"The Importance of Church Membership"

  When we speak of the word church, we by no means speak of a building of any kind. Bricks and mortar or any other type of material do not make a church. In the New Testament the word church (ekklesia) in most cases refers to a local congregation of believers (Acts 14: 23); in other cases the word church refers to Christians in a more general sense (Ephesians 5: 27). Also it is of utmost importance to distinguish between becoming a Christian and becoming a church member. First we are saved by grace and when we follow the Lord in believers baptism, and only then, do we become a church member.

  It is the duty and the privilege of every saved person to unite with the local church. We find this was the divinely appointed procedure from the beginning. In Acts 2, the gospel was preached, men and women heard the message, were convicted of their sins, repented of their sins toward God, believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour, were saved and then baptized, confessing Jesus publicly by their obedience in following the Lord's command, and were received into the local church.

  For the Christian, the worship of God is not an elective, something he (she) may do, or not do, as their fancy leads. Those who excuse themselves from worship, or dictate how and where their worship shall be offered, repudiate the very spirit of worship by their attitude. Worship means nothing if it does not involve obedience. It is true that worship can be offered anywhere and at anytime, and circumstances may compel the child of God to fulfil the obligation of worship in strange places and at odd hours. But it is equally true that those who without much thought talk about worshiping God as well at home or some place else, as in the church usually do not worship at all. Hebrews 10: 25 - "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."

  As church members we have a task to perform. We are not asked whether we will accept it. Christ called us into the fellowship of his church for this very purpose. We are to be witnesses of Him ( Acts I: 8 ), like Andrew telling Peter his brother, the very nature of the born again child of God is to share his blessing with others. And when we do, then the joy of church membership is experienced at its greatest and best, for nothing can bring any greater joy to the Christian's heart than to see others saved by God's Amazing Grace.

  How tragic it is when church members fail to appreciate the importance of this fellowship of learning within the church. The result is seen in church members who know little or nothing of the doctrines of their church, of the content of the Bible, of the imperatives of the Christian life, and of the obligations of service; members, in fact, who are liabilities rather than assets to the cause of Christ.

  Lack of understanding of the character of the church surely explains why many people whose names are on church rolls treat their membership so lightly. A right concept of the church as to its divine origin, its relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ, its God-ordained mission, and its glorious destiny should thrill all of our hearts and impel a love and loyalty which can be offered to no earthly organization.

  No other cause has ever demanded such devotion as the cause of Christ. Whole periods of the church's history was written in blood, as powers of evil offered resistance to the onward progress of the gospel and sought in vain to extinguish the light by killing the torchbearers. Many of those heroic souls, both men and women, who laid down their lives rather than deny their Lord, are shadowy figures on history's pages. History has preserved the names of some, but little more. Yet, while the details may be blurred, we know, from the evidence of friends and enemies, that hundreds died, burned like human torches, or thrown to the lions, for no other reason than their Christian faith. These were the church members of their day, whose loyalty rebukes us for our softness and challenges us to meet the conditions of our own times in the same spirit of fortitude and faith.

  In calling out his church, Christ had purposes of far reaching importance in the over-all program of his kingdom. Some of those purposes will only be fully revealed and realized in eternity. But he had one immediate purpose which can and should be fulfilled in the present experience of each of us who profess to be his followers. He knew our need for companionship and friendship on the level of our own humanity, and he provided for that in the institution of the church.

  There is nothing like responsibility to bring the best out of a person. If this is so, church membership should make great characters of us all. For God had no little plan in mind when He designed the church. He entrusted it with his truth, and he relies upon it to guard that truth at all costs and to pass it on unchanged from generation to generation.

  The joys of Christian service can be experienced here and now. But they will be known at their highest and best when we hear the Master say: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord."Matt. 25: 21. Heaven's joys will spring from earth's loyalties, but they will surpass our present joys as the sun outshines the flickering light of a candle. To know that in this life we have pleased our Lord will bring an eternity of satisfaction.

  To truly realize the importance of our church membership we must consider the vow we each made to God as we became church members. It is best expressed in what we call "The Church Covenant". The joys of church membership are not of the carnival kind: not passing thrills but lasting satisfactions, realized sometimes after much toil and many tears. But they are joys which have no equal and which none can take away. For they belong to eternity and not to time; they are the gift of God to his faithful people.

Pastor Brian L. Oakes
Bible Grove Misionary Baptist Church
Lexington, Tennessee

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