And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24-25)
One of the concerns I have, as I am sure many others have as well, in regards to the church today involves the lack of commitment to the local church, particularly to the gathering together on the Lord’s day. This concern is verified by some troublesome statistical data regarding church attendance in America. Barna research for example, did a recent study in which, among other things, stated the following:
While regular church attendance is a reliable indicator of faithful Christian practice, many Americans choose to experience and express their faith in a variety of other ways, the most common of which is prayer. For instance, three-quarters of Americans (75%) claim to have prayed to God in the last week. This maps fairly well onto the 73 percent who self-identify as Christian. Following prayer, the next most common activity related to faith practice is attending a church service, with more than one-third of adults (35%) having sat in a pew in the last seven days, not including a special event such as a wedding or funeral.
While the study encouragingly suggests that 75% of evangelicals seek prayer each week to connect with God, it is disturbing that only 35% of those see attending the local church as equally important.
Thom Rainer agreeswith this statistic. He writes: “About 20 years ago, a church member was considered active in the church if he or she attended three times a week.Today, a church member is considered active in the church if he or she attends three times a month.”
But seemingly this is not just an issue with the church alone. I was recently at a local recreational baseball field watching my nieces play softball when I happened to notice the following words on their concession stand: “Do not complain unless you have volunteered.” Yes, all of us today seem to be struggling with getting individuals to see the importance of commitment.
Contrastingly, the local church described in the pages of the New Testament realized the importance of being together and committing to the advancement of God’s kingdom. Luke describes the early christians for example as “being together and having all things in common. . .day by day attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes. . .having favor with all the people (Acts 2:44, 46-47).”
The antidote, I argue, for this apparent sickness called commitment-phobia is a return to local church membership. Christians need to devote their lives to one another by acknowledging and applying their commitment to their local congregation.
Unfortunately, the importance of local church membership has been downplayed by a misunderstanding of it. Pastor and author Alistair Beggoffers three typesof groups that resist biblical church membership.
These are those who question the biblical credibility of local church membership. “Where is local church membership in the Bible?”, they ask.
But Local church membership is taught by the fact that elders/leaders of the church are held accountable for the spiritual health of the congregation.
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.(Hebrews 13:17)
In other words, in order for Christians to submit to their leaders they have to know who they are. Similarly, leaders, if they are held accountable for the souls in their care, they have to know who those “souls” are. But how can they unless there is some account for each individual?
Furthermore, Local Church membership is assumed in church discipline. Take Paul’s counsel in 1 Corinthians as an example.
For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)
If church discipline as outlined here is to take place, isn’t there a clear line of who is “in” the church and who is not? Otherwise how in the world is anyone to know who to correct when they are living in habitual sin? Local church membership is necessary for these things to take place.
According to Begg these are the people who drift in and out of congregations; who leave when they are bored or displeased with the church. There is no public commitment to the congregation. These folks like to receive the benefits of the church but not be held accountable to any forms of leadership or other Christians. Furthermore, if they get bored with the church they serve they can simply leave just as easily as they came.
This group denies the gathering of God’s people in the traditional sense. As long as you have an iPad and a Starbucks that’s all you need. You can listen to any sermon you want in the comfort of your own living room or coffee shop. But this takes away the incarnational side of church as well as the structure and order of the church given to us by divine scripture.
Myths regarding Commitment
When it comes to committing to the local church there are many I have encountered who thought they were committed but really were not. Let me outline a few myths regarding local church membership:
Myth #1–I am a regular attender therefore this is “my church.”
False: There needs to be a clear public profession of your faith and a clear identification of your loyalty to the congregation and to the elders. When one decides to just attend the Sunday morning service without a clear commitment to the church they relieve themselves of any accountability to the elders and the church body. They also relieve themselves of any sense of loyalty to the congregation. They may or may not attend because it really doesn’t effect the rest of the church if they are not present. But this destroys the metaphor Paul gives of the one body, many members in 1 Corinthians 12.
Myth #2–I can have several local churches that I serve and attend.
False: You need to have primarily one local congregation to devote to; to use your gifts and resources. Furthermore, you need focused devotion to a local church in order for those individuals to hold you spiritually accountable.
Myth #3–The church primarily exists to meet my needs.
False: You exist to serve the church with your gifts. A byproduct is that you will be edified by others doing the same.
Myth #4—I need to wait until others in my family are ready to join before I do.
False: You need to join as quickly as possible in order to be obedient and set the example
Why should one join the local church?
So why should one join a local church? Let me offer several reasons:
It’s an Obedience issue
As I have hopefully made clear thus far local church membership is a biblical idea. You can’t obey the “one another” commandments in scripture without commitment to a group of believers.
It’s a Fellowship Issue
This is the point of Hebrews 10:24-25 and Acts 2:44-46.
It’s an Authority Issue
The elders are given to the church by God to teach and protect.
- Hebrews 13:17
- Acts 20:28-30
It’s an Identity Issue
The Visible church is the way in which we make the invisible church visible!
It’s a Loyalty Issue
All believers are called to be loyal to Christ and loyal to each other. John Macarthur writes:
“But that isn’t how people think today. People don’t say, “I probably ought to go to church tonight because there might be somebody there who would need me. There might be somebody there I could pray for. There might be somebody there I could sit with and sing hymns, praise to God. I better go tonight because it might encourage the pastor that I’m there. I better go because the Spirit of God might have something to say to me that’s going to make my life more effective as a witness to the people around me. I really need to be there because they are going to be people there who probably have burdens and maybe I’ll run into one of them and they will share it with me and I’ll need to know it so I can pray about it.” We don’t think like that.
We say, “Well, let’s see, shall we go to dinner over here or should we go to church?” Or “Well, we could go visit Aunt Martha over there. She’ll leave us in the will if we show up enough times, or whatever.” We just grieve in our hearts, who are pastors, at the disloyalty of so many people. They’re loyal to their own interests but they’re certainly not loyal to the interests of others, the needs of others, and the gathered church.”
It’s a Serving Issue
The church is called to serve one another. I love how Mark Dever illustrates this:
“I once had a friend who worked for a campus Christian ministry while attending a church where I was a member. He would always slip in right after the hymns sit there for the sermon and then leave. I asked him one day why he didn’t come for the whole service. “Well”, he said, “I don’t get anything out of the rest of it.” “Have you ever thought about joining the church?” I responded. He thought that was an absurd comment. He said “why would I join the church? If I join them I think they would just slow me down spiritually.” I asked “have you ever considered that maybe God wants you to link arms with those other people and that perhaps even though they might slow you down a little you might help to speed them up—and that that’s part of God’s plan for how we’re supposed to live as Christians together (Dever, Mark. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church)?”
It’s a Witness Issue
When we commit to live lives together the world will take notice. As the apostle Peter admonishes:
- Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.( 1 Peter 2:12)