Profiles of a True Church
MEANINGFUL CHURCH MEMBERSHIP
Intro: When a sheriff speaks of body parts, he is at a crime scene. When a medical examiner speaks of body parts, he is at work. When a pastor speaks of body parts, he is at church.
In our culture we typically use the words “members” and “parts” separately. Members join organizations and clubs. Parts refer to pieces of the machinery. Christians combine members and parts when describing the body of Christ.
1 Cor 12:18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.
illus: My left arm is a member of my body. It is only a member of my body if it is attached to it. If I cut my arm off, it is no longer a part of my body. Connection is what make it a member. What it calls itself or what someone else calls it is irrelevant. Membership requires union. No union, no attachment, no connection…no membership. This is precisely why the apostle chose the image of a body and its parts to describe the church.
In chapter 9 of Acts Luke uses his own live metaphor for the Christian community. Observe how the risen Jesus described the church – those believers he was harshly treating and even having killed…
Acts 9:4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
Acts 9:5 And he said, Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
Jesus called the Church, “Me.”
There is no closer connection or interdependence for anything than describing it in terms of oneself. At the very least, this means that it is impossible to have Jesus without a church.
CHURCH MEMBERSHIP IS MEANINGLESS IF…
1. Anyone can join quickly without proper vetting or agreeing to expectations
2. A member can cease to participate in the congregation without accountability
3. A member can decide to depart and join another church without biblical reasons to leave
4. A member can live in unrepentant immorality without being held responsible
5. There is no expectation of mutual submission to all of God’s biblical authority structures
Is church membership a biblical idea?
Open the NT, and you will not find a story about, say, Priscilla and Aquila moving to the city of Rome, checking out one church, then another, and finally deciding to join a third.
From what we can tell, nobody went “church shopping” because there was only one church in each community.
But the churches of the NT apparently kept lists of people, such as lists of widows supported by the church (1 Tim 5).
1 Tim 5:9 Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man,
“the number, the listed, enrolled”
Many passages suggest that churches did have some way of delineating their members.
They knew who belonged to their assemblies and who did not.
On one occasion, for instance, a man in the Corinthian church was living in immorality “that is not even named among the Gentiles” or “that does not even occur among the pagans” (1 Cor 5). Paul told the Corinthians to exclude this man from their assembly.
1 Cor 5:4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
1 Cor 5:5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
1 Cor 5:11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner — not even to eat with such a person.
1 Cor 5:12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?
1 Cor 5:13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”
Now stop and think about this. How can you formally exclude someone if he is not formally included in the first place? How can you put someone out who was never officially in?
If a church does not have membership, there are verses in the NT (one of which that even quotes a verse from the OT) that cannot be obeyed and must be ignored or re-interpreted to say something they do not.
The apostle appears to refer to this same man in his subsequent letter to the Corinthians by referring to the “punishment inflicted on him by the majority” (2 Cor 2:6).
Stop and think again. How can you have a “majority” if there is not even a defined group of people, in this case a defined church membership?
Paul cared “who was in” and “who was out.” He cared because the Lord Jesus Himself had granted churches the authority to draw a line – as best as they humanly can – around themselves, to mark themselves off from the world.
BIBLICAL MEMBERSHIP MEANS COMMITMENT
A temple has bricks. A flock has sheep. A vine has branches. And a body has members. In one sense, church membership begins when Christ saves us, making us members of His universal body. Yet His work must then be shown in an actual local church.
In that sense, church membership begins when we commit to a particular body. Being a Christian means being joined to a church.
Scripture therefore instructs us to assemble regularly so that we can rejoice in our common hope and cheer each other onward.
Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,
Hebrews 10:25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
One gift the church gives us is accountability. We encourage one another to walk in holiness.
Without accountability we will be blind to our shortcomings. We will stagger through life weighed down by the burdens sin brings because no one has shown us our blind spots.
Belonging to a local church is a means of grace from heaven. It is the major avenue by which God transforms His people. Christ uses conflicts and difficulties to sanctify us.
It is easy to think you have it all together and life is really cooking if you are not in community with other believers.
But when you are in fellowship, you must work through conflict – you must practice humility – you must learn to love like Jesus those who irritate you or even sin against you.
BIBLICAL MEMBERSHIP MEANS TAKING RESPONSIBILTY
By identifying ourselves with a particular local church, we are telling the church’s pastors and other members not just that we commit to them in theory, but that we commit to them in gathering, giving, prayer, and service.
We are telling them to expect certain things from us and to hold us accountable if we do not follow through.
Jacob Schwegel – I am committed to this group of people, and they are committed to me. I am here to give more than get. That is the opposite thinking of our current generation.
The Bible does not teach, “It’s just me and Jesus in the deer stand.”
To accomplish God’s worldwide mission to seek and save the lost, it cannot happen with just you. Jesus wants to use you in the world, but you aren’t much use to Him by yourself.
Commitment to God means commitment to His people.
Col 3:15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.
Nearly all the commands in the NT letters were addressed to local churches. These commands can only be fulfilled by participating in the regular ministry of a local church.
Paul wrote most of his letters to churches not individuals. Most of the letters that Paul wrote to individuals were addressed to pastors of local churches.
illus: I no longer ask the question: “What church do you go to?” because it confuses the truth. Instead, I ask, “Which church do you belong to?” The question alone communicates that church is about relationships/family versus somewhere to “attend.”
Christians will have less regard for their churches if the approach is “come-as-you-please” and “get-what-you-can” – if it is just one more store to peek your head into at the Christian mall or market.
Taking responsibility includes rescuing wandering sheep.
Luke 15:4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?
Luke 15:5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
Luke 15:6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’
Gunner Gunderson – The reclamation of an absent member is a congregational project, not just for those who are paid or elected to care.
BIBLICAL MEMBERSHIP HELPS AFFIRM SAVING FAITH
What is so dangerous about nonattending, responsibility-shirking members?
Uninvolved members confuse both real members and unbelievers about what it means to be a Christian.
And active members do no service at all to the non-participating members when they are allowed to remain members of the church in good standing, because membership is the church’s corporate endorsement of a person’s salvation.
Did you catch that? By calling someone a member of your church, you are saying that the individual has your church’s endorsement as a Christian!
So if a congregation has not so much as laid eyes upon an individual for months, or perhaps even years, how can it testify that the person is faithfully running the race?
If a person is missing-in-action but has not joined some other Bible-believing church, how do we know if he or she was ever really a part of us?
1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.
We don’t necessarily know that such involved people are not Christians; we simply cannot confirm that they are!
We don’t have to tell the individual, “We know you’re going to hell”; we only have to say, “We can longer express our confidence that you are going to heaven.”
When someone is perpetually absent, a church endorsement of that person’s saving faith is, at best, naïve; at worst, it is dishonest.
To practice meaningful membership, from time to time this means removing people from the church membership roster (though not from our hearts).
Randy Rucker – Removing someone who has completely stopped attending is, in effect, giving them what they have asked for. It is letting go of the rope they’re trying to pull out of our hands. It is not forcing them to remain bound when they do not want to be. It is also refusing to let them force us to declare them “a Christian in good standing” when, in all good conscience, we don’t feel we can.
Most often, this means teaching the church at regular intervals what God intends for the congregation, and continually reminding of us our commitments and expectations.
WRONG QUESTION: “Did you know that you are a sinner?”
REAL QUESTION: “Has God so worked in your heart that the sin you once loved you now hate?”
WRONG QUESTION: “Since I repeated a sinner’s prayer, do I now have a new relationship with God?”
REAL QUESTION: “Do you have a new relationship with sin?”
(We are a people who drink down iniquity as if it were water…The sin you once boasted about you now loathe?)
WRONG QUESTION: “Do you want to go to heaven?“
(Everybody wants to go to heaven, they just don’t want a holy God to be there when they arrive…)
REAL QUESTION: “The God that you have spent your life ignoring, rebelling against, even hating – has your heart so changed that you now desire Him?”
illus: go visit a man whose name is on the membership roll but hasn’t been to church in 5 years…he’s very polite and welcomes the preacher into his home…he hangs his head low because he knows why the preacher has come…
PREACHER: “You haven’t been in church in years and you’re known to drink a lot and carouse and chase women…you should repent.”
ABSENTEE CHURCH MEMBER: “You’re right preacher, I need to stop doing all those things, and I need to read the Bible and pray and get back into to church”
TRANSLATION: “I need to stop doing all the wicked things I love and start doing all the righteous things I hate so that I can go to heaven.”
He’s a lost man – he does not have the new birth.
The reason that disciple-making is difficult in USA is because we are busy trying to turn goats into sheep. Only Jesus can do that…