By Pastor Scott Osenbaugh,
The Healing Place (Nashville Assembly of God)
If it has happened once, it has happened — well, far too many times. I’ll have a conversation with someone, and in the course of that conversation, ask if he or she goes to church. Most will nod and tell me, “Oh, yes, I’m a member at the ‘First Church of What’s Happening Now’.” When I inquire as to whether attendance is regular, the often sheepish admission is something along these words: “Well, no, I don’t go normally, haven’t been there since…guess I don’t remember when I went there last.”
While the particulars of “church membership” vary from tradition to tradition, perhaps the two common connectors are “belonging” and “responsibility”. It feels really good to be part of something, to identify with a group, but being part of that group should naturally involve some responsibility to contribute to the life of the group. What good is it to be a “member” of a church, only to not attend much, if at all, and give nothing back to that church, either in service or with tithes and offerings?
The idea of a formal church membership is something the Church developed over time; during the apostolic period and for some years afterward, being a member of the Body of Christ by salvation and water baptism was the standard; one gathered with “the church” for times of fellowship, teaching and equipping for ministry (cf. Ephesians 4:11-12). As various traditions were birthed and grew, various forms of “church membership” were introduced; most of those historic forms have survived into this modern age. The fellowship with which I am affiliated, The Assemblies of God, is only a century old, but there is a definite structure for formalized “membership”. It has to do with the ability of a local assembly to be able to be self-governing, and with all Protestant expressions, the number of formal members is the basis for the Pentagon to determine how many military chaplains of that expression need to be appointed to active duty.
Let me revisit the idea of why be a member if you aren’t giving back in return. What’s the point of having an official membership card if all it is for is status or a sense of personal accomplishment? Why claim to be part of a certain congregation if every Sunday is spent doing things other than participating in the life of the church?
In reality, it isn’t church membership that matters to the Lord. It is sacrifice, it is servanthood, it is understanding that being a born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is about being part of His Body, being willing to give all for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Come the time of judgment, God will not be impressed with one’s official membership situation, or whether one served on this committee or that guild or made a hundred quilts for missionaries. All that will be needed at the judgment will be whether one was saved by faith in Christ and Him alone, and whether one’s life was fully surrendered to Him.
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