What is Church Membership?
What is church membership?
Simply put, church membership is a commitment to join Christ on his mission with his people for his glory.
Jonathan Leeman defines it this way:
“Church membership is a formal relationship between a local church and a Christian characterized by the church’s affirmation and oversight of a Christian’s discipleship and the Christian’s submission to living out his or her discipleship in the care of the church.”
Now that’s a good, formal definition. But what does it mean practically? It means that as an individual, you’re saying to Jesus and his Church, “Jesus, I’ve counted the cost, and I know what you’re asking me to do as your follower. You call me to love God and to love others as myself. I’m ready now to join your local, definable people to live that out. I take responsibility for them, and them for me. I’m not here only to receive but also to give. I want to receive care, but I also want to extend care to others. I want to grow in you, and I want to help others grow in you. I want others to know me and help me when I sin, and I want to know and help others. I want to submit to godly leadership. I want to be all in with Christ’s church. I want more than a taste. I want the real thing.”
In other words, church membership is more than scrolling down and hitting “Agree” on the pop-up screen to proceed. Church membership is a considered step toward Christ and his people. It is a full-hearted agreement with his call to community and a full-bodied involvement with his people.
The apostle Peter helps us see this. Though he’s not directly addressing church membership, in 1 Peter 2:9-10, he helps us think rightly about it. He says,
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
“You are a chosen race.” A church member is a member of God’s chosen race, an offspring of Abraham, a descendant of the called out family of God.
“A royal priesthood.” A church member is a member of God’s royal family. Though we are children of God, we are more than mere passive children. We are active priests to one other, able to minister to all around us, bringing the gospel to bear upon our lives.
“A holy nation.” A church member is a member of God’s holy nation—the people set apart to himself for blamelessness and spotlessness, for his own glory.
“A people for his own possession.” A church member is a member of God’s family—one who has forsaken the ownership of the world for the care of Jesus, the one and only God.
“That you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” A church member is a herald of the King, a bringer of the gospel, a witness to the grace of God, a soldier in Christ’s army fighting against the darkness and spreading the radiance of his marvelous light, displaying the many excellencies of Christ.
“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” A church member is one who was once not a people but who now is, one who once had not received mercy but now has, one whom God has gathered together into a gospel family.
As Jonathan Leeman says in his book The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love, church membership:
Identifies us with Christ.
Distinguishes us from the world.
Guides us into the righteousness of Christ by presenting a standard of personal and corporate righteousness.
Acts as a witness to non-Christians.
Glorifies God and enables us to enjoy his glory.
Identifies us with God’s people.
Assists us in living the Christian life through the accountability of brothers and sisters in the faith.
Makes us responsible for specific believers.
Protects us from the world, the flesh, and the Devil.
Understanding how important it is for our souls and the advancement of the mission of God, church membership is not an optional add-on to the Christian life. If anything in this world calls us to commitment it is Jesus Christ. He not only calls, but he also takes the first step. He stepped out of heaven to join us in our flesh. He stepped into obedience where we only ran the other way. He stepped into Pilate’s court as the crowd released Barabbas. He stepped onto the cross. He stepped into the grave, and three days later he stepped out of the grave so he could step toward us in newness of life. Jesus Christ was committed to us, and he’s calling us to be committed to him by becoming members of his church.
This is the first of a three part series on church membership based on a sermon I preached at Refuge Church Franklin.