Is Church membership emphasized as important in your Church? Is it viewed as antiquated or a thing of the past? Is Church membership a step of spiritual growth? In a poll conducted in 2005 by the magazine Leadership Weekly, over one third of churches asked about Church Membership thought that “Membership is not all that important at our church”.
I wonder if you’ve thought much about why it’s so widely expected that Christians should join a local church. After all, we don’t see any explicit exhortation in the Bible to “join a church”. We also know that membership alone does not in any way contribute to our salvation. We are saved by grace, through Christ, at our baptism. (Ephesians 2:4-9, Romans 6:3-5, Acts 2:38)
So, why would I need to as some have called it “add my name to a list”?
Can’t I simply be a part of the church just by showing up, listening to the sermons, give a little money, and talk to the people here?
These are the issues that we will journey in the Bible and unpacked in a thorough four part discussion on church membership.
The Idea of Church Membership is Clearly Taught in the New Testament
There’s a common notion out there that the New Testament does not say anything at all about joining a local church. And of course that’s true if you’re just looking for the words “join a church” or “sign this card” in the Bible.
But to say that the New Testament doesn’t know anything of church membership is simply not true. The New Testament does call Christians to be committed to a particular local church. Not only so, it also expects that this commitment will be a formal one, so that everyone will know who has made that kind of commitment and who has not. In fact, you may be surprised to hear that the New Testament even goes so far as to call this kind of commitment membership in the church!
Membership Is About Commitment
One of the most prominent themes in the entire New Testament is Christians’ calling to love one another. Jesus could not have put it more plainly when he said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
The apostle John then reminds us in one of his letters:
“And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” (1 John 3:23)
And Paul says in Romans 12:10:
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
The love that Christians are called to have for one another isn’t just a feeling, either. It is love that works itself out in concrete actions. Look at all the different ways the New Testament describes how Christians are to love each other:
• Romans 12:15 tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep.
• Ephesians 4:2 tells us to bear with one another.
• Ephesians 4:32 says we are to be kind to one another, and forgive one another.
• 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says we should encourage one another, and build one another up.
• Hebrews 3:13 tells us to exhort one another.
• Hebrews 10:24 says to stir one another up to love and good works.
• James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to one another, and pray for each other.
• 1 Peter 4:9-10 says we are to show hospitality to each other, and use our gifts to serve one another.
And of course there are other passages, too. The point is that all those actions require relationships. You can’t encourage, exhort, and stir others up to love and good works if you’re just casually running into them at church once a week. You need to have real and vibrant relationships in place. In fact, doing all that requires an understanding that you are sharing life together, that you are open to hearing exhortation, encouragement, and even rebuke from one another when it’s necessary. Put simply, it requires commitment.
Tomorrow I will continue in this five part series on Church Membership by revealing that the term “membership” is a Biblical term that originated with the Church.
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