Why Join the Church?
Over the coming months Colin and I hope to run a series of monthly messages on the theme of church membership. Therefore this month I (Dan) wish to share with you the necessity of membership.
It will be no surprise that membership rates of churches is declining. In our day and age, becoming a member of the church is increasingly viewed as an “optional extra” which is really a bureaucratic exercise of the church. Many feel that membership is nothing more than your name on a piece of paper and the average Christian shouldn’t worry about becoming a member as it makes no real difference.
Let me emphasise at the outset: all of these views are biblically wrong. Therefore, as we begin this series let us start by creating a biblical picture of membership to work from.
In Ephesians 2:19–20 Paul says:
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
Paul is telling us, when the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts and coverts us, part of His work is to draw us to other believers. God calls us ‘citizens’ and ‘members’ of His house. Fundamentally, all Christians upon conversion are made part of a new family; God’s family. It is therefore expected that we will take up this new identity which the Holy Spirit is working in us and embrace our place in the family of God, which is the people of the church.
As we begin let us understand that membership cannot be seen to be a name on a piece of paper. It is far more than that! Membership is the outward profession of an inward reality. It is the testimony of what the Holy Spirit has brought about in our hearts. Therefore, if we are to resist this, we are not resisting a man-made institution, we are actually resisting our God-given identity as a member and citizen of His church. This is so fundamentally important that if we lived in the times of the Old Testament, and refused membership, we would not be counted as part of the covenantal family of God. Furthermore, if this were New Testament Jerusalem, and we resisted membership, the Apostles would not view us as true Christians!
Therefore, let us begin by reminding ourselves, for any professing Christian, membership in the church of Christ is not an option: it is actually an obligation! For it is here we are publicly professing Christ has saved us and we are now a member of His household.
Another issue we mentioned at the start was the belief that, “church membership makes no difference to our lives so we need not bother with it.” However, there are two big problems with this view.
Firstly, this is an inherently selfish view of membership. If we feel membership is simply about benefiting ourselves, we have fallen prey to the worldly attitude of: “what is in it for me?” There is no place for this view in the church.
When Christ saved us he set us apart to a new life of service to Him. Part of that service is becoming a servant to your fellow believers. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:7 we have all been given gifts by the Spirit for the benefit of each other. That means, God has given us unique individual skills to make the church a stronger unified presence in the world. He has not equipped us to serve ourselves but one another. Therefore, membership is refuting the individualistic view of life and affirming our inclusion in the collective life of God’s people.
The second problem with that statement is that it is wrong. Becoming a member will make a difference to your life. As it stands, if you are not a member of the church you do not enjoy the same benefits as everyone else. By resisting membership you are denying yourself the means of grace (ways God grows our faith) which have been given to the church. We see this in areas such as, the spiritual oversight of the church, the sacraments and the accountability membership brings. These are some of the areas God uses to assure us of our faith. It is therefore no surprise to see many who struggle with assurance are not members of their local church! After all, why would someone feel assured of their faith if they exclude themselves from the way God assures them?
To become a member of the church is not daunting or a large step. In fact, it is a simple outward action of professing your faith. However, the benefits it brings cannot be ignored. Our faith grows, our assurance builds, and we find ourselves in the joy of knowing we are aligning ourselves with the will of God for our Christian life.
Let us not be confused: Membership is not about our insecurities around the Lord’s Table: it is about our security in the body of Christ. It is not about our name being written on a piece of paper; it is a declaration of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. It is not a meaningless gesture for bureaucratic purposes; it is a promise we take to serve one another as Christ served us. Understanding this, we begin to see the obligation of membership as an honour and privilege and one of the most thrilling and exciting parts of Christian life!
Rev Dan Paterson