Identity Crisis #5: The church has misunderstood what church membership is.
One of the fallacies of church life is counting the number of people present in Sunday School and worship to show what "we" have. A common question among pastor's is "How many are you running?" By doing this, we are identifying numbers as success so that we have created a "faithfulness equals attendance" mentality, which in my opinion is a WORKS salvation. Don't get me wrong, I am not presenting a case for NOT going to church.......hear me out!! Membership then is reduced to attendance and giving, not anything else. This is a major crisis.
If you are a believer and you are following the Great Commandment that our Lord taught, "Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength" then "love your neighbor as yourself"; you have a desire to worship the Lord corporately and to be around God's people in something that God created for worship, ministry, discipleship, evangelism and fellowship. I read somewhere that worship of the Lord as a church on Sunday is the sum of what you have done in worship individually all week. If the church is a living organism, then we are not just attenders, we are disciples that think, feel, repent, and praise, confess and show reverence and so on and we desire to be in the presence of the Lord "together".
Allow me to use the example of the Rotary Club........Look at the Rotary Club Membership Requirements:
Attendance: Attending weekly club meetings allows members to enjoy fellowship, enrich their professional and personal knowledge, and meet other business leaders in their community.
Service: By participating in local and international service projects, club members can volunteer their time and talents where they’re most needed. The four Avenues of Service are Rotary’s philosophical cornerstone and the foundation on which club activity is based: Club Service focuses on strengthening fellowship and ensuring the club’s effective functioning. Vocational Service encourages Rotarians to serve others through their vocations and to practice high ethical standards. Community Service covers the projects and activities the club undertakes to improve life in its community. International Service encompasses actions taken to expand Rotary’s humanitarian reach around the globe and to promote world understanding and peace.
Finding and keeping members: To keep clubs strong, every Rotarian must share the responsibility of bringing new people into Rotary. Even new members can bring guests to club meetings or invite them to participate in a service project. Keeping members involved in Rotary is another responsibility. Fostering strong fellowship and encouraging early participation in service projects are two of the best ways to sustain a club’s membership.
Dues: Club members are required to pay annual dues to their clubs, districts, and Rotary International, as well as the subscription fee to the appropriate Rotary magazine.
Leadership: Club members are encouraged to volunteer for leadership roles at the club level and beyond. To learn more about leadership opportunities in your district, see the district leadership seminar page and the club committees page.
They require you to be there (fellowship, enrichment, & knowledge), to be involved in service (Vocational, Community, & International), responsibility to bring new people (evangelism) and invite them to be involved in a service project (serve along side them), pay dues (i won't go there on that one....you should give to the Lord with a cheerful heart), and to volunteer to lead (servant leader mentality)!! Look at these and see what this civic organization requires.
What is required of the church member? What is the biblical basis of church membership? And how does this fit into the life of the New Testament church?
The biblical basis for church membership is in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, "12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many." (NASB95) We see the body imagery here as the body of Christ, the church, as we are to be members of the body as believers and children of God.
I believe that Mark Dever's book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, delivers a great presentation of these things: "The practice among Christians of church membership has developed as an attempt to help us grasp hold of each other in responsibility and love. By identifying ourselves with a particular church, we let the pastors and other members of that local church know that we intend to be committed in attendance, giving, prayer, and service. We increase others' expectations of us in these areas, and we make it known that we are the repsonsibility of this local church. We assure the church of our commitment to Christ in serving with them, and we call for their commitment to serve us in love and to encourage us in our discipleship." (page 36)
Finally, as a church member who is a believer of Jesus Christ and is living out their faith, when you belong to a Bible believing church, you are testifying your salvation to the church and to the world. So, as a unified church of believers, you are declaring that you visibly and verbally acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior, King, and Lord in your life. Therefore, you are stating your salvation out loud to those around you in the church and in the world by the way you live, what you say, how you point others to Christ, your hunger for discipleship, etc.
So as we read 1 Cor. 12 and some helpful Dever's quotes, what are the requirements for church membership:
1. Church Membership is a COMMITMENT
2. Church Membership is a RESPONSIBILITY
3. Church Membership is a Testimony to SALVATION, individually and as a body of Christ
Compare this list to the church you are a part of and ask yourself, "Is this true of the church I belong to?" This is exhausting I know but I believe a large part of our identity crisis as a CHURCH!! I will continue on the three points of membership next time.......!!!