For several weeks now I have been promoting our upcoming four week church membership class that will begin next Sunday evening at 6:00 p.m. Because of this upcoming class, I have decided to take another break from preaching on the Sermon on the Mount to talk about the Biblical foundation of Church Membership. At this point, I would guess that there are some of you who are inwardly groaning and you are thinking to yourself, why didn’t we skip today, and this is exactly why a sermon on Church Membership is necessary.
As I was pondering this topic, I decided that there are at least three groups of people in our Church when it comes to membership.
The first group of people are the ones who do not like the idea of membership. It rubs you the wrong way. In fact, today you may leave and discuss whether Cornerstone is the place for you. For you prefer the loose connection, autonomy, independence. You would rather be a lifelong attender, but never a member. Perhaps you see membership as old school, that we have moved beyond membership, and to something better in this day and age. Or perhaps you believe that Christ is worth following, but you could take of leave the Church.
The second group of people are those who believe that Church membership should be automatic, that anyone and everyone should be on the roles. Or that if your parents were members, then you are a member. That membership is free for everyone, almost like a rotary. If you pay your dues, you should be welcomed.
The third group of people are the ones who don’t care. If I were to guess, this would include the majority of you. These are people who haven't really thought about Church membership. It is something that you could take or leave it. Church membership is not something you have thought much about. You are not for it or against it. You have a “whatever” mentality. Maybe you will be a member, maybe you won't You will just wait and see how you feel next Sunday night.
If you were to ask me, I would say that over my life I have found myself in all three groups at one time of the other, but I want everyone to know that all three of those groups are wrong. Church membership matters, and it plays a significant role in the New Testament.
With that said, I want to spend a Sunday talking about the Biblical design of Church membership for Christians, and to argue that it is not optional for born again believers. That's right, I said not optional. In my reading of God's Word, I do not see where one can make an argument that Church membership is voluntary. I believe the evidence of the necessity of Church membership is overwhelming, and as I say over and over again, here at Cornerstone we want to be Bible people. We want to submit to all that God says, and we want to do it not because we have to, but because we love God and want to obey Him, for His Glory and for our good.
The text I will use to launch our discussion is Matthew 16:15-19, however, like always, I will be all over the New Testament. Therefore, let us read our text, pray that God would soften our hearts to His will, and see what Christ has to say about this topic.
- Matthew 16:15-19 - “ Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" 14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
- Matthew 16:18 – “I will build my church”
So how is it built? Jesus tells us.
- Matthew 16:17-18 – “And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”
The “this” is Peter’s answer to the question of who do you say Jesus is. This is the main point of the entire passage. Jesus is explaining this new thing called Church and telling them that the Cornerstone of this structure is the understanding of who Jesus is.
So right away, we see that being a Church member is not automatic. It is not something you can sign up for like you sign up for a card club. Being in the Church is determined by God revealing to you who Jesus is. If you deny Jesus is the Son of God, then you are not in the Church. If you do not believe Jesus is the Christ who came to take away the sin of the world, you are in the Church. If you believe Jesus is one of many ways to God, then you are not in the Church. A church member is not determined by walking in these doors, it is determined by Christ himself. Remember, it is he who builds His church. Jesus is not talking about building, he is talking about people.
Having said all this, here is the tricky part. Who has God chosen to reveal His Son to? When God turns the light on in someone’s heart and they place their trust in Christ alone for their salvation and submit to Him as their Lord, there is not a halo that all the sudden, appears above their head. Jesus does not hand out jerseys that say, “The Church” that we can wear around town. How do we know who is in and who is out? The same way Jesus did. You ask.
- Matthew 16:15 – “He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
- Matthew 16:16 - “Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
- Matthew 16:17 - “And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
- Matthew 12:34 – “...out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
The best analogy that I have seen for this is by a guy named Jonathan Leeman in his book Church Membership. He compares the local church to an embassy.
If I am in India and I lose my passport, I have to go to the American Embassy. The embassy is an outpost of America. It is in the midst of foreign soil, but inside the gates is US territory. For me, the purpose of the American Embassy is not to make me a citizen, but to vouch for my citizenship. They testify to the reality that I am a US Citizen.
The local Church acts in the same way. Cornerstone Church does not grant people citizenship in Heaven; this is not the local Church’s role. The local church’s role is to be an outpost for God’s People in the midst of foreign soil. The local Church is to vouched for Heaven’s citizens. When God saves a person, and they are wondering around in the world, the begin to look for fellow citizens. One day they arrive out our front doors and they realize that there is some commonality, so they want to join our Church. The Church then asks them, who do you say Jesus is? If they answer like Peter, then we vouch for them. We declare to the world that this person is one of us, that they speak like us, they think like us; they love like us; they are part of our family. We testify that they are a citizen in Heaven.
The way we achieve this conversation, is through Church membership. For everyone who wants to be a member, you will have to proclaim who you say Jesus is. Just like Jesus, we are not taking it for granted. Peter had to speak it, and you will have to speak it. If this is enough to scare you off, then that may be evidence of your lack of citizenship in Heaven.
Having said this, the local Church's acceptance of your citizenship in Heaven is only one side of the coin. Not only does Church membership give an opportunity for the local Church to proclaim something, but it also give the individual something to proclaim also. Turn with me to Acts 2:42-47. This is the first picture we are given of the early Church.
- Acts 2:42-47 – “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. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Right away what do we see in this text? Devotion. The Greek word for this is proskartereō. In addition to meaning devoted it can also mean adherent, steadfastly attentive, to be constantly ready. The early church was not casual, or nonchalant, about Church life, they were serious. It was important to them in their life. So what were they devoted to?
First of all they were devoted to the apostles' teaching. The people in the early Church committed themselves to be Bible people. By joining the Church they were enrolling in God's University. That meant they were submitting to authority in their life. They were agreeing to be students under a teacher.
When you become a member of a Church you are committing to the same. You are enrolling in the class that meets regularly in this building, taught by Elders of this Church. You are saying teach me, guide me, help me know more about the immeasurable riches of Jesus Christ. This is a hard thing for many people to do, because it requires humility. For you are saying that when I am wrong, you need to correct me, you need to admonish and rebuke.
The word we use in Church lingo is accountability. Unfortunately, in many Churches accountability has gone out the window, with the rest of the Bible. But this is one major aspect of Church, teaching people to think and live in a way that is consistent to who you are in Christ. I think it is interesting that the only other time Jesus talks about the Church, he talks about Church discipline. He does this in Matthew 18. He says that if a person is sinning and they won't repent after one person confronts them, and they won't repent after a small group confronts them, the the matter must go before the Church and if they still won't repent, then the Church is required to kick them out. Once again, when you become a Church member, you are telling a local body of believes to help be Christ-like, even to the extent of Church discipline.
Second, we see them devoted to fellowship. The early Church was together. Verse 46 says they were together every single day. The shared not only a common interest in Christ, but they shared themselves. They literally sold their stuff, so they could give to to others in the Church. This was a group of people who deeply cared for each other. Doesn't it sound awesome? Unfortunately, for many Churches, this is not the picture. Churches are regularly plagued with apathy. People show up late and rush out early. Some people go weeks, and sometimes months without coming to Church. Very few people every socialize with others in your Church, perhaps you will invite you neighbors over, or your co-workers, but someone at Church? No thanks.
- Hebrews 10:24-25 – “ And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. “
Third, we see prayers. How many of you are praying for this Church? Why not? Because you are not committed to a people, you are instead committed to a schedule. Church is about Sunday morning, it is not about the faces you see. When we look around this room you should not see acquaintances, you should see your brothers and sisters. This is your family. Pray for them. This is another thing we see in the life of Christ. He prayed for his flock; early in the morning and late at night. Praying for their protection. We must do the same. Once again, when you commit yourself to a local Church you are saying that I will pray for you. I care for you. I want the best for you. I love you.
Becoming a Church member is so much more than than a title. It is so much more than a certificate. It is so much more than a line on a resume. It is devotion to pursing an awesome God with those you love.
Acts 2 as it relates to membership is just the tip of the iceberg. Becoming a Church member is about using your gifts that were given to you by God to build up and encourage the body of Christ. Being a member is about crying and rejoicing. Being a Church member is about rebuking and admonishing. Being a Church member is about being a family. A Christ-exulting, Bible believing, devoted family. Doesn't that sound good? I hope it does, and I hope all of you see that Church membership is not about committing to an institution, but to a people.