A fourth reason we take membership vows in church is to participate in the sacraments Christ has provided to his church. For example, one does not have the right to be baptized without joining the visible church. Christ instituted Christian baptism as a one-time, initiatory sacrament that not only signifies the washing away of sins with his atoning blood, but also identifies the baptized person as a member of God’s visible covenant community as circumcision did in the old covenant (Matt. 28.18-20; Acts 2.39). Thus, one is to be baptized into church membership, and in this way placed under the oversight of a local body of elders. Baptism cannot be separated from church membership (Eph. 4.4-5).
Likewise, one does not have the right to partake of the Lord’s Supper without church membership. Christ established the Supper as a holy meal for the members of his church. It not only signifies his body and blood offered on the cross, but also nourishes the faith of repentant sinners (1 Cor. 10.16; John 6.22-60). As the governors and overseers of the church (Rom. 12.8; 1 Cor. 12.28; 1 Tim. 3.1-7), the elders have the responsibility of supervising participation in the Lord’s Table, and ensuring, as much as possible, that people do not partake in an unworthy manner (1 Cor. 11.17-34).
Participation in the sacraments requires biblical church membership. While Christ has appointed the sacraments as visible signs and seals of the gospel for the nourishment of our souls, he did not design them to be individualistic practices. The sacraments are acts of divine service to his assembled people on the Lord’s Day. He condescends to his flock so that he can feed them with his means of grace.
If we profess to be Christians, we must practice the Christian faith according to the Word of God. The New Testament makes it clear that every Christian is to be baptized into the body of Christ and held accountable for his doctrine and life. It tells us that for our good God has provided us with pastors, elders, and deacons, as well as the communion of saints in the local church.
If you have been baptized but you are not a member of a true congregation of Christ’s church, you are living an irregular life that the New Testament does not recognize as Christian. The Lord calls you to repentance. He calls you to come home to the safety and benefit of his sheepfold. We urge you to join a true church, a body of believers that confesses the truth, submits to the authority of Christ as delegated to elders, and meets each week to worship God and receive Christ through Word and sacrament. We are not free to roam as a spiritual drifters on the internet or as perpetual visitors from church to church. Find a good church and join it, for in this life we can do no better than to take up our place in the body of Christ, receive the means of grace, and enjoy the communion of saints.
~ Pastor Brown