Today we are stepping away from our walk through the Gospel of John, so that we can focus our attention on the topic of Church Membership. As many of you have heard me say several times over the last few weeks, at Cornerstone take Church membership seriously.
Cornerstone Church has existed as a formal and local Church for a little over three years. Since that time we have had two membership classes and we will be having our third class this June. Currently we have, if I am not mistaken, 28 official members of Cornerstone, and with each year that passes, it is my hope that our membership continues to grows.
If you look around, you will notice that in this room there are more than 28 adults. Why the disparity?
The first reason is that we have membership classes once a year, therefore some of you will in fact become members this summer, and that disparity will be reduced for now.
The second reason is that some of you in this room are not Christians. And to be a member one must be a Christian. It is a requirement. If you are merely a Church attender, and Jesus Christ is not your greatest treasure, then membership is not for you. So if you are not a Christian, don't even bother coming to class, because we will not let you in. Having said that, we do want you to continue to come to Church and participate in Bible study because we want you to hear the Word of God and repent and place your faith in Christ.
The third reason, and perhaps the most pervasive is that some of you are Christians but you are not convinced that membership is important. Today, this message is directed to you. In Matthew 28:19-20 it says – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” My role as a disciple is to make disciples and teach those disciples to observe all that Jesus has commanded. Observe all. Not observe some. All. And to observe means to actually implement the command in your life. Jesus does not command you to ignore all that he has commanded, but to obey it. This is the essence of being a follower of Jesus, to follow him. And I believe being a member of a local church is a command of God. So where shall we begin?
God of Covenant Commitment
To begin, I want to start with a big picture understanding that God is a God of relational commitment. That God is not a casual kind of God, his core is covenant commitment. Commitment is in his DNA.
- First let us look at God himself. God, in his essence and being, is relational. God is expressly defined as three in one; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. His being is one of fellowship. And this fellowship is clearly defined. This is a distinct group so unified that they are one. This is a core truth to the glory of God. He is three distinct persons in one perfect relationship. Perfectly unified, perfectly glorified. So to begin, we should understand that God is committed to himself.
- Next let us look at the first two institutions that God created, marriage and family. Genesis 2:18, “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” God made humanity with a craving for fellowship. He made us relational beings at our core. This is one way in which we image him. This craving for fellowship is resolved through commitment. Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” To hold fast is to cleave, to cling, to be tightly secured. This is a physical reality. There is a visible display of being one. A visible display of commitment.
- Next let us look at the institution of the family. God commands husbands and wives within marriage to be fruitful and multiply, to have children. And this God designed institution of the family is one of mutual commitment. Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go.’ Ephesians 6:4, “Father, do no provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Deuteronomy 6:7, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Likewise, children are called to commit themselves to their parents. Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Ephesians 6:1-2, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise),” God has designed the familial institution to be a display of committed fellowship. My kids are my kids, and they are not your kids. I have an obligation to them and they have an obligation to me. So the first two institutions that God created are not casual relationship, but committed relationships. Relationships that have definite lines. Relationships that are visibly distinct and separate. You know who is in and you know who is out.
- Next let us look at Biblical Israel. The nation of Israel was a nation established by God. He began with Abraham, and through Abraham’s descendants multiplied his offspring. Genesis 17:7, “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” God entered into a covenant relationship with a defined people. He was committed to them and they were to be committed to Him. This relationship was a distinct one. In fact, God commanded that all males be circumcised to display outwardly that they were in the covenant community. He also had them do certain things regarding eating and washing and worshiping that was different than the surrounding nations. God wanted them to outwardly display their unique covenant relationship.
- And lastly, let us look at the Church. The word Church in Greek is “ekklesia.” Which means a gathering of people. This is the word that God chose to describe the people that he purchased with his Son’s blood, the blood of the new covenant. The Church, is to be together, separated out of the world, one in mind, one in Spirit. Perhaps the purist picture we see of the Church this side of eternity is found in Acts 2:41-44, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.”
So, what does this tell us about God’s view of commitment? It tells us a great deal. He has revealed to us over and over and over again in the Scriptures that he puts a very high value on relational commitment. God is not a casual God. He is repeatedly calling people into a deep and rich relational commitment. So for those of you who say, God doesn’t care if I commit myself to a local Church, I just don’t agree. I see a God who deeply cares about your level of devotion to the gathering of his people.
Membership is Biblical
Next, since we are talking about membership into a church, let us take a deeper look into the institution of the Church. Perhaps the most frequent argument against membership is that nowhere in the Bible does it explicitly tell us that we are to be members. I disagree. Where do you think we get the name member from?
Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts,[e] yet one body. 21 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.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
The word member is used eight times in the passage. What is it referencing? It is referencing the relational commitment to a local church. And once again, not just any commitment, but a commitment so deep that all the parts form a singular whole.
What a vibrant illustration of what the local Church should be. We are to be so interconnected and intertwined that you cannot see where one person ends and the next begins. We just flow into each other. As I was writing this sermon I was thinking about how seamlessly and unified my body worked. My brain was thinking, my eyes were looking, each finger typing the exact button at exactly the right time, my heart beating, my lungs moving in an out. I would grab for a drink of coffee and my arm would extend and then bend towards my mouth and I would swallow without thought. My body was totally in sync with the task at hand. Not one member of my body sitting on the sidelines, they were all in the game. The human body is beautifully harmonious. Every member of the human body working together for the greater of the whole.
Does this metaphor describe your relationship with the other people in this room? This is to be our goal at Cornerstone Church, to be so committed to each other in the pursuit, knowledge and proclamation of the Glory of God that we are not only seen as one, but we feel that we are one, and this is because we are truly one.
Membership is one way we move ourselves towards this end goal of interdependence. For everyone who becomes a member at Cornerstone Church is saying, “I'm in. I want to depend on you and I want you to depend on me. I want to intertwine my life so much with you people that when you cry, I cry. When you laugh, I laugh. When you are sick, I am sick. When you are well, so am I.” Imagine what this Church would look like if we pursued the call to commit at this significant and Biblical level. Imagine what effect that would have on the those on the outside looking in.
Additional Evidence of a Biblical Call to Commitment
Based on only what I have said so far, some of you may still be saying, I can be a Biblical member without becoming a member at Cornerstone. You are still looking for reasons to reject membership. Well...there is more. Unfortunately, due to time, I will only address four more proofs of Biblical membership. There are more, but time just doesn't allow for us to cover this topic exhaustively in one sermon.
- First, covenant commitment by Christians during the time the New Testament was written was assumed. You can see this in the letters of Paul, Peter, John, James, Jude, and the author of Hebrews. You see an underlying assumption that the Church is a defined group of people, together, committed, one. Grace Community Church, the Church of John MacArthur said this on their website about membership, “The idea of experiencing salvation without belonging to a local church is foreign to the New Testament.” I wish that was true today. An argument could be made that the exact opposite is true today. That being a member of a church is foreign to people. To reinforce this idea, in 1 John 2:19, John tells the local church that leaving a local church could be evidence of their false conversion. He says this, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” Not being committed to a local Church is possibly evidence that someone is not saved.
- Which leads me to point two. How many of you know that you are saved? My guess is that all of you in this room, right now believe you are going to heaven. In fact, if you spent the day walking the streets of Cascade, Monticello, Anamosa, or Dubuque and asked people if they were going to heaven, my guess is that almost every single one of them would say yes. But we know that is not true. We know that the road is narrow and few find it. So how does one know if their belief is a right belief? One way is Church membership. This is one of the roles of the local Church, to give assurance to the elect that they are in fact elect. When someone applies for membership, the first and foremost requirement is to give a testimony. If one's testimony is of another Gospel, then we will not vouch for them. However, if it is a testimony of the one true Gospel, and we see a life that does in fact match that you are a new creature in Christ then we will affirm that you are in fact a born again believer. Therefore, membership provides assurance to our salvation.
- Third, one of the means of grace within the Church is Church oversight. What do I mean by this? Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” My primary duty as a Pastor is to watch over the souls of Cornerstone. But who is that? Is it the person who comes once a month, twice a month, members? Membership helps define the lines that I will have to give an account for. Likewise, it reinforces your call to submit to the joy-filled over-site of local elders. For most of you, your relationship with me as a non-member is not Shepherd/sheep, but instead it is merely casual acquaintances. Membership moves us closer to establishing a Biblical relationship that lines up with the command of Hebrews 13:17.
- Lastly, how might this over-site look? One way is that it may come in the form of Church discipline. And Church discipline is absolutely impossible without Church membership. It is interesting that the second time the word Church is ever used in the Bible, Jesus is talking about removing people from the Church. Matthew 18 describes the process in which we are to deal with sin when we see it in another Christian's life. First we talk to them about this sin one on one in hopes that they repent. If that doesn't work, we are to ask a few others to confront the individual together. Once again with the hope that they repent. Jesus then says in Matthew 18:17, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” What does Jesus mean when he says, “let him be to you as a gentile and a tax collector? He means reject him. Remove them from the Church. Seems harsh, doesn't it? That is because it is, but harsh does not mean that it is void of love. With each step there is a deep mournful desire that the brother will repent and get right with the Lord. Even in the removal of them from the Church, the end goal is repentance. In order to remove someone from the Church, they must belong to the Church. Becoming a member is saying, I want to be loved that way. I want people to care enough about me to be painfully honest with what they see in my life. To become a member is to want a people to examine my life to make sure I am in line with God's will.