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SERIES  "RESTORING THE CHURCH'S TRUE IDENTITY"  

 

SESSION No. 3   WE ARE A COMMITTED PEOPLE  

 

INTRODUCTION  

 

"Church Membership". What a range of responses that term evokes among Christians! Some see it as the nothing more than a means of dividing Christians into first and second class citizens of the Kingdom of God. Others are strongly committed to the concept as biblical, desirable and necessary and, therefore, argue in its favour.  

 

Why emphasize Church Membership? Because every Christian is a member of Christ's church!  "The same act that sets us in Christ sets us also in the society of Christ" (P.T. Forsyth). We cannot commit ourselves to Christ without committing ourselves to Christ's Family.   Unfortunately, our understanding of Church membership is prone to become very static and institutionalised and it can easily degenerate into nothing more than having one's name on a Church roll. In fact, tragically, in some churches, formal membership is stressed but vital spiritual experience is not.

 

On the other hand, rightly understood and practiced, being a member of a Church can be quite a dynamic privilege and an opportunity to express one's commitment to a group of Christian people who are seeking to know, love and serve the Lord in the context of a Christian community.  

 

MEMBERS OF HIS BODY  

 

In his excellent book, The Church on the Way, Jack Hayford records the following experience.  

 

"She was sweet, beautifully simple and obviously sensitive. She had signed the guestbook in the foyer of the Church and beside her name she had indicated her church home, "The Body of Christ", and for the location of her Church, "Worldwide".   I chuckled to myself as I glanced at the entry but then felt regret over the hollowness of the idea represented by this sincere, young believer.

 

It isn't uncommon to find people whose notion of membership in the Church is equally ethereal. And the saddest part is that such uncommitment is regarded by many as being the highest order of spirituality. The memory of that young woman has stayed with me for more than a decade because, for me, she represents a contingent of believers, truly devoted to Jesus Christ, but who never identify with His Body, at least in a local sense. That is, they never join a local Church.  

 

I am fully aware of the wide spectrum of reasons for not joining a church. They range from scars borne by people wounded in former church relationships, denominational infighting, petty criticism, doctrinal accusations.....to "membership is a spiritual matter, not something written on a piece of paper".   I've pastored too long not to understand these problems. But I've also shepherded too long to believe that any sheep is safe without accepting the Holy Spirit's direction to settle down with one local flock and accept the care and feeding of one faithful pastor".    

 

Belonging to a local Body of Believers is important, even vital. This is true for a number of reasons...  

 

1. It is evident from the early chapters of Acts that when God birthed the Church, He birthed a community of people. The idea of a Christian life lived in isolation is unthinkable in New Testament terms. There are no "Lone Ranger" Christians.  

 

2. The Church of the New Testament was not a spiritualised, ghostly community of believers without form or organization. It was the organised Church at Corinth and at Ephesus and at Rome and at Philippi...with real, concrete governments and leaders and elders and institutions.  

 

3. Because of our interdependence as Christians, we all need a context for support, encouragement, ministry and accountability. The practice of spiritual gifts pre-supposes a context in which they can be exercised for the common good. The biblical principle of submission is meaningless without the context of a local community of believers.   Becoming a member of a local Church might be likened to a wedding ceremony. Paul's metaphor of the Church as the Bride of Christ also illustrates the place of public commitment. Can you imagine a man saying to his fiancee, "Dear, we are spiritually one. Please, let's not spoil it by having a public ceremony and moving under the same roof and making love and opening a joint cheque account and getting all organised to live together."Where's the commitment in that?  

 

By emphasising Church membership in this way, we really swim against the current of our culture which has an in-built suspicion and resistance to any form of commitment. Of course, it has to be said that becoming a Church member doesn't guarentee commitment. One of the contradictions in most churches is the situation where some non-members evidence a much greater level of commitment than do some of the members.    

 

CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING SCRIPTURES   What do the following verses suggest to you about the idea and/or necessity of "belonging" to a local Church?  

 

[1] EPHESIANS 4/15,16__________________________________________    

 

[2] 1 CORINTHIANS 12/21-26_____________________________________    

 

[3] ACTS 2/42-47________________________________________________    

 

CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS  

 

[1] What do you believe are the main reasons why Christians choose not to become members of a local Church?  

 

[2]  Do you believe those reasons to be valid or not? Can you give an example?  

 

[3]  What do you want to say to the person who says to you, "I can be just as committed to the local church without becoming a member as some of those who are members and more committed than most! The whole idea of formal membership is quite unbiblical."  

 

[4]  What are the main "benefits" of Church membership?  

 

[5]  As you think about your local Church, are there ways in which your "practice" of membership conflicts in your mind with the New Testament teaching set out in the passages above?    

 

FOR YOUR READING THIS WEEK KEY THOUGHTS - "WORSHIP" AND "CELEBRATION"  

  1. Exodus 3/1-12
  2. Psalm 98/1-9
  3. Mark 7/1-8
  4. Mark 12/28-34
  5. John 4/7-26
  6. Revelation 5/1-13
   
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