Hebrews 13.17; I Corinthians 5
Introduction: Why Membership?
In the past 3 weeks we have been talking about the local church. Now some people have had good experiences with the church and others not so good. We should remember what the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “…imperfect as [the church] is, it is the dearest place on earth to us.” And why did he say that? Well, because Spurgeon knew if we ever found a perfect church it would cease to be that way once we got there.
The local church is NOT a building, but a people. The local church is placed in a community by God to embody Christ to that community. The church is a community within a community. Alex spoke about last week, but one unique attribute of the church is a covenantal community and not a contractual community. This means we do not enter our church relationships with a “works-based” mentality, but with a mentality of grace. Works-based says, “Here’s a list of rules I expect you to keep, and if you break them I’m voiding the contract.” But the covenantal relationship says, “I am freely offering myself to this relationship no matter what.” When churches are not fueled by a covenantal grace then they quickly become ugly places.
Hopefully by now we have seen what forms a church community, so now we want to examine how God wants us to organize a church community. Some of you will be tempted to see this “organization” as the enemy of organic relationships. But when God orders the world in Genesis 1 He orders in a way that allows all living creatures organically flourish. Communities without order are chaotic and dangerous. The basic organizing principle we are examining today is “membership.” We believe membership was given to us by God and allows us to organically flourish as God’s people. Leadership is another organizing principle that helps understand membership. These organizing principles are taken from Scripture and not just some mere human structure to control or oppress people.
Let me be clear from the outset, there is not an explicit text that says, “be a member of a local church.” But there is also not an explicit text that says, “the God of the Bible is Triune.” But there are plenty of statements in the Bible that help us see and develop a theology of the Trinity. The same is true for membership. And God’s view of membership is much more robust than just attending a church on the weekend. And with all that said here is what I want to explore with you today…
Theme: God organizes the church for growth & care through membership.
1. God organizes leaders for growth & care for His church—Heb 13.17.
One cannot deny that the Bible encourages us to submit to our leaders—READ Hebrews 13.17. Now let’s be real here, when most of us are considering a church we are not saying, “I can’t wait to submit my life to this leadership. It will be awesome to obey them as they obey Christ.” Most of us are usually thinking about personal preferences—the commute, music, preaching style, kids ministry, and etc.
There are many leaders in many churches, so we have to ask ourselves, “Which leaders are we called to submit to?” We cannot be expected to submit to all of them. My wife is a married woman, and she cannot be expected to submit every husband. That would be impractical and unjust. She is called to submit to the husband she chose to be in covenant with. I believe the same principle applies come when think about church membership. When we commit to a local we are freely submitting our lives to that churches leadership. When it is a covenantal relationship it means we are freely offering our submission to them as they submit to Christ. No one makes you chose who you will submit yours lives to, but God does ask us all to do it. Once someone has made that choice they should work hard to not break their covenantal vow. I have done this long to let you know this DOES NOT mean you will remain at this church the rest of your life. In fact our church covenant says, “We moreover engage that when we leave this fellowship, we will, if possible, unite with a church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s word.” Our covenant assumes you may move somewhere else.
Now, as one of these leaders of this church let me address one thing from our perspective, Hebrews 13.17 says, “…for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” Any quality pastor takes this statement VERY seriously. God has entrusted something dear to Him to the elders. Matt Chandler has a wonderful quote when consider the application of this statement:
“If we ever had a babysitter, and we kind of laid out, ‘We want the kids in bed at 8:30. Please don't give them a lot of sugar’…If I got home, and the television was gone, and a kid was missing…and it was evident that things were in chaos… I would have a major problem there, because I would have trusted someone with something that is most precious to me.”—Matt Chandler
The pastors here take seriously that God has entrusted some thing very dear to us. Therefore, we push each other hard to have a similar heart God has for His people. Next week we will talk more on pastors or elders as a part of the church’s organization. While God organizes leaders for growth and care, He also do so with members.
2. God organizes members growth & care for His church—I Cor 5.1-13.
Many times shepherding or care that can be done by members is outsourced to the elders. It is important to remember that members are a part of the shepherding and care for God’s people. The pastors are to lead in an exemplary way in care, but as they lead those who are not called to be elders are called to follow. Let me briefly mention that learning how to do good Gospel care is vitally important. If you don’t know how to do that or arrogantly think you already can, then I would encourage you look into learning good Gospel care.
God wants church membership to be a means to help hold each other accountable to a pure devotion to Christ, His people, and His Mission. One text that serves as a good example of this—READ I Corinthians 5.1-2. This is a passage of church discipline. What Paul clearly believes about church discipline is it meant to help maintain the purity of the Gospel in the local church—READ I Corinthians 5.12-13. When sin is creeping into our midst Paul’s desire is to see true repentance and reconciliation—READ I Corinthians 5.5. Paul understands this man’s devotion to the LORD is not pure. Therefore, he wants to lovingly help this man understand his relationships with God is fractured and he is living like an unbeliever. The man needs to reconcile with God and the people his sin has hurt.
Therefore, in many ways church discipline is the embodiment of Proverbs 27.6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” If you have a brain tumor, the doctor is going to have to cut you open to rid you of the brain tumor. The doctor will have to hurt you to heal you. No eldership or church ever wants to get to a point where they have to remove someone from membership. Church discipline is a painful, sorrowful process for everyone involved.
The primary church discipline text is found in Matthew 18. Honestly this should be happening all the time. Why? Because no one is sinless. If we truly care for each other then we help each other deal with our sinful struggles. Paul says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6.2). But sometimes we will see our sin when it is pointed and other times we won’t. Jeremiah says sin deceives us (Jer 17.9). This reminds us confronting sin is a process that cannot be rushed. But this does not mean we should just ignore it either. If I left my bride in your care, and you repeatedly let my bride harm herself, then I would have a serious problem. Jesus has left His bride under our care, and if we let her harm herself then Jesus will have a serious problem with us. In Revelation 2-3 Jesus talks to various local churches about their negligent care of His people. In each case Jesus warns if this continues He will remove their lampstand. This is Jesus’ way of saying I will shut your church down.
Membership is a means by which God organizes us so we know who we are responsible to care for. We cannot care for every Christian everywhere. Therefore, when we see God’s instruction on church discipline then we need to know who we are supposed to be doing that with. Some churches do not practice formal church membership, so you show up they will practice church discipline on any body. Personally we believe that is a bit unfair because you didn’t freely submit yourself to their leadership. But if you choose to submit your life to the leaders and members of this church then we hold you accountable to a pure devotion to Christ. Since this church has started we have always said we don’t care if you are a member here, but you should be a member somewhere. If you interested in membership here please talk to someone and we would have happy to help you with that.