Life Together in Church Membership
Selected Texts – Life Together
Trinity Sunday – May 27, 2018 (am)
Today is our final sermon on this theme of Life Together; and we’ve primarily studied the book of Philippians to look at our togetherness as believers. And now, I’d like to address a particular aspect of Christians sharing Life Together – and that is the matter of Church Membership.
As we look throughout history, God has always had a clearly defined group of people that have been central to His actions & purposes; examples are – Noah & his family, Abraham & his descendants, the nation of Israel, and then, in the New Testament & in our times, God has His church. So we understand that God has chosen to continually maintain a distinct and separate people through whom He would display His character, by providing & caring for them as their gracious Heavenly Father.
God, having saved us and forgiven our sins, and granted to us a righteous standing in His sight, and given His Holy Spirit irrevocably to us – God calls us into active and vibrant relationships with other believers, and so He provides the fellowship of a church family - people who are trusting in God, seeking to live according to His ways, desiring to serve Him & their church family from hearts overflowing with love & gratefulness. A church is a specific group of people who are bound to one another, they are engaged in ‘Life Together’ as a means to glorify God and to thrive in community as His people.
And we should define our terms, so that we’re clear in our understanding about what we’re communicating. This morning, when I say ‘church’ I am referring to the local church, a regular assembly of people who profess and give evidence that they have been saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ to the glory of God; a church is a local collection of Christians who are committed to Christ and to each other.
And when I say the word ‘membership’ I am referring to your commitment to your local church family, such that its doctrines & practices are a high priority in your life. This membership can be informal, which would be evidenced by your significant involvement in the life of the church; or it can be formal – which means that in addition to your being active in the life of the church, it would further include going through a structured process of certification and having your name recorded in church documents as a member. And I believe that this level of formal church membership is indicated in Rev 21:27; who is allowed in the New Jerusalem? “… only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” But again, we recognize that both these ways of being a member of a local church [formal and informal] are acceptable, because we do acknowledge that there are legitimate reasons why formal membership in a local church may not be feasible for every person in that local assembly.
Now regarding church membership, some people have questioned whether we should even have any type formal membership rolls; shouldn’t the church just operate from individual believers gathering freely together for spiritual purposes, without the restrictions or commitments that a formal membership would require? I don’t think so.
This morning, we want to ask three questions about church membership:
1. Is there evidence of church membership in the NT?
2. Should every believer be a member of a church?
3. What does to mean to be a church member?
And just to let you know where we’re headed, the answers are: (1) Yes, there is evidence of church membership in the NT; (2) yes, we are one in Christ and as the various members of your body all contribute to your healthy living, so your membership & contribution to the life of Grace Church develops our own healthy church body life; and (3) being a church member primarily involves your commitment and accountability to your local church family. And before going any further, let me state that if you’re not a member, you should be a member of Grace Church, and we would love for you to be a member of Grace Church.
I. Is there evidence of church membership in the NT? Yes!
A. 1Cor 5:11-13; seems sort of strange, but some of the passages that are the most clear on membership deal with the issue of church discipline
1. Outside vs inside - brother, inside the church, among you – judge him! God judges outsiders.
2. The church knows who is inside, and who is outside, and Paul instructs them to be committed to guard the purity of their church body.
3. But certainly outsiders & unbelievers are welcome to meet with the church for worship (1Cor 14:23-25), welcomed in that they may be brought to the place of salvation, to become worshipers of God.
B. Matt 18:15-17; Regarding the occasion when any brother refuses to repent of their sin, Jesus instructed us to “tell it to the church” – not the public, society, culture, or court of law – but specifically to deal with church discipline within the church.
1. This indicates that the people of the church know those who are fellow members of their church, and
2. That the church has some recognized authority over its members to judge whether they’re living as believers or unbelievers, with the authority to dispel them from membership of their church.
C. Heb 13:7,17; your leaders… imitate their faith… obey your leaders… they will have to give an account.
1. The members must know exactly who their leaders are in order to imitate their faith and obey them, and the leaders must know exactly who they are responsible to shepherd, who is a part of that specific group of people for whom they will give an account – to the church and to God.
2. There are specific leaders with authority & responsibility (keeping watch over your souls) and who are accountable for their leadership within God’s church (who will have to give an account); and then there are specific people who are responsible to submit to this God-ordained leadership in their church.
3. Notice: harmony in these relationships benefits everyone.
D. Acts 5:12-14; “join them” with them = the church
1. Here we see that the unbelievers know who the Apostles are, and they know those people who are joined to the church – and some unbelievers feared to join the church, unless they themselves became Christians.
2. This word translated ‘join’ in other passages it’s translated as ‘associate with’, or ‘hold fast’ indicating that there’s a strong bond that exists between these church people
3. And again, we see that those who become Christians are added to their number – someone is counting and keeping track of those people who are in the church (Acts 2 - 3K; Acts 4 - 5K; Acts 6 - many priests).
Answer: Yes, there is evidence of church membership in the NT
II. Should every believer be a member of a local church? Yes!
In our church constitution we give several reasons, or maybe even better we should say benefits, of church membership; I will summarize these benefits as:
A. For the corporate witness of the church:
1. Affirmation of your salvation - all the members just recited in unison our church covenant statement; pledging our mutual care for one another, to be faithfully serving together for the Gospel, and committing to a lifestyle of Christian ethics, morality & holy living. By going through the process of church membership, your salvation is affirmed by the entire church membership. We all believe that you are able to keep these pledges by the power of the Spirit (New City Catechism – who convicts us, guides us, gives us spiritual gifts and the desire to obey God), . And that affirmation should be of great consolation and comfort to you – that other people are seeing the fruit of the Spirit in your life.
2. Effectiveness in evangelism - the church is our base of operations, it’s where we are equipped & trained in how to best love, serve, and care for our brothers & sisters – and also in how to effectively take the Gospel to an unbelieving world. The church is a mission organization, linking arms to train & send its members out to present the Gospel, to defend Biblical truths, and serve those who are disadvantaged, poor, sick, imprisoned, and those who are suffering from natural disasters. Luke 14:21-23 - the master of the house said to his servant, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame… Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” Matt 25:35-40; Jesus says to His sheep; I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'
B. For encouragement & shepherding: each one of us needs our brothers & sisters in Christ to encourage us in our walk with Christ. The world continually tries to press us into conformity with its ways, but God calls His people to live in ways that flow against our secular culture. How can we maintain our Christian life [abiding in Christ, Christian ethics, morality, holy living, etc.] on a consistent basis? By living Life Together in our church: Heb 10:24,25; “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
You need your brothers & sisters to bolster your love for others and your faith in God, because this world has set itself against God’s church.
C. To build up the church with your spiritual giftedness: We want to counter any wrong-headed individualism – “I can do it on my own.” In 1Cor 12, Paul speaks of the church as the body of Christ, and just as our humans bodies have many members, so also the church body has many members, and each member of the church has a particular spirit giftedness and specific calling to serve the entire body. God has given qualified leaders to equip the members, and then as each member functions as they are gifted and called by God – the church, the body of Christ, grows into spiritual maturity. Eph 4:11-16; “And Christ gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ... speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Healthy church life depends on the faithful active participation from each member. Please, take some slice of church life – and own it!
Yes, every believer should be a member of their church.
III. What does it mean to be a church member?
A. Commitment - being dedicated, devoted, & loyal to our God & to our church family; commitment is a joyful obligation that restricts your lifestyle, because we have all promised to live this Christian life together. What does this commitment look like?
1. Your primary identity is that you are in Christ, and Christ has made us all into one new man; meaning that when you consider who you are, one of your first thoughts should be, “I am in Christ” and the fact that you’re a member of His body, the church, is one of the first things you should communicate about yourself - Gal 3:28; “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In Col 3:11: “Here [in Christ, in the church] there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” It’s NOT “Hi, I’m Tom, and I’m a barbarian.” NO!! We don’t make these distinctions in the church. As members of God’s church, we all have the same equal standing before God – so that rich & poor, educated & uneducated, jocks & geeks, red/yellow/black/white, old & young, male & female, Cubs fans & baseball fans – we are all together worshiping & serving & loving as the one people of God, the one family of God. We’re committed to our identity in Christ.
2. This commitment to your local church family is seen by the fact that its doctrines & practices are a high priority in your life. We’re all mutually committed to place great emphasis on our gathering together regularly for corporate worship, fellowship, service, the church ordinances, giving, prayer, evangelism – and when necessary, even church discipline. Each member is a vital part in the life of the church; no member has an exalted position or an unnecessary position. And so we place a priority on gathering together to accomplish spiritual purposes, seeking to advance the kingdom of God together. 1Cor 12:25,26: “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
3. And we’re committed to be involved in one another’s lives for Gospel purposes; that means that you are discipling someone and being discipled, you’re equipping others and serving with the training that you’ve received, you’re being prayed for by others and praying with others, you’re sometimes giving and sometimes receiving hospitality – we are a people who are dedicated to practicing all the “one anothers” that we find in the Scriptures.
B. Accountability -
1. Accountability is the joyful obligation to accept the responsibility of your commitment; being willing to give account of your lifestyle and to be answerable to your fellow church members for your actions.
2. Accountability means that you place yourself under the spiritual authority of other believers, especially the elders, who instruct us as to how we should live. This spiritual authority is a blessing from God, it is His chosen method to shepherd His people toward maturity in Christ (Heb 13:7,17).
Spurgeon quote from GCD Starting Point booklet: I know there are some who say, “I have given myself to the Lord, but I do not intend to give myself to the church.“ Now, why not? “Because I can be a Christian without it.” Are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient? What is a brick made for? To help build a house. It is of no use for that brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house. It is a good-for-nothing brick. So, you rolling-stone Christians, I do not believe you are answering your purpose. You are living contrary to the life which God would have you live.”
We’ve added the following; “When there is a man and woman who date for years, and the man is unwilling to commit to her and ask her to be his wife, what does that say about his love for her?”
IV. Conclusion & Application
I believe that it’s necessary for every believer be an active member of a local church body, being committed to joyfully contributing to the healthy life of that church, and being accountable to their church leaders & members. We praise God for all who are members of Grace Church – whether your involvement is formal or informal – and again, we would love to have all of you as enrolled as members in our church family.
We have a church membership process,
(1) Be a Christian with a clear conversion testimony
(2) Read the GCD constitution, and be in substantial agreement with our doctrine & practices
(3) Be baptized as a believer by immersion
(4) Starting Point class, highly recommended though not required
(5) Complete & sign our Membership Application Agreement
(6) Be interviewed by a Grace Church elder
(7) Participate in a New Member Induction Ceremony
May God guide all of us in this matter of church membership.