Summary of the sermon preached by Rev Dr K. Song on 20 August 2017 at St Columba’s Presbyterian Church, Peppermint Grove.
Bible Readings: (OT) Jeremiah 31:31-40 / (NT) 1 Corinthians 12:12-27
I. Popular understanding of church membership
II. Biblical teaching on church membership
III. Biblical teaching on practicING church membership
Having read the passage from 1 Cor. 12, it is obvious that God’s church and church membership are not two separate subjects but an interconnected, thus, inseparable matter. Moreover, it seems – in a sense – that the Apostle Paul has built up the chapters of 1 Corinthians before this passage to talk about and emphasise the truth of church and its membership, then, moves on after this passage to explain what he means with this truth of church and its membership in the rest of 1 Corinthians. As you look at the very beginning of this First Letter to the Corinthian church, after saying greeting to all fellow believers and thanking to the Lord’s grace, the apostle immediately says this in v. 10: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” All chapters after this are about how to consider and promote oneness or being same minded in church. Then, finally, our text passage for this morning is given, teaching about church and its membership.
I. POPULAR UNDERSTANDING OF CHURCH MEMBERSHIP
First, I’d like to point out a general and popular view on church membership shared among Christians. In a word, church membership has become to the minds of our contemporaries one of the trivial, insignificant matters of Christian faith. It’s now an option for anyone wishes to choose.
This is the current situation for many churches. Anyone can worship at any church, partake the Lord’s Supper, attend any small group meeting, visited by a minister in case admitted to hospital, or simply leave a church to go to another. Sad to say, but, that’s how many, if not majority, Christians see church membership in our time. To them, church membership is a constraint or obligation. So, they avoid it, disregard it all along. Church membership is one of the fast disappearing things in the life of many churches.
What might have contributed to this current situation? First of all, the pulpits of churches have been quiet and not sufficiently emphasised on this matter. Second, the spirit of this age, namely, search not for a committed but for an easy-going way of life, has induced people to be more indifferent to this matter. And third, a broad evangelicalism has disconnected salvation and church membership in their teaching. In a word, as I said earlier, church membership to the minds of quite a number of Christians in our generation is an option to choose, not mandatory, something that is dying, thus, not appealing to their minds.
II. BIBLICAL TEACHING ON CHURCH MEMBERSHIP
But the biblical teaching on church membership is the opposite to such a popular view as this. It is all-binding, closely connected to and interwoven with our salvation and sanctification as well as our glorification. Let me elaborate this a bit more.
First, church membership is interwoven with the teaching of our salvation. In other words, becoming a Christian, becoming a believer who trusts in Jesus means that he/she is united with Him the Lord. And, being united with Jesus means that the believer now becomes a member of His body, that is, church. Vs. 12-13 of our text passage tells us this: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” ‘We are baptised into one body,’ says v. 13 and that means our salvation through faith in Jesus.
This can easily be explained with the birth of a baby to a family because having faith in Jesus is described in the Bible as a ‘new birth’ and becoming a Christian is often called as a ‘born again’ Christian. So, when a baby is born, this baby is born as a member of his family. This relationship is not a choice. These days, people talk about ‘choice’ – to be any gender one likes to be is a ‘choice,’ some people say; to grant an unborn baby life or not is a ‘choice,’ others say; or to stop or keep the life of a certain patient is also a ‘choice,’ still others claim. But all their claims are man-made and spurious. As a baby born to a family is not a ‘choice’ but the beginning of an unbreakable relationship, every Christian is born to be a member of the family of God.
Local church membership is, therefore, like a birth certificate. Everyone is born to a family – I’m talking generally here. Yet, every human being is born to the family of humanity, not to the family of any other species. We all belong to the family of humanity, but within this humanity, each belongs to a specific family. This is an easy illustration of our local church membership within our membership to the eternal universal church of God.
See how the Bible is filled with the explanations of this kind of family relationship when it talks about our status in Jesus. Eph. 4:4-6, for example, says: “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” As we put our trust in the Lord, we belong to Him and become members of His body, namely, His church.
But this doesn’t mean anyone’s mere membership to a local church guarantees that person’s salvation. It doesn’t work that way. Believing in Jesus saves a person, and ‘faith’ that gives birth to a believer makes that person belong to Jesus, thus, to His body, that is, His church.
Second, church membership is also interwoven with the teaching of Christian’s sanctification, in other word, growing in faith and living more for the glory of God in Jesus. V. 13 of our text passage says that we ‘drink of one Spirit,’ meaning, we receive spiritual nutrition through the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit works through the word of God, as Jesus pointed out in Jn. 14:26 that the Helper, the Holy Spirit, will teach us all things and bring to our remembrance all that our Lord has taught us. All believers receive this spiritual ‘drink,’ nutrition for our growth in the Lord.
Again, this is about what follows the birth of a baby in the family. The baby’s mother feeds her son; the father protects and guides his baby daughter as she grows. The baby learns how to love his/her parents and, at the same time, how to love and relate to other brothers and sisters in the family. That’s how church membership is connected to Christians’ sanctification.
This is exactly what vs. 15-26 of our text passage try to explain with an analogy of the members of human body. We learn in Christ’s body, His church, the meaning of being reconciled to God, thus, to one another. We learn in church why Jesus saved us and brought us into His church. Here, in church, we learn why and how to love one another. Here, in church, we grow in understanding the joy of being in Christ as redeemed members of God’s family.
And third, church membership is closely connected to our glorification, that is, entering into God’s kingdom not only as its eternal residents, but also kings to reign together with Jesus. Especially, Jesus in Jn. 6:52-57 is clear about this. He says, “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on Me, he also will live because of Me.” Our Lord also teaches us in Jn. 14:3 in these words, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.” Rom. 8:38-39 confirms this teaching of our Lord by saying that nothing or no one of the world can sever us, Christians, from the hand of the Father. Church membership simply represents our eternal membership of God’s eternal kingdom, that is, church. We call this eternal kingdom as God’s invisible, universal and eternal church, compared to a church that is local, temporal and limited.
To sum up what the Bible teaches about church membership, becoming a Christian, one belongs to Christ’s church, His body. In this sense, church membership is inseparably connected to our salvation, growing in faith and trusting in the Lord more in our life, and finally, to our entering into the eternal kingdom of our Lord which is His eternal church! So, the Bible teaches us that church membership is a truly important matter in our faith and life in the Lord Jesus.
III. BIBLICAL TEACHING ON PRACTICING CHURCH MEMBERSHIP
Then, our next focus is on how we must regard church membership and put it into practice. First of all, all believers of Jesus must willingly join the church he/she regularly attend worship services and share Christian fellowship with others because that is the body of Christ through which one grows in faith, first, and, second, builds each other up – in other word, mutual edification – and, third, fulfils God’s will. After all, that’s how a family works.
As I have already mentioned earlier, we learn in Christ’s body, His church, the meaning of being reconciled to God, thus, to one another. We learn in church why Jesus saved us and brought us into His church. Let me remind you what Eph. 2 tells us about this; it’s in vs. 13-16, “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” Interestingly, Jesus our Lord says that He purposed to create in Himself ‘one new man,’ thus, reconcile us both to God ‘in one body’ through the cross. Here, being reconciled to the Father and to one another are equally described as the purpose of Jesus’ coming and dying on the cross. This is why Jesus confirmed that loving God and loving our neighbour are the two great commandments of the entire Bible.
Moreover, numerous verses in the NT talk about practicing church membership. In other words, living our family life together with our siblings in our family home. For instance, have a look at Eph. 4:1, “I therefore … urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Vs. 2-3 follow, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Take another example. Talking about ‘putting on new self,’ in other words, being born to a family, Col. 3:12 and following continue in these words, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”
This is exactly how a baby ought to learn and grow and live in his/her family, isn’t it? This is about the life of a family, about practicing our church membership. Were church membership taken out from these verses, there would have left no life with these words of God.
After all, this is the teaching of v. 26 of our text passage from 1 Cor. 12. The verse reads: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.”
Having said, let me conclude by pointing out the blessing promised to biblical church membership and its faithful practice. First, church membership signifies our eternal roll in Christ’s kingdom, namely, ‘reigning together with Jesus as kings.’ See what 2 Tim. 2:11-12 says: “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with Him [Jesus], we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him.” Through our membership of this local church, we’re preparing for and practicing our eternal reign with Jesus in His eternal kingdom. Doesn’t this picture amaze you? We’re tasting our eternal heavenly blessing through our local church membership.
Second, the blessing that is surely promised through church membership is, as I borrow the words from Eph. 4:13, “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Also, in v. 15 of the same chapter says, “we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the Head, into Christ.” In a word, we’ll experience every blessing of the Lord that is necessary for our progression to our maturity and unity in Jesus. Still in other words, God will surely hold our hands and guide us to His blessed kingdom. In this path, He’ll surely give us what is not only necessary for us, but also joyful to our souls.
See how firmly and how joyfully our Apostle says in the very last verse we read from our text passage, that is, 1 Cor. 12:27, when he talks about church membership of those in the Corinthian church. In Spirit, he is talking about our church membership in this verse. Please picture the apostle’s face and heart when you hear this verse: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it”!
May the Lord bless all His beloved children with the meaning of church membership, and through its faithful practice in their life. May He add the joy of heaven to each and everyone who loves the Lord Jesus! Amen. ***