Friday, August 24, 2012

Church Membership, part 2

Let’s revisit this quote from The Trellis and the Vine: "One church we have been involved in tried to express this by not having 'membership' of the congregation, but 'partnership'. In our society, when you join as a 'member' of something, it can have connotations of passivity and consumerism. I join a club, and expect certain benefits. The 'partnership' language, on the other hand, communicates immediately that we are signing up for active involvement--for being partners together in a great enterprise: the gospel mission of Christ."

Partnering with (joining) a local congregation is an expression of being part of the universal church. It is something that is patterned in the New Testament. For example, everyone who became a Christian in the NT joined themselves with other Christians--it just happened. It was the natural outflow of the Holy Spirit working in that person’s life. Whenever Paul wrote a letter to a congregation, he had a particular group of Christians in mind when he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For example, Colossians 1:2 says, “to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae”. Paul was writing to the specific congregation there in the city of Colossae. This practice gives some indication that the congregation in Colossae knew the people who were “part” of their congregation and those who were not---our normal terminology for this would be “members” and “non-members”. Unfortunately, these words are loaded with baggage from outside the church that give them connotations that do not resemble what scripture teaches or patterns for us today.

Church membership is less about rights and more about responsibility, covenant, mission, and fellowship. These four things manifest themselves in the “one another” passages of the bible. Everyone who is covenanted together as a congregation is responsible for caring for, serving, loving, building up, looking after, speaking the truth in love, and admonishing everyone else. It is a partnership with other believers under the Lordship of Jesus and His Word. One of the best pictures for what “church membership” looks like is Acts 2:40-47. We can also discern other practices and principles from the letters of the Apostle Paul.

Here are a few questions we will tackle over the next couple of weeks:

  • Why one should join a congregation?
  • How does one join a congregation?
  • What does joining a congregation mean?
  • What are biblical expectations of “members”?

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