Dear Church Family,
The eleventh section of our newly adopted church covenant reads: “We will, if the Spirit leads us to move from this place, unite with some other church as soon as possible, keeping ourselves under the oversight and discipline of the church. At such a time we will continue to carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.”
With all of these sections emphasizing the ways we are committing to our local church, we might begin to feel as though our church is the end all be all. This section reminds us, we’re not. Our local church is an autonomous body of believers who have uniquely covenanted together and at the same time, we are a part of something much bigger than any one local church. We are a part of the one true Church, the Bride of Christ, the universal or invisible church. Therefore, we recognize that our ability to faithfully live out the Christian life as a healthy member of a local church is not dependent on any one local church. Of course, not all churches are the same and it certainly matters which church we choose to join. But insofar as another church believes the same Gospel we do and seeks to live out that belief in the same ways in keeping with God’s Word—we will be continuing with the same mission, just in a different place.
A local church is a gathering of Gospel-believers who have covenanted together to live out the Christian life as one body or family. If we physically; that is, geographically move away, such that we are no longer able to gather with the other members, we won’t be able to have the kind of meaningful membership the Scriptures call for. To be sure, there are all sorts of exceptions due to health or for the sake of missions that cause many church members to be unable to gather with their local church, but these are not the norm. As a rule, we should “unite with some other church as soon as possible.”
Notice two things about that phrase. First, we should “unite” with another church. That means we should join them. We should move our membership from our current church to our new church. We shouldn’t perpetually attend without joining. Joining another church in no way indicates we do not love and appreciate our current church. It doesn’t mean we won’t continue to hold onto the relationships we’ve shared or to pray for the wellbeing of that body. Joining another church shows that we recognize we cannot fulfill our commitments to the other members and they can’t fulfill their commitments to us when we no longer regularly assembly together with one another. By joining another church, we actually express our love for our current church and our understanding that Jesus Church is bigger than our church.
Second, we should join another church “as soon as possible.” There should be an urgency about committing ourselves to another like-minded church in our new place. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t attend different churches and prayerfully discern which one we ought to join. This doesn’t mean it makes little to no difference which church we join. It means we shouldn’t be looking for a perfect church (because there are none). It also means we shouldn’t dillydally around for some great sign from the Lord. I say this as someone who has done this. In fact, when Allison and I moved to Louisville for me to go to seminary, we kept going back and forth on which church to join. After about six months of attending different churches without joining, the church we were members of in Jackson reached out to us and encouraged us to join another church quickly (which at that point we were happy to tell them we had already begun the membership process).
Why would our church do that? Why do we need to “[keep] ourselves under the oversight and discipline of the church”? They did that because they loved us. You see, God has designed us to need the kind of deep community that can only happen when we are personally, physically living life together in pursuit of our Lord. Because God cares for us, He protects us by calling us to remain under the authority and watch care of a local church. Again, that can’t happen as God intends when we aren’t regularly gathering with the believers we are in covenant with.
So then, if in God’s providence we are moved away from this place, let’s quickly join another church—but not because of what it has to offer by way of amenities. Let’s look for a church that believes what we believe, lives how we ought to live, and loves how we’re called to love according to the Word of God. Praise the Lord for our church and praise the Lord for the Church. What a joy it is to share in God’s work in the world, together.