Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Importance of Church Membership

Let me follow up the last quote from Ryken’s The Communion of Saints with another. In this section the author is arguing for the importance of belonging to a specific local church. This is a point often missed by people today. This quote does not say everything on the issue, but it does speak to the issue very well.

“The same might be said of regular attenders who never join the church. They lack an unbreakable commitment to the church and its ministry. Nonmembers, however active they may be in the life of the church, are outside the covenant relationship with the body of Christ that God requires. They reserve the right to pick and choose their doctrine, lifestyle, and ministry. In effect they become their own elders denying the authority of the church to carry out its mandate of gathering and perfecting the saints. To put this in theological terms, they separate union with Christ, the head of the church, from union with his body. As a result, they confuse themselves and others - outside as well as inside the church - about what it means to be a Christian. This is a costly mistake to make because membership has its privileges. Martyn Lloyd-Jones went so far as to describe church membership as ‘the biggest honour which can come a man’s way in this world.’ There is no union with Christ apart from the communion of the saints. Nor can the saints have true communion without belonging to one another by belonging to Christ in his church. The communion of the saints is for members only.” (p. 55)


slmayes said...

Dr. Van Neste,

Thanks for introducing me to this book. I plan to get it. I will try to lead our church very soon into a ministry to reach out to and restore our inactive members. I plan to preach a series of messages on church membership and I believe this book will be invaluable in that regard.

I have friends in your area, Tom and Tammy Fox, at FBC Bells. I believe their children were in some of your classes (Tabitha and John). They are dear friends.

Thanks again.

Ray Van Neste said...

I'm glad this will be helpful. You might also look into Mark Dever's Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and The Deliberate Church (as well as the site May God bless your efforts.
It's nice to know the connection as well. Yes, Tabitha and John have both been in my class and John called me once to preach for him. I was unable to go but I hope to be able to some time.

Gordon Cloud said...

This is great stuff. I have a number of families in this category attending the church I pastor. They are regular in attendance, but will not join. I think they often display more of a consumer mentality than a church members heart.

Churches should be very careful not to fall into a "customer service" mode in an effort to please this group.

Matt Crawford said...

I hate to be antagonistic. I think that Ryken is right on with his quote. However, I can't help but note that his language seems to argue against paedobaptism, something that, as a Presbyterian, Ryken would affirm. If union with Christ is intrinsically bound up with union with his body (church membership), then those who are not united to Christ should not be united to his body. This seems to imply the necessity of personal faith and and repentance (as a result of regeneration) for inclusion in the body of Christ.

Ray Van Neste said...

There you go again, Matt, being antagonistic! :)
Really, that is a fine question and a great point. I often find this sort of difficulty with the language of our paedobaptist friends. How they would answer, I do not know.

Doug said...

Committing to a local body of believers through membership is paramount.

Paul speaks of the "whole church gathering together" (1 Cor 14:23), not of a select few who feel like getting up on Sunday.

There are too many "independent Christians" who worship and respect biblical responsibilities (tithing, baptism, communion, etc.) at their own convenience.

I agree with Pastor Cloud that many churches have gone into "customer service" mode in response to the immature expectations of the general Christian public.

Let's raise our expectations to the level where it is the cultural norm that believers would pursue membership and the responsibilities that come with it.