Recently, our church was once again blessed to welcome a family into membership. In October 2007, this family had attended our covenant affirmation service in which each member publicly submitted their signed covenant before observing Communion as a covenanted body. It was for this reason that, when we brought them into membership, they chose to also publicly submit their signed church covenant. You see, they wanted us all to know that they are committed to BBC heart and soul. I was blessed by their public affirmation that, among other things, they are willing to take up the cross of church membership.
The Lord Jesus made it very clear to prospective believers that, if they will secure the benefits of His saving grace, they are required to take up their cross as they follow Him. He was telling them that the Christian life begins with getting rid of your own agenda. And since church membership is the biblical expectation for every believer, then clearly this cross-carrying mandate applies here as well.
The church is a community of those who are carrying their cross individually. But what does this mean? Let me explain and then apply it practically to those of us who have been called to this task as members of BBC.
Of course, the image of carrying one’s cross comes from the penal system of New Testament days. The cross was a judicial means of capital punishment carried out by the Roman government. Those who were sentenced to die by the state would more times than not be exposed to this form of the death penalty. It was a humiliating and horrific form of execution that was reserved for those who did not enjoy Roman citizenship. It was painful, and it was public.
When the Lord Jesus told enquirers that, to be His disciples, they would need to “take up their cross,” they would have understood that He was calling them to die. He was calling them to be willing to be treated as outcasts by the world. He was calling them to a life that would require pain along the way. Fundamentally, He was commanding believers to die to self—and this command to let go of one’s agenda is most usually a painful exercise.
Professing to be a cross-carrier is given practical expression in many ways, not the least of which is that of local church membership, which takes Christ’s cross-carrying mandate seriously. That is precisely what BBC seeks to be. We desire to be ever-growing in our understanding something of the glorious lordship of Jesus Christ and thus to practically submit to Him. And to submit to Him requires that we leave our own agenda behind. But as already indicated, this mindset is to be the corporate ethos of BBC.
You see, when one becomes a member of the local church, they are making a commitment to join the team and thus leave their own agenda behind. As a covenant member of the Body of Christ, this is a nonnegotiable requirement of church life. This is the major motive behind BBC’s membership requirements of both a commitment to the discipleship ministry as well as the signing of the church commitment. These requirements are a way by which we can practically display our commitment to Christ’s agenda; they are a means of helping us to carry our cross, of helping us to see that to follow Christ means that we must put our hands to the plough—not our plough, but Christ’s plough. Though these measures are not fool proof, they are practical attempts at producing an ethos of dying to self and becoming a team player. This policy and practice is a well-intentioned procedure to develop a true community of the crucified for the glory of God.
Let me take this opportunity to encourage you as a member of BBC to daily take up your cross and be willing to die to self for the greater good: the good of the local church. The Lord Jesus Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it (Ephesians 5:25). In light of His commitment to her, we should be ready and willing to die for her as well. I seriously doubt that many (or even any) of us will be called upon to physically lay down our lives for BBC, but weekly we have the privilege, and the duty, to work, serve, pray and worship as a team; and hence the requirement that we take up our cross, lay aside our own rights and agenda as we strive together to hallow God’s name, to seek the extension of his kingdom, and to do His will on earth as it is in heaven.
But what, practically, does this look like? Well, among other things, cross-carrying church membership will be seen in a willingness to rejoice with those who have been blessed with those things that we have not been (for example, marriages, pregnancies, soul-winning efforts, employment, educational and vocational achievements, spiritual victories, etc.). It will also involve a willingness to attend the corporate gatherings, even when the subject being dealt with is not our particular cup of tea. When the church gathers, we must be willing to gather with it. Cross-carrying church membership will also mean practically supporting the building programs and the various ministries, even if you think that you have a better idea. Relationally, it will mean learning to shut our mouths, and in some cases it will mean opening them. It will also require that we be good listeners and at other times that we turn a deaf ear.1 Further, it will mean obeying the elders who have been entrusted as undershepherds of Christ’s flock. There are a myriad of ways in which this principle is worked out, but worked out it must be—and so let us work at working it out!
As mentioned, cross-carrying is a painful prospect because refusing to let self reign does not come easily. We are all too ready to force our way, to substitute our agenda for that which is in place. But to park our agenda and embrace the biblical agenda of the church requires a good deal of humility. As we all know by experience, this is easier said than done—yet done it must be! Talk is cheap and, like most things that are cheap, it doesn’t endure. May the Lord give us the grace to obey His command to take up our cross. As covenant members of this local body of Christ, may we increasingly be characterised as the joyful and fruitful community of the crucified. That is, let us be cross-carrying church members. The New Testament word for that is “Christian.”