Church Membership Isn't Important
CHURCH MEMBERSHIP ISN’T THAT IMPORTANT
Should there be an interview with a pastor before joining a church? What about a 3 hour membership class? That seems like a bit much. Does the church really have to affirm each new member’s faith in Jesus? Once you become a member does it really matter what you do? Is it necessary to join a church at all? Is important for a church to claim me as part of their local church?
Well, in a sense those things are not the important things. The details and structure of church membership is not the most important thing in the church. In fact, it is not the most important thing in the Bible (not that you didn’t already know that). Mark Dever says,
“Open up the Bible and you won’t find a story about, say, Priscilla and Aquila moving to the city of Rome, checking out on church, then another, and finally deciding to join a third. From what we can tell, nobody went “church shopping” because there was only one church in each community. In that sense, you won’t find a list of church members in the New Testament.”
WHY CHURCH MEMBERSHIP DOES MATTER
In the church, with God’s glory and the gospel at their center, people are the most important thing. People matter and therefore membership matters. Church membership is a manner of caring for people.
In the small group study Committing to One Another: Church Membership, Church Membership is defined by four aspects. See their definition of church membership and how it entails a deep gospel-centered concern for people.
1. Covenant Between Church and Christian. A covenant is more than a contract which is severed when the contract stipulations are broken. It is an obliging of oneself to another party. It is saying, “My commitment to you is not determined by your faithfulness to me.” A covenant, like in marriage, is a binding of oneself to another party for mutual good and accountability. So, in membership we are saying to one another, “I’ll be there for you.” “I am committing myself to you.”
2. Church’s Affirmation of the Christian’s Gospel Confession. This is great! There is confidence gained in a church hearing your testimony and saying to you, “Yes, as far as we can tell you have been saved by grace through faith.” Mark Dever says, “you should not join the church in order to be saved, but you may want to join a church to help you in making certain that you are saved.”
In joining a church we are asking the church to affirm our profession of faith in Jesus and then to hold us to that profession through teaching and exhortation. We are not given assurance because we made a tearful decision a joined a church. But the church’s continual affirmation a Christian’s faith is encouraging and reaffirming to the Christian. We all need help holding fast to the confession of our faith. Hebrews 3:12–14 says, "12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end."
3. The Church’s Commitment to the Christian’s Discipleship. I will never forget the story that I heard from the camp speaker in Highschool. In summary he said, “When I became a Christian I was slow in growing. Sometimes I didn’t care too much about reading my Bible or showing up for things. But there was this guy that would call me nearly every morning and ask me if I read the Bible yet today or spent time in prayer.” I remember thinking, “I wish someone would care for me like that.” Thank God someone did.
That is what a church is supposed to do. We are to be committed, as a church, to the church’s discipleship. Sometimes that may mean someone cares for us that way. Other times it means that we care for others that way. Really, it is always both. We need the church discipleship and we are the church for discipleship.
That is the point in Ephesians 4:11-16. God has given to the church, "the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” That is, the church should disciple the members of the church.
4. The Christian’s Commitment to Gather With and Submit to the Church. By committing to a church a Christian commits to gather with the church and submit themselves to its teaching. “But you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” “No, but Christians are supposed to gather with the church.” Submit? Yeah, right. Do you know what millennium we are in?
But submission in the church is not like surrendering to a totalitarian regime. It is more like going to the barber shop, or the mechanic, or to your lawyer. You submit yourself to them because you know you need their help. So it is with the church. We submit ourselves to the church’s care, teaching, and discipline so that we grow in becoming like Christ. This discipleship is described in these terms, "when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:16). We are submitting ourselves to the body which is building itself up in love.
So, to conclude, committing to one another in church membership is a means. It is a manner in which we carefully oversee the discipleship of Christians. Church membership matters a great deal because the church matters a great deal.
Church membership is not about doing church membership well. It is about building up the body well.
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