One of the tragedies of the church today is that the concept of church membership has been lost. In this article I do not intend to defend the biblical position of formal church membership for it is obvious; my purpose is to show you the practical need for church membership.
What is your membership responsibility in your local church? In one word, members are to LOVE. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and your neighbour as yourself. The Lord said:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40, see also Deuteronomy 6:5, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27).
1. LOVE GOD
To love the Lord God is both the duty and delight of every believer. God has shown so much love to Christians that they cannot do anything but love Him. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). Jesus has shown His redeeming love. Therefore, ‘redeeming love should be the theme of our song’ until we die. You cannot afford to fail to love God because the Bible pronounces a curse on anyone who fails in this. “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed!” (1 Corinthians 16:22). So what is expected in loving the Lord our God?
(1) Hate sin. God is holy (Joshua 24:19); there is none holy like the Lord (1 Samuel 2:2); Our Holy God shows Himself holy in righteousness (Isaiah 5:16). Habakkuk nails it when he says, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he? (Habakkuk 1:13). For this reason, we who are called by His name must be holy (1 Peter 1:16), and hate sin by killing it (Roman 8:13).
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you; sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming … But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off, the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (Colossians 3:5,6,8-10).
(2) Hate the world. Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (1 John 2:15). We have no abiding city in the world, and so we must live as pilgrims do. That is, we must not be too attached to this world or the things of this world. After all, they are transient. Be dead to the world. Your heart must not be stained by any worldliness. But why should we take this serious step in our relation to the world? You should realize that our hearts are too narrow to contain both loves. The human heart is more likely to be worldly than to be godly. The way to demonstrate your love for the Lord is by giving yourself to spiritual things. Unless your heart loves the Word of God and spends time listening to it, reading it, studying, memorizing, meditating and applying it, you are still in love with the world. Pray every day. Spend time with believers in Christian fellowship.
(1) Love Christ. God loved us so much that He gave His only Son (John 3:16). The Lord Jesus Christ loved us so much that He gave His life as the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2). He is our Advocate with the Father. He died our death. He took our curse and gave us His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). How can we fail to love Him? It is expected that we love Christ and live to serve Him. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible (Ephesians 6:24). You love Christ by knowing and doing His Word. This is how Christians become Christ-like. You love Christ by loving His church for which He gave His life. True believers are part of a local church themselves, and this is how they demonstrate that they are part of body of Christ. Christians are commanded not to neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as we see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:25). Christians gather on Sunday, the Lord’s Day for worship and fellowship. In this way the fourth Commandment is fulfilled.
2. LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR
a. Love fellow Christians
(1) Love for their Pastors. Christ has appointed that His church be orderly. There are men whom He has provided for the leadership of the church. These men shepherd the flock of God which the Holy Spirit appointed them overseers to care for the church of God which He bought with His own blood (Acts 20:28). How are you to show that you love those that Christ has given to lead in the local church where you are a member?
· Submit to them (Hebrews 13:17). The church has a responsibility to listen and obey the pastors. Listen attentively to what they teach and seek to practice it. The authority of the pastors is in the Word of God that they teach. When you seek their counsel (you should avail yourself this privilege), you should do as they recommend. The Bible teaches this truth in various passages:
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labour among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. (1Thessalonians 5:12-13)
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7)
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. (Hebrews 13:17).
· Pray for them (Colossians 4:3, 1 Thessalonians 5:25, 2 Thessalonians 3:1, Hebrews 13:18). You should pray for your pastor to be a godly, faithful preacher and shepherd of the flock. Pray that he may not be slothful in zeal but be fervent in spirit serving the Lord. Pray that he would grow in discernment so that he may not lead the church into error. Pray that the Lord may open doors of ministry for the Word to go forth through them. Pray that they will not be discouraged.
· Financial support (1 Corinthians 9:2-14, 1 Timothy 5:17). While every pastor may not necessarily be financially supported, yet the church should always desire to meet the general principle that the labourer is worthy his wages. Pastors are usually poorly remunerated, not because people don’t have means but because they do not highly value the work that they do. Yet it is the pastor who will bring them the gospel, by which they are saved (salvation is the greatest and highest blessing ever!). It is the pastor who will counsel them in godliness, and usually this counsel is invaluable. It is the pastor who visits when they are sick, when they marry, when they have a baby. It is the pastor to baptize them. And the pastor is there even to bury them when they die!
(2) Love for their brethren.
· We are to love with a fervent love those upon whom the heavenly Father has cast His electing love. Love with a sincere heart those that Christ has redeemed by His blood. May you show brotherly affection to all those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. What does this love look like?
· We are our brother’s keeper: It is our duty to watch their backs so that the enemy, the devil does not attack them. Satan is compared to a roaring lion prowling around looking for someone to devour. We should be on the lookout to help them differentiate wolves in sheepskin from their fellow sheep.
· The ‘one-anothering’ ministry. The Bible has a lot to say on how we are to relate with each other. Some of the phrases show that ours is a very close relationship. There are many passages that have this kind of exhortation. Jesus said, “Be at peace with one another” (Matthew 9:50) and “Love one another” (John 13:34, 35; 15:12,17). Paul wrote, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour” (Romans 12:10). We are to live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16, 15:5); to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us, for the glory of God (Romans 15:17). We are to instruct one another (Romans 15:14), greet one another with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12); and wait for one another (1 Corinthians 11:33). Members are commanded to have the same care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25). Brothers are to comfort one another, and to agree with one another (2 Corinthians13:11).
· We are encouraged through love to serve one another (Galatians 5:13) and to bear with one another’s burden and so fulfil the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2; c.f. Ephesians 4:2). At all times we are warned against and discouraged from biting and devouring one another or consuming one another (Galatians 5:15). We are to desist from provoking or envying one another (Galatians 5:26). Neither are we to bear false witness nor are we to lie to one another (Colossians 3:9). Instead, we are to be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).
· Moreover, we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21). We are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom (Colossians 3:16). We are urged to abound in love for one another and for all (2 Thessalonians 3:12). Besides, we are to encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18; 5:11; Hebrews 10:25) and do good to one another and to everyone (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
· We are to exhort one another every day (Hebrews 3:13) and to consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). It is also the will of God for us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another (James 5:16).
· We are to show hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9). Let us also remember to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5) and to have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7).
b. Love unbelievers
(1) Set an example of godliness. Christ expects us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The way we show that we belong to Christ is by living in this world as He did. Our conduct must show that we do not belong to this wicked world of sin, but that we are citizens of the kingdom of God where righteousness dwells. A godly example for a Christian is the best platform for preaching the gospel. Unless one has the moral authority established on the principle of being above reproach, honest, godly, peaceable, loving, respectful and a man of integrity, the possibility of your faith being taken seriously is very low. How you live can either endear sinners to the cross of Calvary or repulse them. While we should endeavour to be as perfect as our heavenly Father is, yet we should realize that we do have flaws. The difference between us and the world is that we are willing to accept responsibility for our failures, confess our sins and even bear the brunt of our shortcomings while the unbelievers will try to hide.
(2) Preach the gospel. While our conduct is vital in representing Christ as His ambassadors, unbelievers are unable to see them. This is why we should bring the gospel in words and in a way that they can understand. As witnesses of Christ we should be prepared to give an account for the hope we have. We must not get tired of telling the world of Christ and of His saving grace. We should constantly urge them to believe in Christ and repent of their sins.