|By: Dr. Steven Riser; ©2005|
|According to a Gallop Poll, 80% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. However, a significant percentage of these people seldom attend a local church and believe that participation in one is not important to their spiritual lives. Dr. Riser explains what the Bible says about the importance of active church membership.|
“I believe in Christ, but I don’t see any reason to regularly attend worship or become a member of a local church.”
This comment is frequently heard today among people who claim to be Christians. According to a Gallop Poll, 80% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. However, a significant percentage of these people seldom attend a local church and believe that participation in one is not important to their spiritual lives. They see their faith as a private matter and fail to understand the fact that the Christian faith is intended by God to be lived in the context of a Christian community—the church. They fail to realize that although the Christian faith is personal, it should never be private. We are to build on our essential personal devotional life by regularly praying and worshiping with other Christians.
Evangelical Christians have properly emphasized that salvation is solely a matter of accepting Christ as Savior and Lord. Yet, there has been a failure on the part of some professing Christians to fully appreciate the important role of the local church in God’s sovereign, redemptive plan. The Church is the community of God’s people called to know, love and serve Him. We are called to live together in true community as a witness to the character and values of the Kingdom of God. The Church is the agent of God’s mission on earth. The Gospel—the good news of God’s love in Christ—calls us to someone, as well as something. That someone is Jesus Christ and that something is His church. The Gospel calls us into communion with Christ and into fellowship with God’s people—the Church.
While some suggest that the Scripture is silent regarding church membership, actually, it is not. Christians were never intended to live a life of faith in isolation. When we embrace Christ as Savior and Lord, we are brought into the family of God here on earth-the Church. When individuals come to faith in Christ they are immediately identified with the Church. Acts 2:47 says, “The Lord added to the Church daily those who were being saved.” This implies that there was some way of counting or distinguishing members from non-members. Historically, baptism was the initiatory practice that admitted professing believers into the visible church. Acts 2:41 says, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
While there is no specific command to “join the church” there is a command to “repent,”“believe” and “be baptized.” There is also Christ’s clear command in the Great Commission to baptize new disciples—this is the means of connecting new disciples with the community of faith—the body of Christ—the church. Most churches administer the sacrament of baptism in conjunction with church membership. In 1 Corinthians 12:13a Paul says that, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body....” Both sacraments are intended for believers; neither sacrament is intended for non-believers. The sacraments separate believers (members) from unbelievers (non-members).
Salvation is always individual, but it is never individualistic—always personal, but never private. The Apostle Paul says that all who have accepted Christ as their Savior are new creations in Christ and members of His Body. Some people will admit to being members of the Church in a universal sense, but claim they see no particular need to unite with a local congregation. Such a thought is entirely foreign to the New Testament. The early Christians were all associated with local congregations of believers. The Churches in the cities to which Paul wrote were made up of the Christians who lived there. The New Testament clearly shows that from the very beginning, Christians have been related to worshiping congregations in specific locations. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another...”
One of the most important functions of the local Church is to grow in the faith. First Thessalonians 5:11 says we are to, “Encourage one another and build one another up in the faith.” We can’t do this unless we are vitally related to other Christians.
In Ephesians 4, Paul teaches that membership in a Church is the key to personal growth in Christ. Each member contributes to the growth of every other member. We need one another if we are to mature and develop in our Christian lives because the Christian faith cannot successfully be lived in isolation. It takes others to bring out the best in us.
When burning embers are separated from one another, they quickly die out: But when they are close together, they warm one another and continue to burn brightly. So it is with Christians. Apart from other Christians, we can easily lose our love for and usefulness to God; But in the company of those of like mind, we continue to grow and become fruitful for Christ.
When times of crises and stress arise which they inevitably do, a lone individual may have few resources with which to cope. Within the Church, however, help is readily available. One’s pastor can serve as a spiritual mentor. The Church can serve as a strong support group. Many Churches offer specific help for specific problems such as divorce, grief, alcoholism, juvenile delinquency and aging. A person holding himself aloof from his Church has cut himself off from many of the rich resources God has provided for help.
We also need the local congregation to aid in the raising of our children. Few parents today find raising children, especially teenagers, an easy task. The Church can be our very best ally as we seek to train our children to believe what is true and obey what is right. The Church’s value system is par excellence because it comes from God Himself.
God can use the Church to aid in conscience development and character development so that when a child leaves home, we won’t need to worry about whether or not they will get in trouble. Proverbs tells us that if we “train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not depart from” the path. The Church is instrumental in assisting and encouraging parents in the training of their children.
Someone has put it this way,
It is also important for us to be active members of a local church so we can join with others in performing the work of the Church. To be a Christian is not just to be rightly related to God through faith in Christ. It is also to be linked with other believers in an effective ministry for Christ.
As Christians, we belong to God; we have given our lives for His service. You are not your own, you were bought with a price —the precious blood of Christ (1 Cor. 6:19-20) While we are not saved by good works, we are saved for good works (Eph. 2:10). We have been called by God’s grace to serve Him out of gratitude. We do this best when we serve together in and through the Church.
The predominant metaphor for the Church in the New Testament is the Body of Christ of which each individual Christian is a member. Just as a human body needs the various members to work together and function harmoniously, so the Church needs the members of which it is comprised to work together and function harmoniously as well.
When Christ said, “Follow Me,” He was inviting men and women and children to be His Disciples and members of His family—the Church. He was calling them to commit themselves through faith, to Him and to His Body here on earth so they could be what He wants them to be. An individual who is not an active member of a local Congregation is denying himself the full blessing of Christ and the fellowship of His people. We need the local church if we are to realize God’s plan and purpose for our lives as His people. The larger Church also needs us in order to do Christ’s work in the world.
There are also some practical or pragmatic reasons for church membership which are implied by Scripture. The authority of Elders within a congregation would not be possible unless the church members voluntarily submitted to their authority. Members would not be chosen as Elders unless they were committed in some way to the welfare of the local congregation. How can one lead a group that one is not committed to in advance? Another important biblical practice has to do with church discipline. How can we expect members to submit to the discipline of the church elders unless they have made some prior commitment to the respective local church? A final practical consideration has to do with the faithful stewardship of financial resources. How is it possible to responsibly function financially without being able to accurately project a congregation’s anticipated income? We can only reasonably expect the members of a congregation to financially support that congregation. Church membership is a practical necessity to enable the smooth functioning of the local congregation in today’s society.
Many people reject church membership because they don’t want to do anything that interferes with their autonomy. Many people are materialistic, hedonistic, self-centered, selfish and therefore do not want any form of authority over them or any responsibility towards others. This selfish sinful attitude exhibits itself in different ways. Some people who claim to be Christians never attend church at all and spend the Lord’s Day like an atheist...Another group of people who profess Christ go to church sometimes, however, they like to church-hop...They want to live anonymous in order to live autonomously. For them, church is a spectator sport. They church hop to ease their consciences and do so to avoid a commitment to other professing Christians. They contribute nothing to the local church...There is another group of people who do regularly attend a local church yet who refuse to join and to participate heartily in mutual fellowship, aid, and edification. This group also likes to retain autonomy in their lives. They do not want to be under the authority of elders. They want to avoid the personal responsibility that church membership entails. Such people often have a record of poor church attendance. People who ignore the corporate element of the church, who dislike authority and corporate responsibility are missing church for sinful, self-centered reasons. God’s Word strongly condemns all the unscriptural views regarding church members enumerated above.
We should regularly participate in corporate worship regardless of how we feel. Why?
I come to Jesus Christ and to this Christian congregation, thanking God for His love and His gracious invitation to enter into an abundant life through a personal relationship with His Son.
I come in clear recognition of the fact that I have fallen short of God’s best for my life and that there is nothing I can do to earn or merit His approval apart from His mercy and grace.
I believe that God has made a provision in Christ for restoring fellowship with us. I believe that Christ died in the sinner’s place and that His resurrection is a guarantee of victory over sin and death.
In accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I commit and trust myself to a loving personal relationship with Him as He has revealed Himself in the scriptures.
I believe that all Christians have been called to be conformed to the character and conduct of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I give myself to a life of Christian discipline and with God’s help, determine to use those means of growth which God has given to accomplish this purpose, namely, the Bible (both read and preached), the Sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), prayer and fellowship, worship, and ministry with the people of God.
I accept God the Father as my Father through Jesus Christ. I accept Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord.
I accept the Holy Spirit, God dwelling within me, as the one who enables me to live the Christian life.
I accept this congregation as God’s family and my Christian family.
I come, accepting the responsibility of being a part of this congregation as God’s gift to me and to the community of people where He is at work redemptively. I do not come making demands of it, but rather giving myself to its unity, its peace and purity. I covenant with God and this congregation to encourage, to love, to bear the infirmities of, to pray for, to minister to, to be reconciled with, to forgive, and to be forgiven by my Christian brothers here in accordance with the Scripture, that the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace be maintained among us. I willingly submit to the practice of the government, discipline, and doctrine (the Constitutional standards) of the congregation and its officers consistent with the Word of God.
I come to give myself to the missionary purpose of the church. I accept the pattern that my life and all I possess be given sacrificially to the Lord for this goal. I covenant with the Lord of the Church that my life, my home, my daily occupation, and all that I have or influence shall be His for a witness of my faith in order that this community and the world might be brought to a saving knowledge of God in Jesus Christ, Whom to know rightly is life eternal.
I come acknowledging the fact that we, in this congregation, are but a single unit in the Church universal, the Body of Christ, which exists in all places of the earth in all generations. Thus we are not only members of a local congregation, but of the whole body of God’s people in heaven and on earth. I come, so believing, and so covenanting, so help me God.