Is this a question for you today? It might be if you’re thinking of the church. Is membership really important? I go on Sundays and even attend a Bible study group. Isn’t that enough?
This topic came up recently, and at first, I felt unprepared to answer it. Who was I to talk anyway? I’ve had every kind of “church” experience.
- I was on the “roll” of a Baptist church from the time I was born.
- I “officially joined” a Baptist church when I made public my decision to accept Christ as my Savior, and it was sealed with my baptism.
- I served in a West African Baptist church without every “officially” joining, or at least I don’t remember doing it.
- I moved my membership to two different churches while in seminary in Texas.
- While serving twenty years in overseas missions, I attended churches of various denominations, started with my husband numerous churches in homes, none of which had “membership rolls.”
- Returning to the States, I rejoined, with my family, my home church, then left it to start the Arabic Baptist Church, where we kept a membership list.
- For the past two years, I’ve been attending an American Baptist church, while keeping my official membership at the Arabic church where I still have administrative responsibilities, though I no longer go there.
Is that complicated enough for you? Now, you know why I couldn’t quickly contribute to the earlier conversation. I’ve really had to think about this.
Like my late husband would ask, “What does the Bible say?”
Well, that’s where it is seemingly complicated further, because there is no clear guideline on church membership in the New Testament. Yet, there are some clear examples of how the church was formed, grew, and was organized that can help us gain perspective.
The Pentecost narrative of Acts 2 shows us that the gospel was preached, a call was given for people to believe, repent, and be baptized. Upon a confession of faith, the Holy Spirit would fill the new believer.
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.Acts 2:41
What number was that? The number of the disciples of Christ who had already believed and received the Holy Spirit in the house where they were staying. (Acts 2:1-2)
This is the beginning of the Church, the Body of Christ, and it was like nothing ever before experienced in the world. You know the story of how persecution would come and the “members” of this first body would scatter to the nations. Then what happened? Wherever they went, they shared the good news of Jesus and in those “scattered” places new groups were formed…local bodies of believers.
That’s why we find Saul going as far away as Damascus to search out “members” of this sect. Where believers were, they gathered together, doing what they had done in Jerusalem: devoting “themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
The now apostle Paul’s letters are full of instructions and encouragement to the churches to remain unified in the Spirit of Christ and to serve one another for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12 is a perfect guide on how the church is to emulate the human body—One Body, Many Members.
Listen to this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
Christians are Christ’s body, the organism through which He works. Every addition to that body enables Him to do more.Mere Christianity, p.64.
When I commit myself to a local body of Christ, I’m enabling Christ in that body to do more. I love that!
The question is: Will I commit?
Recently, the pastor at the church where I’ve been attending called me and asked if I was ready to join. I reminded him that I still had specific commitments at my other church, but I would definitely one day join. I wanted to be fully committed, but I had obligations to another body.
For this reason, if you noticed, I said “the church where I’ve been attending” versus my church. It’s not mine yet, though I’m very much a part of what’s going on there, because I haven’t committed myself completely. In my mind, that would be membership.
It’s similar to the difference between living in a country and being a citizen of a country. I’ve lived in many countries where I was not a citizen, and it is a much different reality than being a citizen, with all the responsibilities and privileges that entails.
When I’m a member of a church, I’ve invested myself in the body. Not only can I rely on them to pray for my needs, visit me when I’m sick, and encourage me, but they will also hold me accountable for how I’m living out my faith, times of intentional sin that require church discipline, and for taking up a role of service in the body.
Being a part of a church contains both privileges and responsibilities.
When I’m just “attending” without commitment, I’m missing out on both.
Where do you stand on church membership? If you do choose to join a local body, make sure it’s where the Word of God is preached and held in high regard, where 21st-century church life reflects 1st-century theology. Where Christ is Head and Lord over all.
If you find such a group of people, jump in with your whole heart. You’ll be blessed if you do.
Grace and Peace