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part of River Ministries (Norfolk)


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Teaching published by the church

The importance of local church membership

It would be easy to think that attending meetings, living respectable lives and contributing to the offerings, are adequate standards for church membership. We would like to suggest some reasons why scriptural membership should be more meaningful.

Study verse: Romans 12:4-5 - "As each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body and each member belongs to all the others."

The word 'member' is used three times in our study verse and each time the Greek word used is 'melos', which has the literal meaning of 'a limb of the body' (W.E. Vine).
However, today the word membership gives the idea of a Member as in club. Being "one who belongs to a body of persons for social or other purposes". The club would have a list of members who accept club rules, pay subscriptions and have a vote. The club is an organisation. But as we have seen the bible means member as in limb. That is being part of a body; this means involvement, function, interdependence and a situation in which a separate existence is unacceptable.

The NASB puts it this way: "So we who are many, are one in the body of Christ and individually members one of another."
WE ARE MEMBERS OF CHRIST - this by commitment to Him.
WE ARE MEMBERS ONE OF ANOTHER, BELONGING TO EACH OTHER - this by commitment to each other.

The member of a body is a limb and that is the true meaning of church membership. We are limbs of the body when we are members of Christ's church, Ephesians 5:30 "...for we are members of His body." But this is not just theory, or simply mystical or universal, it is factual, practical, visible and localised. The two aspects of the church or assembly as used in the New Testament are the universal church and the local church.

THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH is a glorious reality. We enter by faith in Christ. But it is invisible. It is not yet complete. Its first meeting is yet to take place. No man can lay his hand on it.

THE LOCAL CHURCH - this too is a glorious reality. We enter by commitment and responsibility. It is visible, it enables the world to see Christ at work through his visible body. William Gurnall said, "The church is nothing but Christ displayed."

Most of the references in the New Testament to the church refer not to the invisible universal church but to the visible local church. Speaking on this issue, Vance Havner said, "I believe in loyalty to the local church. I don't believe in that view of the invisible church that makes you invisible at church". The local church is the more important for our practical Christian life and experience.

When a person becomes a Christian, he needs (a) not only to repent and believe (that will get him to heaven), but (b) also to join himself to the local church, for a Christian is intended by God to live in fellowship with other Christians. Family is his purpose in natural life and 'family' is his purpose in spiritual life.

The model for the church is Family and family is the telescope that brings all the bible illustrations of church into focus. Thereby enabling us to better understand and appreciate them. But not all churches use family as their blue print for the church. In fact the models most used in the church are the Military model and the Business model.

1. The Military model - speaks of a hierarchy - general, colonel, captain, sergeant, corporal, and at the bottom the private. The task is vital, people expendable, casualties inevitable. The Military model looks for enemies to fight and creates heroes, personality cults. It shoots those who don't obey.

2. The business Model - speaks of managing people - creates experts that make others feel inadequate. The task is vital, with success and failure being the bench mark of a persons worth. It dismisses the failures and promotes the successful. It looks for markets to compete in and others to compete against, the outcome being rivalry, division. Where the strongest win, it sounds like the jungle.

Both of these models can exist without God. Both are fundamentally flawed.
Look at a New Testament model
a) Matthew 6:9 " Our Father in Heaven".
b) Ephesians 3:14-15 "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name".
c) Matthew 12:48-50 "He replied to him, Who is my mother, who are my brothers? Pointing to the disciples, he said Here are my Mother and my brothers. For who ever does the will of my Father in Heaven is my brother and sister and mother".
Jesus did not neglect his physical family providing for his mother's security as he hung on the cross. NO - Jesus was pointing out that spiritual relationships are as binding as physical ones, and he was paving the way for a new community of believers (the church) our spiritual family.

Family is the model that God ordained - it speaks of living together in harmony, sharing, order and discipline, relationships, security and value for the individual. It speaks of the privilege of working for the family, for father. It allows for love, compassion and affection for family members. Family encourages, releases and supports those the Father has called to a special task. There are no court-martial's or resigning of commissions in the family, you are in the family because you are born (born again), it's by birth.

Please ensure you join a local church

teaching of the church / a deeper look at doctrine