After getting to know us for a little while, some of our visitors ask us about church “membership.” This information helps begin to answer some of these questions about joining our church.

Why become an official member of a church?

Is church membership a Biblical idea, or is the church just following the model of country clubs? Isn’t it enough to attend services regularly and be an active part of a local congregation?

Good questions–and the Scripture has important answers, teaching us about what a church is and why all Christians ought to become official members of a local church. Becoming an official member of a local church is basic to Christian discipleship. The early Christian teacher Cyprian said, “You cannot have God for your Father unless you have the Church for your Mother.”

We must first understand what is meant by the word “church,” since the word can be used different ways. “Church” can mean the whole group of all true Christians across time and throughout the world, like it is used in Ephesians 5:23-32 (we call this the invisible Church, since we can’t see into everybody’s heart to know whether they are true believers).

“Church” can also mean the whole group of people in the world who say they are Christians and meet regularly together to worship the Lord (we call this the visible Church, since that’s the Church we see on earth, and it contains both true Christians and unbelievers). Local congregations (like the Ontario URC) are miniature expressions of that one, worldwide, visible Church.

When talking about the visible Church, the Bible teaches us that it is an official, numbered community. God’s people have always been marked out as a community and numbered. In the Old Testament, there is clear distinction between Israel (God’s Old Covenant church) and the Gentile nations. By the first century, distinctions remained, as among Jews and proselytes and the “God-fearers” (Acts 10:1-2). In the New Covenant church, the Lord added countable people to a definable group (Acts 2:41, 47). This definable group was distinguished from everybody else (Acts 4:23; 5:12-13). In 1 Timothy 5:9-16 Paul speaks explicitly about a list of names of Christian widows. We can reasonably conclude that a church with a widow list also kept a membership list. Confirming this idea is the official change of status undergone by church members being disciplined for gross, habitual sin in their lives. Such members were excommunicated, removed from the list of members in the local church (Matt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:9-11; 2 Thess. 3:14-15).

It should be obvious by now why Christians must be official members of a church. The Bible assumes that Christians are official members of a congregation, and you read nothing of people who claim to be Christians but remain apart from a congregation. Think of it this way: if a man calls himself an “Elk” (from a local Elk’s club), but is not an official member of the Elk’s club, may he call himself an “Elk”?

Definitely not! We think that would be as wrong as a person who claims to be a Christian but is not an official member of a local church. Of course, “there are sheep without, and wolves within,” meaning, there are true Christians who are not members of local churches, and not every official member of a local church is a true Christian. But right now, if you claim to be a “sheep without,” you need to obey God and become a “sheep within.”

Why would I join the Ontario United Reformed Church?

If you are reading this, you probably already know at least a little about what makes us different. Some differences are just a matter of tradition, opinion, or culture, and are not that important. Some other differences are important, but are still of a secondary nature. But three marks of our church are significant, and they make us substantially different from some other groups: (1) We preach the gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone; (2) We administer the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the way Christ commanded; and (3) We lovingly exercise church discipline in the way Christ commanded. All men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with a church that has these marks. The more you get to know us, the more clearly you will see what these marks mean and how they impact our ministry.

How does someone join the Ontario United Reformed Church?

If you are new to the Reformed faith or new to membership in a Reformed church (or you don’t know how you fit!), we’d ask you to attend our New Members class. This class usually meets after the morning worship service for about ten weeks, and is usually offered twice a year. By the time you are taking the class, you will likely already have developed a relationship with one of our pastors, and he will be helping you along in the process of getting to know us better and joining our church.

After the class is over, we will schedule a time for you to be “interviewed” at one of the monthly elders’ meetings. Generally, the elders expect a few months of regular attendance at our worship services before they formally interview you. Being “interviewed” sounds more intimidating than it is, as you will know the questions ahead of time, and it is only about a 15-minute meeting. The purpose of the meeting is for the elders to enjoy hearing of your faith in Christ and your willingness to commit to becoming a member here. Then we will set a date for you to stand in a worship service to be received by the entire church family. That will be a celebratory day!

Members of other congregations in the Reformed and Presbyterian family of churches may be able to join us by means of a transfer of their membership, without going through the New Members class. If you are a member of a confessional Reformed or Presbyterian church, and this is your desire, please speak with one of our pastors and have your home church forward your membership papers to our consistory.

Remember, our pastors are available to help you and answer any questions you might have about membership in our church, and how you can become a member here.

What are the membership responsibilites at this church?

When you join our church family, you are making a commitment to us, and we are making a commitment to you. Every member here–pastors, elders, deacons, lay members, everyone–shares in the following responsibilities:

  1. Faithfully attend the public worship services. Your most important responsibility as a member of this church is to faithfully attend the official worship services called by the elders. Unless you are sick, working, or travelling, or have some other legitimate reason, we expect you to be here. Even though the broader church culture and society no longer reinforce habitual, loyal church attendance, we still expect it. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
  2. Strive to live a godly life. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16). The world views Christ through the members of His church, so be on your guard: “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time” (Colossians 4:5).
  3. When needs arise, be willing to serve. We do not load our members down with endless commitments, as your main responsibilities are at home, at work, and in the community. Yet we do need those who are available to serve Christ’s church to help, even in small ways. You can take a turn as a Sunday greeter, coffee server, nursery attendant, or parking lot watchman. Sometimes the deacons need people to help give older or handicapped members a ride to church. There are committees (like Building & Grounds, or the Hospitality Committee) that meet on ocassion and handle special duties. After being members of our church for a few years, men may be nominated for the office of “elder” or “deacon.” We must not serve begrudgingly or half-heartedly, but readily and cheerfully: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).
  4. Support the church financially by giving regularly . “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income” (1 Corinthians 16:2). The world tells us that we always must have “more,” so we typically spend beyond our income level in some areas but give well below our income level. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). Our weekly offerings support many aspects of our work, including paying our pastors: “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows (Galatians 6:6-7). “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double price, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. . .”(1 Timothy 5:17-18).
  5. Have a “commission-driven” attitude. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Though we do not change our worship, our church life, or our beliefs in order to attract people, we do strive to be growth-oriented. We encourage our members to invite friends, family, and co-workers to church, to be genuinely friendly and welcoming to visitors, and to participate in our monthly elder-led prayer groups for outreach.
  6. Be devoted to one other. The busy-ness of modern society, and the commutes that many of our members make to work and church, make it a real challenge for us to develop close, lasting relationships with our fellow members. We encourage everyone to initiate spending time with their fellow church members outside of church. We should have a selfless attitude, giving of ourselves, and only then, over time, expecting to be blessed with closer friends: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:10-13).
  7. Maintain a healthy membership commitment. Sadly, personal conflicts or dissatisfaction may sometimes come up in our church. As in a marriage, we do not bail out at signs of trouble, but we work together toward mutual correction, encouragement and contentment: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:17-18). We must be mature, and communicate openly, humbly, and patiently with the pastors and elders, if and when situations arise. All the while, the pastors and elders must love us, and be devoted to serving Christ and all His people here.
  8. Once a year, make yourself available for “family visitation.” The elders attempt to officially visit each family or individual member of the church once every year, usually in the member’s home. The purpose of the visit is a joyful one–to encourage you in the Christian life, and to hear how you are doing so that we can pray for you and help you. At anytime, you can call the pastor or your district elder (when you join the church, you will be assigned to a particular elder “district”) if you need anything.
  9. If you have children, send them to their elder or pastor-led catechism class. We provide basic Bible instruction for our children ages five through high school, and we expect you to send your children regularly to their catechism classes. Eighth-grade and younger children meet in age-specific classes after the morning worship service on Sundays, while the high school group meets with the pastor during the week.
  10. Participate in congregational meetings called by the elders and deacons. At least two times a year, the pastors and elders, or the pastors and elders together with the deacons, call a congregational meeting. If you absolutely cannot attend this meeting, you should become informed about the meeting and particpate by absentee ballot. Typically, congregational meetings focus on ministry projects and budgetary matters, the election of elders and deacons by the congregation, and announcements from the elders regarding church discipline cases.