?