Today begins our discussion of the 6th mark of healthy churches – Church Membership.
Church membership can seem like a nit-picky item at first glance. I say this because in our culture it is beginning to be seen as crazy to go to church anyway, let alone become a member and give your life to a certain body of believers. No one like commitment, no one likes tithing, and no one wants to stick with the same people for a long time, especially when things get messy. But, it is my opinion that being a member of a local church is not only a good idea for all Christians, but something that is commanded by God. Where do I get this? Many places in Scripture, but one place stands out to me:
Acts 20:28 – “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
In this passage of Acts Paul is addressing the elders in the church at Ephesus. He is clear here as to what he wants them to do. Not only pay close attention to your own soul and spiritual care, but care for the flock of God among whom the Holy Spirit has made you an overseer. So the call these elders receive is one to personal and communal pastoral care. Personal because it is the duty of all Christians to see to it that they care for their own soul and grow in grace, not being lazy or careless about spiritual disciplines. Communal because it is the duty of elders that they care for, shepherd, teach, lead, and love the people God has placed under their care. The key to notice is that elders do for others what they also do for themselves. For them, to not do these things would be sinful, selfish, and wicked.
Notice though – who is the flock? How do we, as elders, know who to shepherd? Well, 20:28 gives us clear definition? The flock is the group of people “in which the Holy Spirit has made you an overseer.” These people do not include every Christian throughout all time in all locations. There has to be a way to define/determine those under one elders care verses another’s elders care. This way to define who belongs to who is our next mark of healthy Christian churches – membership. How else can an elder know who he is supposed to shepherd? Those who become members of a certain local church are officially under the care of the elders in that church, not under the care of another elder in another local church. Thus, we have not only the warrant, but the Biblical mandate to institute church membership.
Other Biblical reasoning for Church Membership is:
The New Testament refers to some people being inside the church and others being outside the church (1 Cor. 5:12-13).
The church in Corinth consisted of a definite number of believers. Paul therefore could speak in such a way to where it made sense to hear of “a punishment inflicted by the majority” (2 Cor. 2:6) come from his letter.
The famous “one anothers” of the New Testament are written to provide local churches understanding of what practical Christian living looks like.
Now, there are a few questions that remain for me that we will walk through this week. Can’t a Christian just attend a church regularly? Why is there such an emphasis on commitment to a local body of believers? What, if any, is the difference between membership in a local church and membership in a country club? Are there demands, fees, and rules a member must abide by? Also what, if any, should the qualifications be for church membership? Do we let anyone who so desires in? Or do we only let some of the people desiring to be members in?
These things and more, we’ll spend the next few days looking into.