The Meaning of Church Membership
Preached at Main Street Church on March 31st 2019, Covenant Affirmation Sunday
(Some material taken from “9 Marks of a Healthy Church” by Mark Dever)
Why should anyone join a church? Two weeks ago my sister and brother-in-law took a trip to Arkansas to canoe the Buffalo River. No one told them, but at this time of year, the shouldn’t have been canoeing on the Buffalo River. At this time of year there are rapids, the river is flowing fast, and it is powerful, and the section of the river they were going to be on was the most dangerous section in the park. But they didn’t know that. There were a ton of reasons why no one should take a canoe on that part of the Buffalo River, but everyone assumed that they must’ve known those reasons.
So no one told them the reason when they gave them the multi-latch high protection life-vests. No one told them the reason when they had to sign the death-waiver in the ranger’s office. And no one told them the reason they shouldn’t when the pushed off into the ten mile stretch of river and noticed that no one else in sight was in a canoe. But there were lots of reasons.
They ended up flipping out of the canoe into the frigid water two separate times, losing their packs and soaking their clothes. They feared for their lives a couple of times when the water sucked them under with its powerful current. They give credit to God’s grace for protecting them during those times, and fortunately they got out alive, but not without some scrapes, bruises, and a traumatic experience. They could give you lots of reasons why you shouldn’t canoe that part of the buffalo river.
I think a lot of Christians go through life without ever having anyone give them a reason for why they should join a church. As we go through your Christian journey people just assume that we know the reasons we should be connected to a local church.
So Today, I want to give you three reasons why you should join a local church.
- For Yourself
- To keep yourself accountable
- To keep yourself assured
- For Others
- To edify believers
- To evangelize non-believers
- For God
- For the sake of his message
- For the sake of his mission
- For Yourself
- To keep yourself accountable
- 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” In joining a church we put ourselves in a position where we ask our brothers and sisters to hold us accountable to what we say we believe. We hold ourselves accountable to see if we are in the faith.
- 1 Peter 5:5 “Submit yourselves to the elders.” In other words, keep yourself accountable to the pastors and elders of a local church. If you’re not part of a local church, who are you keeping yourself accountable to?
- And let me add this: accountability goes two ways. 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.” As a pastor, I really want to know who I’m accountable for, because I’m accountable to God. When you join this church I know that I’m accountable for you.
- To keep yourself assured
- John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Joining a church won’t save you, but it can help give you assurance that you are saved. Are you assured that you are in the faith?
- In Matthew 18 Jesus said what to do if another Christian sins against you. He said first, try to work it out just between the two of you. If that doesn’t work, bring two or three other Christians to try to forgive and restore that person. And finally, if that doesn’t work, he says, “Tell it to the church” (Matt. 18:17). If you’re not part of a church, how can you obey Jesus’ command here? Not to mention all the other commands throughout the New Testament that involve being connected with a local church. If you’re not able to obey Jesus’ commands, how can you be assured that you’re actually one of his followers? How can you be assured that you love him?
Join a local church for yourself: to keep yourself accountable, and to keep yourself assured
Back when Brittany and I first got married we realized we needed something in our marriage desperately: a budget. When you make a budget, you don’t make it for the people you have to pay, you make a budget for yourself. You make it to keep yourself accountable, and to keep yourself assured that you are using your money wisely. Most people who follow a strict—Dave Ramsey style—budget will tell you that sticking to a budget is not confining and restrictive, but it’s liberating. And one of the key reasons to stick to a budget is for yourself—you need it to keep you accountable and assured.
The goal of church membership is not to restrict us from anything, but to keep us accountable to what is best for us and to what we really want, and to assure us that we are headed that way.
Just like you make a budget to keep yourself accountable and assured, Christians should join a local church to keep themselves accountable and assured.
I think a lot of Christians go throughout life sort of aimlessly and feel disconnected, like they don’t have anything giving them direction or grounding their spiritual life, and I think a big part of that is their connection to a local church. For most people, trying to save money or get out of debt without commitment to a budget is nearly impossible, and in the same way, it’s impossible for your relationship with Christ to be what it is meant to be without meaningful connection to a local church.
Not every church has to have the same kind of membership process, membership covenant, or even refer to the people in their congregation as ‘members,’ but in order for your walk with Christ to be everything God intends it to be, there needs to be a local church that you can say, “those are my people,” “that’s my pastor,” and “I’m part of it.”
Join a church for yourself.
- For Others
- To edify others who are believers
- To ‘edify’ simply means to ‘build up.’ We should join a church to edify—or build up—believers.
- 1 Cor. 14:12 says “Strive to excel in building up the church” and that everything we do in our worship gatherings should be for “building up.” Ephesians 4:16 says that when each member of the body of Christ is working together, “it grows and builds itself up in love.” And Paul says in 1 Cor. 5:11 that believers are to “encourage one another and build one another up.”
- Joining a church isn’t just about ourselves, but it’s about others. You have a spiritual gift, and a unique personality to edify other believers in a way that no one else can. The place where that edification and building up is supposed to happen is the church. Join a church to edify others who are believers.
- To evangelize others who are not yet believers
- Jesus said, “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” That means that when you love others, it’s not just about those others, but it’s about other others as well. ‘All people will know you are my disciples if you love one another.’
- When we love others in the church, it shows others outside the church whose disciples we are.
- Lesslie Newbiggin said, “Do things that will get people asking questions, the answer to which is the gospel.”
- When you commit yourself to a church full of imperfect people, and you choose to love those people, and sacrifice your time and resources, you’re doing things that will get people asking questions about the gospel.
- If people who say they are committed to Jesus aren’t committed to his body and his bride, what kind of message does that send to others who are not yet believers?
- Part of the reason to join a church is evangelize others who are not yet believers.
Join a church for others—do it to edify others who are believers, and to evangelize others who aren’t believers yet.
Once when I was a campus minister I was having lunch in the cafeteria when an obviously frustrated college student sat down across the table from me. He had obviously been struggling with whatever had been bothering him, and he finally said, “Where in the Bible does it say you have to go to church?” I started to answer when he cut me off and said, “I’ve attended a bunch of different churches, and I just don’t feel like I’m learning things, they’re all telling me things I already know. It’s just a bunch of fluff, and honestly, I feel like church is just slowing me down.”
I realize that a statement like that, particularly coming from a college student, sounds very sophomoric, but we have to admit that in some ways he had a point. If church were only about me getting what I think I need for my life, then perhaps for you, church would be slowing you down.
I looked at the student and said, “Maybe the people in your church are going at a slower pace than you, but thats exactly why you need to be there. Have you ever thought that maybe God wants to use you to link arms with them and pull them along at a faster pace?
When we join a church it’s not just about us, but it’s about others as well. We should join a church to edify other believers, and to evangelize those who aren’t believers yet. Not only did that student need to commit to a church in order to help edify other Christians, but his example was hurting his evangelism since he wasn’t showing “all people whose disciple he was by his love for other Christians.” In fact, he was kind of doing the opposite.
[Evangelize] There are a ton of ministries that aim to do evangelism in creative and effective ways, and we should praise God for them, but it’s impossible to faithfully reach our neighbors and the world without being connected to a local church. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” If we really desire to reach others who don’t know Christ yet, our hearts will be with the church, because the church is God’s plan to evangelize the world. Join a church to evangelize others who aren’t believers yet.
[Edify] Use your spiritual gift, the things you’re passionate about, the experiences you’ve had to edify the body of Christ. That might mean that if the Spirit impresses something on you to edify the body with during one of our gatherings that you come to the front, run it by me or Doug, and then share that with the church, but you know there are so many more ways to edify the church than by public speaking during our gatherings. Maybe you’re great at praying for people. Maybe you’re an older saint with wisdom that you can impart to someone younger through a discipleship relationship. Maybe you have the gift of encouragement and someone needs that from you today. Maybe you’re good with details and organizing things behind the scenes. So many of those things edify others in profound ways.
Join a church for others—to edify others who are believers, and to evangelize others who aren’t believers yet.
- For God
- For the sake of God’s message
- God’s message is a message of reconciliation, and he communicates that message through his church.
- 2 Corinthians 5 says God has given us “the message of reconciliation” and that we are “ambassadors for Christ,” and that “God makes his appeal” through us. Believers ought to be part of a local church for the sake of God’s message, because it’s impossible to convey the message of reconciliation by yourself.
- The message of reconciliation isn’t just a message we give with our lips, but it’s a message we live with our lives. Ephesians 2 says Jesus has saved us “that he might create in himself one new man…and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross.” When we join a church we are putting God’s message of reconciliation on display for the whole world.
- For the sake of God’s mission
- God’s mission is to the fill the earth with his glory, and just as with his message, God intends to accomplish his mission with the church.
- Ephesians 2 tells us that in Christ we are being “built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” The key word there is the word ‘together.’ God uses us to accomplish his mission together, because his mission can’t be accomplished alone. We should join a church for the sake of God’s mission in the world.
Join a church for the sake of God’s message, and for the sake of God’s mission. Join a church for God.
As I mentioned last week, taking public transportation in a foreign country can be a unique and panic inducing experience. An old friend of mine in Korea used to take taxis all the time, but he would get nervous with how fast they would drive, so he asked a Korean friend to tell him how he could get the message across to his driver to slow down. His friend told him, but the next time he got in a taxi he couldn’t quite remember how to ask the driver to slow down. He thought it was something like the word ‘salsa.’
The driver started going faster than was comfortable for him, so he figured now would be the time to give his driver the message that he got nervous in fast cars, so he tried politely asking the driver to slow down, he said ‘salsa.” The driver looked confused, and kept going. So he said it again. The driver raised his eyebrows and sped up. The driver didn’t know what was going on, but his message wasn’t getting through, so he said it again. The driver started going even faster. At this point the car was in an all out nascar race with the man in the back yelling ‘Salsa!’ ‘Salsa!’
When they finally arrived at the destination the driver yelled at the man to get out and sped off without making him pay. When he got inside my friend told his Korean buddy the story of what had happened. He asked him, “well what were you saying?” I was saying “Salsa.” That means slow down, right? A big grin came across his Korean friend’s face. He had gotten his messages mixed up. He said, “You weren’t telling him to slow down.” “What was I saying then?” He asked.
“Let’s just say you were telling him that you desperately needed to get to a bathroom.”
When we as Christians say we love Jesus, but aren’t committed to his church, we are actually sending the opposite message. In fact, we’re actually working against his mission. God’s message of reconciliation won’t be communicated by people who aren’t reconciled together, and God’s mission to fill the earth with his glory won’t be advanced by people who refuse to fill the church.
What message is your life sending? What mission are you a part of? Have you struggled to commit to a local church because of the difficulty of reconciliation with the people in it? Because of reconciliation with God? Ask God for the strength to reconcile, because he’s the only one who can give it to you.
Maybe you’ve been so focused on your life’s mission that you’ve lost sight of God’s mission. Are things in your life keeping you from leaning into God’s mission through the church? Maybe you need to cut some things out of your life. Maybe you just need to reshuffle your priorities so that God’s mission—‘aka’ his kingdom—comes first.
We should commit to a local church for God—for the sake of his message, and for the sake of his mission.
The trouble with church is it’s made up of imperfect people, shaped by imperfect preaching and imperfect programs that comes from imperfect pastors. But thankfully, Jesus who is perfect in his power, his plan, and his purpose, has provided us with the Holy Spirit, and he still loves us, because we are his bride that he will—one day—perfectly purify.
Ephesians 5 says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” 1 Peter 1 says that the church was “ransomed with blood of Christ.” Jesus loves his church. He loves his bride with all of her warts and wrinkles.
When Jesus restored Peter after being raised from the dead, do you remember what he asked him? Three times he asked Peter, ‘do you love me?’ And each time when Peter said yes, Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.’ Which means that your love for the church is a direct correlation to how much you love Jesus. You’re love for the church is an indicator of your love for Jesus himself, because the church is his Bride.
Whenever you start to feel negatively towards the church, and you start pointing out all of her flaws and imperfections—which are absolutely there—imagine Jesus tapping you on the shoulder. And when you turn to look, and realize who it is, he says, “Hey Buddy, that’s my wife.”
- The church is imperfect, but Christ is perfect
- The church is weak, but Christ is strong
- The church is broken, but Christ makes whole
- The church can wound, but Christ can heal
- The church can be ugly, but Christ makes her beautiful
Ephesians 5 says, “Christ loved the church and hgave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by ithe washing of water jwith the word, 27 so kthat he might present the church to himself in splendor, lwithout spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
Join a church for yourself, join a church for others, and join a church for God. He loves her, and so should we.