What Does Membership of a Church Involve?
Membership in any organization involves contributing toward the aims and purpose for which that organization exists. So it is with the Lord’s church; membership involvement may basically be divided into two categories: privileges and responsibilities. Both are true of the Lord’s church. Many people want the privileges/benefits of being “in Christ”, yet not assume any responsibility as a child of God. To visualize the problems in a local church, think of how this plays out in the physical realm. Many want the pay from a job, yet do not work as they ought on that job. Such an attitude/effort places undo hardship on others and does not create an environment whereby unity and cooperation can exist. So likewise, a local church suffers when some ‘members’ are simply “work brickle”! The old adage of “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” describes the situation.
What does membership in the local church entail? What does the Bible teach us about church membership? To address this, let us notice a statement made by Jesus. Often in the KJV, the word ‘perfect’ or ‘perfection’ is found. Many, without studying the context, presume that the English definition of “sinless” or a state of “sinless-ness” is what is meant. A simple examination of a few passages will show that such is not the case. A comparison of the English Standard Version to the King James Version will enable us to understand what membership in the local church involves.
Jesus stated in Luke 6:40, “ A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained (KJV – ‘that is perfect’) will be like his teacher...” .
We see from this the meaning of ‘perfect’. “Fully trained” is the concept of ‘perfection’ and is what membership entails: “fully trained” – this is the goal to which all are to attain as children of God.
Christians are to continually examine their own lives in regard to one particular thing: “Am I in the ‘faith’?” “Is Jesus Christ IN me?” Notice 2 Cor. 13:5:
KJV – Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?
ESV – Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
Christians were told in Heb. 6:1- “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto PERFECTION…” What does ‘perfection’ here mean? Notice the ESV rendering: “let us go on to maturity”. How may we know this is an accurate comparison? Look at the language of the previous chapter as it tells us that this is the idea.
Heb. 5:12-14 – “ or though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
In order for this to be accomplished, the Lord has given structure to the local church: Eph. 4:11-16 – “ And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children,tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
When this situation exists, you have a ‘perfect’ local congregation; a church that is the kind that Jesus purposed to build (Matt. 16:18).