Why Church Membership Matters

Romans 12:5 (NIV) 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Church Membership
In a day when commitment is a rare commodity, it should come as no surprise that church membership is such a low priority to so many believers. Sadly, it is not uncommon for Christians to move from church to church, never submitting themselves to the care of pastor and never committing themselves to a group of fellow believers. To neglect—or to refuse—to join church as a formal member, however, reflects a misunderstanding of the believer's responsibility to the body of Christ. And it also cuts one off from the many blessings and opportunities that flow from this commitment. It is essential for every Christian to understand what church membership is and why it matters.

Why Membership?
Many people wonder why they should join a church. After all, isn't the important thing that people have a personal relationship with Jesus? Isn't the body of Christ greater than any one denomination? These are important questions, but they speak to only a part of what it means to be a Christian. Becoming a member of a church encompasses so much more.

Christians were never meant to live out their faith isolated from each other. They are called to look after each other in love. That's what being part of the body of Christ is about - living and loving in community. Becoming a church member makes this a reality through commitment. Joining a church expresses a serious willingness and commitment to walk faithfully in the company of other believers with all the benefits and responsibilities that go with such a relationship.

One of the benefits of being a church member is accountability. Christians need other believers to help them grow, to support them, and to set them on the right path when they stray. These are acts of love, and being a committed member of a local church means submitting to the input of other members for improvement. Without the commitment membership brings, such input could be easily ignored.

Church membership also places a person into a relationship of love and responsibility with others. Though this responsibility may include accountability, it is also expressed through acts of service and compassion and the willingness for self-sacrifice. Church members are family members who practice self-giving and minister to the needs of each other.

Being a church member additionally means uniting with a group of other Christians to accomplish bigger things than any Christian could do alone. By giving financially, volunteering personally, and committing wholeheartedly to a shared vision, church members can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, bring lasting change to many lives outside the church. Along with sharing the gospel, a denominational church can be a dramatic means of transformation in society, locally and internationally.Church membership has much to offer those who follow Christ. Becoming a member of a church is one of the first acts new Christians can do to align themselves with other believers. Trusting Christ personally with salvation becomes more meaningful when people truly commit themselves to following Christ and acting on that commitment.

The Basis for Membership
When an individual becomes a follower of Christ 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), 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 leaders that God has placed in that church.

How Did the Early Church Function? Did they have "membership"?
In the early church, coming to Christ was coming to church. The thought of experiencing salvation without belonging to a local church is foreign to the New Testament. When individuals repented and believed in Christ, they were baptized and added to the church (Acts 2:41, 47; 5:14; 16:5). More than simply living out a private commitment to Christ, this meant joining together formally with other believers in a local assembly and devoting themselves to the apostle's teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42).

The letters of the New Testament were written to churches. In the case of the few written to individuals—such as Philemon, Timothy and Titus—these individuals were leaders in churches. The New Testament epistles themselves demonstrate that the Lord assumed that believers would be committed to a local assembly.

There is also evidence in the New Testament that just as there was a list of widows eligible for the financial support (1 Tim. 5:9), there may also have been a list of members that grew as people were saved (cf. Acts 2:41, 47; 5:14; 16:5). In fact, when a believer moved to another city, his church often wrote a letter of commendation to his new church (Acts 18:27; Rom. 16:1; Col. 4:10; cf. 2 Cor. 3:1-2).

In the book of Acts, much of the terminology fits only with the concept of formal church membership. Phrases such as "the whole congregation" (6:5), "the church in Jerusalem" (8:1), "the disciples" in Jerusalem (9:26), "in every church" (14:23), "the whole church" (15:17), and "the elders of the church" in Ephesus (20:17), all suggest recognizable church membership with well-defined boundaries (also see 1 Cor. 5:4; 14:23; and Heb. 10:25).

Conclusion
Living out a commitment to a local church involves many responsibilities: exemplifying a godly lifestyle in the community, exercising one's spiritual gifts in diligent service, contributing financially to the work of the ministry, giving and receiving admonishment with meekness and in love, and faithfully participating in corporate worship. Much is expected, but much is at stake. For only when every believer is faithful to this kind of commitment is the church able to live up to her calling as Christ's representative here on earth. To put it simply, membership matters.

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Tuesday, 20 February 2018