Maybe you don’t like to call it ‘membership’. Perhaps you’d prefer ‘covenant’ or ‘partnership’ or some other term. I don’t want to get tangled up on that.
The issue is: who are we, as Christians, in specific and intentional partnership with on a local basis?
Kevin DeYoung writes about ‘Why Membership Matters‘.
I thing he points out some very practical benefits of church ‘membership’. (In quotes because, as I just wrote, some folk just balk at the term, not the actions entailed.)
Here are his point headings. Go and read the full post for yourself by following the link above.
1. In joining a church you make visible your commitment to Christ and his people.
2. Making a commitment makes a powerful statement in a low-commitment culture.
3. We can be overly independent.
4. Church membership keeps us accountable.
5. Joining the church will help your pastor and elders be more faithful shepherds.
6. Joining the church gives you an opportunity to make promises.
R. Scott Clark offers a post on Heidelblog relevant to commenters who felt DeYoung’s post lacked biblical proof. I’d never thought of the points that Clark makes in quite this way. Put short, I’ll look at all those genealogies and references to books of life and numbers of those God was saving quite differently in future. It is a helpful, thought-provoking post.
The argument may be made that the New Testament is not explicit. (And Clark proves that that is really stretching things.) Why would the New Testament writers assume that anyone would ever move away from the way God’s people had related throughout Scriptural history?
While we can’t say that contemporary church membership models are identical to the New Testament church, there would be more biblical evidence for an intentional identification than there would be for a ‘everyone who feels like they’re part of the church is part of the church’ type model. Who is really imposing their cultural experiences and personal preferences on the Scriptural data?
My contribution on DeYoung’s blog lacked Clark’s biblical comprehensiveness, but tried to make the point that if affirmation of personal faith, recognition of local authority and commitment to mutual partnership and ministry are biblical (and most seem to recognise they are) how can they really be better expressed publicly than by making promises to that effect before the local church?
Various commenters continue to simple assert that DeYoungs six points above can be better achieved without membership but not making any reference how. To my experience it is sometimes achieved by having a ‘non-member membership’ of a local church in which most of the folk are committed to one another by membership.
Locally at mgpc, our membership promises are probably more basic than some. We affirm personal faith in the saving work of the triune God, recognise local leadership, and affirm our mutual partnership in Christian growth and spreading the Gospel. I like this because it allows Christians to partner with us.
Mutual affirmation of faith, recognition of leadership, commitment to particular partnership, I don’t care what it’s called, but we need it to carry out our Lord Jesus’ commission as effectively as we can.