What Does Membership Mean?

 
 
Dear Servants,
 
Writing about the above passage, renowned teacher John Stott once wrote, "For we are 'the temple of the living God' 'a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.' When the members of the congregation are scattered during most of the week it is difficult to remain aware of this reality. But when we come together as the Church (Ekklesia 'assembly') of the living God, every aspect of our common life is enriched by the knowledge of his presence in our midst." (The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus, p. 104.)
 
I begin with this quote from Stott because I think it puts into perspective what is at stake when we talk about the Church. We know that to be a Christian is to be a member of the Church (universal). But why should we be a member of a church (local)? As we approach our annual meeting of the congregation, it comes up because only members can vote on changes to our by-laws. Beyond the right to vote at annual meetings, membership is also necessary to be in a position of leadership in the parish. For instance, serving on the vestry or heading up a ministry of the church. Now, you may or may not care about these things, so why become a member?
 
My short answer is spiritual accountability. To join a church signals to others in the church community that you are entering into a mutually accountable relationship with others in the parish with regards to the fundamental acts of a Christian. Our Anglican Church in North America canons actually do a great job of stating those acts, so I'm going to quote them here: 
 
  1. To worship God, the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, every Lord’s Day in a Church unless reasonably prevented;
  2. To engage regularly in the reading and study of Holy Scripture and the Doctrine of the Church as found in Article 1 of the Constitution of this Church;
  3. To observe their baptismal vows, to lead an upright and sober life, and not give scandal to the Church;
  4. To present their children and those they have led to the Lord for baptism and confirmation;
  5. To give regular financial support to the Church, with the biblical tithe as the minimum standard of giving.
  6. To practice forgiveness daily according to our Lord’s teaching;
  7. To receive worthily the Sacrament of Holy Communion as often as reasonable;
  8. To observe the feasts and fasts of the Church set forth in the Anglican formularies;
  9. To continue his or her instruction in the Faith so as to remain an effective minister for the Lord Jesus Christ;
  10. To devote themselves to the ministry of Christ among those who do not know Him, utilizing the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives them, for the effective extension of Christ’s Kingdom (The canons are taken from the Anglican Church in North America Constitution and Canons, Title 1, Canon 10, section 2, p. 22.)
 
Now, having listed these items I realize that for some Christians it seems a bit scary to think about "spiritual accountability." One of the principles Servants has felt called to as a congregation is to be a redemptive experience of Church (universal) for people that have been burned in the past by a church (local). This is why we are outspoken about the fact that you don't have to be a member of Servants to be a part of us. For instance, our Fellowship Directory includes members, former members, and long-term visitors. However, having said that, I would say with complete peace, it should be the goal of every disciple to join a local church community. There are some members at SOC that never thought they would be a part of a church community, but God changed their hearts and minds about membership.
 
Still others, I imagine, would say: I'm already in accountable relationships with other Christians at Servants, why do I need to formalize that commitment? Can I suggest that it is because we need outward, visible signs of things we decide in our mind? I'm not suggesting that membership in the church is on par with Baptism and Communion as sacraments, but we are more committed when we make an outward sign, whether it is a marriage certificate, financial pledge, or volunteer commitment. By virtue of our Baptism we are made members of the Church (universal) of Jesus Christ, and yet Scripture commends to us the need to gather regularly with a church (local) community. And the apostle Paul reminds us that as we live out our lives together in community the living God dwells with us.
 
Living with each of you my sisters and brothers in Christ,
Alex +

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