The Essence of Membership Is Committed Love
Our Lord Jesus specified one defining mark for his disciples. Of course, there are many marks of true discipleship, but one mark is singled out as signifying to the watching world that we belong to Christ:
A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35)
The mark of Christian discipleship is love—love of the kind that Jesus exercised toward his followers, love visible enough that men will recognize it as belonging to those people who follow Jesus.
Not surprisingly, then, a healthy Christian is one who is committed to expressing this kind of love toward other Christians. And the best place for Christians to love this way is in the assembly of God’s people called the local church. Is it no wonder then that the author of Hebrews instructs us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” and then right away says “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” (Heb. 10:24–25)? Faithful church attendance is associated tightly with stirring each other to love and good deeds. The local church is the place where love is most visibly and compellingly displayed among God’s people. It’s where the “body of Christ” is most plainly represented in the world.
We want to explore the question “What does a committed church member look like?” in relation to the essential command and mark of love. Below are ways committed membership expresses itself.
This is the first and most important ministry of every Christian in the local church. Being present, being known, and being active are the only ways to make Christian love possible (Heb. 10:24–25).
A committed church member is committed to the maintenance of peace in the congregation. “Let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19). “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18).
The one consistent purpose or goal of the public meeting of the church is mutual edification, building each other up in the faith (1 Cor. 12, 14; Eph. 4:11–16). A healthy and committed member comes to serve, not to be served, like Jesus (Mark 10:45); to provide, not to be a consumer only.
Warns and Admonishes Others
A committed member is committed to speaking the truth in love to his brothers and sisters, to helping them avoid pitfalls, and to encouraging them in holiness and Christian joy. A committed member will not be wrongly intrusive in the lives of others—a busybody—but he also will not be “hands off” when it comes to caring for and counseling others.
Christians are people who are reconciled to God through Christ. As a consequence, we have been given “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18–21). So, a committed member strives to repair breaches as quickly as possible, even before continuing in public worship (Matt. 5:23–24).
Bears with Others
Ministers of reconciliation must be patient and long-suffering. They must be characterized by meekness such that they do not think more highly of themselves than they ought (Matt. 5:5). They must hold up under the weight of disappointments, frustrations, loss, attack, slander, and offense (Matt. 18:21–22; Rom. 15:1). By carrying each others’ burdens we fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).
Prepares for the Ordinances
One privilege of church membership is participating in Christ’s ordinances—baptism and communion. Moreover, these privileges give us visible proclamations of the good news that Christ died for sinners and rose again to eternal life. So it’s a great tragedy that many Christians neglect the ordinances that Jesus himself established 2,000 years ago. A committed member rejoices at the baptism of new believers, and he examines his heart in preparation for joining the family of God at the Lord’s Table. He receives these spiritual exercises as means of grace, means that give visible testimony to the effect of the gospel in his life and the life of the gathered church.
A committed member is committed to speaking the truth in love to his brothers and sisters, to helping them avoid pitfalls, and to encouraging them in holiness and Christian joy.
Supports the Work of the Ministry
A committed member gives resources, time, and talent to the furtherance of the gospel in the local church. He lives out the Bible’s call to the body of Christ. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully” (Rom. 12:6–8). A healthy, committed church member receives and applies the grace of God by working to support the ministry of the local church and excels in giving what he has already received from God to gospel work. He should follow the example of the Macedonians, who committed to a financial giving strategy that was sacrificial, generous, increasing over time, and fueled by faith in God despite present circumstances (2 Cor. 8–9). What do we have that we did not first receive from God? What do we have that we should not be willing to give back to him in worship?
To fail to associate ourselves in a lasting and committed way with the Head of the church by joining his body is surely a sign of ingratitude, whether from an uninformed or a dull heart. We who have the privilege of living in countries where we may freely join a local church should keep this admonition from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in mind:
It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing. They remember, as the Psalmist did, how they went “with the multitude . . . to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday (Ps. 42:4). . . . Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living in common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.1
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper and Row, 1954).
This article is adapted from What Is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile.
A healthy church member is deeply committed to and practices particular disciplines within a local church.
The New Testament apostles can't conceive of anything called a Christian that's not connected to Christ's body.
What is church membership? It’s the commitment Christians make to keep one another accountable for regularly gathering and centering their lives together on the gospel.
Thabiti Anyabwile reflects on the value and benefits of local church membership, showing what the Bible really teaches about the idea of formal membership.