Commitment to the Local Church, Part 1

Commit to Membership in Your Local Church

The first commitment you need to make when it comes to the local church is the commitment to becoming an official member of your local church. Some say that “church membership” is not in the Bible. But while the exact words “church membership” are not in the Bible, the concept of church membership certainly is.

When we say “church membership,” what we are talking about is simply identifying with one particular local church. The New Testament assumes that every Christian will be part of a specific, identifiable, local group of Christians. There is no room in the New Testament for a Christian who floats around from church to church without ever being a meaningful part of one particular church. There are two main evidences for this in Scripture.

The first evidence for local church membership in the New Testament is the evidence from church discipline. There are passages of Scripture in which Christians are called to “discipline” or “hold people accountable” for sins they commit, and in those passages it is clear that it is one’s local church to which one is accountable. For example, in Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus tells his disciples what they are to do if their “brother” (i.e., fellow Christian) sins against them. First, they are to go to them in private and call on the sinning brother or sister to repent. If the person does not repent, then the second step is to take two or three witnesses with you and call on him or her to repent again. If they do not listen to the two or three witnesses and still refuse to repent, then the third step is to “take it to the church” (v. 17). What could that last phrase mean apart from an expectation that Jesus’ disciples would be a meaningful part of a particular local church? Doesn’t “take it to the church” imply that they are to take the issue at hand to their particular local church? And if that is the case, then doesn’t that imply that each disciple has in some meaningful way identified with a particular local church? They aren’t to take the issue to just any old church down the street. They are to take the issue to the particular local church to which they and the erring member belong. This same expectation is seen in 1 Corinthians 5, where Paul deals with a specific case of church discipline and tells the local church in Corinth that they should “purge the evil person from among you” (v. 13). Purge him from among whom? Evidently Paul expected that this unrepentant brother was a “member” of the local church in Corinth and it was from that particular local church group that he was to be purged.

The second type of evidence for local church membership in the New Testament has to do with church leaders. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” This verse means that pastors, as church leaders, will have to give an account one day in judgment for how they have watched over the souls of certain people. The question is how does a pastor know for whom he will have to give an account on the day of judgment? Will I (Pastor Grant) have to give an account for how I have watched over the souls of all the Christians in Jackson, TN? If not, then for which Christians am I responsible? The answer is I and the other pastors of Calvary are responsible for watching over the souls of those people who have committed to our local church’s membership. In other words, pastoral ministry as watching over the souls of fellow Christians and giving an account for them on the day of judgment only makes sense if every Christian is part of an identifiable group of Christians—a local church.

Commit to Corporate Worship in Your Local Church

The second commitment you need to make as a church member is the commitment to corporate worship with your local church. Corporate worship gatherings have been an important part of what it means to worship the God of the Bible ever since Israel took part in that first worship gathering at the foot of Mount Sinai in Exodus 19-20, when they assembled together to receive God’s Word and worship him. From then on, the people of Israel had regular corporate worship gatherings for the same purpose. This pattern continued in the New Testament. For example, the very first church in Jerusalem met “in the temple” for corporate worship, as well as “house to house” for fellowship (see Acts 2:46). Likewise, Paul refers to the “whole church” gathering together in Corinth in corporate worship (Acts 16:23; 1 Corinthians 11:18). It is not enough to fellowship with a subgroup of your local church. You should be committed to corporate worship with the whole church body as well.

Commit to Fellowship in Your Local Church

The third commitment you should make as a member of your local church is the commitment to fellowship. You should be committed to making deep and meaningful relationships with your fellow church members for the purpose of spurring them on in their spiritual growth. How else will you be able to carry out all the “one another” commands of Scripture (“love one another,” “pray for one another,” “encourage one another,” “admonish one another,” “rebuke one another,” etc.)? This is why the early church in Jerusalem, which numbered in the thousands, was committed to meeting in smaller groups than just the large corporate worship gathering in the temple. They met in various homes scattered throughout the city because those smaller groups were more conducive to fostering relationships, community, and fellowship. It was in this context that Christians could form the bonds required for doing the Christian life together. It’s what made it possible for them to “devote themselves to the fellowship” (Acts 2:42). This is what we try to accomplish through Sunday school classes at Calvary.

Questions for Reflection

Why is important to become an official member of a local church and not just hop around from church to church?

Why is it important to be a part of the large group corporate worship gathering of your local church and not just a small subgroup within the local church?

What does it take to have genuine, as opposed to surface-level, fellowship?

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