Church Membership: Where it came from and why it matters

Comment

Church Membership: Where it came from and why it matters

by Josh Martin, site pastor of Resonate Pullman

I am a member of a gym. I pay a fee, have a card, and tell others I go. To my shame, I don’t go often (it’s starting to show), and I have no concern for the wellbeing or vision of the gym.  

Gym membership and church membership have little in common. This is one of the reasons why our church uses the word “Ownership” instead of “Membership”- because Lord knows if I owned the gym, I would be much more invested and integrated and would take personal responsibility to see the vision achieved, the budget reached, and the people cared for.  

Where does this term “church member” come from?

In 1st Corinthians chapters 12-14, Paul uses the metaphor of Christians being a body made up of members, with Christ being its Head. The Bible teaches this as both a global membership phrase and a local membership metaphor. This is the primary reason people use the word member when talking about joining a church.

What does this term “church member” mean?

Membership means that somebody, whether by signature or word of promise, says “I’m committed to these people who hear the Word of God preached from these leaders, perform the ordinances of communion and baptism, and commit to the ‘one another’ commandments in scripture.”

Knowing what church membership means and where the term comes from is well and good, but there are still two very basic questions many people struggle with: Is church membership biblical and is it really necessary?

It is true that church membership is not explicitly biblically commanded, and it’s also true the word membership is never mentioned in the Bible, but we would submit that belonging to a local church is absolutely implied and understood in the Word of God. The Bible never uses the word Trinity, yet we understand the implied truth of the Trinity without the word being explicitly stated. Similarly we believe membership in the local church is biblically implied and understood.

Membership is implied through church gathering

The word ekklesia, meaning “church,” is used 90 times in the New Testament in reference to the gatherings of the local believers. It’s a fair question to ask fellow believers, “To what gathering do you belong? Under which covering do you gather?”

Membership is implied through church discipline

When Jesus talks about confronting a brother in sin, he tells you to confront a brother, then take two or three along, then if that doesn’t work you take it to the church. This is obviously not a plea to announce this to the universal body of Christ; it’s clearly implied that you tell this to the local body of believers who gather.  In short: You can’t get taken “out” if you were never “in”.

Membership is implied through church leadership

Hebrews 13:7 says “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over your soul as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”

It’s a command of scripture that leaders give an account, which raises the question: who must leaders give an account for? Certainly not every Christian in the whole world, or the universal church. No, they will give an account for those who identify as members of their church. And followers are to obey their leaders - should they turn on the TV and obey whatever Christian leader they can find? No, they are to obey their local pastor at the church where they have committed to submit.

Membership is implied through church accountability

The church is accountable to appoint leaders in Acts 4, to preach the gospel in Galatians 1, to allow in members in 1st Corinthians 5, and to send missionaries in Acts 13. This prompts us to ask  the question, “Are you an accountable member of a local church?”

When it comes to your relationship with the church, God is concerned with you answering these questions specifically:

To whom is your life committed?  

Who are the leaders to whom your life is submitted?  

Whose teaching are you coming under and obeying?

A pastoral word to you about ownership in Resonate Church

Our church and every church was designed for our good and for God’s glory. We exist to serve the body of Christ; the body of Christ doesn’t exist to serve us. Therefore, we shouldn’t hop around from church to church or disregard the church holistically. We should commit. With our whole lives, commit. Just as generations before us have committed, we too should commit, because it’s evident there's not one New Testament believer who was not associated with a local church.

In my experience, resisting church membership is rarely a Biblical conviction, it’s usually something more of an American - independent - trust issue - fear of commitment - type conviction.  If that’s where you are, we would ask you to take this issue to the Lord and allow him to lead you to repentance, belief, and spiritual growth.

If you become an owner of Resonate Church you will be joining a family on mission, under the Lordship of Jesus, committed to being an urgent, multiplying, college church planting movement. You no longer go to Resonate; you belong to Resonate. You will transition from being a consumer of religious goods from Resonate, to being a contributor and bearing personal responsibility for the vision. You will be under leadership who will give an account for you, and you will be pushed to live a life of mission, give sacrificially, and be cared for and loved.  

We encourage you to join us in owning Resonate Church. If you are not committed to a local church, our hope is that you would make that a priority in your Christian life. Jesus laid down his life for the Church, and we want to be a people who do the same.

Comment