Church Membership…What’s It All About?

The old days, when church membership was taken very seriously!

The old days, when church membership was taken very seriously!

What does it mean to be a member of a local church?  A lot of churches today dont even have a membership roll.  Cant you just go to a church, give to that church, participate in the life and ministry of that church and not be on that churchs official membership roll?

It might surprise you, but being a member of a church is not about whether your name is on the roll or not.  In fact, the New Testament teaches that being a member of a local church is all about doing things, not signing a register.  Being a member of a local church means that you will do three basic things within that church:

         Build up other members

         Support church ministries

         Meet needs within and without the church

To these things Christians are called, and the very best place to do these things is within the local church.  In an age when church attendance is dwindling, its vitally important to understand that being a part of a local church is something God takes very seriously.

Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lords coming is getting closer.  (Hebrews 10:25, CEV)

1.  Build each other up, Romans 15:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13

In considering the nature of the Church, we need to think about the responsibilities of people that make the local church.  Evangelism, missions, and prayer are all important aspects of being part of the church, but according to the New Testament, we belong to a local church to encourage other members and to receive encouragement ourselves.  This is what “building up” means:  we build each other up.  There is not a Christian alive who doesn’t need fellowship with other believers.  Living daily in the world, exposed to sin and degradation constantly, our faith is apt to get worn down.  We get our “spiritual batteries” recharged at church!

(a)  A united community, Romans 15:1-7

Even if we believe that it makes no difference to the Lord whether we do these things, still we cannot just go ahead and do them to please ourselves; for we must bear the burden of being considerate of the doubts and fears of othersof those who feel these things are wrong. Lets please the other fellow, not ourselves, and do what is for his good and thus build him up in the Lord.  Christ didnt please himself. As the Psalmist said, He came for the very purpose of suffering under the insults of those who were against the Lord.    (Romans 15:1-3  TLB)

In this group of verses, Paul associates himself with “mature” or “strong” believers – those Christians in Rome who were sure of their beliefs and secure in their faith.  Ideally, we should all be that strong!  But in reality, there are many “weak” Christians in our churches.  These people have a kind of wavering faith – a faith that is easily swayed by what they see or hear.  Paul’s advice is not to the “weak” to “buck up” and “have faith,” instead the weaknesses of “weaker” believers, which he refers to as a “burden,” must be borne by those of us who are “strong” and “mature.”  Unfortunately in many churches, the opposite is true.  The more “struggles” a brother has, the less “love” we tend to show him!  Paul faced a similar situation in Corinth, and to that church, he gave this advice:

Next is your question about eating food that has been sacrificed to idols. On this question everyone feels that only his answer is the right one! But although being a know-it-all makes us feel important, what is really needed to build the church is love.  (1 Corinthians 8:1 TLB)

Paul’s point to both churches is a simple one.  We who are strong in faith should NOT lord it over those who are not.  We who are strong have no right insult or humiliate weaker believers.  Rather, we must be united WITH them in their journey to maturity by bearing their burden of weakness.   In other words, treat them the way Jesus treats all people but putting their needs ahead of His own.   Paul quotes Psalm 69:9 and applies to Jesus.  He didn’t live to please Himself, and neither should we.

(b)  An orderly community, 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13

Dear brothers, honor the officers of your church who work hard among you and warn you against all that is wrong. Think highly of them and give them your wholehearted love because they are straining to help you. And remember, no quarreling among yourselves.  (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13  TLB)

If we are to be patient with and bear the burdens of weaker believers, we are also to show honor to leaders in the church.  This was a problem in the church in Thessalonica.  Many in this church had been expecting Christ to return and therefore they quit working.  Church leaders apparently admonished them to “get back to work” but their admonitions  were being ignored.  To make matters worse, it seems many in the community experienced conversion at about the same time and became members of the church at the same time.  The fact that some had risen to positions of leadership and others hadn’t bothered those who hadn’t and they, therefore, weren’t giving those who had become leaders the proper respect. 

It is true that we are one in Christ and unity transcends social position and race.  However, in the Body of Christ, there are people with different callings and gifts and therefore different responsibilities.  In an orderly church, church leaders are to be respected and honored.  As we read on in Thessalonians, we realize very quickly that the respect and honor are given in respect to the quality of their work, not merely by virtue of their office.

2.  Support church ministries, 2 Corinthians 9:6-13

Everyone must make up his own mind as to how much he should give. Dont force anyone to give more than he really wants to, for cheerful givers are the ones God prizes.  God is able to make it up to you by giving you everything you need and more so that there will not only be enough for your own needs but plenty left over to give joyfully to others.   (2 Corinthians 9:7, 8 TLB)

We can do more good together than we can separately.  This is the guiding principle behind giving in the New Testament, and this another reason to be a part of the local church.  Some modern churches fall all over themselves to find Biblical evidence that Christians ought to tithe.  The fact is, the tithe is NOT part of Christian responsibility.  GENEROUS GIVING, however is.  Christians are expected to give generously.

 (a)  A generous community, verses 6-10

It seems that Paul’s guiding principle for Christian giving is really a proverb of his day:  “scanty sowing, scanty harvest; plentiful sowing, plentiful harvest.” It’s not found the Bible precisely like that, but we do have many Biblical proverbs, like these:

When you help the poor you are lending to the Lordand he pays wonderful interest on your loan!  (Proverbs 19:17  TLB)

The unjust tyrant will reap disaster, and his reign of terror shall end.  Happy is the generous man, the one who feeds the poor.  (Proverbs 22:8, 9  TLB)

But we don’t have to go all the way back to Old Testament days to see where Paul got his inspiration from.  These words of Jesus are so popular, they’ve been set to music!

For if you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use to givelarge or smallwill be used to measure what is given back to you.  (Luke 6:38  TLB)

Let’s hope Christians do more than just “sing” these words!  Let’s put them into practice.

(b)  A community glorifying God, verses 11-13

Yes, God will give you much so that you can give away much, and when we take your gifts to those who need them they will break out into thanksgiving and praise to God for your help.  (2 Corinthians 9:11  TLB)

These verses say a lot more than we see on the surface.  When we give away to people in need, it is not the needy person who is the real beneficiary, it is God Himself!  How so?  Because He will receive the glory for what you did in His name.

3.  Serve the needy, Acts 6:1-7; James 1:27

The last reason (at least for the purpose of this brief study) for being part of a local church, is to better help those in need.  Helping the needy caused the first conflict in the church and this conflict served to show the early church leaders an important reason for the church’s existence.

But with the believers multiplying rapidly, there were rumblings of discontent. Those who spoke only Greek complained that their widows were being discriminated against, that they were not being given as much food in the daily distribution as the widows who spoke Hebrew.  (Acts 6:1  TLB)

The church’s response to this “crisis” shows us the importance of being involved in the work of a local church:

Now look around among yourselves, dear brothers, and select seven men, wise and full of the Holy Spirit, who are well thought of by everyone; and we will put them in charge of this business.  Then we can spend our time in prayer, preaching, and teaching.  (Acts 6:3, 4  TLB)

So the whole church was involved in the apostle’s plan of action.  These verses are significant.  Here we see:  (1)  The wisdom of the apostles.  They could have easily picked men to do the work, but they sought input from all the believers.  (2)  The wisdom of believers.  God works through church membership!  He speaks to members, not just to the leadership. 

Now, some people may read this and think, Who needs a  pastor, then?  Who needs elders?   We serve a God of freedom, but He’s no anarchist!  God wants order in His church just as surely as He wants order in a marriage.  In the church, Christ is the Head, but the New Testament teaches a plurality of elders and pastors with input from members.  This is why being involved in your local church is so important:  God works through all of you – pastors, elders, deacons, members – to get His work done in the most effective manner.

Here, the needs of some widows were met more effectively when some structure was put in place.  A lot of Christians despise “organized religion,” and anybody who has ever had to deal with a denomination can empathize with them, but some organization is essential, and if that organization is Bible-based, it will work.  It has to!  It’s God’s idea.

But it must be noted that this organization was for a purpose.  It was not Peter and John building a kingdom for themselves.  It was for the purpose of ministry.  The church needs to look after those members who are in need.

The Christian who is pure and without fault, from God the Fathers point of view, is the one who takes care of orphans and widows, and who remains true to the Lordnot soiled and dirtied by his contacts with the world.  (James 1:27  TLB)

Of course, there is more to being a Christian than just looking after orphans and needy widows.  But James’ point is well taken.  It’s hard to consider a person a true Christian if he continually avoids fellowship in a local church and if he can continually turn a blind eye to the needs that exist within his congregation!  One of the purposes for being part of a local church is to make sure those needs are met.  God’s plan, like His ways, are perfect.

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