Why the Churches in India Must Practice Church Membership
Many churchgoers in India have no understanding of the significance of church membership. Some have misconceived notions because of unhealthy membership practices by some denominational churches. They have seen in these churches that church membership is all about paying money to the church in order to get the privileges they offer, such as solemnizing marriages and auspicious occasions, and providing a six feet space to bury the dead bodies in their cemeteries.
Well, this is not what a healthy and meaningful membership is like. Church membership is not like a membership in a social club where you pay some money and enroll your name to simply enjoy its privileges. Biblical church membership is essentially for spiritual welfare, not for material benefits.
The following are the two primary reasons why I believe church membership is essential in local churches.
1. We need church membership for people to hear the biblical gospel and must be given an opportunity to genuinely put their trust in Christ Jesus.I come across so many people who claim to believe in Christ Jesus, but after talking to them for a while, it becomes obvious that they are ignorant of the gospel of Christ.
Multitudes of people claim to be members of local churches without knowing the gospel. Their belief is in Christ the healer or in Christ the problem-solver or in Christ who materially blesses, but not in Christ who is crucified on the cross to pay the price for the forgiveness of sin.
Added to this problem is the passion of many pastors whose focus is only on increasing the numbers of the church rather than being concerned to make sure that their members know the gospel and are saved.
Therefore, church membership helps to gauge and take remedial measures with this 'gospel-ignorance' problem. When new persons begin attending the church, a special meeting must be conducted to teach them the gospel of Christ Jesus. They must be taught about the problem of sin and its consequences, the death and the resurrection of Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, and how repentant faith in the work of Christ on the cross is essential to receive God’s free gift of salvation.
We must never live under the assumption that all who come to church know the gospel and are saved. It is good to preach the gospel to them in a private setting like membership meeting, give them an opportunity to ask questions and to get their doubts clarified, and eventually lead them to sincerely trust in Christ Jesus to receive salvation. If they are already saved, it is well and good.
Then, they can officially be declared as members of the local church. And if they are not saved, they can still be encouraged to attend church meetings with a hope of getting saved someday by God’s grace.
Moreover, it must be noted here that only church members, who we believe are truly saved, must be encouraged to take baptism, participate in the breaking of the bread, involve in the ministries of church, and voice in church affairs.
2. We need church membership because people must understand the importance of local church and commitment to it.A lot of people suppose that church is about buildings and programs. They attend the church whenever they feel like, and change churches whenever they face inconvenience. There is no commitment, no responsibility, and no love for the church. They are either casual attendees or church hoppers or both.
Some churchgoers even think that they are only obligated to attend the services. They have no understanding that church is God’s chosen people, His community and the living temple in which they are being sanctified. They are uninformed of the fact that church is God’s family in which they have to love one another and pray for each other. They lack the knowledge that church is Christ’s body in which they have a ministry to serve one another, using God-given gifts, for one another’s edification.
Therefore, church membership helps people to understand what church is and their commitment to it. Since we don’t know people’s background and their understanding of the church, after teaching them the gospel of Christ Jesus, they must be clearly taught the significance and functions of a biblical church. They can also be taught the doctrinal beliefs of the local church and its particular functions.
Thereafter, they must be encouraged and given an opportunity to consider becoming a member of the church.
Finally, this is the sum up of the message: Every person who comes to church must understand what the gospel of Christ is and how he/she can be saved. And every person who is saved in Christ Jesus must understand the significance of the local church, his/her commitment to the church, and his/her responsibility in the church.
Church membership is of great help in meaningfully leading people to salvation and to become committed members of a local church. Remember that a biblical church is a community of members saved by the blood of Christ, and a community of committed members who live together in love and purity, reflecting God’s glory to the lost world.
Recommended Reading: Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman.
C. Stephen David is a child of the Living God, a husband to Chaithanya, a father to two children, and an elder/shepherd of Ekklesia Evangelical Fellowship (www.eefchurch.org). He lives with his family in Hyderabad, India.