Seven Reasons for Church Membership
This morning we are beginning a refresher course on membership or being part of the church. So today I would like to begin and give us seven reasons why membership is biblical. I used to be one who believed that membership of the local church was an unbiblical innovation that true biblical Christians should cast off, just as they have cast off many man made practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Today I stand before convinced of the opposite position.
We live in a day and age that has seen the death of many important and biblical teachings. This has happened for a number of reasons. Firstly, we are in an age that has been deeply impacted by individualism. This has impacted our understanding of our relationship with the church to such an extent that you will find Christians who believe that they don’t need the church, or preachers, or baptism, or the Lord’s Supper, or church discipline, or membership, or many of the other things that relate to being part of the church. They think that because they have the Holy Spirit and a bible that is all they need. They couldn’t be more wrong. Unfortunately they have emphasised being a part of the invisible church at the expense of being part of the visible church. Secondly, another reason why church related issues have suffered in our modern age is on account of an attempt to unify various denominations in certain endeavours like missions, evangelism, worship events, etc. And as soon as you seek unity with people from varying denominations what do you have to sacrifice in order to do evangelism together? Things like baptism, views on church government, membership, etc. are the first to be chucked. Thirdly, as Christians we have grown very shallow in our approach to the scriptures and have fallen into a text proof approach to Scripture. The trouble with this approach is that not every doctrine we hold has a clear unambiguous proof text to prove it. For example, think of the Trinity. The word Trinity does not occur in the Scriptures, nor is there a particular verse that teaches that God exists as One God in three persons, this is language that we have come up with as we have wrestled with the inferences of a number of verses. We might be able to find one verse that proves the deity of Christ, then another to prove that the Holy Spirit is eternal implying His deity. We can find Scriptures that teach the equality of the Father with the Son, but have to go to other Scriptures to find the equality of the Spirit with the Father. We piece it together but can’t have one neat verse that says it all. It is often the case that it is only when a doctrine is disputed that we find nice and succinct verses that say it all. Paul gives us many verses that teach us that we are justified by faith because that was one of the major disputes that he faced, it was only several hundred years later that the doctrine of the Trinity came under attack and was formulated in the way we now hold. It is the same with church membership. There is no one verse that says ‘Thou shalt become a committed member of a local church.’ However, like the Trinity, there is grafted into the warp and woof of the NT church clear indications that church membership was practised. It is my hope to piece these fragments together to give you what the NT reveals about the church and membership. I have eight lines of argument to prove that every Christian should be a committed member of a local church and not a free or wandering agent who is not committed to a particular church.
There are two basic assumptions that I am holding to, firstly, I disagree that the issues that relate to church structure are matters that are not mentioned in the Scriptures and therefore up for personal interpretation. Charles Finney held to a pragmatic view of church saying that God told us to fulfil the Great Commission but did not tell us how. This was his view which helped him introduce new measures into the church, namely the anxious seat which was an early forerunner to the altar call. The Bible is full of teaching that relates to the various structural aspects of the church. For example, we see that the church met together on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2); that they believed that they should meet and not be individualistic (Hebrews 10:25); they had elections (Acts 6:1-7); Officers (Phil. 1:1); did church discipline (1 Cor. 5); took contributions (Rom. 15:26); wrote letters of commendation to communicate with other local churches (Acts 18:27; 2 Cor. 3:1); administered the ordinances (Acts 2:41;1 Cor. 11:23-26); kept a role for the widows (1 Tim. 5:9-11), and the number of those who were in the church (Acts 2:47), amongst other things. That the bible is sufficient and authoritative for us in these issues.
Secondly, I am assuming that church membership is made of those who are born again. The invisible church consists of those who are born again and united to Christ wherever they may be. The visible church, that is the concrete local expressions of the universal and invisible church should be made up of only those who are true believers. The Bible acknowledges only those who are born again and united to Christ as disciples and truly a child of Abraham and therefore part of the true church. The church we see in the NT is not a church made up of particular nations, parents with their unbelieving children, or any old heretic that says they are a Christian, but it consists of those who make a credible confession of faith joining themselves together with others who so confess the faith in a community of saints.