For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 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. 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. 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? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 1 Corinthians 12:14–20 (ESV)
Even a casual reading of Scripture reveals that the commitment of believers to one another is anything but casual. In both descriptive and prescriptive language, the Bible attests to the formal and profound relationship that exists among those who have been reconciled to God and each other.
The Scriptures call us to love one another, outdo one another in showing honor, live in harmony with one another, instruct, greet, comfort, serve, bear the burdens of, forgive, encourage, always seek to do good to, exhort, stir up to love and good works, confess your sins to, pray for and show hospitality to one another.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul draws on the imagery of a body as a metaphor for the local church. Far from commending self-sufficiency and independence, the apostle upholds a radically counter-cultural vision of desperate interdependence marked by love, service, humility, sacrifice, and sympathy.
And, as participants in the body are called “members,” so this participation in the local church body is called membership.
Membership recognizes and responds to the call of discipleship in the context of gospel-centered community. It is an affirmation and agreement to contribute to the good of the body rather than consume from it. It is a formalization of that which already implicitly exists. It is an obligation to sacrificially seek the good of others in the body of Christ by taking the general call toward service and incarnating it within a particular people.
When the Bible speaks of these formal relationships, it uses the concept of a covenant. Some of these are between people (1 Sam.18:3, 20:16; 2 Sam. 5:3) while others are between God and man (Gen. 6:18, 9;16, 15:18; Luke 22:20; Heb. 8:6-7). In some covenants, one party binds him or herself to fulfill the obligations of both sides. In others, the parties are reciprocally bound to adhere to the obligations.
Covenants also include some sort of visible representation. Christians commit themselves to each other in the context of the local church in countless cultural ways. At Greater Works Church, the current process for membership involves a class, a subsequent meeting, and some paperwork. Far from mere formality, these expressions are important representations of the formal commitment.
Why Membership Matters
God calls His people into a covenant, not only to Himself but also to each other. He calls us to a life of sacrifice, generosity, service and radical commitment to the good of the body. And this happy obligation is most readily pursued within the context of a particular body—a local church.
So, why wouldn’t you formally join a local church? What is holding you back from covenanting with a particular people to live out the gospel together?