Become a Member
So, you are thinking about becoming a church member…
How wonderful! It is certainly a very important decision—one of the most important you will ever make in your life. At first, it may seem to be a very simple choice—as they say, a “no brainer”—for there is no organization more important and no cause more noble than the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Neither the Lion’s Club, Girl Scouts, Toastmasters, nor the local chapter of a particular worker’s Union can claim the Creator of heaven and earth as its Head. The church can. Furthermore, no earthly organization is guaranteed a perpetual existence. Every company that comes along will be replaced eventually by a newer and more relevant model. Not the church—it will last forever.
Indeed, it seems like an easy decision. But, then again, I’m sure you have a number of questions whirling in your mind: How do I know if I’m ready to join the church? What do I need to know before I join? How do I go about joining the church? What will it matter if I don’t?
Well, I want to help you to answer some of these questions.
Perhaps we should begin by asking the very basic and fundamental question…
A reaction against institutional forms is one of the unhappy emphases of our day. Some would argue that baptism is “into Christ,” as Romans 6:3 says, not “into the church”. But it is doubtful that Romans 6 is talking about “water baptism” at all; the subject of Romans 6 is the legal doctrine of spiritual union with Christ. It may surprise some people to know that the Bible does indeed talk about “joining the church”.
Twice in the book of Acts, reference is made to a person “joining himself” to the church. The original word translated “join” means “to cement together, to unite” and refers to a formal relationship such as the joining of a man and a woman in a marriage covenant.
Furthermore, there are statements in the New Testament that make sense only in the context of an official membership—“tell it to the church,” “when you are gathered together,” “if the whole church be come together into one place,” etc. All of these references suggest that the early church was a local assembly with a definable membership.
In Acts 2:47, conversion is defined in terms of “the Lord adding to the church such as should be saved.” Obviously, the Bible assumes that church membership is the will of God for every true believer. That leads to the next question…
How do you know if you are ready to join the church? If the Lord has done a work of grace in your heart, then you are not only qualified for membership, but called—simply by virtue of His gift of salvation—to unite yourself to His people. The call to separate oneself from the world and to identify oneself with the stigma of the cross is God’s will for every one of His children.
The church is for believers. Are you a believer in Jesus Christ? Well, ask yourself these questions: Have I been brought to see myself as a sinner who needs a Savior? Have I found comfort in the gospel of Christ and dared to believe that the work of Jesus on the cross was for me? Have I ceased to trust in my own personal worth or merit as the basis of my acceptance with God, convinced that Christ alone is my righteousness? Have I turned from the ambivalence and unbelief that presumes to sit in judgment on the Bible and said with the hymnwriter, “I can, I will, I do believe”? If you can answer “yes,” then you ought to unite with others who understand your experience.
At the conclusion of each worship service during the Invitation to Christian Discipleship and Membership, a song is sung and opportunity is given to publicly confess faith in the Lord Jesus. This public profession is a wonderful opportunity to testify to the great things the Lord has done for you and to “name the name of Christ” before others who have also given testimony to their Lord. Though it takes courage to publicly confess Christ, such a first step will help to prepare you for many future occasions in which your Christianity will require a courageous and steadfast faith in God.
What difference will membership in the church make in my life? What can I expect?
Have you ever noticed that much of the New Testament’s instruction for Christian living is framed in the context of local church life? For example, it is in the epistle to the church at Ephesus that we are exhorted to walk in holiness, love, light, and wisdom. It is in the fourth and fifth chapters of that letter—as well as the letter to the Colossians—that the apostle Paul gives practical directions for living Christianly in the areas of personal attitudes and behavior, relationships in the home and at work. It is in the letter to the church at Philippi that he teaches how to overcome worry and to live joyfully and contentedly, regardless of one’s circumstances.
What is the significance of this fact? By framing his practical teaching in the context of letters to specific churches, Paul implies that it is only in the fellowship of the local church that anyone can possibly live an authentic Christian life.
What difference, then, will participation in the life of the church make in your life? First and foremost, it will enable you to fulfill God’s call to holiness by creating a setting in which it is possible for you to grow in Christ and to receive the spiritual nourishment you need to bear burdens and resist temptation. If it were possible for a person to get these benefits on his own, Christ would have never established the church.
Membership in the church also fosters a sense of belonging and identity. When he came to years, Moses chose to identify himself with God’s people. He knew that he was a Hebrew, not an Egyptian. He esteemed the reproaches of Christ greater riches than all the treasures in Egypt; therefore, he joined himself in covenant with the people of God.
It is my experience that such a sense of identity will prove to be a great safeguard against sin. More than once in my life, I have been spared from falling into temptation by the simple reminder, “I am a church member and should not participate in this activity.” Membership in the church brings a person face to face with the sins of slothfulness, selfishness, and covetousness in his life. The awareness that I have made a commitment to the Lord and other believers establishes a structure that makes it easier for me to be zealous and energetic. It drives me outside of myself and forces me to think beyond the little circle of my personal life. It gives me a sense of responsibility, direction, and significance in life.
Membership in the church implies activity and commitment. If human organizations that allow a person to retain membership on his own terms are rare, then it should not be a surprise that the “Householder” of the church determines that those who refuse to wear His prescribed garments may not remain at the wedding banquet. A person may not “name the name of Christ” and refuse to depart from iniquity.
Does that mean that sinners are unwelcome? Of course not. The church is not a museum where perfect people are showcased. None of us deserves to be here—all are unworthy sinners, unfit to be so signally blessed. Further, none of us has attained perfect conformity to Christ-likeness yet. But the church is a place for penitent sinners—for those who “keep on confessing” their sins in ongoing repentance, and are disciplined and purified more and more by the word so that there is real growth in grace and progress in holiness. A humble and teachable spirit—a heart that is sensitive and submissive to God’s word—is the first and most basic character trait of those in the kingdom of God. The presence of such an attitude is the raw material from which the Holy Spirit manufactures “vessels meet for the Master’s use”. The absence of a pliable heart will always reveal itself in a spirit that resists accountability and refuses to repent.
In a word, neither you nor I will ever find a perfect church this side of the grace of glorification. The church will always be a people in process of becoming, not a people who boast “we have arrived.” But this fact should never be used as an excuse for shallow commitment. The challenge facing us is to make our church a true and authentic New Testament church—as Biblically pure and distinct from this fallen world system as she can possibly be. Be separate—be holy—be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind—that is the basic call of the gospel of Christ.
When one remembers that the motivation for godliness is gratitude for grace, then duty becomes a privilege. Church members should do all that they do “as unto the Lord”. To be committed to the Lord Jesus Christ implies being committed to His church. In a very real sense, we serve Him by serving others. That being said, what, then, does commitment to the church involve?
Commitment to Bethel
1. Consistent Attendance at Public Worship
2. The Practice of Personal Devotion
3. Participation in Ministry to Others
4. Protect the Unity (Love Radically)
5. Sacrificial Giving (Time, Talents, Treasure)
6. Personal Evangelism
7. Fellowship Purposely