Baptized into the Body (No. 4 in Series)

Baptized into the Body

A Series on Church Membership

Let us say first and foremost that when we talk about “church membership,” we are talking about really joining a church: officially pledging to worship with a congregation, to serve alongside brothers and sisters in a local setting, and to be accountable to the brethren.  Now, some folks may say that there is nothing “official” about church membership in the New Testament.  Yet, I would respond by saying that the concept of membership was assumed in the early church.  Everyone belonged to a local assembly during the age of the apostles.

For example, when we were baptized, we were united with Christ (Gal 3:27, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ”), but we were also immersed into the universal church (1 Cor 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body . . . and have all been made to drink into one Spirit”).  When we became Christians, we became church members.  Now, how is that reality played out in our lives?  It is fully realized when we join in the life of a local congregation: worship, service, support, evangelism, etc.

For the next several weeks in these articles we will continue to discuss the importance of church membership, both in obedience to the Lord and for the good of each and every believer.  This series will be helpful for all of us, whether we are already members or not.  To take that initial step to join, we should know what we are getting ourselves into.  We should know the reason for membership and the importance of it.  Likewise, if we are already members, it is appropriate to get a clearer picture of what the Lord expects of us and how we can be a better member of the body of Christ.

The Basic Requirement (No. 3 in Series)

A Series on Church Membership

Mark Dever, a Baptist pastor and author, has said in his book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, “The responsibilities and duties of members of a Christian church are simply the responsibilities and duties of Christians.  Church members, like Christians, are to be baptized and to regularly attend the Lord’s Table.  We are to hear God’s Word and to obey it.  We are to regularly fellowship together for mutual edification.  We are to love God, one another, and those outside our fellowship, and we are to evidence the fruit of the Spirit” (159).  Dever is correct, here, to assert that the Christian life is a going-to-church life.

Christian people are those who gather with like-minded believers to learn from the Lord, worship the Lord, and encourage one another toward faith in the Lord.  This is what it means to be a Christian.  We cannot be like a man on the moon or a wanderer on an island.

I know.  I know.  The American culture has told us from the time that we were tots that we should be independent, self-sufficient, and go-get-our-own.  As the young folks say today, “I’m gonna do me.”  Yet, this is in no way a biblical principle.  Sure, we should be hard workers and support ourselves and our families as we earn a living, and we shouldn’t depend on others for everything.  However, Christians are to lean on the Lord and rely on one another.  As the Scripture says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteems others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4).

To do these things, we must be together.  We must see one another.  The most important and, at the same time, most basic requirement for church membership is attending gatherings on the Lord’s Day.  Why is the Church in America struggling?  There may be several reasons, but I would argue that one major problem is that we do not even meet together on a regular basis anymore.  When we get together, we get to know one another, we can make lifelong friends, we can support others, and, in turn, we can be supported by others.

Removing Obstacles (No. 2 in Series)

A Series on Church Membership

There is a saying that has been around for some time now that goes something like this: Going to church does not make one a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes one a car.  Of course, this is most often used by those who do not want to attend church gatherings.  Let me say, the most ideal situation for the safety and well-being of a car is to park it in the garage.  Not all of us have garages, but we would if we could!

Can someone be a Christian and not belong to a congregation?  Probably, but the New Testament does not know of any such Christian.  Can someone be a Christian and not attend church services?  Sure, but that is not the ideal situation.  Some folks miss Sunday gatherings because they are too sick to attend, or they are looking after a loved one who is not able to come.  We don’t need to discuss the exceptions.  Let’s talk about the rule.  The New Testament makes plain, as we have seen in our several articles from Heb 10:24-25, that Christians are those who belong to the body of Christ.  All of the believers of the first century, apostolic age where members of local congregations.  They were a blessing to other saints and were also blessed by them.  This is the normal Christian life.

There are those who do not join a church or do not remain active because they are simply stubborn.  Hebrews (and many other places in the Bible) warns us to not be like the Exodus generation who were a rebellious and stiff-necked people.  They did not inherit the promises of God.  Do not be like them!  There are also folks who are afraid to make a commitment.  While the Bible is clear that we should count the costs of following Christ, it is equally as forthright that the decision should be made fairly quickly.  We cannot sit on the fence forever about God and the things of Christ.  Either we are in, or we are out.

The Christian life is the blessed life, and it is also difficult.  Yet, the question is, Are these things true?  If what you have heard about Christ is true, then you must not wait anymore.  Christ demands that we make a decision.  We should commit to Him, but we have to freedom to reject Him.  Either way, we cannot remain neutral.  To do so is to reject Him.

Removing Obstacles (No. 1 in Series)

A Series on Church Membership

Have you ever heard someone say that they will not join a church because it is full of hypocrites?  If someone has not said this directly to you, at the very least, you have heard of the claim through the grapevine.  Many think that Christians are fake and shallow.  Is this true?  Here is my response: Sure, there are many Christians in name only.  Just because people claim to be Christians does not mean that they have truly been born again.  Furthermore, and maybe more importantly, true Christians do not claim to be perfect.  On the contrary, we confess that we are sinners in need of forgiveness.  We mess up; we neglect things that we should do; we say things wrong; we are not what we want to be, much less what God wants us to be.  This is the core of the Christian Faith.  The Gospel teaches that all people are wrongdoers, but God has sent Christ to pay the penalty for our failures.  We admit, our lives do not always match our confession, but we are working on it.

Another reason that some folks will not join a church is because they have been treated harshly by some church in the past, or maybe by an individual who represented a church.  This is always unfortunate.  There are so many people who are power hungry and/or self-righteous.  Jesus taught against this kind of behavior.  Leaders are not to “lord it over” congregations, and no Christian should demean others for any reason.  We should also acknowledge that churches are not all the same.  At RHCC, we are serious about the Scriptures, but we are also laid back.  We are not perfect, but one of our goals is to create an atmosphere of grace.  This means that we want to work with one another, grow together, and forgive one another.  We have to be willing to humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness from one another as well as extend forgiveness to others.  Reconciliation and unity must be primary concerns for us as a church.

Maybe you are a regular attendee but something is holding you back or maybe you are a member who is not as involved as you should be: Do not be afraid to join the church.  Is church-life always easy and perfect?  No, but it can be great together!