Church Membership

Commitment to the Local Church, Part 2

This post is a continuation of a prior post on commitment to the local church.

Commit to Serve in Your Local Church

The fourth commitment you should make when it comes to the local church is the commitment to serve the other members of your church. By serving one another we are simply following the example of Jesus himself who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This is why the apostle Paul commands his churches: “through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). Paul also tells us that it is for the purpose of empowering us to serve one another that God has given each Christian spiritual gifts: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). While it is true that we should be willing to serve anyone with whom we come into contact, in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul is specifically writing to the local church in Corinth and the implication of verses 4-7 is that the spiritual gifts God had given the believers in that church were to be used to serve one another. In other words, while the local church is not the only place we should serve using our spiritual gifts, it is the primary place we should serve using our spiritual gifts. Every disciple should ask themselves, how am I contributing to the health and mission of my local church through serving?

Commit to Give through Your Local Church

A fifth commitment that every Christian should make to their local church is the commitment to give through their local church. Giving through your local church is really just another way of serving the family of disciples that you are most responsible for serving. In the Old Testament, believers were expected to tithe (literally “give a tenth”) of all of their finances to the temple. This money would then be used to support the worship practices that took place in the temple, to support the priests whose full time job was to minister in the temple, and to help meet the needs of the needy among the covenant community. These needs still exist in the new covenant community, and so it is no surprise that the New Testament also emphasizes the need for believers to give financially. Christians are expected to give for two main reasons: (1) to support the church’s ministry and mission, and (2) to support the church’s poor and needy.

The expectation to support the church’s ministry and mission can be seen, for example, in Paul’s statement that “those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). This means that pastors and missionaries should be supported financially, just like the priests in the Old Testament, so they can focus their time and energy on the ministry of the gospel. This is what Paul has in mind in 1 Timothy 5:17-18, when he says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’” This means that a church should give financial support to its pastors, especially the pastors who do the majority of the preaching and teaching ministry. And since pastors are shepherds of particular local churches, the expectation is that the members of each local church should be the ones to support their pastors in this way. Beyond supporting the pastors, it is also important that each member give through their local church because of the practical needs that exist in a church if ministry is to take place (e.g., paying for a meeting place and its upkeep, providing supplies for various ministries, etc.).

The second expectation for giving (support for the church’s poor and needy) is seen in many places in the New Testament. For example, Acts 4:34-35 says that one of the reasons the members of the local church in Jerusalem gave was to take care of their own poor and needy church members: “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” This is what Paul has in mind in his discussion of the widows list in 1 Timothy 5:3-16 as well. Godly widows with no other source of support, could be “enrolled” (v. 9), and from then on they would be financially supported by their local church. In order for a local church to support needy church members in this way, its members must give financially through their local church. Are you giving financially through your local church so that the ministry and mission of your church can be supported and so that the poor and needy of your church can be taken care of?

Commit to Being a Peacemaker in Your Local Church

The sixth commitment you should make to your local church is the commitment to being a peacemaker (Matthew 5:9). God desires for his people to live in unity with one another and to avoid factions and divisions (1 Corinthians 1:10). But being this kind of church is not easy. Peace doesn’t just happen in a local church, peace must be made. Being a peacemaker means that you support the church’s leadership (Hebrews 13:17), that you show grace and a willingness to be slow to anger to fellow church members (James 1:19-20), and that you live selflessly in the family of God, caring for other people’s needs more than your own (Philippians 2:3-4). People who refuse to be peacemakers in the church, and instead choose to be troublemakers in the church are destroying the temple of God (i.e., the church). And people who destroy the temple of God are setting themselves up for God’s discipline. “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you [plural] are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17). Are you working to make peace in your church?

Application & Setting Goals

How can a Christian discover his or her spiritual gifts? Using our spiritual gifts can be done through official volunteer roles (e.g., nursery) as well as in unofficial life-on-life contexts. Discuss how we can use our gifts to serve one another in both of these ways.

While it’s great to give to parachurch ministries, why should giving through your local church have the priority? What hinders people from giving through their local church? If you don’t currently give through your church, we challenge you to start this Sunday.

How can we proactively contribute to the peace and unity of our church and avoid divisions? Have you seen positive and negative examples of this in past churches?

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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?

Meaningful Church Membership, Part 4: Holding One Another Accountable

In Proverbs 27:17, Solomon writes that “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  For the New Testament believers, where is the primary place that this kind of “sharpening” happens?  The answer is . . . in the local church.

The church is the place where we are sharpened into being more Christlike and less like the world.  But there’s a catch.  Sharpening hurts.  And the fact that it hurts means that, left to ourselves, we would avoid being sharpened into Christlikeness.  This is why the verse doesn’t say that “iron sharpens itself.”  There are certain times in which we must rely upon the accountability that only the brothers and sisters in our church family can give.

Jesus saw the need for members of His church to sharpen one another, and even gave his followers directions on how to do this when the sin of someone in the church became known.  In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus states,

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.  And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Though these words may sound harsh to our modern ears, they are actually very loving.

When a person in the church sins and stumbles, Jesus wants the other members of the church to love that stumbling brother or sister enough to “sharpen” them by holding them accountable and calling them back to faithfulness to the Lord.  Ignoring the stumbling of those around us is unloving.  If a person we love is sinning against God, we must love them enough to “sharpen” them for their good and God’s glory.

Does this mean that we need to become “spiritual police,” always looking out for the failures of those around us?  Does this mean we have an excuse to be judgmental?  Certainly not.  Paul agrees with Christ’s instructions in Matthew 18 and adds some instructions of his own on the manner in which this sharpening should be carried out.  In Galatians 6:1-2, Paul writes,

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

We are to sharpen each other, but we are to do so in a spirit of gentleness and humility, realizing that we too are just as susceptible to falling as anyone else.  Let’s love one another enough to not let our brothers and sisters grow “dull” spiritually.  Let’s sharpen one another in gentleness and out of love.

(Another helpful passage on this subject is 1 Corinthians 5.)

Meaningful Church Membership, Part 2: Is Church Membership in the Bible?

Should Christians “join a church”–you know, “become a member”?  Or should we feel free to visit a different church every Sunday; or maybe even just watch a church service on TV every now and then instead of attending one in an actual church building with actual church people?  These are important questions, and they are questions that people often ask themselves when thinking about their involvement in church.  At the heart of these questions is the more basic question of whether or not the Bible teaches that Christians are to be committed to one, identifiable group of other Christians–a group that makes up one, identifiable church.

Part of the difficulty with the question “Is church membership in the Bible?” is that the phrase “church membership” never actually occurs in Scripture.  Some might argue that this is evidence that church membership is an unbiblical idea.  However, I would simply say that while the phrase “church membership” is not in the Bible, the idea of church membership certainly is.  Paul and others in the New Testament clearly expect Christians to belong to a particular, identifiable group of other Christians.  Although there are many passages that deal with the concept of church membership, I will only discuss three of them here.

First, in Matthew 18:17, Jesus says that if a person sins against you and won’t repent after the first two stages of seeking reconciliation, then the final stage is to “take it to the church.”  In other words, if the person remains unrepentant, the one who has been wronged is to take the matter before the congregation so that the church as a whole can deal with the situation.  The reason this is important for the doctrine of church membership is that Jesus clearly expects both of the parties involved to be a part of an identifiable group of people.  If they are told to take the matter “to the church,” then it is expected that they would have known exactly which people were part of their church.  There was a specific group of people that they belonged to and that were responsible for helping them resolve whatever conflicts might arise.

Second, in 1 Corinthians 5:13, Paul tells the Corinthian church to “purge the evil person from among you.”  Just like in Matthew 18:17, Paul expects there to be a specific group of people from whom the evil person is to be purged.  If the person at fault wasn’t a member at the church at Corinth, Paul’s statement wouldn’t have made sense.

Third, 2 Corinthians 2:6 says “For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough.”  It seems that the church in Corinth dealt with a matter of church discipline by a majority vote.  The fact that there was a majority implies that there was a specific group of people that made up the membership at the church at Corinth, that this specific group of people took a vote, and that the majority voted to deal with the matter.  These three texts alone, show that church membership is indeed in the Bible.  Realizing this is one important step to recovering meaningful church membership.

“The Bible Doesn’t Say ‘Join a Church,’ So Why Should I?” by David Schrock

Has anyone ever questioned you (like they have me) about why church membership is so important if “the Bible never mentions it”? If so, you should read (and have them read) my friend David Schrock’s recent post on why church membership is biblical even though the Bible doesn’t expressly say to join a church. Dave is the senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Seymour, IN, a Ph.D. student in theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he blogs at “via emmaus.”

Here’s the link to the post: http://viaemmaus.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/the-bible-doesnt-say-join-a-church-so-why-should-i/