“Why is it necessary that I become a member of this church? I just want to attend regularly.” Perhaps we have asked that question at some point. Coming from evangelical churches where membership was not a thing, we might be tempted to view church membership as an unnecessary formality.
the Bible, however, gives us at least three reasons why membership in a local congregation is essential for the Christian. This week, we’ll consider the first of these reasons, which is that biblical church membership provides us with spiritual nurture through pastoral care.
Christ is the Head of his church (Eph. 1.22-23; 4.15) and the King of his kingdom (Matt. 28.18; Heb. 2.8-9; 1 Cor. 15.25; cf. Ps. 110.1). He was not only crucified and raised from the dead, but also exalted to the right hand of the Father in heaven. In other words, Jesus not only saves but also rules. And the way he rules his citizens is through his Word and Spirit, and the officers he has appointed at the local congregation. Consider the exhortation the writer to the Hebrews gives at the end of his sermon-letter: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13.17). This is Christ’s design. As his subjects and possession, we must submit to what he has ordained.
This can only be done through church membership. Membership in a local congregation creates a formal relationship between the pastor and elders and the congregants. This formal relationship is a covenant that obligates the pastor and elders to watch over the souls of those who belong to Christ. It is part of our submission to our Lord. We never mature beyond the nurture of the church. No Christian can sustain himself as a self-feeder. We cannot be our own pastors and elders. Rather, God has commanded us to submit ourselves to the preaching, teaching, and oversight of those shepherds whom he has placed over us in his love.
It has been the historical practice of Reformed churches to require a public vow to that end. For example, the fourth and final vow of Public Profession of Faith, Form Number 1, in the Psalter-Hymnal (used by the United Reformed Churches in North America) asks: “Do you promise to submit to the government of the church and also, if you should become delinquent either in doctrine or in life, to submit to its admonition and discipline?”
According to the command of God, pastors an elders are responsible to care for the souls over which they have been appointed (Heb. 13.17). For example, one of the ways that elders care for church members is through the historic practice of family visitation (Acts 20.28). Family visitation is a blessed opportunity for Christ’s servants to bring his Word close to the hearts of his children, and for the elders to help bear some of the spiritual burdens of the family. Likewise, the pastor makes himself available to every member who needs to meet with him for spiritual counsel. He also visits the sick in their homes and in hospitals. These are blessings and benefits to those sheep whom Christ has entrusted to the care of the pastor and elders.
Christians who avoid church membership, however, miss out on these benefits and inevitably put their spiritual wellbeing at risk. Rather than seeing membership as an unnecessary formality, we should see it as an essential part of God’s covenant of grace with us in which he feeds, nurtures, and cares for his sheep.
~ Pastor Brown