What Is Church Membership?


Membership at a local church is a spiritual discipline. It’s not the law, but you’ll have a very difficult time obeying Jesus’ communal commands without some kind of commitment to a specific group of Christians – it will just be too easy and tempting to slip away from it.

Simply put, church membership is a formal commitment with a local church. It’s a Christian committing to a local church and a local church committing to a Christian. But, in a fuller understanding, church membership is a spiritual discipline – equally as important as devotions, fasting and prayer.

Church membership is a spiritual discipline that helps Christians obey the communal commands of Christ. This statement will be explained piece by piece based on Scripture.

Christ Gives Commands

What was it that people who first encountered Jesus said about Him? Was it how charismatic He was? Was it how great a speaker He was? No, what struck them the most was His authority (see Under Authority | Acts 4 and Jesus Teaches with Authority | Mark 1:21-28). After Jesus’ first act of public ministry in Mark, this is what we see:

And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
– 1:27

When we started studying Acts, we observed that the disciples-turned-apostles were not brilliant, creative, entrepreneurial leaders – they were just regular guys obeying Jesus.

Jesus is not only our Savior, He is our Lord. Sometimes we emphasize Him as our Savior to the exclusion of Him as our Lord, but we need both. To really understand and have a relationship with Jesus, we need to understand both. As Lord, He commands His church.

Some find that Jesus is valuable at the point of salvation and will be valuable at the point of resurrection, but in between He’s really pretty irrelevant. Some of us acknowledge Him as our Lord verbally, but not in our living. When Jesus was encountering people like this, He said:

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? …”
– Luke 6:46

The Christian life isn’t just being rescued from our sins, it’s also obeying Jesus as our Lord.

Related:  Church Parents | Titus 2:1-10

Christ Gives Communal Commands

Jesus Christ gives commands, and many of which are communal commands. That means that many of His commands simply cannot be obeyed apart from an ongoing, committed relationship with a group of Christians.

To help think about this, here are three questions:

1) What is the identifying mark of the church? 

What should be noticeable about us as a church? Is it our community service? The preaching? The music? Surprisingly, that’s not what Jesus taught:

“… A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
– John 13:34-35

Throughout the New Testament, you’ll find almost 60 commands that include “one another” – serve one another, empathize with one another, be united with one another, submit to one another. How can we obey these “one another” commands apart from each other?

2) Why do you have the Holy Spirit?

When Jesus was going to ascend, He said to the disciples that it would be better for Him to go because God would send the Holy Spirit. Why did God do this? There is more than one answer to this question, but we’ll look at just one.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
– 1 Corinthians 12:7

You have God’s Spirit living in you as a Christian not just for you, but so that you can be a supernatural benefit to your fellow Christians for the common good of the church. Much of what the Holy Spirit would do in you cannot be done apart from an ongoing, committed relationship with other Christians.

Related:  Think
3) How do we grow?

Just like newborn babies should grow, so should new Christians. So how does one grow as a Christian? Again, there are multiple things that could be said here. But look at what Ephesians 4:11-16 has to say:

And [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints … for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children … Rather … we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body … when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

We grow together or not at all. God did not design the Christian life to be lived solo – it only works together, because He’s not saving individuals separate from one another, He’s saving a people, a nation, a family, a household.

The church at large is all about loving the lost, but we can’t jump over the first stuff that Jesus told us to do: to love each other. It’s from that strong base that we can reach the lost, and then we have something to invite them into.

Church Membership: A Spiritual Discipline

There are many streams working to keep us from obeying Christ’s communal commands. That’s why we need spiritual discipline. The same way we need discipline to take care of our physical bodies, we need discipline to take care of ourselves spiritually – so you must “train yourself for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:11).

Membership at a local church is a spiritual discipline. It’s not the law, but you’ll have a very difficult time obeying Jesus’ communal commands without some kind of commitment to a specific group of Christians – it will just be too easy and tempting to slip away from it.

Related:  The Holy Spirit | Part 2

If we are forever slipping loose of situations with our fellow Christians that are difficult, we’ll always short-circuit what God is trying to do in us. Why would we stick with other Christians when it gets difficult to endure if we had no commitment to each other?

If you aren’t a church member, consider committing with a local church as a spiritual discipline to help you obey Jesus’ communal commands.

 

Discussion Starters

  1. How would you define church membership?
  2. What is a spiritual discipline?
  3. Do you consider church membership a spiritual discipline?

Christ Gives Commands

  1. Why is it important that Jesus is both Savior and Lord?
  2. How might you be tempted to live like He is only your Savior?
  3. How might you be tempted to live like He is only your Lord?
  4. What does this have to do with church membership?
  5. Are you obeying Christ?

Christ Gives Communal Commands

  1. What are some of Jesus’ communal/one-another commands?
  2. What is the “identifying mark” of the church?
  3. According to 1 Cor. 12:7, why do we have the Holy Spirit?
  4. According to Eph. 4:11-16, how do we grow as Christians?
    • What does it mean to grow spiritually?
    • Can we grow as Christians without being with other Christians?
  5. What do these questions have to do with church membership?
  6. Are you obeying the communal commands of Christ?

Church Membership: A Spiritual Discipline

  1. What is the purpose of spiritual discipline?
  2. What is the purpose of church membership?
  3. Why is church membership a spiritual discipline?
  4. Are you a member of the universal church?
  5. Are you a member of a local church?
    • Why or why not?
   
 

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