Church membership is an often misunderstood thing. Recently, several helpful and quick reads have come out to help clear the muddy water of church membership. A few smaller but really practical books are Jonathon Leeman’s Church Membership and Thom Rainer’s I Am a Church Member. I recommend you purchase one or both of these books for help clarifying a simplistic view of what it means to be a member of a local body. Further, I would like to offer some helpful suggestions that the Bible deals with in relation to the local church and members inside it.
1. 1 Corinthians 12:27 – Church Membership is Biblical and Christian
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Sometimes, we misunderstand church membership and we think it is a man-made thing. In the blogosphere and elsewhere, I have often seen and heard people make such comments like “I can love Jesus and not be apart of the church.” Clearly, this thinking is not Biblically driven. The writer’s of Scripture make it abundantly clear that if we are a Christian, then we are in Christ. Verses such as 1 Corinthians 12:27, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Ephesians 1-2, and so many more deal with our union with Christ. As a consequence of our union with Christ, we are also the body of Christ. We are saved individually, but we are not saved to ourselves. We are saved to Christ and into His body. To deny the body of Christ is to deny Christ Himself. Also, to slander and gossip about the church and people in the church is to slander and gossip about Christ Himself.
2. Ephesians 4:11-16 – Church Membership is Participation in the Ministry
“And He gave 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…(11-12).” Being a church member is not being a passive on-looker, watching the ministry happen by the pastoral staff or deacon body. Being a member in the body of Christ means that you have a purpose, and a specific purpose to do the work of the ministry to build up the body of Christ. Think of an athlete. An athlete equips himself in a variety of ways. A football player will equip himself with hard work, weight-lifting, and the actual equipment – the helmet, shoulder-pads, and other pads – all which prepare him for the game. These things build him up to do what he is meant to do, play football. Likewise, a healthy working church ministry has the pastoral staff, elder teams, and so forth training and equipping the members of the church to do what they are meant to do, the work of the ministry. I am blessed to see several ministries in a church of about 125 function as mainly member-driven ministries. A church member who only comes to listen and get something out of the church is not a Biblically-functioning church member. Also, a church member who views the church as a “club” in which he can pay his dues and therefore have the right to make demands and have his way is not a Biblically-functioning church member. After 1 Corinthians 12 is 1 Corinthians 13, the “love chapter”. We often hear the love chapter at weddings and on valentines day. But this is a model of love for the church first! Do you see how selflessly minded we are supposed to be? This includes things like our assumptions about each other! Regardless of why you think someone did something, we should give people much grace and the ability for themselves to explain before we cry foul and cause trouble.
Every person in the church has been given a spiritual gift. There are several lists in the Bible – 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12:3-8, and others. Also, we are all given natural gifts. Often, natural gifts that we use in the world, which are a sign of God’s common grace, can be used in the church to edify, encourage, and build up the body of Christ. A church member who is not actively using his gifts in the church to build up the church and serve the Lord is not being a Biblical church member.
3. Matthew 18:15-20 – Church Membership is Sometimes Messy
One of the more difficult things for us to over come in the church is when others inside hurt us or do things that are wrong. At the forefront of how we function in the church should be abundant in grace for each other, including being quick to forgive, slow to anger, and following Biblical principles which help eliminate the messes more quickly and peacefully. Matthew 18 is one such principle. A common “knock” against the church that I hear is that the church is full of judgmental people. In one sense, this is right. We should not be judgmental towards each other in the sense that the Pharisee thanks God for not making him like the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). But in another sense, we ought to recognize that we are accountable to each other and to God. The church has a responsibility to protect and promote the holiness of the church. James 5:19-20 says “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” The idea is that we should have the mindset of redemptively restoring church members who are living in sin. This is not a condemningly judgmental thing, rather a beautiful thing that can save souls from death! Matthew 18, James 5, and other passages tell us something else, also. Often, people slander, gossip, and even leave churches because they see things as messy and full of hypocrisy. But clearly God knew churches would sometimes face messy and difficult things. God already planned for it, and He also gives us the proper way to deal with it! A Biblically functioning church member lovingly and graciously deals with issues with other brothers or sisters in a God-honoring way as prescribed in Matthew 18.
These are but a few of the many things that must be said about church membership. Church membership is necessary, church membership is active, and church membership is sometimes hurtful and messy, but with Biblical principles such as love and grace and forgiveness, we can be on our way as local bodies to functioning as the church was meant to be.
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Post written by: Aaron Hale