Church membership is an immense blessing and a wonderful privilege. Tony Merida’s new book, Love Your Church, seeks to remind us of that and encourage us to better ‘one another’ our church family. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and warmly commend it to you. I love the local church and I think the New Testament clearly reminds us over and over of the need for the local church to be right at the centre of our daily life. Church family is one of the rich gifts of the Christian life and in church membership we covenant with brothers and sisters, loving and being loved, serving and being served, growing together.
As Ray Ortlund points out in his introduction, this is not a denominational diatribe. It is not a ‘Baptist’ or ‘Presbyterian’ book, but simply a faithful one. Merida does not advance one model of church polity or governance, he simply encourages believers of all denominational stripes to consider afresh what membership of their local church looks like and what it means. As a Baptist, I have a high view of church membership and I spend a lot of time talking with those who know me about my concerns for the levity with which we approach church family in the UK (particularly among my own generation.) This book won’t convince you that the Baptist (or any other) model of church membership and polity is perfect, but I do think it may challenge you with exactly what it means to commit to and live life in a local church. As Merida simply puts it in his introduction: (15) “I want people to love Jesus and his church – and to know how to love their church.”
Starting with Scripture
What stands out in Love Your Church is that Scripture lies front and centre. This may seem an underwhelming point of commendation for a Christian book, but it is essential (and often under-appreciated.) I recently read a short book by one well known Christian author whose wisdom I (and many of my friends) deeply respect. Nonetheless, I was shocked that this particular book would go whole short chapters with barely a reference to Scripture. Songs and contemporary books were quoted, often at length, but not Scripture. Love Your Church was therefore a deep encouragement, as Merida seeks to root all he says in God’s Word. This is deeply commendable. Drawing on the riches of the Bible, Merida seeks to point God’s people to God’s plan for God’s church.
Almost every page is littered with Scriptural references and each chapter finds its main points built around different passages of God’s Word. This is a Biblically rich book and it is the better for it. In concluding this book with an encouragement to consider the promised future of the church, Merida simply quotes at length from Revelation, allowing God’s Word to speak for itself.
Each of Merida’s eight main chapters are based around a simple theme, and they in turn contribute to the wider aim of the whole book. The closing lines of the conclusion spell all this out simply for the reader. “It is an awesome thing to be a member of a local church… so pursue faithfulness to Christ and his church today. Belong, welcome, gather, care, serve, honour, witness, and send. The Lord of the church loves you with an undying love. So, love your church.” (162.)
Belong, welcome, gather, care, serve, honour, witness, and send. These eight ideas by no means encompass all it is to be a church member, but they certainly offer a wonderful challenge to love our churches better. These are simple, Biblical ideas; ones that can and ought to shape our whole lives as we live for Jesus. This is not a complete book, but it is a helpful one.
This Really Matters
Perhaps what stood out most for me was Merida’s conviction that the local church really matters. It matters deeply to God, so it ought to matter deeply to us. It is impossible to read Love Your Church without being challenged about whether or not we agree with the importance of the local church.
Merida confronts his readers with the idea that the Christian life is lived through the local church. Time and again that point is reinforced. Take, for example, the idea of gathering regularly with our church family. It is not simply that gathering is a good idea, and one that we ought to encourage, but it is a fundamental practice. It is crucial for our spiritual safety. In fact, (59) “it’s actually dangerous for you not to assemble regularly.” And just because such gatherings are so regular does not mean they are not essential. (62) “Don’t let the weekly nature of this gathering detract from its importance to you and everyone else in your church family.”
It is not just the regular gathering of the church family. Submission to godly leadership, warm-hearted hospitality, evangelism and the welcoming of outsiders, all of these really matter.
The local church really matters. If you don’t think that is the case, grab a copy of this book and work through the Scriptures that Merida directs his readers towards.
Each chapter ends with what Merida calls ‘Action Points’ – a few practical ideas to help the reader put into practice the teaching of the last few pages. If you are convicted that church membership is a good thing and would like to be able to love your church better, this would be a beneficial read with some useful practical advice. The discussion questions contained at the end of the book (which focus on each chapter in turn) would mean this could be a good resource for a church small group or book club. If you’re not convinced that the local church, with all its weaknesses, fragility and human failings, is the way forward – why not take up a copy of this book as a challenge? Merida makes a robust argument from Scripture that God calls His people to love their church. I hope this book will be read widely, for though it is written by an American pastor and (as so often with most popular Christian books at the moment) seems to reflect an American cultural bent more than our own, it would be a great help to many of us here in the UK.
Love Your Church is available from The Good Book Company, having been published in June.