We live in a day and time when many Christians in our nation do not fully appreciate nor understand what the Bible teaches about church involvement. Many Christians ignore the subject altogether. They don’t really understand the purpose or need for membership in a local body of faith, and they believe they can receive everything they need through a church without joining it, so they are indifferent to the subject.
There are others who are opposed to the idea of membership. They believe that Christians only need to be part of the universal body of Christ by believing in Him, and that any formal, subsequent commitment to a local body of faith is uneccesary. They overlook the example of believers identifying with local churches in the book of Acts and excuse themselves by stating “Membership in a local church was never explicitly commanded.”
There are a vast number of others who simply take their church membership for granted. For them, joining a church is nothing special or serious. They believe anyone who wants to join a church should be able to do so and that it is no more serious a commitment than picking a grocery store or registering to vote. If they want to get married, buried, or have a need, their name is on the role, thus giving them access, but otherwise they manifest no serious commitment to the Lord’s body, to those who are supposedly their spiritual family.
Ideally, all Christians should endeavor to have a biblical perspective of church membership, a perspective that sees commitment to a local family of faith as one of the natural fruits of a true relationship with Christ. Those who love Jesus and who have Jesus abiding in them will share His love for His bride, the church. They will manifest a commitment that encompasses the desire to be accountable for faithfully living out the grace of Christ, the desire to be active in fellowship that is centered around the ministry of the Word of God, and the desire to be equipped and available to serve the body and the community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is realities like these that are represented in our Church Covenant. We recited it together before we took our last communion, and we rejoiced together as we watched our New Members sign it this past Sunday. A Church Covenant is certainly not as authoritative as the Bible itself, but it is derived from the Bible. It represents, in a succinct fashion, a commitment to God and to one another to faithfuly embody the lifestyle, character, and priorities of a disciple of Christ.
All of us will stumble at times, and that is when the Spirit will convict us, the Word will instruct us, and our church family will encourage us. However, when we have members who continually and unrepentantly violate their commitment, the most loving thing we can do is to seek to restore those members, or ultimately, if they refuse restoration, remove them. Removal is grievous step to take, but it protects the witness of Christ through the body, the example of Christ within the body, and it protects the one in open error from confusion and self-deception regarding the Lord’s view of their choices.
In his book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever writes, “If the church is a building, then we must be bricks in it; if the church is a body, then we are its members; if the church is the household of faith, it presumes we are part of that household. Sheep are in a flock and branches are on a vine. Biblically, if one is a Christian, he must be a member of a church. Leaving aside the concrete particulars for a moment—whether membership lists are kept on white cards or on computer disks—we must not forsake our regular assembling (Hebrews 10:25). This membership is not simply the record of a statement we once made or of affection toward a familiar place. It must be a reflection of a living commitment or it is worthless, and worse than worthless, it is dangerous. Uninvolved members confuse both real members and non-Christians about what it means to be a Christian. And active members do the voluntarily inactive members no service when they allow them to remain members of the church, for membership is the church’s corporate endorsement of a person’s salvation. Again, this must be clearly understood: membership in a church is that church’s corporate testimony to the individual member’s salvation.” May God, in His grace, guard our hearts from apathy and make us a fully committed family of faith. I love you all dearly!