Join a Church to Display the Gospel
In more than twenty years of pastoral ministry, I’ve met dozens of folks who are skeptical about the idea of church membership. After all, Christianity is about a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, not about attaching your name to a piece of paper or engaging in church business meetings. In fact, why waste time talking about church membership when we could be talking about Jesus? For some folks, the very idea of church membership seems like a distraction from what should be the most important thing in our lives—the gospel.
I agree, of course, that all Christians should make the gospel the center of their lives. We want to share the gospel with others and see it advance throughout the world. We want our lives to reflect the love of God in the gospel and, as Paul said, walk in a manner “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). I’m passionate that every Christian display the gospel in their lives, which is why I’m passionate about church membership.
Church membership wasn’t invented by pastors, ministry leaders, or church growth experts. Membership is the natural outcome of the gospel itself. Perhaps you’ve never considered it, but the gospel is not just about how God saves us from the “dominion of darkness”; it’s also a message about how God saves us into the “kingdom of the Son he loves”—a kingdom bustling with other redeemed sinners who, like us, are now citizens of heaven (Col. 1:13; see also Eph. 2:19). If you’re passionate about the gospel, then one of the primary ways you display the gospel to the world is by joining a local church. Let’s unpack that idea.
The gospel is a message about how guilty sinners can be reconciled to a holy God through the death and resurrection of Christ. Christians are those who recognize their own moral bankruptcy and, repenting of sin, turn to Christ for forgiveness. Declared righteous in Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they now gladly live under the rule of Christ, following his commands and seeking to glorify God. Ultimately, a Christian is someone who has been reconciled to God.
Be Reconciled to God’s People
Yet that’s not all! The gospel not only reconciles us to God but also to his people. One reason so many Christians have minimized the importance of church membership is because they’ve reduced the gospel to merely a personal relationship with God and not much else. But the Bible teaches something quite different. Sinners are hostile not only to God, but to those who bear his image. Our broken relationship with God creates broken relationships with others. The Bible regularly portrays that reality. In fact, do you remember the first story in the Bible after Adam and Eve’s fall and banishment from the garden? It’s the story of one human being murdering another—Cain killing Abel. Sinners want to shove God off his throne and put themselves on it, and, as Cain shows, we’re not about to let some other human being take it from us. Not a chance. Adam’s act of breaking fellowship with God resulted in an immediate break in fellowship among all human beings. It’s every man for himself.
Thus, when the gospel restores our relationship with God, it also restores fellowship between us and other redeemed sinners. When we abandon our hostility toward God, we also abandon our hostility for one another. In other words, Christians are those who now delight in the great commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:34–40). What does the gospel produce in us? Love for God and love for his people.
Being reconciled to God, then, means being reconciled to everyone else who is reconciled to God. This point isn’t merely an inference of the gospel message. Jesus and the apostles explicitly and frequently teach this idea throughout the New Testament.
Being reconciled to God, then, means being reconciled to everyone else who is reconciled to God.
For instance, in the first half of Ephesians 2, Paul describes the salvation Christ has provided for his people. Many Christians rightly treasure Paul’s words that we are saved “by grace . . . through faith” and as a “gift of God—not by works” (Eph. 2:8–9). Yet, after showing how the gospel restores our fellowship with God, Paul turns, in the second half of Ephesians 2, to show how the gospel restores fellowship between all those who are in Christ:
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. . . . His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Eph. 2:14–16)
All those who belong to God are “fellow citizens” and “members of God’s household” (Eph. 2:19). Christ has destroyed our “hostility” toward one another. In Christ, God’s people have “peace” and are reconciled into “one body.” Paul’s words are inescapably clear: if we’re reconciled to God, we’re reconciled to his people.
Yes, the gospel gives us a personal relationship with God. But according to Scripture, that relationship with God includes meaningful relationships with his people. When we come to Christ, he folds us into a family—a family with actual flesh-and-blood, step-on-your-toes people.
Church membership, therefore, is the natural outgrowth of the gospel. When we receive God’s mercy, we become part of “a people” (1 Pet. 2:10). When we receive God’s grace (Eph. 2:1–10), we are included in a covenant community (Eph. 2:11–20). Reconciled to God, reconciled to his people.
This article is adapted from Why ShouId I Join a Church? by Mark Dever.
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