Over the past few months I have been asked numerous times why our church (First Church - Orange Park) has members and why we encourage people to join.
It's an interesting question and the answer of "Well, we have just always had members," isn't sufficient. Neither is "You can't serve on a committee or teach or vote or . . . etc. if you're not a member," is not normally something that people would affirm either. In fact, some have said "Good, I don't wan to do any of that, so I won't join." That may be more telling of the the individual rather than the local church, but I digress.
I had a friend in my church in Texas years ago who waited years before joining the church. These were the days when visitation teams were sent out weekly from the church to the community. In most cases, these were visits bent on marketing our church to those who had already visited or shown interest in attending, rather than evangelistic. Nevertheless, Larry was asked why he would come and never join the church. He was a Christian. He had been baptized by immersion. He affirmed the doctrines of the church, but would not join.
He answered by saying "If I join, you'll stop visiting me."
Wow! That statement is more telling of our local church culture than we'd like to admit. Perhaps we like the hunt more than the relationship?
Recently, a gentleman who attends regularly at our church was asked why he had not joined and become a member. His answer was "I am a Christian. I give my tithe here. I worship here weekly. What's membership? Just a piece of paper?" and stated he saw no need for officially joining since he was, in his own words, basically a member anyway.
While what he said was true regarding his attendance and participation, membership in a local body of believers is more than a piece of paper.
That logic sounds eerily similar to those who have told me such things as "I love her. I have a child with her. We live together and have been together for years. What's a piece of paper that says we're married, anyway?"
Maybe that's a stretch?
Nonetheless, I began thinking about this concept of church membership and what it means.
Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay, recently published a book titled I Am a Church Member. It's a nice little book, and a quick read, with some sound biblical insight into church membership.
Rainer states. . .
There are a number of places in the New Testament where we can see a clear picture of church membership. One of the more voluminous sections is 1 Corinthians 12 to 14. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul explains the metaphor of the church being a body with many members. In 1 Corinthians 13, he established love as the central attitude and action all members should have. In 1 Corinthians 14, he returned to the messed-up church at Corinth that has the concept of membership all wrong.
Therefore, church membership is not a modern-day concept built on religious tradition or even organizational strategies from the business world. It is fully a biblical construct based on the reality that God brings people together as family, in a location, for a specific mission that will ultimately glorify Him. Membership eliminates the "Lone Ranger" concept of the Christian walk.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:27-28 (ESV)
With church membership comes identity. Now, identity is fully expressed in Jesus Christ alone. Yet, by his design, he has called us together as his church (local as well as universal) to express His love and mercy and mission in specific cultural settings as His church.
I Just Can't Move My Membership From My Church In ____________.
I have had numerous discussions with attenders in our church who have yet joined the church for the reason of heritage. In some cases, their church membership resides in their home church back in some rural area far away from where they live today. There is a familial connection to the church of their past. While that's admirable, it's short-sighted. In many cases, individuals will refuse to join so as to honor a relationship from long ago. As is the case in most of these situations, the attender has been away from that family church longer than they have attended ours. Therefore, in actuality, they are members of their home church (though inactive and non-resident members - which are two pretty useless adjectives assigned to membership) while not participating in the mission of God for that church's community and area. In many cases, the leadership of the home church has changed numerous times and while their "heart" may be there, they are nothing more than a name on a roster signifying a heritage, but not a walk.
I'm sure there are exceptions to this. They would be rare and unique, if so.
To live missionally is to understand that God places us where He desires us to be (even if we don't really like it at times) for His glory, not ours. That concept of engaged Christian living eliminates the option of remaining a member in a church elsewhere that no real connection can happen other than those relegated to good memories of by-gone days.
For those in our church who relocate to other areas, I encourage them strongly to move their membership and become part of a local fellowship of believers where God has placed them. That means, I want them fully engaged where they live. To be crystal clear, that means I DO NOT want them sending their tithes and offerings back here to our church (their former church) while God has intentionally placed them elsewhere.
Membership Means Agreement
When you join a local church, you are affirming the doctrines and teachings of that church. Doctrine matters. Theology matters. Being a regular attender keeps you involved, but at a distance. Membership means you are on the team.
What if the Jacksonville Jaguars (our home team - please pray for us) signed a player in free agency who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season yet declared he would come to Jacksonville but demanded he be allowed to continue to wear his Steelers uniform? It's ludicrous. That's just not allowed. Other players, coaches and fans would doubt his commitment to the mission of the Jaguars. The analogy breaks down because these two teams are competitors and churches are not (well, they should not be.) Yet, you get the point. Even though we have sister churches we love and partner with for the growth of God's Kingdom, there are some unique attributes about each local church, apart from doctrine and theology, the are defined by the culture of the community, the membership and the leadership. The biblical mission is unchanging for the local church, but since localities differ, the way the mission is implemented may differ.
So, while the Jags and Steelers both play football, the way they play differs (no comments about this, please.)
Pastor John MacArthur answers some basic questions as to why church membership is biblically valid and needed. Here's his statements from the Grace to You website:
The Definition of Church Membership
When an individual is saved, he becomes a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Because he is united to Christ and the other members of the body in this way, he is therefore qualified to become member of a local expression of that body.
To become a member of a church is to formally commit oneself to an identifiable, local body of believers who have joined together for specific, divinely ordained purposes. These purposes include receiving instruction from God’s Word (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:2), serving and edifying one another through the proper use of spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-31; 1 Pet. 4:10-11), participating in the ordinances (Luke 22:19; Acts 2:38-42), and proclaiming the gospel to those who are lost (Matt. 28:18- 20). In addition, when one becomes a member of a church, he submits himself to the care and the authority of the biblically qualified elders that God has placed in that assembly.
The Basis for Church Membership
Although Scripture does not contain an explicit command to formally join a local church, the biblical foundation for church membership permeates the New Testament. This biblical basis can be seen most clearly in (1) the example of the early church, (2) the existence of church government, (3) the exercise of church discipline, and (4) the exhortation to mutual edification.
5 Reasons You Need to Be a Member of a Local Church
The reasons for being a part of a local church are practical and biblical. There are more, but I'll close with Tim Challies "5 Reasons You Need to Join a Church."
- For Assurance
- To Evangelize the World
- To Expose False Gospels
- To Edify the Church
- To Glorify God
He breaks down each of these five very well at his blog, linked here.