Occasionally, I will receive a Facebook or email question that I believe would be helpful to answer in a public forum. Such is the case with a question sent to me this week. The question came from a young lady who is visiting our church, enjoying the church, and making great connections with people in her small group. As a matter of fact in many ways they seem like a natural fit for this ministry. However her husband is reluctant to “join”. They both come from a Catholic background and joining a protestant church could raise some unneeded problems in their family. Besides – what’s wrong with just attending a church, why does one have to join?
I think that is an excellent question. To my knowledge there is nothing explicit in scripture that commands a church to even have a membership roll. Some denominations like the Church of God (Anderson, IN) avoid membership rolls all together. So why do I stand and invite people at the end of every service, not only to trust Christ and obey His scriptures, but also to join with our family of faith? Here are my reasons:
1. Analogies Employed by Biblical Writers – There are a variety of analogies employed by biblical writers related to the visible church. We are called a body, a family, a flock, these are all measurable organisms. A shepherd knows his sheep, a person knows his or her body, and we are quite certain of the people that constitute our family. For this reason I think it’s very helpful to know who exactly is a member of our church.
2. The Principle of Accountability – We are given a multitude of “one another” commands in the scriptures. We are told to, “spur one another on to love and good deeds”. We are told to restore the fallen brother. We are told not to even eat with a brother who is sexually immoral or covetous. In the most vile of cases we are even told to remove those who persist in sin from our congregation. These and dozens of other scriptures can only be obeyed when we know WHO constitutes our church family.
3. Someone counted – We must recognize that the biblical writers were very careful to record the numbers of people who constituted key events and gatherings. For example we know there were 12 Apostles of our Lord, 120 disciples in the Jerusalem church in Acts chapter one, 3000 were added on the day of Pentecost. I mention these examples simply to point out that the early church was very careful to know who constituted the local church. The historical precedent for this was the nation of Israel who carefully recorded the names and numbers of various tribes and families. Even a book of the bible was called, “Numbers”. Not because numbers are all that important, but because the souls they represent are very important.
4. Public Identification – There is something about ceremonially uniting with a community of people who are committed to the Gospel. When someone becomes a citizen of our country they must stand and publicly take an oath of citizenship, the same is true when one holds public office. Suppose your spouse refused to publicly commit to you in an official marriage ceremony, but rather wanted to enjoy the benefits of your relationship without the commitment. Eventually, you would have to question whether or not their love was genuine. Publicly, uniting with a church family is a way of voicing your commitment to live, love, serve, with a group of people who are united by their common faith in Jesus Christ.
5. Identifying and Equipping Leaders – We believe that God has invested spiritual gifts in every christian for the sake of serving the church and advancing the Gospel. It should be the goal of every believer to identify his or her particular gift mix and to maximize their potential usefulness in the Kingdom. Membership rolls helps us to track spiritual maturity and progress of a person in that endeavor when they make the commitment of church membership. It is nearly impossible to manage that which we cannot measure – we cannot properly lead the church if we do not know the difference between a member and an attender.
6. Heaven has a Roll – According to Revelation 21 there will be a book opened in heaven that carefully records all of those who had faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is called, “The Lamb’s Book of Life”. Let me carefully state that whether or not your name is on a church roll is far less important than if your name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
In summery, Josh Harris said it well in his book, “Stop Dating the Church” when he wrote:
Putting in their hour or two on the weekend, many Christians take the rest of the week off, neglecting the church and her needs. It’s not a serious relationship. Some shop around, looking for a church that suits their lifestyle. It’s dating, with no assurances, no obligations. Christians are called to stop playing the field and commit, just as Christ is committed to us, His bride. God has designed us to build our lives around a local church; we cannot be indifferent or uninvolved. Rather, we must be in love with and committed to God’s plan and purpose through the church. Are you dating the church, or are you committed?