He was 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 about Jesus should be passionate about 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’s 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 said he will build his church (Matthew 16:18).
- Jesus said 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. Jesus 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. Local bodies, in particular places, with people and problems. It is striking that much of the New Testament was written to particular churches facing a myriad of problems.
Has there ever been a church with as many problems as Corinth was facing? Nevertheless, Paul writes, “To the Church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2). He writes to the believers at Corinth, “as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7-8).
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). It is those bodies which 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 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 ( 12:10).
- Live in harmony with one another ( 12:16).
- Accept one another ( 15:7).
- Instruct one another ( 15:14).
- Comfort one another (2 Cor. 13:11).
- Serve one another (Gal 5:13).
- Forgive one another ( 3:13).
- Encourage one another (1 Thess. 4:18, 5:11).
- Pray for one another (James 5:16).
- Show hospitality to one another (1 Pet. 4:9)/
- Greet one another (1 Pet. 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. Just as a football team who only had players from 150 to 175 pounds or exclusively had players between 300 to 350 pounds would be ineffective because it would lack diversity needed for the sake of its mission. The local churches 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 Cor. 12:7). The local church makes the most provocative political, cultural statement of all, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3). The church’s mission, no matter its locale, is to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 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. Charles Haddon Spurgeon said,
Now, I know there are some who say, “Well, I hope I have given myself to the Lord, but I do not intend to give myself to any church, because——” Now, why not? “Because I can be a Christian without it.” Now, are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient? Well, suppose everybody else did the same, suppose all Christians in the world said, “I shall not join the Church.” Why there would be no visible Church, there would be no ordinances. That would be a very bad thing, and yet, one doing it—what is right for one is right for all—why should not all of us do it? Then you believe that if you were to do an act which has a tendency to destroy the visible Church of God, you would be as good a Christian as if you did your best to build up that Church? I do not believe it, sir! nor do you either. You have not any such a belief; it is only a trumpery excuse for something else. There is a brick—a very good one. What is the brick made for? To help to build a house with. It is of no use for that brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house. It is a good-for-nothing brick; until it is built into the wall, it is no good. So you rolling-stone Christians, I do not believe that you are answering your purpose; you are living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live, and you are much to blame for the injury you do (Joining the Church. In The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons vol. 60, London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1914: 295-296).
Do you love the church? Not the idea of the church. Not some abstract thought about the church. But rather, the local church, the one with people and problems but in the midst of it all there’s public witness to Jesus as 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 first appeared at David’s website and is posted here with his permission.
David E. Prince is the Pastor of Preaching and Vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church (Lexington, KY) and a professor of Christian preaching at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY). He holds degrees from Huntingdon College (B.A.), Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Ph.D.). He played baseball in high school and college and coached high school baseball and football after college. Additionally, he and his wife, Judi, have eight children that they have worked diligently to disciple toward faith and maturity in Jesus Christ through the context of athletic competition.