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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am Service, 2006-03-19

Text: 1 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 10:24,25; 13:17,18

There are still questions that are sometimes asked, e.g. Why should I become a member of a church? Can I not just be regularly attending the church without ever joining it as a member? What are the spiritual responsibilities of every church member? These questions are definitely more important to us. To answer them, we must look into the Word of God. 

I. Why Be a Member of a Local Church?

In this present age of globalization and frequent travels, more and more people are questioning the necessity of joining a local church. Why make a commitment to belong to a local church? Why not just remain a visitor at the church we attend? After all, Christianity is a personal relationship with God, and it is faith in Christ and our daily walk with Him that matters, not membership. Hence there seems to be no real necessity for membership in a local church, because any organization or facility that can help a Christian to grow spiritually and to maintain His walk with the Lord is just as good as a local church. Today there are multitudes of parachurch groups and some of them may even be better than churches in providing discipleship training and in reaching the lost for Christ.

Besides this, there are some people who have a rather negative view of any kind of membership and will strenuously avoid it - whether it is church membership, club membership or clan membership. To them membership is associated only with paying of costly subscription fees, bearing heavy responsibilities, being bound by rigid rules and regulations, following the whimsand fancies of the leadership, lobbying for key positions at elections, and making confusing decisions on property and assets. They are really tired of all that. Hence if they can avoid membership of any kind, they certainly would.

Is church membership to be treated like this? Is it something optional which we can choose to do without if we do not want it? The answer from the Scriptures is a resounding no! Far from being only one of the many options for the Christian, the church is the primary means through which God accomplishes His plan in the world. It is not like any other institution in the world. The church is His ordained instrument for calling the lost to Himself, and the context within which He sanctifies those who are born into His family. Therefore God expects and even demands a commitment to the church from everyone who claims to know Him.

Some passages of Scripture would help us to see this. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus proclaimed that He would build His church. Then in Matthew 18:17-20 He invested the church with the authority to act on His behalf. Most of the epistles in the New Testament were written to local churches (e.g. Colossians, Philippians and Ephesians), and three of the other epistles were written to individuals (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus - what we call the 'pastoral epistles') to instruct them on the proper function of the local church. Revelation chapters 2 and 3 consists of epistles from Christ Himself to seven local churches which were existing in Asia Minor at that time - located in the cities of Ephesus, Smryna, Sardis, Thyatira, Pergamum, Philadelphia and Laodicea.

However, no single verse proclaims the importance of the local church more powerfully than 1 Timothy 3:15 'But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.'

This verse is not about the Universal Church of all the born again believers in the world. It is specifically about the local church. The term 'house of God' here does not refer to the church building, but the church family. It is God's will that all believers should serve Him not only as individuals, but also together as a family. We can therefore say that each local church is a family unit of God. 

Now, we are all familiar with the concept of the family unit, because we all belong to our own respective families. Just as your family plays an important part in your life, the church plays an indispensable role in the life of the believer - to enable him to do his part for the overall work of God in the world, and for the truth of God. The local church is ordained by God to provide the necessary structure that all individual believers need in order to build one another up, to have proper accountability to one another, to earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3) and also to proclaim the Word of God to the world.

With all this, we can now understand why church membership is so necessary. Those who take it lightly and who refuse to become members of any local church when they have the opportunity to do so, are only denying themselves membership in God's family - they are clearly outside of God's will, because they are refusing to take their appointed place within the household of God. Because of this, each local church has to maintain a list of its members, to know who belongs to it.

A writer named Eric Lane once wrote, 'The church is not just a loose collection of individuals, it is a closely knit structure like a human body (Eph 4:16) and has therefore to be rightly organized. For such ordering it needs to know exactly who belongs to it. A family which sat down to its meal-table or locked its doors at night, not knowing who was supposed to be there and who not, would be an extremely strange phenomenon. An army battalion which did not know whom to expect on parade would soon be in chaos. If the church is to be a true family and an effective fighting force it needs to know who exactly belongs to it.' This is the whole purpose of having membership in a local church.

One secondary reason why you should not choose to remain as a non-member is that local church membership does have certain advantages. You will have opportunities for service in areas where church membership is required, like serving in key positions in one of our ministries or fellowships, being entrusted with important responsibilities like the handling of funds and being sent as a missionary of the church. You will also be given higher priority for things were there are limited places, like registration for our church camp. And of course, you will also be able to cast your vote on church matters during our annual congregational meetings, and so become part of the decision-making process which God uses to direct the Church to do His will. However, advantages like these should never be your main reason for joining a local church. The main primary reason as we had seen earlier, is that the local Church plays an indispensible role in your life as a Christian, and membership is not an option but a biblical requirement.

II. What Are the Responsibilities of Every Member?

A. Regular Attendance

The first responsibility of every church member is to keep regular attendance in Church every Sunday. Hebrews 10:24,25 tells us 'And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.' 

This passage reveals that even in the early church, there were already some members who habitually failed to turn up in church. And the writer of Hebrews tells his readers that they are not to do this. In fact they ought to be more diligent about their attendance, as the Day of Christ's return draws nearer. Now, we are obviously much nearer to the Day of Christ's return than those first century Christians were. And this makes it all the more necessary for us not to forsake church attendance. We definitely need it more than ever, because the trials and temptations facing Christians who live in the End Times are going to be harder and harder. Meeting regularly provides the mutual support and encouragement that we need in order to be strong against the influences of the world.

Unfortunately, there are some even in our own church who have a bad habit of skipping church attendance. We have been observing considerable fluctuations our Sunday morning attendance. It shoots up on the first 2 Sundays of the month when there is Holy Communion, and then it ebbs over the rest of the Sundays of the month. 

What this means is that some of us here are attending church only once a month instead of once a week. If you are doing this, please remember that God's command is to keep 1 day in seven as a day of rest and worship, and not just 1 day a month. Unless you are sick or infirmed with age, or on an overseas trip you should always make it a point to be here in God's House every Sunday. You have an appointment to God to keep and you should not miss it. And whenever you are posted overseas for study or for work for a long period of time, you should inform our church office about this and provide us with your overseas address, so that we can maintain contact with you. It is your duty to do this as a church member. We will put you on our overseas mailing list so that you can continue to receive the church weekly, prayer bulletin and also our daily devotionals.

Church attendance is not the only responsibility that you have as a member of the church. Another responsibility that you have is:

B. Rigorous Participation

It is one thing to be physically present in church, but it another thing to be actively participating in what goes on in the church when you are physically present. At the very least, all members ought to be participating in the worship service. Worship is the most basic duty of every believer, as Psalm 100:2,3 tells us: 'Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.'

Unfortunately some members approach the worship service without fully participating in it. Their minds and hearts are preoccupied with things that have nothing to do with worship. Since worship is focusing on God and responding to God, you are not participating in worship if you are not thinking about God during the service. You may be listening to a sermon, but without thinking of how God's truth applies to your life and affects your relationship with Him, you are not worshipping. You may be singing, 'Holy, Holy, Holy,' but if you are not thinking about God while singing it, you are not worshipping. You may be listening to the prayers made by the chairman or pastor during the service, but if you are not praying with him and thinking of God, you are not worshipping. Our Lord Jesus described the Pharisees and Scribes in their futile worship when He said in Matthew 15:8, 'This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.'

Dearly beloved, none of us should ever be a 'pew potato' who might easily be mistaken for part of the church furniture! God wants you to participate outwardly and physically in the worship service in whatever ways are appropriate. When hymns are being sung, be sure to sing them outwardly with your voice as well as inwardly with your heart. When the Scripture text is being read out, be sure to open your Bible to the passage and follow along by reading it. When the sermon is being preached, be ready to listen and to jot down the most important points in the sermon outline or on a notepad. 

Now, I mentioned earlier that participation in the worship service is the most basic level of participation for all members. But this is not all that church members ought to participate in. As a Christian, your duty is to keep making good progress to grow spiritually by building up your own knowledge of God's Word, and by having meaningful fellowship with other Christians. Therefore you should also be attending a Sunday School class, or a Fellowship group or Neighbourhood Bible Community meeting regularly. Whenever our Church holds special Bible seminars or lectures and Bible camps with special speakers who are invited from overseas, please make every effort to rearrange your schedule so that you can attend them, and gain much spiritual blessings from them. 

Nothing makes a mother happier than to see all her children enjoying all the good nutritious food that she has painstakingly prepared for themeach day. It makes all her toil and labour worthwhile, especially when they grow up to become healthy and strong. But if the children refuse to eat all the good food she prepares for them each day, or if they prefer to eat junk food with their friends, she will be quite heartbroken for them. 

The Church, like that mother, has also put a lot of effort into preparing the most nutritious spiritual meals for all its members. There are different sermons that are preached at our 3 services each Lord's day. There are Sunday School classes available for every age group. There is also our annual Church Camp, our Memory Verse programme, the articles in the church weeklies and the printing of the J.R. Miller Daily Devotional booklets every quarter. But how many of us are making full use of all these? 

Another important area of participation is prayer. Do you take time to read the weekly Prayer Bulletin? Do you take time to pray for the needs of the various missions and ministries of the church, and for fellow church members who are sick? 

Dearly beloved, let us remember that as church members we are part of a family - the family of God. As a family we are responsible to care for one another, and uphold one another. And this means that we must take time to get to know other members in church. Smaller churches are often able to have closer and warmer fellowship among their members, because everyone knows everybody else. But because of the size of our congregation here in Life Church, it is not so easy to do this well. What it takes is a willingness on every member's part to break the ice and introduce ourselves to others. Please don't rush off immediately after the service ends, but stay for a while to talk with those who are sitting around you. For starters you can ask the question, 'How long have you been attending Life Church?' Who can tell how God can use this to help integrate someone into the life of the church.

There was one member in our midst who had been worshipping in this church for five years without knowing anyone, until one Sunday when the person sitting beside him took the initiative to introduce himself after the service. Through this person, this member got to know more people, and within a short time he was actively participating in a fellowship group. Today he is serving in our church as a deacon, and also as one of our worship chairmen! So please take the initiative to know other members here in God's house. Together we can build a closer and warmer fellowship and build up better participation by all of us in the life of Life Church!

Now besides the two responsibilities we have seen thus far, there is one more that we want to consider in this message, and that is:

C. Ready Submission

God has instituted positions of leadership within the church which are necessary for its smooth running and orderly administration. He has defined the roles and responsibilities of the Elders and the Deacons of the church in passages like 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. But God has also given specific instructions to the members of the church about their submission to the church's leadership. One such verse is Hebrews 13:17 'Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.'

Here the writer of Hebrews says that we need to recognize the authority of our church leaders by submitting to them. How do we do this? By listening to them, and willingly receiving their teaching and counsel. This is easy enough when we feel like submitting to them. However, there may be times when we may not feel like submitting ourselves to the leadership of the church. It may be that we are unhappy with a certain decision that the church leadership has made because it is not exactly in line with our own personal preference. But the majority of the church approves the leadership's decision. That is when we must lay aside our own personal preferences and submit obediently and willingly to the leadership. 

Submission is also required when we are personally confronted by the leadership of the church concerning some sin or spiritual deficiency they have observed in our lives. The verse we read in Hebrews 13:17 tells us that God has appointed these leaders to 'watch for our souls.' Therefore instead of getting angry with them and leaving immediately to join another church, we should recognize that God is speaking to us through them, take their counsel to heart by repenting of our sins. Such a submission may not be easy for us to give, but it is absolutely needful, and it glorifies the Lord.

You may ask then: Does this then mean that we are required by God to comply unquestioningly with everything that the leaders tell us to do? Not at all. In John's 3rd epistle, Gaius was instructed by John the apostle not to obey a person named Diotrephes, who was apparently an elected leader in the church. This was because Diotrephes was corrupted by his own pride and had opposed John's apostolic authority (3 John 9-11). When any church leader attempts to dictate us to do things that are clearly contrary to God's Word, we cannot submit to their authority, because we must always obey God rather than men (cf. Acts 5:29).

This reminds all of us that our church leaders are fallible men. They need your prayers, because they are strategic targets for Satan. Satan knows that if he can just get them to fall, the whole church will probably fall with them. Even the writer of the Book of Hebrews, who was probably a church leader himself, confessed that he needed much prayer. You will notice that the verse immediately after v.17 says, 'Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.' 

In Exodus 17:12 we are told that when the arms of Moses became weary with praying for the Israelites to have victory over the Amalekites, two men, Aaron and Hur stood one on each side of Moses to hold up his arms. When they did that, Moses was able to continue interceding for Israel and the result of it was that God gave them a resounding victory! The Lord can make you like an Aaron or a Hur to uphold the hands of your ministers. 

I trust that this morning's message on the responsibilities of church membership has helped us all now to be convinced of your responsibilities, so that you will know how you ought to behave in 'the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.' Let us now fervently ask the Lord to help us to commit ourselves to fulfilling all our responsibilities in Life Church well - including regular attendance, rigorous participation and ready submission - in order that Life Church may bring glory unto His blessed Name.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25