This article is based on a sermon I preached on 23 September 2018, on the occasion of a new Christian joining our congregation.
Church membership is important. You’ve probably heard it before. But, why is it important? To frame the issue before I answer, I’d like to use an analogy.
The war in the European theater began when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. The Germans quickly overran the hapless Poles, some of whose army units even launched suicidal, mounted cavalry charges against tanks. Nearly nine months of uneasy calm followed, then, the Germans invaded France and the Low Countries in May 1940. In short order, they found themselves masters of Western Europe. Only Britain stood alone, but its army was forced to abandon most of its equipment on the beaches as it frantically evacuated the continent.
The US entered the war in December 1941 and began pouring men and material into Britain. The ground effort against Nazi Germany began with Allied landings in North Africa in November 1942, and then in Sicily in July 1943. However, while the ground forces attacked this “soft underbelly” of Europe, British and American flyers began a campaign to destroy German industry by means of round the clock bombings. The British flew at night, and the Americans by day.
Church membership has fallen on hard times. Some question whether formal membership is taught in the Bible. Isn’t it a man-made tradition that ought to be abandoned? Others accept it, but wonder if it has outlived its original purpose.
Increasingly, church membership is viewed as optional and is ignored, dismissed, and even actively resisted. This is not only true of individuals, but of pastors and churches as well. Are those who practice church membership beating a dead horse? It this simply a shop-worn tradition that should be discarded, or is church membership a biblical practice that ought to be restored to its original significance?
The word “member,” used to identify individual Christians in the church, is a biblical term. The most extensive passage is 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, where “member” is used fourteen times in the space of ten verses, sometimes as a singular noun but more often as a plural. Although the phrase, “church members” is not used, parallel concepts such as “members of the body” and similar phrases are employed.
We are told that the church is one body consisting of many members. Together, Christians constitute the body, but individually, each Christian is a member. This is true of the Church Universal as well as churches local. The passage begins by focusing on the universal aspects of the church, but continues to talk about each believer’s membership in a local body.