Is Church Membership Enough?
‘WILL I be among those delivered into God’s new order?’ Everyone who believes God’s promise is bound to ask that question. Many also want to know, ‘Will my church membership assure me of God’s favor?’
These questions really deserve serious consideration, especially in view of the fact that so many churches exist, with conflicting teachings and practices.
What, then, about those who are baptized members of Jehovah’s witnesses? These also might well ask, ‘Does my association, including my participation in the study meetings of Jehovah’s witnesses and in preaching from house to house, ensure my deliverance when this system of things is destroyed?’
To answer either of these questions you have to consider, What does God require of me? He says: “I am the Lord thy God, a jealous God [or, “a God exacting exclusive devotion”].” (Deut. 5:9, Douay Version; compare New World Translation.) Therefore, of you as an individual he requires exclusive devotion. You must serve him personally, from the heart, with accurate knowledge of what pleases him.—1 Chron. 28:9; Matt. 22:37.
KNOWLEDGE OF GOD’S WORD ESSENTIAL
This knowledge can be gained only from God’s Word of truth the Bible. A person professing to serve God may be zealous, sincere. He may feel that his church leaders are also sincere. But those things in themselves will not ensure God’s favor.
The Bible gives us a striking example of this. It emphasizes the point that, even though sincere, an individual or even an entire organization can fall far short of exclusive devotion to God. The apostle Paul said of his countrymen the Jews, whom he loved: “Brothers, the goodwill of my heart and my supplication to God for them [the Jews] are, indeed, for their salvation. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God; but not according to accurate knowledge; for, because of not knowing the righteousness of God but seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.”—Rom. 10:1-3.
Knowing what God requires is not hard, if you open-mindedly read and accept what the Bible says, doing so without prejudice from previous beliefs or teachings. For illustration: Just prior to his statement with regard to his requirement of exclusive devotion, God said:
“Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any things, that are in heaven above, or that are in the earth beneath, or that abide in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not adore them: and thou shalt not serve them.” (Deut. 5:8, 9, Dy) Notice that God says not to “make” them or to “adore” them. Later, God declared: “I, the Lord: this is my name. I will not give my glory to another, nor my praise to graven things.”—Isa. 42:8, Dy.
If, therefore, you have been using images in worship, whether they be of Christ, angels or saints, you know, regardless of what men may say, that you have not been giving exclusive devotion to God.
So you undoubtedly can appreciate that a church that teaches you to use images in worship, even though it is considered only relative worship, would not protect you by membership in it. Anything that does not glorify God falls short of exclusive devotion to him. And any organization that teaches doctrines that do not glorify God, or that contradict his Word, brings no blessing of God to its members. Rather, by membership in, or support of, that organization you would suffer destruction when God wipes off the earth all things not glorifying him.—2 Thess. 1:7-9.
PERSONAL CONDUCT VITAL
Again, you may be a diligent student of the Bible. You may know the principles it teaches, particularly its moral principles. Whether you associate with other professed Christians or not—in fact, even if you associate with those you know are giving God exclusive devotion—the important question is, Are you living according to these right principles?
The apostle Peter points to the responsibility upon each individual professing to be Christian when he says: “If you are calling upon the Father who judges impartially according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves with fear during the time of your alien residence [as living in this world but being no part of it].” Later he warns: “It is the appointed time for the judgment to start with the house of God. Now if it starts first with us, what will the end be of those who are not obedient to the good news of God? ‘And if the righteous man is being saved with difficulty, where will the ungodly man and the sinner make a showing?”’—1 Pet. 1:17; 4:17, 18.
So, a person cannot rely on his church membership or affiliations. Nor can he be safe merely by leaving a church that promotes wrong teachings or condones practices contrary to the Bible. He must additionally take positive action on his own part to learn God’s will, then do it. This means that he needs to associate and become a co-worker with those who are actively rendering exclusive devotion and pure worship to God.
Even then, he must watch himself. After citing examples of some who, though associated with God’s favored people in the past, lost out through wrongdoing in their personal lives, the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth: “Consequently let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.” (1 Cor. 10:6-12) It requires constant vigilance and soul-searching examination to continue serving God. No person or organization can save any individual, for “each of us will render an account for himself to God.”—Rom. 14:12; compare Hebrews 4:12, 13.
Even so highly favored a person as the apostle Paul said of himself: “The way I am running is not uncertainly; the way I am directing my blows is so as not to be striking the air; but I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.”—1 Cor. 9:26, 27.
Summing up, then, as to the question, Is church membership enough? we answer with a definite No! The person desiring to serve God must forsake his religious system if it does not follow God’s Word. His next step will be to associate with those who serve God in pure worship. Then, in rendering exclusive devotion to Jehovah God, he must live so that his life ‘adorns the teaching of our Savior, God, in all things.’ (Titus 2:10) The one doing this can be confident in God’s promise:
“Jehovah is near to all those calling upon him,
To all those who call upon him in trueness.
The desire of those fearing him he will perform,
And their cry for help he will hear, and he will save them.”—Ps. 145:18, 19.