Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been discussing church membership. In particular we’ve answered two questions. First, we answered, “who is the church?” You can read that post HERE. Last week, we discussed this question: “what is church membership?” That post can be found HERE. While understanding who the church is and what church membership is are important, those two questions really just laid the foundation for where we are going today and next week.
Today, we are asking this question—“Why is church membership Important?”
Because Jesus Said So
Okay, Jesus didn’t actually command, “Join a local church!” However, through his apostles and the New Testament, we get the impression that being a part of a local church is important. In the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t say much about the church; however, what he does say is very important. In Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus discusses confronting sin in the church, and again, he repeats, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (v. 18). At the conclusion of this passage, Jesus says, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:19-20). Theologians debate the meaning of these texts, particularly what it means to bind and loose. Most also misinterpret what Jesus means when he says, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” Regardless of such debates, two things are very important to take away from these two passages where Jesus discusses the church. First, Jesus has and is building his church. The church is Jesus’s idea, not ours. Second, the church is a community of individuals who follow Jesus. The church cannot do what Jesus says it will do without his people comprising that church. So, yes, Jesus never says, “join a local church.” Following his life, death, and resurrection, early Christians would have recognized that Jesus desired them to be together. Simply put, Jesus intended you to be a part of a local church.
We Can’t Do It Alone
The reason Jesus simply assumed that Christians will belong to a church is because he understood that the Christian life cannot be done alone. He recognized that there were some things that are seemingly impossible without other people. I want to suggest that those things include (1) Care, (2) Discipleship, and (3) Mission.
You can’t care for yourself alone. In the New Testament countless stories can be found of the church caring for one another in different ways. In Paul’s letters, he shares about caring for the Christians in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 9). He mentions the care of widows in 1 Timothy 5:9-10. In many of his letters, he thanks churches for caring for him personally. None of this can be done alone in isolation. When we are committed to a local church, we have the opportunity to be cared for and care for others.
True discipleship happens in community. Very seldom do we grow by ourselves. When we surround ourselves with others, we give others the opportunity to speak into our lives. They see our blindspots and help us discover where we should grow and how we might be able to grow. Sometimes discipleship happens through community through accountability and even church discipline. We need other people to know our own personal struggles and we need to give people permission to ask the hard questions. Similarly, we need people calling us out on our sin when we are wrong. These are the kind of behaviors we see in the New Testament. This is what Jesus meant in Matthew 18:15-20. This is what Paul is alluding to in 1 Corinthians 5. When we are committed to a local church together we have the opportunity come alongside one another and help them grow into the image of Christ. Without others, our growth will be slow and minimal.
Church membership matters because the church’s mission matters. Jesus has called us to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). While the task is daunting, it becomes far more doable with other like-minded Christians. We see the importance of community in mission throughout the New Testament, particularly Acts. In Acts 13:1-3, Paul and Barnabas were set a part for God’s work of making disciples. First, Paul did not go alone; he took Barnabas. Second, the entire church was a part of the process of sending Paul and Barnabas. It was the church that affirmed God’s calling on Paul and Barnabas’s lives. Whether locally or globally, being committed to a local church helps us to strategically advance the gospel and ultimately come one step closer to fulfilling the Great Commission.
Why is church membership important? Jesus knew that his church would change the world. If we are going to change the world, we must be committed together through the local church. When we are committed to a local church together, that church then helps us in caring for one another, discipling one another, and being on mission with one another.