Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Biblical importance & basis of church membership

1 Timothy 1:1-4 "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesusaccording to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope, 2 To Timothy, my true child in the faith:Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3 As I urged you upon my departure forMacedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 4 nor to pay attention tomyths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather thanfurthering the administration of God which is by faith."

As I was beginning to read the New Testament book of 1 Timothy the other day, the thought struck me: why was Paul was so concerned about young Timothy working to establish the leadership and church at Ephesus? Whenever we consider the New Testament letters of 1 & Timothy and Titus, they are commonly called "The Pastoral Epistles". In-as-much as these three books of the Bible are addressed to pastors (Timothy and Titus), their instructions apply equally to the person in the church pew. But now back to our question: Why did Paul urge Timothy to stay at Ephesus? In looking at the main verse of 1 Timothy 3:15, wherein Paul expresses his reasons for writing the letter, namely to instruct the people as to how they ought to conduct themselves in the church of the living God, we find the answer: because he wanted a church membership that would express a stronger form of Christianity. 

Point of Application:
As you read what Paul would write in the book of 1 Timothy, you discover that one of the central concerns he had was to ensure that both the leadership and membership of the local church were unified and Christ-focused against the rising tide of doctrinal and cultural opposition. The key thought to understanding the God-ordained means of building a stronger Christianity is by considering the Biblical concept of church membership. Thus we will consider the following main point of application for today: Church membership is necessary for a stronger Christianity in our local churches and outside in the world. In what specific ways does God use the Biblical concept of church membership to underscore a stronger Christianity? Three answers emerge from looking through 1 Timothy 1:1-11:

1. Stronger Christian Faith 1:1-4 
2. Stronger Christian Living 1:5-7 
3. Stronger Christian Witness 1:8-11

Before we get to these three important reasons for church membership, we first of all need to establish how Biblical church membership is, and what it entails.

How we know church membership is Biblical, and not just a man-made idea
Before we go any further, I think it is important to demonstrate the concept of church membership as a Biblical concept lying at the heart of the larger Biblical teaching about the local church. Frankly if church membership is nothing more than a traditional concept or man-made convention, then what we are advocating for in this post is a waste of time. However it does not take long to see how Biblical the notion of church membership is. For example, as early as Acts 2:41, we see the early church keeping records of how many people were converted and baptized on the Day of Pentecost following the Apostle's Peter's preaching. We again see in Acts 4:4 a record of 5,000 additional souls added to the roles at Jerusalem, bringing the total church membership at that first church to at least 8,000 souls! The early church taught the concept of regenerate church membership: namely that people must be born again by grace through faith, followed by believer's baptism, resulting in their being initiated into the membership and life of the local church body.

Practical difficulties that can arise when church membership is not practiced
In the 30 years I have been a born-again Christian, I had occasion to attend churches where church membership was not practiced. The belief was that all someone had to be was a born-again believer. The confusion that resulted from this well-meaning practice was a lessening in value of other such practices as believer's baptism and the inability to exercise church disciple in needed. (see Matthew 18) Why abandon a practice that is so Biblical for convenience's sake? God's ordained means of maintaining the Christ-centered focus of His church must ever be retained if the church hopes to be Biblical.

More explicit proof of church membership being taught in the New Testament
Contrary to the practice of non-church membership, we discover that this language of "member" or "membership" is used explicitly in the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 12:12 states: "For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ." We must not confuse the word "membership" with the modern day idea of "membership' at a gym or "membership" at an organization like Sam's Club or at a Country Club. Rather the idea of membership is a highly organic one, referring to the inter-dependence we see in the various parts of a human body. 

Baptist preacher Dr. O.S Hawkins gives this insight into how life in the local church is all about relationships: "Let me hasten to add there are only three relationships in life... . There is the outward relationship we have with those at church, at work, in the home or in the social arena. There is that inward relationship we have with ourselves. And there is that upward relationship we have with God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. The wise pastor realizes that we will never be properly related to each other until we are properly related to ourselves and this does not happen until will come into relationship with Jesus Christ so that we find our self-worth in Him and translate it to those around us." (Pastor's Primer, page 118, GuideStone 2006)

In scanning through the rest of the New Testament, the concept of church membership is undeniable. God in the Person of the Holy Spirit Sovereignly leads and places each church member in the local church as He sees fit. (1 Corinthians 12:12, 18, 20) The concept of church unity is practically and most properly expressed in church membership (1 Corinthians 12:20). Achieving Jesus' command to love one another and to submit to one another is best done through church membership. (John 13:34; 1 Corinthians 12:23-27)

Closing thoughts
In short, church membership's cry is twofold: We need Jesus and we need one another! To see elsewhere this concept of church membership in the New Testament, we only need to look at the opening salutations of Paul's letters to the churches (to the saints at Rome, to the saints at Corinth, to the churches of Galatia, and so on). Indeed, the church the world over is spoken of in the New Testament, composed of all truly redeemed and born-again people of God duly chosen and called by God and His Spirit. (1 Peter 1:1-2; Ephesians 2:20) However the vast majority of passages on the church have to do with the church local. As we have already seen, the most Biblical way to conceive of the local church and in how God uses it to strengthen Christianity in the world over is by considering church membership. As we noted today: Church membership is necessary for a stronger Christianity in our local churches and outside in the world. 

More tomorrow....

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