Wanderlust Culture: Tackling Church Membership29 May 2018
By Fusi Mokoena
Why bother with church membership? Is it important or is it just a numbers game or a means for the church to control people? Surely we are already part of the ‘universal Church’ of Christ? I get asked these questions a lot, almost never by new believers, but by Christians who struggle with the concept of church membership for one reason or another.
For many Christ-followers, membership sounds limiting, a concept more in fitting with your local golf club. It sounds too formal for the Church. Some would even go as far as suggesting it to be another form of legalism – why box the Holy Spirit into member/non-member categories?
Most of the time as I sit and listen to these comments and questions I pick up three things:
Firstly, people are motivated by tradition. “Back home, we don’t do this, why should I do it here?”
Secondly, is the issue of convenience. “I want to be free and not be limited to one church, I would like to go to one church for worship and another church for the Word. I am happy to just float around”.
Thirdly is baggage. “I was a member of one church before I came to City Hill and things did not go well. I am happy to just sit in the pews”. As the saying goes: ‘Once bitten; twice shy.’
I will try to provide short answers and long answers to these questions. Firstly the short:
Tradition is not necessarily bad, but tradition cannot be allowed to trample scripture. Christ-followers are first and foremost accountable to scripture before any human tradition.
Freedom without boundaries is always risky and unbiblical. God gave Adam and Eve freedom, but there were certain boundaries that were good for them. We don’t make faith decisions based on convenience, that is risky.
‘Once bitten; twice shy’ is not in the Bible. God can set you free from your past hurts and plug you into a caring and loving church family.
Now the longer answers:
Is Church membership a biblical concept?
I believe this is a good place to start. The word membership does not appear in the Bible but the principle is evident throughout. In some places it is stated and in others it is implied. In Acts 2:41, 47 we find 3000 people get saved, baptised and added to the existing community of believers. The Lord continued adding to their number daily. So we see that the biblical pattern is that people get saved and than they are added to the local Church. The concept is implied by the fact that most of the letters in the Bible are written to local communities of faith. Paul also uses the body metaphor to imply that the members of the body belong together. So I conclude that this is a biblical concept.
Universal Church and local Church
The universal Church consists of local communities around the world. We are not saved in isolation. For me to be part of the bigger, universal Church, I first need to see myself as part of the local community. The Church is both local and global, and Christ-followers belong to both. It is not ‘either or’, but ‘both and’. To say that I’m part of the universal Church means I see myself playing my role in a local Church environment. For this to happen, I need to give myself to that local Church, I need to see myself as a member. It will mean being accountable to a local Church community.
The ‘body’ metaphor
Paul wrote this to the local Church. He sees the local Church as a body. Just as my body has members, so does the Church body. Paul makes two sharp arguments relating to this metaphor. Firstly, the members of the body are indispensable, which means the body needs every single member to be fully functioning. Jesus wants a fully functioning body, not a company of consultants or itinerant individuals. Secondly, each member of the body plays its part. My feet are not for hearing, but my ears are. Each member of the body has a designated responsibility within the body. This means that not having all the members participating fully in the body is quite detrimental. Therefore the Church is not for consumers but those who play their part in bringing life to the body.
Membership is one way of raising your faith flag. You are declaring your commitment to Christ through his Church. Following Christ is not a walk in the park but it is worth everything. The same goes for the Church. When we commit ourselves to the local Church, publicly declaring that we are giving ourselves to the people of God, we do not take up an easy task. However it is certainly exciting and definitely worth it! Commitment is not for the faint-hearted, is not always glamorous but it is a Christ-like approach. Jesus gave himself to us even to the point of death. When we give ourselves wholeheartedly to the local church – that is, with our hearts and our strength – we are publicly giving ourselves to Jesus.
We live in a low-commitment culture and membership speaks powerfully against this. We live in a world of options, we go for the latest thing: the latest mobile phone, the latest fashion, the latest music etc. To commit to something is no longer seen as normal, it’s seen as weakness and unenlightened. However, right at the core of the biblical message is a God who is fully committed to us. The gospel message calls us to a lifestyle of commitment to the Lord Jesus. Membership celebrates and showcases the heart of the gospel and it also speaks against the low commitment culture of our day.
Here at City Hill we run our membership course called Added. Added is a great opportunity for people to discover more about the church, our story, our vision, our values and our style. It is where people also get to hear about our involvement in the wider body of Christ around the world. It is through our Added course that you will be able to ask questions about the church as well as find out how you can be part of the action.
If you haven’t been added yet, I would highly recommend it.