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Membership Has its Privileges

December 1, 2017

I’m old enough that I remember the decade of the 1980’s very well. Advertising slogans were in abundance. Remember “Where’s the Beef?”

One that has stuck with me for decades (has it really been decades?) is “Membership has its privileges”. Though I don’t really remember anything about the commercials (thanks to DVR I seldom have to watch them now), I do remember that slogan and that it was for American Express. They even had one before that which was pretty memorable too – “Don’t leave home without it”, but I digress…

The idea of “Membership has its privileges” was showing you all of these elaborate vacations, exotic dinners, the ease of changing a flight that was canceled to a first class reservation that still gets you home in time, etc. If you were worthy enough to secure the American Express card, you too could have all of these elaborate things. Of course, they don’t mention the fact that you have to pay for all of those at the end of the month, but I digress again…

I’m sure this was skillfully crafted in some advertising agency and honed and shaped to reach the audience they intended to reach (I mean, I have watched Mad Men. I know how this works…). In any event, it put the idea in one’s mind that this card was on some stratosphere above Visa and MasterCard, and for some, it became some sort of status symbol.

When I think of membership, of course, I think about church membership. Church membership is much more important than American Express, but sometimes we don’t really know why. Different churches handle membership in different ways, and some have more or less done away with official membership. As I look at the New Testament, I see clear illustrations of local church membership, so I don’t think it’s time to do away with valued church membership, nor will it ever be.

The early New Testament Christians in Acts clearly demonstrated a connection to a local body. They met together, they fellowshipped together, they broke bread together, they studied the Word together and they prayed together. Not only that, they helped each other out when there was an issue. To think of the church as simply the church “universal”, as one big church and not to look at it into individual congregations simply is not Biblical.

After all, we see letters written by Paul to the churches at Ephesus, Thessalonica, Colosse, Galatia, etc. We see 7 churches mentioned in the book of Revelation. We see metaphors like the flock, sheep, the body, and the temple. We see phrases like “sheep in the flock”, “member of a family”, and “part of the body”. Instructions were given to elders and pastors to “shepherd the flock among you”. If that is the case, there must be a particular “flock” to lead.

I do think that we probably don’t educate our congregations enough on what membership means or even how it’s dealt with in our individual congregations. I take some blame for that myself. With people being a lot more mobile now than in generations past and with people growing up with different backgrounds, it’s important to educate and inform.

There are only two qualifications for membership, according to Scripture: repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38). Once that is secured, generally the rest falls into place. Obviously there are some doctrinal things that must be understood – I don’t want to join something that I don’t share similar beliefs with, for example.

There are a number of reasons why you should join a local church. These include:
1. It indicates we are unashamed to identify with Christ and His people
2. It is impossible to be a fully obedient Christian apart from being a part of a local church.
3. The gifts you were given upon your confession of Christ were given to make the body of Christ stronger – the best understanding of that is within the context of the local church.
4. Membership makes the body of Christ more visible as we have people that identify with a particular body of believers.
5. We are far better together and working together than we are apart.
6. Membership enables my stewardship to be Biblical. How can I bring “the full tithe into the storehouse” if there is no local storehouse that I participate in to bring it to?

There are two basic models for membership. The country club model means I pay may dues and I receive all kinds of perks – people do things for me and I don’t have to do much. I get all of the enjoyment and things are geared toward my desires. The Biblical church membership model says I bring my tithes, I bring my talents, I bring my service and worship to the body and I GET to participate. I GET to serve. People don’t do it for me, I do it for the Lord and other people. That sounds like New Testament to me!

What think you?


Tony Watson
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church of Palestine, TX

From → Blog Posts

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