Why Church Membership is Important

So my last three posts – When it’s Not Okay to Leave Your Church, When it’s Okay to Leave Your Church, and What to do if You’re Unhappy at Your Church – all started with a basic presupposition: church membership is important.

Why is church membership important?

But there is an ever-increasing number of Jesus-loving people who don’t share that view. And it makes perfect sense that if you don’t value church membership, you are less inclined to feel like loyalty to your church (or any church, for that matter), is a biblical hill to die on. 

In fact, one of my readers was brave and honest enough to just say what a lot of you may be thinking:

“These last three blogs seem like a whole lot of agonizing over a non-issue to me. If a church is not for you, move on. End of story. And no, don’t feel sad or guilty about it. There aren’t thousands of separate churches. There is one true Church (as in body of Christ that we commit to), and all the separate institutions are just parts of the whole. If you don’t like your building, go to another. Loyalty to a bad/mediocre/not for you church is just silly.”

I so appreciate this comment because it clued me in to the fact that I shouldn’t assume we all value church membership. And we must value membership before we can talk about persevering in our commitments to our churches.

So, why is church membership important? After all, church membership isn’t even in the Bible…

Or is it?

It’s true, you can search for the word “membership” all day long and not find it in the Bible. But if we stop and look at Paul’s letters and other New Testament writings, we find commitment to a local church commanded ad nauseum.

Each letter Paul wrote was to a local church body – at Rome, at Corinth, at Galatia, at Ephesus, at Philippi, at Colossae, at Thessalonica. And in talking to these individual churches, Paul stresses things like unity (Ephesians 4:3, Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 3:14) and each believer using his spiritual gifts to build up the body (1 Corinthians 12:7, Ephesians 4:12). He emphasizes serving one another (Galatians 5:13) and sacrificing personal freedoms in order to see to the best interests of others (1 Corinthians 9:12, 10:32). Paul commands Roman believers to “be devoted to one another in love,” and to, “Honor one another above yourselves,” (Romans 12:10).

New Testament books written by other people speak to the same topics as well as to believers in local church bodies submitting to church authority figures (Acts 16:4, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:5).

In other words, the majority of the New Testament is about how to do church in the lowercase c sense. And when all the lowercase churches do church the way Paul and others tell them to, the uppercase Church – as in the body of Christ all believers are committed to – is freed up to accomplish its God-given responsibilities to spread the good news about Jesus and to help believers grow in their understanding of Jesus.

Without committing to a local church body – and by that I mean doing more than filling a pew anonymously on some Sunday mornings – how do we live like the New Testament tells us to? When we church hop and/or fly under the radar of church authority by not committing to a local church (which our culture calls “becoming a church member”), it’s hard to be held accountable to live our lives according to the Bible. We have no community context in which to live out the New Testament commands.

If we leave our churches when our preferences aren’t met, how is that being devoted to one another or honoring others above ourselves or sacrificing personal freedoms for the benefit of others?

If we leave our churches every time the Elders make a decision we don’t particularly care for, how is that submitting to their God-given authority?

If we leave our churches every time we have a disagreement with other believers, how is that working toward unity?

If we aren’t committed to our church, who’s going to help us see when we are erring in our ways?

What’s more, it’s difficult (impossible?) for the Church to do its jobs when believers constantly flit from one part of the body to another – from one little c church to the next. It takes time and people to get programs that reach nonbelievers and programs that disciple believers rolling, and it takes commitment from said people to keep them rolling. If we all leave our churches every time we become dissatisfied with something, there is an “us” shaped hole in the ministries in which we were serving/participating, setting the ministries back.

Church membership is the answer to these kinds of problems. It isn’t a commitment to a building, like my friend stated, but, rather, it is an avenue through which we can be encouraged to live our lives according to the New Testament – to love one another, to work out our differences for the sake of unity, to serve others, to submit to elders – which requires a community of believers.

“Church membership” may be a modern term not used in the Bible, but the concept is one of its main themes. The idea that one can be committed to the capital C Church without being actively involved in a local lowercase c church is a myth at best and a lie at worst.

You may love Jesus, and, by His grace, you may be going to Heaven, but the Bible is clear that you can’t live a New Testament life without being committed to your lowercase c church. God desires us to live in accordance with His word because it’s in our best interest to do so and because He is glorified when we obey.

And that, I believe, is a biblical hill to die on.

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A Memo From God to Christians Old and New

To: My Followers

From: God

Subject: Life

There will be no doing this yourself. 

Living a life with Me as your Lord – it’s not possible in your own strength.

I don’t say this because I have a superiority complex (I’m actually quite justified in feeling superior, but that’s another memo). I say this to enlighten you as to how your own heart works. I created you to need Me to live correctly.

Books, classes, sermons, good intentions, redoubled efforts, positive thinking, having a certain amount of faith, praying often enough… none of these will end your struggle to live right. They may aid you in moving in the right direction, but, ultimately, they will not enable you to conquer the affection for wrongdoing you have in your heart.

I am being quite literal when I say only I can make you live right. Me in you is the only way you will ever succeed at anything I’d ever approve of.

I’m not talking about Me enabling you to live well. I am saying anything good you do is not you at all; it’s Me. I just happen to be choosing to move and work through you. You may have the desire to do what is good, but you cannot carry it out (Romans 7:18, Galatians 5:17).

You need me, not just to be with you, but to take over you. Successful living – as I define it – cannot be accomplished any other way.

In the best sense of the word, I want to control you (Romans 8:6). And as contrary to human reason as it may seem, it is in your best interest to let Me control you (Romans 8:28-30).

All you need to do is be willing to let Me work through you. Once you consent – and you have to choose to consent countless times each day – My Spirit, within you but independent of you, does all the rest.

I know this is a mystery. But you don’t have to fully understand how it all works to obey.

Come to Me. Trust in My unfailing love for you. Let Me show you the only way you can live a life worthy of the calling you have received – by letting Me live through you (Ephesians 4:1).

Eyes to See

I like God’s sweet reminders that He is intimately involved in, and, indeed, arranges the details of my life.

Last night I read this out of that fabulous book I recommend to all people everywhere:

I have to seek God beauty. Because isn’t my internal circuitry wired to seek out something worthy of worship? Every moment I live, I live bowed to something. And if I don’t see God, I’ll bow down to something else.

Ann Voskamp‘s words rung true as I read them. Yes, we are made for worship. Will we worship the created, or do we have eyes to see past the creation to the Creator of all that takes our breath away? The Creator – He is what actually deserves our worship. The beautiful creation is only beautiful because He made it so. Without Him, there would be nothing to arrest our wonder.

I put down the book, finished with that thought.

Well, was finished. But God wasn’t.

He smiled to Himself, excitedly anticipating my joy when He would bring up the subject again 13 hours later – His not-so-subtle, personal message to me that He is always with me, ordering my days, looking for ways to tell me, “I love you so.”

Sitting in the corner of my usual coffee shop, desiring to write but lacking a subject, I thumbed through my Bible. I’m 9 days behind in my read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan. I’ve been behind all year – 30+ days behind at times.

But our sovereign Lord knew I’d be x days behind long before it came to pass, and He has continued to meet me just where I was throughout the year.

This morning was no exception. Having writer’s block, I decided to read my prescribed chapters, 9 days late.

Galatians 4. Paul is speaking to believers and says, “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father,'” (Galatians 4:6).

The Holy Spirit in us has one cry – Father! The Spirit has one job – to point the believer to the Father.

Thinking, slowly, the Spirit connects the dots for me. The words from last night’s reading of Ann’s book come back to mind. We are made for worship. We all worship something all the time. But we get to choose what or whom receives our praise. Will it be the created or the Creator?

The Spirit, living inside each believer, cries, “Creator!” – a synonym for Father, but no less biblical.

My heart fills, warm, and God’s smile is wide. He brims with joy as He watches me realize He has ordered the reading of that chapter of that book on that night, the night before He has ordered the reading of that chapter of Galatians, 9 days late, the very next morning.

The Holy Spirit gives me the eyes to see Abba, Father, when I’d otherwise miss Him. I need the supernatural lens to see the supernatural work of the Lord in my life.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of the Spirit that has enabled me to see your personal love for and joy over me today. Help the readers see You in their details today, and may they be filled with joy when they do.

Feel Good Article of the Year

One thing I haven’t come to grips with yet about this life is that friendships don’t last forever.

In fact, all relationships are fluid. People move in and out of our lives as time goes on. It’s just a fact of life.

A fact of life I despise.

Whether it’s circumstances, choices, disagreements or death, everyone we hold dear will eventually leave us. And, of course, we will also eventually leave them.

Even our familial relationships will end. We may live in the same city for 60 years with our parents, our siblings, our spouses, our children… we may have great emotional intimacy with them, picture perfect (yeah, right) relationships, but, if nothing else does, death will prevail.

Circumstances separate us. Our best friends we grow up with move away for college or for a job or for a significant other. We get absorbed into creating our new families, pursuing our new careers and exploring our callings. We keep in touch as best we can, but time and distance defeat our resolve.

Choices and disagreements break our relationships. Our spouses file for divorce. Our children flee in rebellious huffs. We push our friends away out of self-protection.

The list goes on… the point remains the same. No relationship is forever.

We are utterly alone. The only companion we have through it all is ourselves, and we don’t even really like ourselves all that much. Realizing this is hopelessly depressing. We fold our hands and choose to insulate ourselves from this painful reality by retreating from our present relationships. Avoid pain at all costs – this is the human mantra.

But we can’t live like this.

We soon discover the pain of being a hermit equals or surpasses the pain of loving others we know we are going to lose one way or another.

Who will rescue us from this catch 22?

“…the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” (Galatians 1:3-4).

Jesus gives us the solution. He offers us all eternal life so death will no longer separate us from those we love. We may be temporarily separated on earth, but we will be reunited in heaven forever, enjoying sweet and perfect friendship.

What’s the catch?

Both parties must accept Jesus’ solution.

It’s not hard, but it does break down our pride quite a bit to admit we can’t right this ship ourselves. We can’t over come loneliness or the inevitable fact that all our relationships are coming to an end. We’ve already lost so many – proof we can’t control anything.

But there is One who is offering us hope – hope we literally and figuratively cannot live without.

Choose hope.