Let’s Stop Dating the Church Membership 101-1
I thank God for the privilege of being a part of this church. If you know much about churches in general, you know how blessed we all are to have this good church family.
I want to talk about dating a minute… this will be my story… think of your own…
(RICHARD’S DATING STORY).
These days, some Christians approach church attendance like it’s dating. We church hop, go here, then there, or don’t date any church some Sundays, depen-ding on how we feel. Lots of times we substitute other activities. After all, we’re Christians… “global church, God’s kingdom universal, ya’ know… all that matters, right? Why commit to one church? What’s the point of that… so you can choose elders and deacons and be on committees? Not worth it…” So we date this church and that church without committing to any.
People date churches for many reasons. We live in an individual-focused cul-ture… we’re self-sufficient people. Commitment, submission and accountability in a church seem foreign to how we live… scares folks. Some people are skeptical of the church… they’ve experienced hurt from a church in the past, been burned, so are very slow to trust again. It’s hard to trust any institution these days since all around us, institutions, including churches, are mired in scandal, corruption, abuse; so commitment even to a church seems scary to followers of Christ. So folks feel pretty safe keeping a distance.
We date the church because we have consumer mentality… looking for the best possible product at the best possible price… “like the music here, preaching there; like preaching here, kid’s programs there, everything here, except no parking.” We’re wired to always be after the better deal. So we get a critical attitude and can always find something wrong with any church. We’re afraid that if we start to settle in at one, we’ll find all kinds of things we don’t like.
Sometimes we date the church because we’re new to faith and are just learning what a good church is. That may just take time to learn what God expects. But I also hear supposedly mature Christians with years in faith say they’ve grown beyond churches and are fine just being a Christian without a church: “I can grow in Christ and accomplish more for Him on my own.” They even say, “I love Christ; I just can’t stand the church.” Please don’t say that… the Bible calls the church the “bride of Christ.” Fellows, imagine me telling you, “I love you dearly, brother, I just can’t stand your wife.” Wouldn’t fly! She’s your bride. The church is Jesus’ “bride.” The church Jesus’ “body.” Try telling your wife that you love her more than the whole world… you just can’t stand her body!
Sometimes we date the church because our view of it is wrong. Some people view the church as a place to go to hear a sermon – like buying a hamburger at Sonic – with nothing more expected. Why would anyone commit to Sonic?
Some date the church because there’s so much pressure to do other things on off days… work, kids’ activities. Our lives are full and we try, but it seems the church can just so easily get way in the back of the line.
Some date the church because of ignorance (just not knowing better). Really, some of us have never thought of the importance of committing ourselves to a church. Churches have played a part in this. We’ve not held church membership to be a very high priority in our day. This wasn’t true in past days. So people reasonably ask, “What does membership really add to my life?” If it’s just giving our time and money away, people aren’t so interested. Churches today try to make following Jesus as easy as possible… and make few demands. Some church growth experts have said, “The last thing we should be talking about today is church membership… unless we’re hoping to decrease ours.”
I want to show that all this thinking is out of step with God’s thinking… that in spiritual reality committing yourself to meaningful membership in a church is critical to life as a follower of Christ… that it should be one of the highest pri-orities in our lives… because when addressed first, it shapes all other priorities. I’ll present a picture of the church that I hope will change your thinking about work, sports, and hobbies… and help you see that, amidst busy lives and deman-ding families, church membership is designed by God to be a wellspring of blessings.
Maybe you’re new to church, maybe first time here. Maybe you’re a member who hasn’t been here in a long time. Maybe you’re not even a disciple of Jesus. But hang with me as I address this subject. I hope is you’ll see a picture of a community that you want in your life. Biblically, Jesus followers are not church-daters or hoppers or shoppers, but members of Jesus’ body.
Turn to 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (picture used 4x). Listen for and count the times you see or hear the words “member,” “part,” or “body.” (Read text) I count 36x in 16 verses where the HS refers to Christians as “members” or “parts” of “Jesus’ body.” God sees Christians as single parts of a greater “body,” and every single part has its part to play in the life activities of its body.
It’s here that some Christians will say, “Yes, I’m a part of the ‘body of Christ,’ God’s people worldwide, and every believer’s a part of that and that’s what’s really important.” But does the Bible teach that? I think not. Let me show you three reasons from the NT why followers of Christ are not simply members of an at-large church… why followers of Christ should be members of a local church.
God expects followers of Christ to belong to a local church. The main NT word for “church” is ekklesia = “called out gathering.” It’s true that at times the Bible refers to “church” as all believers everywhere. But usually the word appears in the NT as meaning a specific group of local Christians. Of 114x used, at least 90x refer to a local group of believers who’ve found each other and banded together because of the things they have in common: love for Christ, cleansing by His grace, and same mission orders from Him to tell His good news to the world.
In 1 Corinthians 1:1-22… Paul wrote, “Paul… and Sosthenes… To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (reference to both kinds of “churches”). There’s the same thing in Romans 16:3-5: “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.”
The most common picture is of local groups of believers. They’re not called “parts of churches” (e.g., “the part of the church that meets…”). The primary picture is local bodies of Christ to which individual Christians belong. Remember Jesus’ wrote letters to seven churches in Revelation? Everyone was a local group.
So our mind should naturally ask: “Which group of believers am I a part of?” If Paul were to write a letter to us, how would he address us? Likely, “The church that meets at Bono.” Yes, the group of Christians who live in and around the little community of Bono who identify with and belong to a local group of believers who call themselves Bono CoC. The question is… Are you a part of or a member of this body? Or are you a part of and member of another body of believers?
Some might say, “I belong to three or four churches… identify with a different one each week… what’s wrong with that?” That leads to the next point…
The Bible expects Christians to be served by and submissive to a local group of leaders called “elders” (“bishops, overseers, shepherds”).
Hebrews 13:17 shows we should be part of one local church. Note, this is a command from God to Christians: “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” That’s challenging to preach on… seems self-serving (I am both preacher and elder). Seems to make it easy for leaders to “lord” over people. But not the last half of the verse… “…for they are keeping watch over your souls as they who have to give account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be no advantage to you.” Catch it? In the place I hold here, I, along with six other men, “watch for your souls.” And we six will stand before God to give account for the people He’s gave us here. So… exactly who will we give account to God for? Not all believers in the universal church, no, just the ones who identify here.
In Acts 20:28… Paul charged the elders of the Ephesus church to “guard the flock that has been entrusted to you.” Elders have their flock of God’s sheep, a par-ticular flock. So elders need to know just who their flock is; members need to know who their church leaders are because you’re not commanded to obey and submit to every church leader everywhere, just the leaders where you belong. So Christians need to identify and join themselves to a church that has leaders they trust to teach them God’s Word and they are willing to follow.
Have you ever seen men be uncomfortable about taking on being elders? Every-one who’s truly qualified will have pondered the fact that they will stand before God and account for people under their care. Christians are to obey and follow them. It’s serious, humbling stuff for church leaders and members alike. It’s God’s Word. For it to work, people need to identify with a local church.
It gets even more humbling. The Bible expects followers of Christ to yearn for and yield to local church accountability. Uh-oh, against our grain… our day and age would say. “No way, over the top, going way too far.” But true. Let’s look at something that happened on day in Corinth 1 Corinthians 5:1-2: “It is actually reported…” What’s happened? The Corinth church was allowing open sin among them and were proud of their open-mindedness and tolerance.” But Paul said, “Remove him!” (1 Corinthians 5:1-12). Look at v 12: “What have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church that you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you.”
See it? This action is only possible with the relationship of membership in a local church. There are “inside” people and “outside” people… “members” and “not members.” Members – those “inside” the church – can get into and go on in willful, unrepentant sinful behavior. It will be the responsibility of all those “inside” the church to deal with them and remove them if need be.
Jesus said the same in Matthew 18:15-17… “If your brother sins against you, go… then take others… then tell it to the church… then treat him as an infidel.” Tell it to the church universal? No, tell the local church. Christians are parts of a local church which they could be removed from if they continue in unrepentant sin.
Should we “yearn for and yield to” accountability from a church? Yes? Think with me. If you somehow lose your bearings and veer off into sin and are blinded to the spiritual danger, don’t you want somebody who loves you telling you about it so that you can change course and not destroy yourself (marriage, family, smear Jesus)? Of course, we hope brothers and sisters who love us who will warn us! I want people who love me that much. We’re all vulnerable… If David could fall, so can we all… “let the one who thinks he stands take heed unless he falls…” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Membership means something. It’s not just a name on the church roll or a picture in a church directory. God’s won’t check a church directory on judgment day for your picture and name to decide whether or not you’ll be admitted to heaven… He’ll want to know did you belong, and follow, and were accountable, and cared for, loved, and served brothers and sisters in the church, and those outside it. And we’re together accountable for choosing godly leaders, and for insuring that the gospel is being preached in our community and the world.
This shocks us… this Bible teaching flies straight in the face of American individ-ualism and even the way we do things in most churches. But I’m asking every person here to ask the question, “Where am I committed to be a member of a local church?” Not, where is my name on a roll? Not where do I attend when I go or where my parents were members or even where I was baptized. No, where am I committed to give and serve and support? Where am I a part of a group of believers mutually together submitting to God’s Word, to godly church leaders, and to one another, caring for and helping others grow in their faith?
Avoiding one implication is impossible… namely, people who never come (with some exceptions) and never participate are not members here. Trying to be gentle and patient, we may keep them on our roll (when keeping them may not be the loving thing to do). But whatever we do, it won’t at all dictate their standing with God. Biblical membership is a meaningful commitment to following Christ together in a local church. And a church is made up of people who are committed to one another in this way.
Here we worship God together, share good news and teaching together, tell each other about Jesus’ impact on our lives – bask in a common blessing of being living in God grace. We pray together and give together – we pool resources so we can show God’s glory in the world. We hurt together and rejoice together. We share life together because we’re a “faith family.” God desires for every Christ follower to experience that kind of “church.”
If that can be here at Bono CoC, great! We’d love to have you be a part of this faith family. Or if God is leading you to be a part of another Bible believing, God honoring faith family, go with God. Wherever, commit somewhere so the blessings of being in a church and functioning by God’s pattern can be fully yours. The point is don’t date the church.
What happens when we leave church dating behind. We experience God’s love in our life like never before. 1 Corinthians “love” is experienced only with other members of the body. Without other members around you, you’re like a hand without a foot, or an eye without an ear. Even as I say that, I remember that some of you have experienced hurt from a church. “Church” and “God’s love” don’t go together for you. You think wounds. If that’s true, I affirm to you that is not God’s desire. We’re not a perfect church. Have at trying to find a perfect church, but be aware that if you become a part of it, it won’t be perfect anymore. Churches are bunches of messed-up people (I’m looking at all of you). But that’s the point. It’s not that we get together and everything’s always perfect. Jesus didn’t love us because we were perfect; He loved despite our many imperfect-tions. It makes perfect sense for imperfect people saved by incredible love from God to show that kind of love to each other.
But here’s the question, right… How can we display the glory of the One who sacrificed His life for the church if we sacrifice nothing for the church? How will we display the beauty of the “bride of Christ” if all we do is date the church while always looking for something better to replace her?
Two, when you commit to a church, others experience God’s love through your life. Church reminds us constantly that our Christianity isn’t just about us. We were designed by God to love and bless others as we get love and blessing from them. Every soul here is necessary to that kind of community… parts that make up the “body of Christ”. The church without you is handless (footless, armless). God has given every follower of Christ “gifts for the building up of the church.” There are hurting people in every church who need us committed to them, not dating, not coming, sitting beside them, and rushing out leaving them about where they were when they came.
Three, when we’re committed to a church, non-Christians see God’s love for them. Jesus to His disciples: “all men will know (they were His disciples) if they loved one another” (John 13:35). When people see sacrificial love for one another – the kind of love describes in 1 Corinthians 13 – the world will be drawn to Jesus.
Again, lots of times that’s not what the world sees in the church… we want to work to make that change! We want to love one another so well that outsiders will look at Bono CoC and see the undeniable power of God’s love.
When we commit to a church God gets the glory He deserves. This is completely against the grain of the way we’re wired in our individualistic culture (even in the church). God’s glory is displayed most clearly not through our individual commit-ment to Christ but through a community’s commitment to Christ. All through the OT God is drawing individual people to Himself but the bigger picture – what He wants most – is that He is drawing a people to Himself. In the NT, that people is called “the church.” Jesus died for the church! Our purpose in the world is so much larger than our individual life. We were made for a community that is united together in Christ to show His love to the world.
We’re in a community like and unlike us… different backgrounds, skills, likes and dislikes… who come together in Christ to display His greatness to a watching world… the community God has formed – that God is forming here.It’s unique and unlike anything else in the world.And all who are a part of it are blessed.