“Pay club dues, attend meetings and events, use your professional skills to make a difference.” Those are the membership expectations for the Rotary Club. To function, members must know their responsibilities and fulfill them as best they can. Without these expectations, the club would be meaningless. It’s important to ensure expectations are clearly defined and communicated to members.
Are there any expectations for believers? Of course! First and foremost, they’re required to repent of their sins, trust in Jesus, and be baptized (Acts 2:38). They’re called to live a life of holiness and purity (1 Pet. 1:16). They’re called to meet together regularly (Heb. 10:23-24) to hear God’s Word preached (2 Tim. 4:2) and to care for one another in their walk with Christ (1 Cor. 12:25). What if someone said they wanted to follow Jesus, but refused to do any of those things? It would be a contradiction, because following Jesus entails obedience to his word (1 John 2:3-6). Christ purchased the church and gives it clear expectations for living. Membership is the answer to the question: “Who is willing to live aligned with these expectations?”
The term “church membership” isn’t in the Bible, but the concept is everywhere. Christians are members of one another because we’re all members of Christ’s body (Rom. 12:15). The Christians in Corinth understood some people were “inside” the church and some were “outside” (1 Cor. 5:12-13). Even the act of excommunication Jesus teaches in Matthew 18:15-18 presupposes membership, because someone can’t be excluded from something they aren’t a member of.
The church has the responsibility to protect the gospel (1 Tim. 3:15) by making sure the people who claim to believe it are legitimate. A church filled with false converts distorts the gospel. That’s why Paul speaks of removing people from the church when they continually and unrepentantly demonstrate unwillingness to obey Jesus (1 Tim. 1:19-20, Titus 3:10). The church is supposed to love, lead, and feed its members, and remove unrepentant imposters who threaten the health of the church. Without membership, there is no knowing who’s who.
Lastly, and perhaps most persuasively, Hebrews 13:17 tells Christians to obey and submit to their leaders because they’re going to give an account for the souls of their flock. Without some sort of membership, it’s impossible for leaders to know who they’re responsible for! Similarly, Christians are expected to obey and submit to specific leaders. Every Christian ought to have clearly designated leaders they can recognize and who recognize them. Membership allows this.
In coming weeks we’ll be talking a lot about why membership matters because the church matters, the gospel matters, and because the mission matters.