The Elevator Reply
Is church membership really within the Bible?
What number of instances have you ever heard somebody ask that? Perhaps you’re asking it your self.
If I’ve fifteen seconds to reply that query—perhaps I’m on an elevator with you—I might inform you to have a look at the church self-discipline passages in Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5. Jesus and Paul speak about “removing” somebody from the physique. What’s an individual being faraway from if it’s not what we at the moment name membership. Sure, it’s an implication, but it surely’s a really clear implication.
Or I’d level you to passages like Acts 2:41, the place it says three thousand individuals have been “added to their number” (NIV); or Acts 6:2, which says the apostles referred to as collectively “the full number of disciples”; or Acts 12:1, which says Herod attacked these “who belonged to the church.” They knew who belonged. They may title the disciples. Did they hold all these names on an Excel spreadsheet? I don’t know, however they knew who they have been.
Are You On the lookout for the Proper Factor?
If I’ve greater than fifteen seconds when somebody asks that query, I’d say, “Membership is not in the Bible. At least not the kind of membership you’re looking for.” If I needed to guess, you’ve recognized church buildings that deal with church membership like membership membership. You come. You pay your dues. You get the membership packet, perhaps even an all-access move to the pastor or different advantages.
And that isn’t within the Bible. As an alternative, the Bible presents an image of the church as in contrast to another group or society of individuals on the earth.
- The Bible calls the church the household of God, which suggests membership in a neighborhood church goes to look one thing like membership in a household. So Paul tells Timothy, “Encourage an older man as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters” (1 Tim. 5:1–2).
- The Bible calls the church a holy nation or the individuals of Christ’s kingdom. So native church membership goes to look one thing like citizenship.
- The Bible calls the church the physique of Christ, which suggests membership will contain an precise dependence upon each other. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you. . . . If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:21–26).
By some estimates, there are over ninety totally different metaphors within the Bible for describing what the church is: a flock, a temple, a individuals, a vine, a pillar and buttress of fact, a Girl and her kids. Actually the church is in contrast to another society or group on the earth. It’s no membership. Apparently, the Holy Spirit who impressed Scripture thought you want all these metaphors to explain what this new-creation, blood-bought, Spirit-filled society is. And what’s a neighborhood church however a self-identified gathering of such individuals?
So, the place is membership within the Bible? Nicely, initially, seek for any dialogue of these metaphors. That ought to change what you’re looking for.
How Else Will You Obey All of the Bible Requires?
However admittedly, we’re all a bit anti-institutional as of late. Individuals wish to say, Can’t I be part of the household of God and the physique of Christ and all that with out binding myself to at least one explicit native church?
Nicely, the quick reply to that’s no. Let me provide you with two causes, one from the person’s perspective and one from the church’s perspective.
First, from the person Christian’s perspective, I don’t know the way you are able to do what the Bible calls you to do aside from a self-conscious dedication to a neighborhood church. Hebrews 13:17 tells you to undergo your leaders. Which leaders are these? All Christians leaders all over the place? And even simply the leaders in your metropolis? No, it’s the leaders of the church to whom you could have dedicated, and who’ve dedicated to you.
Ephesians Four says we’re to construct each other up by talking the reality in love. And Ephesians 5, within the context of addressing each other with psalms, hymns, and non secular songs, says we do that as we submit to at least one one other. Which Christians are we to each construct up and undergo with our phrases? All of the Christians in a metropolis? No, the Christians who’ve dedicated to commonly gathering collectively in a single place—a neighborhood church.
We may undergo command after command and metaphor after metaphor within the New Testomony concerning the company lifetime of the church, and I’ll say the identical factor each time: I don’t know the way you try this aside from a neighborhood church.
The Church Possesses Authority to Hand Out Identify Tags
Second, from the church’s perspective, the Bible really provides native church buildings authority to deliver members in, and to see them out. It workout routines that authority by bringing individuals into membership via baptism, by seeing them out via excommunication when obligatory, and by affirming them as a believers on an ongoing foundation via the Lord’s Supper.
After we baptize, we baptize somebody into the title of Father, Son, and Spirit. We give them the “Jesus nametag.” “He’s with Jesus!” we are saying. And in so doing, we make their occupation and discipleship public.
The Lord’s Supper, additionally, isn’t a person act, a chance to close everybody out and have a turbo-charged quiet time with you and Jesus. No, it’s a church-revealing and church-affirming act.
Take heed to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:17 concerning the Lord’s Supper: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” That straightforward verse is filled with that means. The principle clause is, “We who are many are one body.” How do we all know we’re one physique? We all know that, “because there is one bread.” In reality, the verse says the identical factor twice. We all know we’re one physique “because there is one bread” and “for we all partake of the one bread.” Partaking of the one bread affirms and reveals that we’re one physique.
What’s the authority of the native church? It’s the authority to say who the Christians on planet earth are, which we do via baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is the entrance door. The Lord’s Supper is the household dinner desk. Each of those are the indicators of church membership. Greater than that, they’re how a church corporately affirms somebody’s occupation of religion! They’re how a church on earth goes public.
Assume again to the verses in Acts about being “added to their number” and “the full number of disciples” and “those who belonged.” They knew who they have been via the ordinances.
So why can’t you simply be the physique of Christ or the household of God aside from a self-conscious dedication to a neighborhood church that we name “membership”? One, as a result of it’s the one means you possibly can fulfill all of the Bible’s instructions about our life collectively. Two, as a result of it’s the native church whom the Bible authorizes to publicly acknowledge and affirm the church on planet earth.
Church Membership within the Context of the Entire Bible
Let me supply two last ideas. The primary will aid you perceive membership within the context of the Bible as a complete. The second will aid you perceive it within the context of religion and obedience.
Following Israel’s failure to maintain the previous covenant, the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel promised a brand new covenant, whereby God would place his regulation on his individuals’s hearts and forgive their sins. And that is what we consider as conversion, which occurs via the preaching of the Phrase and the work of the Spirit. Conversion makes somebody a Christian, a member of the brand new covenant, in addition to a member of Christ’s common church.
However right here’s a query that Jeremiah and Ezekiel didn’t reply: How do we all know who the brand new covenant individuals are? In any case, the Spirit does his work invisibly. How then do we all know who the “we” of the brand new covenant are? We knew who belonged to Israel as a result of they’d circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, even a land. However how are you aware who the residents of a nation are when there are not any borders, flags, or passports?
Conversion makes somebody a Christian, a member of the brand new covenant, in addition to a member of Christ’s common church.
Apparently, a second step is critical for the invisible new covenant group of the church to turn into seen. The gospel religion should present up in a gospel order. It’s for that reason Jesus gave the apostles and native church buildings the keys of the dominion for binding and loosing, which they train via baptism and the Lord’s Supper. There’s your flag and passport.
In different phrases, the common reveals up—turns into seen, palpable, and actual—within the native church. We show and observe our membership in Christ’s physique and household and kingdom regionally.
Membership Is How You Turn out to be What You Are
Now take into consideration all this within the context of the gospel. The gospel makes members of the common church. It unites us to Christ and to Christ’s individuals (e.g. Ephesians 2:11–22; 1 Peter 2:10). But we reveal or show that common membership via precise, native, “here’s a list of names” membership.
It’s exactly the identical relationship we see between what theologians name our positional righteousness in Christ and our existential righteousness or between the indicative or the crucial. We’re declared righteous due to what Christ did, however then we’re commanded to “put on” that righteousness. Dwelling it out proves or demonstrates what God has carried out. And for those who don’t stay it out, individuals will rightly marvel for those who really possess the righteousness of Christ (e.g., see Rom. 6:1–3).
In the identical means, don’t inform me you belong to the “family of God” of all Christians all over the place until you really present up on the household dinner desk with a bunch of actual individuals. And don’t inform me you’re part of the physique of Christ until you possibly can level to an precise physique of individuals on whom you’re making your self dependent.
That why in 1 John 4, John says, Don’t say you’re keen on God whom you possibly can’t see for those who don’t love your brother, whom you possibly can see.
Is church membership within the Bible? Present me a Christian within the Bible (aside from the Ethiopian eunuch, who’s in the course of a desert) who isn’t dedicated to a neighborhood church. All through your complete New Testomony, believers unite their professions and their lives collectively.
Jonathan Leeman is the writer of Church Membership: How the World Is aware of Who Represents Jesus.
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