Church Membership – not optional if you are a Christian!
Forgive the stark and controversial headline to this article but I am passionate about church membership because I am passionate about Jesus. So I want people to discuss, consider, even disagree but not to ignore.
In our culture consumerism; contract; freedom; autonomy; individualism; and self-fulfilment dominate and church membership flies in the face of this. We are all naturally and culturally wary of institutions, hierarchy and commitment. This means many Christians who love Jesus are uneasy about becoming church members. I therefore write this to challenge all Christians to see membership not as an optional extra but a fundamental foundation of faith.
For me the basis of baptism and membership is perhaps the earliest creedal statement seen in the New Testament which was held to the point of death by early Christians – Jesus is Lord. Declaring this simple statement is the basis on which we baptise or accept people into membership. But what does it mean to believe and declare this and how does this work itself out in membership? Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:3 goes as far to say the declaration ‘Jesus is Lord’ can come only from the Spirit who indwells believers.
Jesus is Lord demands our fellowship with him – 1 Corinthians 1:9. In declaring Jesus is Lord we are brought into fellowship with Jesus. We enter into a relationship with Jesus. The bible teaches we do this through the church. The church is the bride of Christ and is also the body of Christ of whom Christ is the head. We become ‘members’ together of him. We work this fellowship out with Jesus together. Paul says in Ephesians that it is together with the saints that we can experience the fullness of Christ’s love and fellowship. (Eph 3:18-19). So if you are a Christian you are a ‘member’ of the local Christian body and church membership is moving from denial (1 Cor 12:15-16) to acceptance which brings fulfilment and peace.
Jesus is Lord demands allegiance – declaring Jesus is Lord in the early church was counterculture and risked exclusion, persecution, imprisonment and even martyrdom. It said that my first allegiance was to Jesus and not Caesar, or any other religious, political or social power. As we looked at recently from Mark 12 – for those called by Jesus, we are to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Our allegiance to Jesus stands above our allegiance to state, family and self. We are to give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar but we are to give back to God what belongs to God – all that we are! Declaring Jesus is Lord at our baptism and as we become church members is publically confessing with our mouths our allegiance to Jesus which is evidence of our salvation (Romans 10:9). In our culture church membership is counterculture as we make promises to one another that Jesus will always come first.
Jesus is Lord demands obedience – Luke 6:46. If Jesus is Lord it means his followers choose to obey him. Jesus said ‘if you love me you will obey my commands’. (John 14:23) The promises we make to one another when we become church members are to support one another to be obedient to the commands of Jesus. We make ourselves accountable as we know our hearts are fickle and our motives mixed. We promise to keep his command to ‘love one another.’ And to follow the ways and commands as taught in the bible. In membership we commit to study the bible with others to help us understand and follow it.
Jesus is Lord demands our devotion and worship – Declaring Jesus is Lord at the most basic level is an act of worship. We are acknowledging Jesus’ right of our worship. This is the message of Palm Sunday – ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’. This is the message of Mark 12, as we saw recently, Jesus deserves our worship with heart, soul, mind and strength. This is the message of Matthew 14:25-36 – that Jesus, who the disciples call Lord, deserves their worship (v33). The Spirit who enables us to say ‘Jesus is Lord’ is the Spirit who gives gifts to enable our worship of Jesus (1 Cor 12). I could go on – suffice to end with Ephesians 5 where we are called to find out what pleases the Lord (v 17) which is then explained by being filled with the Spirit so we can ‘sing and make music in your heart to the Lord’. That is why as a central part of our church covenant and constitution which we adhere to in membership is to promise to join in Sunday worship and join in sharing with communion. In our culture this is proving more challenging and sacrificial to keep, and although acknowledging a need to be flexible to reach out to the non-church, as I have argued in a previous blog I believe a commitment to weekly worship is still at the heart of the declaration ‘Jesus is Lord’. As a church our flexibility & response to the cultural challenge we face has come by offering two alternative opportunities of worship on a Sunday.
Jesus is Lord demands our fervour in service – Romans 12:11. Another aspect of the Lordship of Jesus is our responsibility to give fervently and joyfully our gifts, abilities, wealth and possessions in his service. This again is something we promise to do in membership.
Finally, for now, Jesus is Lords demands our witnessing – 1 Peter 1:15. This declaration and its implications in baptism and membership is so counter culture that it will mean we will have to witness and give evidence for our declaration that Jesus is Lord. If we really lived ‘Jesus is Lord’, our world will come asking questions and searching for the reality we live. We simply need not to be ashamed but proclaim Jesus is Lord.
So this most basic of creedal statements has huge implications. Have you come to believe that Jesus is Lord? Then what should you do?
If it is not obvious by now, Peter gives the clearest answer in Acts 2:36-47. Which I summarise in two statements
1, Be Baptised! Have you been baptised? There is only one baptism (the one accompanied by declaring Jesus is Lord) – did you have faith when you were baptised? Confirmed your faith through confirmation? Is this your appropriate response?
- Become a Church member! What is stopping you becoming a church member? Have you been baptised? Do you believe ‘Jesus is Lord’?
So what about you?
Every year as a church we give a public opportunity on Pentecost Sunday to publically confess Jesus is Lord and renew together the covenant we made when becoming a church member. We recognise the need to keep on declaring ‘Jesus is Lord’ If you are not a church member why not become one in time to join us on Pentecost. If you are a church member make Pentecost Sunday a priority for you to join us and declare again ‘Jesus is Lord’
Read the following passage and either individually or in a group consider the questions.
How did you come to believe Jesus is Lord? What is the evidence Peter gives in his sermon to convince people Jesus is Lord? What convinced you?
Why were you baptised or what stops you from being baptised? What do you think are the requirements of baptism? What about those from other Christian traditions? How do they view baptism/confirmation?
What does it mean to you that you declare ‘Jesus is Lord’? What are the implications for you in practice and lifestyle?
What were the implications for the first Christians? See v 42-47
Read our church covenant (a covenant are promises we make with others – in this case other church members – in the presence of God, as we need his help to keep)- How does our church covenant relate to these implications in v 42-47?
What do you like about the church covenant? What troubles you? Why?
What does Church membership mean to you? Why did you become one? What stops you becoming one?
What do you think motivated the first Christians in this passage to follow through on these things?
What shoud/could motivate us to become and keep on being committed in our membership?