“WHY CHURCH MEMBERSHIP?”
By Rev. Lim Chee Boon
I spoke on this subject in the worship service on 4 August 2013. Let us refresh our memory on the importance of church membership. If you are not a member of New Life Bible Presbyterian Church, I hope you will prayerfully consider becoming one.
In the recent Extra-ordinary Congregational Meeting, we were told the church has 338 voting communicant members. Every Lord’s Day sees an average attendance of about 420 worshipers in all 3 congregations. The breakdown is such: 220 for English, 130 for Chinese and 70 for the Tamil congregation. From these numbers, we may assume that there are many who are worshiping with us regularly but are not church members.
I) THE BIBLICAL BASIS FOR CHURCH MEMBERSHIP
We do not find a specific verse in the Bible that instructs us about church membership. But the Bible does tell Christians to unite themselves with a community of believers. A familiar verse in Hebrews 10:25 says, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
The verb “assembling” in the original language has the idea of gathering together in one assembly. The word indirectly suggests membership. The Cambridge Dictionary explains membership as people belonging to one organization.
What is the biblical basis for church membership?
A. The Teaching on the Church
The term church was used in the pre-Christian era to mean an assembly of people. When the people were gathered in the town hall to listen to a political speech, it was called a church. The gathering of Jews was called a church in Acts 7:38. A heathen assembly was also called the church. Therefore the New Testament writers used the same term to refer to the assembly of believers in Jesus Christ.
The epistles, especially those written by the Apostle Paul, give us a clearer picture of what the church is:
Firstly, the church is the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:12 Paul wrote, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members are of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.” When we believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour, the Holy Spirit joined us to the body of Christ. Verse 13 then says, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”
Ephesians 5:23 tells us that Christ is the head of the Church. Therefore He is the head of the body. We are all members of that one body. Just as the head and the body are linked together, Christians and Christ must be vitally linked together. We need Christ, for without Him, we can do nothing.
John 15:5 “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”
Many Bible teachers called this the Universal Church. This is the church encompassing all Christians in the world.
Secondly the church has the meaning of a local assembly of believers. Bible teachers called this the local church. Very often we read in the epistles of Paul and the other apostles writing to a church in a specific locality. For example Paul wrote to the Roman Christians saying, “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.” (1:7) Paul wrote also to the church in Corinth, the churches in Galatia, the church in Ephesus. It is clear from these references that the believers in the time of the apostles belonged to a specific congregation. They were members of that community of believers.
The early church’s establishment proved there was membership. When individuals repented and believed in Christ, they were baptized and added to the church. (Acts 2:41; Acts 2:47; Acts 5:14 and Acts16:5)
B. The Teaching on Church Government
New Life is a Bible Presbyterian Church. As Presbyterians, we believe in a church government of a plurality of elders overseeing the church. The specific duties given to these elders presuppose a clearly defined group of members who are under their care:
They are responsible to shepherd God’s people.
Acts 20:28 “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”
1 Peter 5:2 “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;”
They are to labour diligently among the believers.
1 Thessalonians 5:12 “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;”
They are to keep watch over the souls of the believers.
Hebrews 13:17 “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”
These responsibilities require that there be a distinguishable, mutually understood membership in the local assembly. How can the elders shepherd the people and give an account to God for their spiritual well-being if the elders do not even know who these believers are?
C. The Teaching on Church Discipline
In Matthew 18: 15-17 Jesus outlines how the church seeks the restoration of a believer who has fallen into sin – a four-step process commonly known as church discipline. The exercise of church discipline according to Matthew 18 and other passages (1 Cor. 5:1-13; 1 Tim. 5:20; Titus 3:10-11) presupposes that the elders know who their members are. The elders of one local church do not have the responsibility or the authority over the members of another church or Christians who are “un-churched”.
D. The Teaching on Believer Relating to One Another
The New Testament teaches that the church is the body of Christ, and that every member of the body is called to a life devoted to Christian ministry. Scripture exhorts all believers to edify the other members by exercising their spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-7; 1 Pet. 4:10-11).
Mutual edification can only take place when the believers have committed themselves to other believers in a local assembly. It is not possible for a Christian to reach out to believers in other assemblies. There are many reasons – first, you do not know the person and therefore you do not know his or her need or problem. Practically you as person will not have the resource and energy to help everyone. Therefore Church membership is the formal and pragmatic way to make our commitment to our fellow brethren.
Next week we shall consider the Practical Reasons for Church membership.