By David E. Prince
I saw a man reading his Bible and I struck up a conversation with him. We talked about the gospel and then I asked him, “What church do you belong to?”
He answered, “I attend different churches all over but I’m not a member of any of them. I’m into Jesus—that’s all that matters.”
I find his response fairly common.
I asked him, “Do you think someone who is passionate for Jesus should be passionate for what Jesus is passionate about?” He quickly responded, “Absolutely! That’s all that matters!”
- Jesus purchased the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
- Jesus’ church is the fullness of Him (Ephesians 1:23).
- Jesus called the church His bride (Ephesians 5:23, Revelation 19:7).
- Jesus says to persecute the church is to persecute Him (Acts 9:4).
- Jesus says He will build His church (Matthew 16:18).
- Jesus says the gates of Hades will not prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18).
- Jesus says He loves the church and will sanctify the church (Ephesians 5:25-26).
- Jesus cherishes the church (Ephesians 5:29).
- Jesus is the Head of the church (Colossians 1:18).
- Jesus says the church is His body (Romans 12:4), His flock (1 Peter 5:2-3), and His family (Ephesians 2:19).
Jesus is passionate for His church. He doesn’t simply love the idea of a church and identify with the church in the abstract. Jesus loves, identifies with, and shed His precious blood for actual local expressions of His church.
And we are to love, identify with, and sacrifice for the local church as well.
Church Membership Identifies You with Jesus Publicly
Jesus calls those who follow Him to do so by loving and being an accountable member of a local expression of His church. By church membership, the believer identifies with Jesus publicly.
It is in the local church that the believer participates in baptism and the Lord’s Supper—signs of Christ’s kingdom. Paul writes that the many members form one body of Christ in local churches (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
Local churches constitute the public witness of Christ in the world. A single person can offer a private and individual witness, but only as faithful members of His church can we provide a recognized public and corporate witness.
By the Holy Spirit’s power, a local church represents the active presence of Christ’s kingdom in the world. It is organically interrelated, interdependently connected, and functions in harmony as one body. People are “added” to the body and they “join” the body, which represents “the whole church” (Acts 2:41, Acts 5:13, 1 Corinthians 14:23).
The church provides members accountability in order to love and nurture them and to preserve the witness of the church. Thus, a church must sometimes practice church discipline by removing members from the body (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13).
You must formally know who is a member of a local church to be able to remove someone from the church. A local church is the baptized, Spirit-filled, visible body of Christ.
Church Membership Joins You to the Blood-Bought Community of Jesus
By church membership, the believer joins the blood-bought community of Jesus (Acts 20:26-28). Your physical body is not a casual, random collection of unrelated or loosely related parts.
Other images for the church make the same point. A flock is not a random group of sheep (1 Peter 5:2) and a household has identified members (Ephesians 2:19-20). Likewise, the body has identifiable members and so does the local church (Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:27).
In the body of Christ there are no inferior (1 Corinthians 12:14-20) or superior members (1 Corinthians 12:21-27), because “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them as he chose” (1 Corinthians 12:18).
The cruciform community of Jesus does not reckon the world according to the world’s wisdom based on outer distinctions. By determining to know nothing among anyone “except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” the church is the clearly defined community of Jesus, built on grace alone. Any notion of inferiority or superiority among the members of the church mocks the grace of God. The diverse gospel community is empowered to:
- Love one another (John 13:34, 1 John 4:7, 11).
- Honor one another (Romans 12:10).
- Live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16).
- Accept one another (Romans 15:7).
- Instruct one another (Romans 15:14).
- Comfort one another (2 Corinthians 13:11).
- Serve one another (Galatians 5:13).
- Forgive one another (Colossians 3:13).
- Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18, 5:11).
- Pray for one another (James 5:16).
- Show hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9).
- Greet one another (1 Peter 5:14).
Church Membership Allows You to Participate in the Mission of Jesus
By church membership, the believer participates in the mission of Jesus. The purpose of the diversified unity of local churches is gospel mission. A football team with players only from 150 to 175 pounds, or exclusively from 300 to 350 pounds, would be ineffective because it would lack the diversity needed for its mission.
The local church’s unified diversity is essential to effectively engage in spiritual war for the sake of its gospel mission. The Spirit-given gifts to members of the church are to be used “for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). The local church makes the most provocative political, cultural statement of all, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3). The church’s mission, no matter its locale, is to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:16-20).
Church membership is not some arbitrary, man-made custom. It is a gift from the risen and ascended Christ to His people.
Do you love the church? Not the idea of the church, not some abstract thought about the church, but the local church with its people and problems? In the midst of it all there’s public witness to Jesus, participation in the blood-bought community of Christ’s kingdom, and the focal point of His mission in the world to the end of the age.
This article was adapted from a post that originally appeared on DavidPrince.com.
DAVID E. PRINCE (@davideprince) is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church with Jesus as the Hero.