PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Church Members

01/05/14 Church Members Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140105_church-member.mp3

It has been suggested to me that it might be useful for us as we begin a new year together and as we approach our annual meeting and as we are encouraging you to apply for membership in this local church, to study together what it means to be a church member. In order to understand church membership, we first need to understand what the church is, and then what the bible means when it talks about members, and let that shape how we think about church membership.

Church

First, what is a church? According to the dictionary,

http://dictionary.reference.com

church [church] noun

1.  a building for public Christian worship.

2. public worship of God or a religious service in such a building: to attend church regularly.

That is how the modern English dictionary defines ‘church’ But in the New Testament, the word church never once refers to a building or a location. The New Testament word is [ἐκκλησία] ekklesia; it means a called out assembly of people. In Acts 19 this word usually translated ‘church’ is translated ‘assembly’ referring to the riotous crowd that gathered in the theater in Ephesus shouting “great is Artemis of the Ephesians”. The town clerk quieted the crowd and told them that if they have any legitimate issues they should be settled in the legal assembly (again the same word usually translated ‘church’). The Greek word ekklesia simply means a gathering or assembly of people. The church or gathering is made up of individuals. After Stephen was martyred, Saul persecuted the church by going after individuals.

Acts 8:3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

After Saul met Jesus, we are told:

Acts 9:31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

Here we see that individual followers of Jesus in different geographic regions, who would not typically meet together, are all collectively called ‘the church’, singular. Jesus spoke this way when he said “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt.16:18). Jesus is building an unstoppable assembly of people. Acts 20:28 tells us that God obtained the church with his own blood. So the assembly, the church that we are talking about is the blood-bought people of God, made up of believers who follow Jesus.

In Acts 14, as Paul and Barnabas visited cities, they preached the gospel and made disciples of Jesus. As they passed through these areas again, they strengthened and encouraged these followers of Jesus.

Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

So they established assemblies of believers or churches in each city, each with their own local leadership. After they returned to Antioch from this missionary journey we are told:

Acts 14:27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

Pay close attention to how they talk about the church. It does not say they showed up at an address. It says that they ‘gathered the church together’. It does not say where. Where is irrelevant. The church is not a location. The church is not a building. The church is the blood-bought people of God who gather together. Notice also that church is not something we do. We do not do church, have church, or attend a church service. Church is not an event or a religious service of one form or another. Church is not where. Church is not what. Church is who. Church is our identity as a collective group of Jesus-followers. In Acts 15 Paul returned to many of the cities where he had made disciples:

Acts 15:41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Acts 16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

Here he refers to churches plural. There were multiple assemblies of Jesus-followers in different locations. The churches were strengthened in the faith by strengthening the people who made up those churches. The churches increased as disciples were making more disciples.

So we can talk about the church, the assembly of people that Jesus bought with his blood and will take from every tribe and language and people and nation. And we can talk about churches, local gatherings of Jesus-followers with their own local leadership.

Members

This brings us to the next question; What is a member? I thought it might be informative to start with a dictionary definition.

http://dictionary.reference.com

mem·ber·ship [mem-ber-ship] noun

1. the state of being a member, as of a society or club.

2. the status of a member.

3. the total number of members belonging to an organization,society, etc.

Notice some of the key words in this definition: state, status, number; society or club; belonging.

A quick google search was revealing. Here are some of the first things that pop up for ‘membership’:

Membership Saves You Money On The Things You Love To Buy. Learn More!

Investigate the benefits of basic and society memberships. Explore member and visitor resources and services. Renew or elevate a current membership.

Members can get it all! Members can express their unique style … explore member-only areas

The focus is on you, the member; membership saves you money on the things you love! Membership has benefits. Membership has perks and privileges. Membership grants you exclusive access to resources and services that you wouldn’t have if you weren’t a member. We are encouraged to ask questions like ‘why should I become a member? What’s in it for me? Why is this membership better than that one? What will I get out if it?’ This understanding of membership is shaped and influenced by the individualistic consumer mentality of this present age in which we live. I am the center. I will shop around for a membership that suits me, that serves me well, that meets my needs and fulfills my expectations.

Did you know that church membership is a biblical concept? But if we take what our culture tells us about membership and apply it to the church, we will end up with a disastrous mess. We should not be surprised that the Bible re-defines what membership means and re-calibrates our thinking on what it is to be a member. So buckle up, hold on to your brains, we are going to look at what the Bible has to say about being a member. Let’s start with something Jesus says.

Matthew 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

The word ‘member’ that Jesus uses is [μέλος] melos; it means a limb or a part of the body, like an eye or a hand. Think for a moment on how this re-shapes the idea of membership. A member is not an individual with rights and privileges; instead a member is a connected functional part of the whole. This how the Bible talks about church membership. This is what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 12.

1 Corinthians 12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

Membership is a body analogy. The human body is made up of a bunch of connected functional parts. The many members make up one body. When someone puts faith in Jesus and becomes a follower of Jesus, that person is baptized with the Holy Spirit and made a part of the body of Christ. Paul goes on to ‘flesh out’ this body membership analogy:

15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

Notice that there is necessary diversity of function among the members of the body. One member has one function, another has another function. All members are dependent on one another.

Paul warns us against member envy. There is a tendency among the members of the body to be discontent. We often wish we were something other than what we are. Imagine a ligament in the left knee noticing how eloquently the mouth speaks and trying to yell out in competition!

Notice too how serious it is to have a disconnected member. One member cannot say to another member “I have no need of you”. That is not true. We are designed to be incomplete parts connected to the whole, incomplete without each other. No member stands alone. No member can say ‘I am so important that I don’t need the rest of the body. I am the hand. This sluggish body is holding me back. I think I am going to go it alone for a while’. Neither can any member say ‘I am so insignificant, so unimportant, so unnoticed that the body will be just as well without me. I am only one vertebrae in the spine, I will just quietly disappear and no one will even notice.’ Paul says ‘indispensable!’

In this body analogy, there is no room for retirement. One day the kneecap says ‘I’ve been filling this role for so many years. I’m tired of it. It’s time for me to retire and make room for someone else to step up. When your kneecap gives out, that’s called an injury, and it causes the whole body to suffer.

There may be a time when amputation is necessary, when a member has become so infected with the disease of willful unconfessed sin that for the protection of the rest of the members, they must be severed from the body, but this is a drastic measure, a messy last resort when every other effort has failed, and always with the goal of restoration. The consequences of this action must be carefully weighed, as the body will be handicapped without this member. This highlights the seriousness of membership. For someone to simply choose to dismember themselves from the body for whatever reason is reckless and irresponsible. It handicaps the body and is lethal for that body part.

Some might say ‘oh, I am staying connected to Jesus, the Head, but I just don’t want to be connected to the body’; that is sheer nonsense.

Every member in the body is to be a connected functional part of the whole. This is by God’s design. If we look back at verse 11, we see that it is the “Spirit who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” Verse 18 tells us “God arranged the members of the body, each one of them, as he chose.” Verse 24 tells us that “God has so composed the body …that there may be no division in the body.” God designed you individually to be connected and play a vital, indispensable role in the body, for the good of the whole body. God intends “that there be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” In humility, we are neither to overestimate or underestimate our value in the body. Neither are we to overestimate or underestimate the role of anyone else in the body. No division. “Have the same care for one another.”

26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

You all together are the body of Christ. Each one is to be a connected functional part of the whole. The New Testament assumes that every Jesus-follower is a connected functional member of the body of Christ. When the apostle wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus, it is clear that there was a real assembly of believers in that city to whom the letter would be delivered. When Paul wrote to the church of God that is in Corinth and told them that they were not to judge outsiders but those inside the church, and that they should ‘purge the evil person from among you’ (1Cor.5:13), he assumes that they knew who was outside the church and who was inside, whether that was on a paper member list or a mental one. The bible doesn’t specify how we should keep track, but it is imperative that we know.

Who Should Be A Church Member?

So if we ask the question ‘who should be a member of the church?’ we can answer ‘all those and only those who are genuine followers of Jesus.’ The church is a family that you must be born into. You cannot be a member of the church unless you have experienced the new birth. Those who have experienced the regeneration of the Holy Spirit have been made members of the body of Christ. They are those who experience forgiveness of sins through faith in the Lord Jesus. They make a public profession of that faith through baptism, which is an outward picture of the inward reality. You are not a member of the body of Christ and should not be one on paper if you do not embrace the good news of Jesus. If you do belong to Jesus, then you are a member of his body, and it is essential that you connect with a local body of believers.

What is My Part In the Body?

Here is another question. I am a member of the church. How do I know what my part is? I want to be a connected, functional part of the whole. What part am I? How do I know? You could take a spiritual gifts inventory and that might help a little bit. Let me give you 4 simple things that I think will help you see what part you are to play in the body of Christ.

1. Clearly understand the goal. What is the purpose of the church? What is our mission, our objective? If we clearly see the destination, we can more easily see if we are moving in the right direction or if we are getting sidetracked. The purpose of the church and of every member is to glorify God by loving God, loving people, and making disciples who glorify God by loving God, loving people and making disciples. The great commandment and the great commission encapsulate the purpose of the church. If what I am doing does not advance the great commission and embody the great commandment, then I am probably not functioning in the church in the way that God intended.

2. Be a healthy member. A body part that is diseased, disconnected or sick cannot function properly in the body. Stay connected to the members around you. Value them. Seek unity in the body. Stay connected to the Head; abide in Christ. Turn away from your sin.

3. Be obedient; when the Head (who is our Lord Jesus Christ) calls you to do something; do it! But that’s the problem, how do I know what Jesus wants me to do? Many people say ‘I just don’t feel called to that’. I’m not sure what feelings have to do with it. Calling is not a feeling, it is not often a message in the clouds or a still small voice. Here’s how this might look.

If you notice something that would glorify God, love people and make disciples that is not happening, then you should complain to the leadership and demand that they appoint a committee to investigate and address the problem… no really, if you notice something that is not being done and it needs to be happening, very likely that is the Holy Spirit pointing you to exactly what part you are to play in the body. There are more good gospel opportunities in our community than we could ever fully exhaust. But if you have a clear understanding of the goal, if you are a healthy connected member, and if God has opened your eyes to a need, if God has given you a passion for something, then get busy! By all means seek wisdom and godly counsel from leaders, get equipped, but go do it. Be an active member. Step up. Take responsibility. Function. Engage. Enjoy. Be who you were created to be. Do something!

4. Don’t be so self-conscious. What I mean is this. A guitarist who has to consciously thing about where each finger goes to make a chord is still learning how to play. Try running up the stairs sometime while paying careful attention to how each muscle and ligament in your foot and leg move. Actually, don’t. You would probably fall down and hurt yourself. But if your son is crying upstairs and you need to get up there to see if he’s all right, if your body is functioning properly, you don’t need to think about which part does what, you just go. Your body naturally, almost unconsciously does what it was meant to do. Don’t over-analyze your every move. Clearly understand the gospel goal, be a healthy, holy, connected member, and respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

If you are a believer in Jesus, you have been made a member; not of a social club, but of the body of Christ. Our all-wise God has carefully placed you in the body exactly as he intended. Think about the implications! Church is not where I insist on my own way. Church is an assembly of people with whom I voluntarily give up my own preferences for the good of the body. The body is only as healthy as its sickest member. I will seek to stay connected, to seek unity, to put to death my pride. As a member of the church, I look for ways to function that contribute to the overall purpose. As part of the church, I come not to be served, but to serve, and to give my life, my gifts, my talents, my passions for the benefit of the others. As a church submitting to Jesus our Head, we show the world that it is good to live under God’s authority.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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January 5, 2014 - Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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