Membership Matters
by John Harris
D

o you have any plastic cards attached to your key ring? I remember going to a grocery store several years ago and seeing these wonderful deals . . . but they all came with a catch—I had to have their reward card. It wasn’t a big deal to get one—it just took a little time and some information—but I fought doing it for the longest time. I figured if the store could offer the discount to someone because he or she had the card, then they could offer it for everyone. In fact, I would shop at places that did not have their own card just to avoid the matter.

What was the motivation behind the store wanting me to get a card? Commitment. They wanted me to commit to their store, and they were willing to reward me for doing so. By my being loyal to them, they would give me great deals on products that I needed.

The idea of commitment might sound a little silly because we do not marry a grocery store. It is not as if we are cheating on our local supermarket if we go across town and shop at another store. However, it does bring up a valid point about, of all things, church membership.

What are the benefits of joining a local church? After all, by accepting Christ as Savior, I am a member of the body of Christ, right? And I may even be more faithful in attendance and giving than some who are church members. In some congregations, I might even be allowed to serve in a leadership role without being a member. So, why should I pledge allegiance to the Church of God?

    Membership in the Early Church

Both Jesus and the New Testament writers spoke of the importance of church membership in ways that assumed its importance. They dealt with such issues as fellowship, exhortation, discipline, and government so carefully that it is inferred, if not directly stated, that membership in local congregations was expected. Even upon moving from one city to another, a letter of recommendation (or, in our words, “transfer”) would be sent for the relocated members.

As the newly formed church was finding herself, there seems to be a shift in the process of how one became a member, though the characteristics and importance of membership seen in Acts 2 did not change.

Membership for Jewish Christians did not seem to be a major issue for the early church because Jews already had a religious heritage. For them, it was a matter of accepting Jesus as the Messiah they had so long heard was coming.

Gentiles, on the other hand, were more of a challenge and therefore required more of a process. The beliefs and practices of the Gentiles were in direct opposition to the ways of God and required a lot of adjustment. Over time, the church would require those interested in membership to go through a process of discipleship that would culminate in water baptism. Only then could they be fully accepted into the full life of the church’s fellowship, including participation in the Lord’s Supper, which heretofore they were excluded from.

So we see from the beginning that membership was not only expected but was considered a privilege that came with certain advantages.

1. Members were publicly confirmed as followers of Christ through baptism.
2. Members were surrounded with people of like faith who loved, affirmed, and accepted them.
3. Members continued to grow in Christ through His Spirit and by His Word.
4. Members were able to give back to those who had loved them by serving in various positions, arguably the most important of which was the privilege of helping disciple newer believers.

    Advantages of Membership

In our day, when church membership is often not prioritized, what better time to reestablish its proper role in the life of the church? Membership provides a number of advantages for believers today:

• A place of service
• A place to belong
• A place of commitment
• A place of fellowship
• A place of covering

In the end, I gave up the fight, and now am happy to be a card-carrying member of a local grocery store. Every time I come to the checkout line, I can’t wait to see how much I am saving. It wasn’t what I wanted at first, but it is best for my family.

Maybe you have felt the same way about church membership. Perhaps you have questioned its relevance and importance. Maybe it’s time to take the plunge and become a “card-carrying” member of your local church. The blessings and advantages are worth it.