Membership 1 (audio file)
First off, you may be wondering why I chose to talk about this topic this morning. Yes, this is a topical sermon. typically what I like to do is choose a book of the bible and preach right through it. I love that way of preaching because it forces us all to deal with each text equally, and not skip over texts that might be controversial, or not as fun to teach or preach. I love that, and that is for the most part what I want to do with you all. There are times however, when the church is looking at something that needs to be addressed in a timely manner, and this is one of those times.
You may or may not know that the board of stewards is rewriting the articles of ministry for Emmaus Christian Church. This has not been a recent thing, it goes back several years to individuals looking at the current articles, and seeing deficiencies in them. some of those deficiencies as I understand were more evident in the past six months. So the board, about 8 months ago tasked a committee of members to take on the rewriting of the articles of ministry. That draft was presented to the Board, and the board is now working through it slowly to establish how we are to run as we look ahead to the future of this church.
The first topic that the board wanted to address in the articles is that which probably caused the majority of conflict in this time is that of membership. When I came to this church it was clear to me that there were differing opinions as to what it means to be a member of a church, and specifically what it means to be a member of this particular church. So I have been spending a lot of time lately reading scripture, and books on membership, to hopefully bring a biblical perspective to what membership in the local church is, and what it is not. I want to give a basis of understanding, so that when you read the proposed amendment to the articles in a month or two, you will understand the why behind the what that we are voting on.
Before we get too far into this I want you to do something for me. Take whatever your idea of membership in the church is, and think about that for a second. What is it to you? Is it a membership like your Costco membership that you signed up for and pay your dues, and so you are entitled to shop for the shelves of this store? Or is it like a membership to a pool, or the Y? You are a member, so you get to come and use the stuff, and and see the people, and maybe take a aerobics class, avoid the showers, and go home? Or maybe it isn’t any of those things to you. Maybe you see it like your membership in your family. It isn’t something you paid for, or earned, you were born into it. You weren’t given a choice in the matter, you grew up here, so you are a member. Or, is it a vote at an annual meeting? There are many different paradigms for membership in organizations that we can look at and import some understanding, sometimes without realizing it, into our understanding of church membership. So, if you will humor me for a bit, please take that understanding of what membership is, and lets put it on the shelf for just a minute.
What I hope to do this morning, is present a biblical case for how we have chosen to define membership here at Emmaus, in hopes that we will all come to a greater understanding of what it means to be a member of any church.
So, to start with, I want to ask you something, what is the church? The new testament describes the Church in two primary ways. There are uses of it in the singular, such as Matt 16:18, when Jesus says that upon the rock of what Peter declares, that Jesus will build his Church (singular) and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. most people refer to that as the Church universal. It is referencing Christ’s Body, or his bride around the world, those whom he has paid for with his blood and ransomed from every people, nation, tribe and tongue. That is the singular use of the word Church. There are also churches mentioned in the new testament. these churches are always the church “of Ephesus” or Philippi, or Sardis, or Corinth. These are referred to as local churches. The local expressions of the universal church. Now, in our times for various reasons, there is not simply one church body in Powhatan, there are many of what we call local churches here in this area. Now, there is a very large representation of the universal body in Powhatan, but we don’t all get together to worship regularly, and hear the same teaching ect. This is similar to the “churches in Galatia” the Paul addresses.
Now what I want to point out is that the distinction between the church universal is not about describing a difference, it is about being specific in description. Let me explain what I mean. To bring Paul’s “body analogy to our scientific age let me ask this question: what is the one characteristic that is so pervasive in your body that even your saliva can be ID’d to belong to you? We’ve all seen the CSI shows where a killer is discovered by a few cells of their body that contain the same DNA. the thing that links every part of your body to one another. It is the distinguishing feature of your body. in order to be a part of your body, a any cell in it must contain your DNA, otherwise, it is not your body. The same is true of Christ’s body. In order for us to be a part of the same body, we must carry the same DNA. Now to get more specific, if there is a hand found out in the street, and there are two people saying that they both lost their hands, and they are fighting over the hand you found. How do you determine whose hand is whose? Even more than a DNA test, it would probably be easy to tell, imagine if it was a man and a woman, it would be pretty obvious right? There are characteristics that the hand will have that match that of the body it came from, it may have the same age marks, or skin tone, or features, and will definitely have the same DNA. Now the point that I want to make is that the requirements to determine belonging to the body do not vary at any level, when it comes to it, they must have the same DNA. That is what links the parts of the body together. Now, this DNA for the church is what we read this morning from Hebrews, lets look at that again…. Now as I read this again, I want you to listen for the answer to this question in the text: What is the basis of our being able to meet with one another, what is the DNA for the people addressed in this passage?
listen while I read…
Did you catch the progression of this text? this is a very logical text of scripture. he sets a basis for why they can do what he is exhorting them to do. he says, “since” That also means because. now again, it is very important that we understand the context surrounding what he says here, fortunately he sums it up for us in this text. He says since we have confidence to enter the Holy places……
Then the result is the following, he says let us: draw near to God; Hold Fast to the confession of our hope; and consider how we can stir one another up.
The thing I want to bring out in this text is that your salvation personally, affects your response corporately. Personal salvation leads to corporate membership.
Let’s look at another passage quickly, if you are able, turn to 1 Peter for a second. 1 Peter 2:4-10…….
You see the same progression at work here, there is a coming to Christ that leads to a corporate reality. it is “as you Come to the living stone, you are being made into a House” there is no distinction in the individual and the corporate. it is one in the same. the individual must come first, but the corporate must come second. The point of it, we see in V. 10, once you were not a people, now you are GOD’S PEOPLE!
Now, lets go for a minute to 1 Corinthians 12:12-31….
Here we see the most prolific use of the word “member” in the new testament. but here it is with the understanding of a member in a body. When you become a Christian, you become a part, or a “member” of the body. Not because you sign a card, but because “God arranged the members in the body, each one as he chose.” v 18. And once again, we see the prerequisite for membership in this body is being baptized into the same spirit.
So I hope that from this very quick survey of these texts, you are able to see that there is a corporate nature to our salvation. We are saved as individuals, for the purpose of being placed in a body. That the body of Christ has two descriptions. the universal, and the Local. That the admittance for both is the same thing. The way to become a member, is only by the accepting of Jesus’ work on our behalf. Through the curtain, as it says, through his flesh. The DNA that we all must carry in our cells is the finished work of Jesus Christ.
So, I want to leave you with a little bit of a cliff hanger here. Let me read to you a text from Matthew, and then ask a question that I want to answer next week. Matthew 18:15.