For the last few weeks, we’ve been investigating church membership—what it is, why it is important, and other important questions. If you’ve missed the previous posts, you can check them out here:
This week we wrap up our series on church membership by getting very practical—how do we become a member of a church?
Joining the Early Church
Joining the church in the first century probably looked very different from the way it does today. For one thing, if a church could be found in the city, chances are there was probably only one church in that city meeting. As Christianity grew in cities, house churches began to pop up throughout a city. Just because multiple churches began to exist in a city, however, did not mean that Christians had “options.” In the early church, there was no such thing as “church hopping” or “church shopping.” You most often connected and committed to the local church that was nearest to where you lived and worked. Why? The answer is primarily because of transportation. Obviously cars did not exist in the first century, and most people traveled by foot. So, Christians would join a church that was nearest to them.
The challenge with discussing how Christians joined the early church comes in how we understand church membership and joining a church. The early church probably did not discuss church membership in the way we do. Also, they probably did not practice church membership the way we do. With 2,000 years separating today’s church from the early church, things change, particularly our methods. Nonetheless, a “process” did exist by which individuals joined the church. What was that process? Conversion and baptism. According to biblical scholar, D. A. Carson, “In the pages of the NT, to be converted, to be baptized, and to join the local community of believers are all part of the same thing.”1 In the early church, a person would become a Christian through faith and repentance, and then their response would become public through baptism by immersion in water. These actions would not only cause them to become a Christian but also to become a church member. While this might seem odd for some us, the point is that to be a Christian ultimately means you are a church member. The New Testament simply does not understand Christians who are not a part of the local church.
The challenge with the early church is determining what it looked like to be a member of an early local church. Like today, the challenge is contextual. The church in Rome probably had similar and different needs from the church at Ephesus. Therefore the commitment to a local church in those two contexts might have looked different. Still, however, some elements of church membership were uniform regardless of the context. For example, since the inception of the church, Christians have committed to gather weekly to worship Jesus, their risen savior. A part of that worship has almost always included singing, prayer, the reading and preaching of Scripture, and communion. Regardless of where you are in the world, chances are the church is participating in these activities. The early church also served one another and other non-believers often. Also, they regularly set aside money to serve other churches and Christians (1 Corinthians 16:1-3). These are just a few of the commitments and responsibilities of members in the early church.
Joining Vintage Church
While 2,000 years separates Vintage Church from the early church, church membership is still important. At Vintage, we call our membership partnership. We made this semantic change several years ago because we wanted to redefine what membership looks like. While the biblical idea of membership has nothing to do with the way we think of membership today, our culture has shifted the meaning of membership. According to our culture membership has less to do with partnership and responsibility and more to do with privilege and a “what’s-in-it-for-me” mentality. Therefore we moved to Vintage Partnership because we wanted to retrain our church to see that membership means partnership with God and one another for God’s mission and not our personal desires.
Like the early church, we believe that to be a member of Vintage Church you must be a Christian. It is simply impossible to be a member of Christ’s body, the church, and not know Christ. Like the early church, Vintage Church also believes things like regularly attending worship gatherings, being in community, serving, and giving are all important elements of church membership. Each of those elements manifest differently in the life of Vintage. For example, to become a partner with Vintage Church, you have to be connected to a vGroup, our small group ministry. The early church didn’t have vGroups but they no doubt promoted community as essential. Also, to be a partner with Vintage Church, you have to serve on one of our vTeams. Again, the early church didn’t have vTeams, but they encouraged serving. Each of these elements are specific and particular to Vintage Church, elements that the early church or other churches today might not have. But when you partner with Vintage Church, these are needs our partners need to shoulder together.
Because of our “churched” and “de-churched” culture, Vintage Church also hosts “Connect Sundays”. On these Connect Sundays, we host a lunch and dinner, where new people can come to learn more about Vintage Church. The early church probably didn’t have Connect Sundays, but the context in which they ministered was all together different.
We desire for Christians to partner with Vintage Church. If you’re new to Vintage and want to learn more about Vintage, be on the look out for your next opportunity to learn more about Vintage this August. You can learn more about the opportunity HERE. If you’ve been journeying with Vintage Church for a while and are ready to become a Vintage Partner, you can learn more or complete our online covenant HERE.
1D. A. Carson, “Why the Local Church Is More Important Than TGC, White Horse Inn, 9Marks, and Maybe Even ETS,” Themelios 40, no. 1 (April 2015), http://themelios.thegospelcoalition.org/article/editorial-why-the-local-church-is-more-important-than-tgc-white-horse.