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10 things you should know about church membership (Part I)



We held our Annual Congregational Meeting on 28 April, and Ps Daniel’s accompanying editorial reminded us that “Membership is the identifier of a person’s accountability with a particular local church community and this same membership means that the local church supports this person’s affirmation of the faith.” The five questions we ask at each baptismal service speak to this reality.

 

So, how important is church membership? And what does the bible have to say about it? In the next three editorials, we will explore “10 things you should know about church membership”1.

 

May we read, be edified and grow in our commitment to the body of Christ in Hermon! - Pastor Luwin Wong


 
1. Membership is not “in the Bible”.

At least, it’s not there in a proof-text sort of way. Local church membership is not the eleventh commandment, or an additional beatitude, or an extra verse in some obscure manuscript tradition. But, kind of like the doctrine of the Trinity, we see that local church membership is a good and necessary consequence of what’s in the Bible.

 

2. Membership clarifies the distinction that redemption creates.

Redemption creates a distinction between God’s people and not-God’s people. In fact, that’s God’s stated reason for bringing the plagues on Egypt, but not on Israel, right before the Exodus: “That you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (Exodus 11:7; cf. Exodus 8:22–23; 9:4). The plagues preview the great distinction that redemption is about to publicise—the distinction between the redeemed and the unredeemed. Local church membership is not the only way we clarify the distinction between the world and the church, but it is one way we make it visible and plain. Even in the book of Acts, what does the gospel create? Distinct, visible, local churches.

 

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” That does, eventually, apply to marriage; but Paul applies it first to membership. “We are the temple of the living God.” He doesn’t say, “We are temples,” individually. It’s not a reference to our individual bodies (as it is in 1 Cor. 6:19). He says we are the temple, corporate singular. It’s a corporate reference to the church as God’s dwelling place. And there’s a dual application: “Go out from their midst.” Don’t identify with the world, its leaders and its loves, “and be separate from them.” Identify together — corporately — with God’s temple, the church in Corinth. And don’t take known unbelievers into membership of that church — don’t yoke up with them in the harness of discipleship to Jesus and local church ministry — because that will blur the line.

 

3. God models membership.

Just two months after God redeems his people, he counts them (Numbers 1:1–3). God himself practices and models for us a form of membership. And God continues to practice membership in the form of “the book of life” (Philippians 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 17:8; 20:12, 15, 27; 22:19). Practicing local church membership is one way we “be imitators of God” (Ephesians 5:1). Maybe this is one reason the early church practiced it, too (Acts 2:41).

 

4. Membership “turns” the keys of the kingdom.

No, I don’t mean that being a member of a local church automatically gets you a green light into heaven. Some people have gone to hell as life-long members of churches. But in Matthew 18:17, the power of the keys, which Jesus gives to the church, is the power to externally affirm or deny the orthodoxy of gospel proclamation and the genuineness of gospel faith. From the church’s perspective, membership is the congregation affirming (albeit fallibly) a person’s doctrine and testimony in the gospel, and so affirming visibly what heaven has already declared of them invisibly — they’re members of the church universal by faith and repentance toward Jesus. That affirmation is the job not just of the elders, but of the whole congregation (see 2 Corinthians 2:6).

 

1 Paul Alexander, (Nov 8, 2019), 10 Things You Should Know about Church Membership, Crossway. Taken from https://www.crossway.org/articles/10-things-you-should-know-about-church-membership/

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