Pastor John discusses the Biblical value of church membership.
by John Hays on August 17, 2017
No serious student of the Bible can minimize the importance of the church, both the church as a universal body and the local church in which believers are clustered together geographically to share faith and life. Those who have experienced the redeeming grace of Christ are immediately immersed into a borderless spiritual union with Him and every other believer (Ephesians 4:4). As a result of our union with Christ, we are united with other Christians regardless of ethnic or geographic identity into the universal church of God.
However, there is a second church to which all believers are expected to be connected, a local body of believers who grow in the faith together (Hebrews 10:25). The Christian life is to be lived out in community. The importance of the local church cannot be stressed enough. Paul called it, "the pillar and foundation of the truth." (1 Timothy 3:15). The church actively seeks to make disciples, cares for one another through spiritual gifts, and gathers together for worship, study of God's word, baptizing professing believers and observing the Lord's Supper. The local church has been assigned the awesome responsibility to share the gospel globally and to raise up mature disciples locally who experience their highest joy in God.
Fulfilling this glorious calling is an awesome task that demands unwavering commitment, and a supernatural anointing by the Spirit. Determination and inspiration without accountability and clear responsibilities can make for an exciting 'flash' event but will not result in the "deep roots" Kingdom churches require (Ephesians 3:17).
Godly leadership is also essential for accomplishing the Great Commission. Deciding on church leaders requires knowledge of who is "in" the church and much more. No church wants leaders who lack both commitment to Christ and commitment to the people they will serve. Paul wrote to Timothy of specific requirements for those who would serve as Overseers and Deacons in the church (1Timothy 3:1-13). Scripture clearly communicates that teachers in the church will have a higher accountability than non-teachers (James 3:1). This kind of thorough vetting and accountability indicates that being in leadership in the church was taken very seriously by the early Apostles. To facilitate these processes, it is extremely likely that something very
similar to church membership was in place in these early congregations.
Church leaders are to provide oversight for the care of those within their "flock" (Acts 20:28; Ezekiel 34:1-10). Dr. Luke provides an example of how the early in church Jerusalem cared for the widows in their fellowship (Acts 6:1). Within cities like Ephesus and Jerusalem, there were many more non-Christians than Christians and many people outside the church who needed compassionate care but the Bible teaches that primary responsibility of the local church leaders was to take care of its flock. This is not to negate the churches responsibility to care for people beyond its faith community but rather it serves to highlight the fact that there must have been in place some means to identify the sheep who were in the flock (John 10:3,4). Church
membership is a simple vehicle to achieve this defining of responsibility. Just as within a family there is a unique responsibility for a father and mother to care for their children, likewise there is a unique responsibility within the church to care for our spiritual brothers and sisters.
Even though there is a higher degree of accountability for leaders in the church, there is also responsibility for the individual in a local congregation to use his or her spiritual gifts for the edification of their brothers and sisters in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13). As Paul addressed the believers in Ephesus, he used the same metaphor he used in his letter to the Corinthians; the church should function like a healthy human body. Christ is the head, while the leaders and congregation are the rest of the body; some arms, others legs. The implication is that a healthy church is fully equipped to efficiently fulfill her purpose and look increasingly like
her Lord. It works cohesively, in a spirit of love, with every member of the body having a part to play (Ephesians 4:15-16). Clearly this type of divine intentionality bears the marks of a church that would organically embrace a form of membership.
Experiencing a church that functions in love with clarity of responsibilities is a beautiful thing. However, it is possible to have a church function like a well-run restaurant with the dining room and kitchen working in harmony while serving food poisoned by the bacteria of false doctrine. A church may seem to have it all together, every seat filled, the music is sung with passion, and the preacher is polished but it is serving spiritual food that sickens the soul (Romans 16:17,18). The church at Pergamum was guilty of allowing false teachings to corrupt its congregation and God had one simple word for them, repent (Revelation 2:16). Church membership cannot prevent heresy from creeping into the church but it can help to weed out those who hold
dangerous doctrines before they are allowed to influence the church. When church membership is functioning well, it will require a candidate for membership to affirm a doctrinal statement, where the essentials of the faith are clarified (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Early in the history of the church confessions of faith like the Apostles Creed helped to preserve doctrinal integrity. The church at Jersey embraces the BFM2000 (Baptist Faith & Mission 2000) as its primary (apart from the Bible) doctrinal summary.
Regretfully, doctrinal heresy is not the only way for a church to be corrupted. The witness of a congregation can be severely damaged by moral failure. Most every Christian is aware of "church people" who behave like members of the dark side rather than children of the light (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 5:1-10). When this happens, the Bible provides helpful instruction on how the local church is to respond (Matthew 18:15-17). After unsuccessful attempts to bring repentance, the sinner is to be brought before the church. If he is persistent in his sin, he is to be cast away from the church. Church discipline is at best compromised by a lack of church
membership. How can you define whom the unrepentant is to be brought before if the church is not defined by membership? How can an unrepentant sinner be cast away from something to which he has never been joined? Sadly, not every church which has membership administers discipline but discipline supported by membership helps keep the church more free from sin and moving toward repentance and restoration (Hebrews 12:5-7).
Even though Scripture does not explicitly require a local congregation to maintain church membership, we cannot help but see its shadow cast throughout the functioning of the first century church. Church membership has indispensable value in helping the local church to be faithful to its God ordained purpose. If a church hopes to hear the type of affirmation that God gave to the church at Philadelphia, a regenerate church membership will make this more likely. Revelation 3:8 says "I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied my name, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to
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