Why Join a Church-Part 1 of 2

by Tim Schoap

Editor's note: We asked Tim to write this piece for us because, as he states below, local church membership is no longer a given among today's Christians. Nevertheless, it is an important aspect of the social nature of Christ's teaching that cannot be abandoned. With this two-part series, we want to give you the biblical and practical tools to exhort those who attend your church to covenant with the body in membership. Is Church Membership Biblical? The U.S. Congregational Life Survey (www.uscongregations.org), the largest profile of worshipers and their congregations ever done in the United States, found that 10 percent of the people sitting in church pews are not members of any congregation. The survey, conducted in April, 2001, of more than 300,000 worshipers in over 2,200 congregations, also confirmed what many pastors already know, that a growing percentage of active churchgoers are hesitant about something that was once taken for granted: church membership. One fourth of the people who are actively involved in a church congregation declined to join for at least six years, and almost 20 percent resisted membership for more than 10 years. The reasons given for not joining a church are many. Some Christians are opposed to church membership on practical grounds. They think that if they come to worship, fellowship, and serve alongside the members of a local church, there is no reason to formally join with that church. Some Christians are opposed to church membership on what they believe are biblical grounds. They say that since church membership isn't mentioned in the New Testament, it isn't something they need to do. But joining a church is not simply something you "do," like registering to vote or going out to eat. The church is far more than a spiritual social club. In fact, I believe Scripture provides a solid basis for church membership, and for the conclusion that every Christian should be an active, practicing member of a local church. Here's why: The Church, the Body of Christ Scripture is clear: all who trust Christ as Savior are already members of the Church; the universal, supernatural Body of Christ that is made up of all believers, in all churches, for all time (1 Cor. 12:12-13). This is the capital "C" Church, described by C. S. Lewis in The Screwtape Lettersas "spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners." All who have confessed Christ are part of that Church. That Church is not visible to us, at least in its entirety. But there is another church that we do see-or perhaps more accurately, an aspect of the universal, triumphant Church that is decidedly fixed in space and time. This one is spelled with a small "c," the local church. The Local Church While there is a big difference between the "Church" and the "church," every local expression of the Church is the visible expression of Christ's Body, and is just as much part of that Body as the part that is "terrible as an army with banners." The establishment of local churches is clearly taught in the New Testament (Acts 14:23,27), and believers are directed to associate together in local assemblies (Heb. 10:25). Most often in the New Testament, the word "church" is the translation of the Greek ekklesia, from ek, "out of," and kaleo, to call or invite. In secular usage, an ekklesiawas a gathering of citizens called out from their homes to a public place. In Scripture, an ekklesiais a gathering of Christians "called out" from the general populace to come together for a common purpose. A church, an ekklesia, is not a building. If our church buildings fell down around our ears, we'd still be the church, living and functioning as a local expression of the greater Body of Christ. So why join a local church? The Biblical Evidence for Church Membership While the New Testament does not use "membership" language, it most definitely presumes that Christians belong to and identify with other Christians with whom they fellowship, and submit to a central authority who has responsibility for that group. The New Testament church knew who was a part of that group and who was not. Acts 1:15 says the "number" of the church was about 120. That's fairly specific. Clearly, somebody counted. In Acts 2:41, " about three thousand were added to their number." In Acts 2:47, " the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Again, in Acts 4:4, a specific number is given. Some form of record was being kept, tracking who was coming to this new work of God. In 1 Timothy 5:9, Paul directs Timothy to put certain widows on "the list" for financial aid from the church. A list of widows approved for assistance means the New Testament church was not haphazard about who belonged to it. Scripture consistently underscores commitment to the local church as an important and public statement of commitment to the Lord. The way Scripture speaks of that commitment presumes a formal, public identification with a local church that is analogous to our church "membership." Hebrews 10:24-25 stresses the importance of membership for the sake of biblical fellowship: "and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near." Obedience to that command outside of the local church is impossible. Hebrews 13:17 highlights the importance of membership for the sake of accountability: "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you." All Christians are to be accountable to their church leaders. Obviously, that assumes membership in a specific body of believers. Finally, the "one anothers" of Scripture underscore the importance of the local church for spiritual maturity. "Love one another," John 13:34; "be kind to one another," Ephesians 4:32; "Encourage one another," 1 Thessalonians 5:11; and on, and on. Without public, formal commitment in a local church, the "one anothers" don't make much sense. It is clear from the New Testament that even in the earliest days of the church, membership mattered. Membership in a local church is God's design for fellowship, for accountability, and for spiritual maturity. To be concluded Tim Schoap is co-pastor of Signal Mountain Bible Church-a non-denominational body
in Signal Mountain, Tennessee.
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