Even though church membership is a voluntary matter it is a serious issue for it reflects and gives testimony to the work and ministry of Jesus Christ. Sound like an odd statement? Consider these thoughts.
It Affirms the Nature & Significance of the Church
The word “church” in the New Testament means "the ones called out." It is comprised of all who confess Jesus Christ as the Son of the Living God. The "church" is the “community” gathered together (Acts 11:26; 15:41) that believes by faith they have received God's forgiveness and believe they have been "called out" to serve and worship only Him. In other words, they are a spiritually created and motivated people. Paul the Apostle created the term “Body of Christ” in referring to the collection of believers wherever they were and united because of the shared confession that Jesus is Lord and Savior.
According to Paul, the reference to “members” is not church membership - as we would consider it today - but being “members of the Body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 6:15; 12:27). This concept of “member” that Paul develops in his metaphor of “body” implies attachment to a whole and all parts working in concert to maintain life, purpose, and functionality. More importantly, the "members" have the honor of being called "His church" because of the joint confession of Jesus' deity and His mission (Matthew 16:15-18).
People who had experienced the forgiveness of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ came together in community, into a “body.” They were drawn together by a common faith and committed themselves to a common purpose. They became a visible community, distinctive in that they believed they were “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18), and they were irrevocably tied to and identify with Jesus Christ, the agent of this transformation.
It Affirms God’s Commitment to the World and Our Discipleship to Him
God needs His people to perform His work in the world. They are “new creations” by His grace and have a ministry of reconciliation to accomplish (2 Corinthians 5:18). Indeed, the church as a community of people is crucial to God’s plan in human history. The Biblical witness demonstrates time and again that the Lord has chosen to work through His people in community. Isolationism was not a part of God’s economy. The New Testament affirms this communal identity: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Therefore, the local church considers that its very existence is due to the grace of God. Each member is in covenant with God’s promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ and thereby in covenant with one another. Our relationship with God becomes the model for our relationship with one another. God’s people commit themselves to one another.
Leslie Newbigin said it best, “Wherever men think that the purpose of election is their own salvation rather than the salvation of the world; then God’s people have betrayed their trust.” God has called a special people into existence and it is His purpose to use them for the salvation of the world.
Jesus is looking for those who will not look back, have counted the cost, and are willing to give up everything to follow Him (Luke 9:62; 14:33). Church membership is a commitment to the Body through the times of blessing as well as times of trial for the greater purposes of God.
It Affirms the Need for Spiritual Formation under the Lordship of Christ
One of the Biblical mandates is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Church members submit to Christ (Ephesians 5:21–24), for “Christ is the head of the Church, His body, of which He is the Savior.” The result of this position of Christ and the member’s place in the body is mutual submission and respect for one another. No one member is more important than another because all are members of one body.
Christians grow with other Christians in the body, finding deep fellowship in the proclamation and teaching of the Scriptures for the application to daily life. This spiritual formation and encouragement produces “the mind of Christ” within each believer and within the fellowship, creating the spiritual giftedness necessary to carry out the purposes of God.
Terms like “body,” “family,” “household of faith,” and “fellowship” used in the New Testament emphasize the formation of community under a spiritual identity because of divine grace. Within a spiritual community Christian behavior is developed, spiritual giftedness is discovered, spiritual maturity is promoted, and spiritual support is realized.
It Affirms the Servanthood of Christ.
Not only is Christ the Head of the Body, but He is also the only model for every member of that Body. As He was caring for others, so are His members. As He came to serve and not be served, so do His members. Church membership emphasizes the calling to follow Christ by caring for one another and also being cared for.
Church membership means sharing burdens (Galatians 6:2). There are times in life that everyone needs someone to come along side to help weather the storm. Companionship is a good word for the church for it affirms more than just friendship. It implies sympathy, empathy, and helps when there is nowhere else to which to turn. Knowing that there is a community of the faithful interceding in prayer and offering comfort is an invaluable asset to anyone in the Body (1 Corinthians 12:26). Church members comfort one another in the manner in which they have been comforted (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
From the model of Christ’s servanthood, the church member also finds encouragement within the local community of faith. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24,25). Church members encourage one another and will do so until the Christ returns.
Being committed to the local church ("His Body") is to be committed to service to Christ. The Lord calls all who believe to follow Him by loving Him (John 15:8-9). Loving each other was akin to loving Him, and obeying His teachings was the same as loving Him. Serving Him is defined by serving others, so church membership proclaims, “I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ, and I am ready to serve Him” (Ephesians 4:12; 1 Peter 4:10).
In a time when commitment is devalued, it comes as no surprise that church membership is not on the radar screen for some believers.
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