You became a member of the church that belongs to
Christ when you were baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:26-27). The Lord
added you to the number of His followers, metaphorically assembled, when you
became obedient to the faith (Acts 2:36-41, 47). As a member of the
body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23) you accepted certain obligations: to
submit to His leadership revealed in His word; and to give yourself freely
to the service of your Lord (Rom. 6:17-18; 1 Pet. 3:15). This is your
status whether you become a member of a local church or not. But the
Scriptures clearly teach you to work and worship with other brethren (Heb. 10:25). Their presence and accessibility, present both privilege
and obligation to all who would be faithful to Christ.
Saints who have agreed to function as a team, under
overseers and through servants, become a "church" in the local organized
sense (Phil. 1:1; 4:15). This "church" is made up of members of the
universal body of Christ, yet has some distinctive roles - is not to be
confused with the whole body of Christ, nor with individual members thereof.
Believers are to care for their widows, "and let not the church be charged;
that it may relieve them that are widows indeed" (1 Tim. 5:16). A
distinction is made between a plurality of saints engaged in a spiritual
work, and "the church" (Matt. 18:17). Elders are to shepherd the
flock "which is among you" - they have local church obligations (1 Pet.
5:1-3; Tit. 1:5; Acts 14:23). Letters to the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 2:3) show clearly the distinctive nature of local churches. In
becoming a member of a local church you accept obligations there also. You
should not enter into local church membership without understanding the
obligations and responsibilities that go with that relationship.
This means you give up some independence to function
collectively. There could be no effective team work if each member operated
with his own judgment, with no regard for the team effort. A local church
must operate with a common mind, i.e., agreement in judgment. The elders
lead in forming this judgment, and as a sheep you are to follow your
shepherds (1 Thess. 5:12f). For a more current illustration: to play
football as a team, each player must act in keeping with the play called by
the quarterback or coach.
As much of the work done will be via some medium of
exchange (money), you are obligated to bear your share of this load. The
collection on the First Day of the week is a means of pooling resources so
that team work can be done. When a planned program is announced, and you
help finance that program, you are doing some share of that work - pulling
with the team. But your participation also means you share in the
responsibility for what is done. If you cannot conscientiously support your
local church program you had better change it, or join a team you believe is
serving the Lord faithfully (Rom. 14:22-23).
Church members sometimes seem to think their presence
at service and their contribution to the treasury is the whole of their
relationship to the local church. This ignores a most vital reason for
collective work. Hebrews 10:25 gives "exhorting one another"
(encouraging) as the basic purpose for assembling. We must learn to think of
the local church as a mutual encouragement society: brethren banded together
to help one another go to heaven. In public worship we "teach and admonish"
by our singing (Col. 3:16). We edify one another even as we pray (1 Cor. 14:14-17). The Lord's Supper recalls Christ's sacrifice in our
behalf and we "show the Lord's death till he come" (11:23-26). Every
member is told: "comfort yourselves together, and edify one another. . . "
(1 Thess. 5:11).
And mutual assistance goes far beyond public worship.
Fellow Christians enter into a pact to "bear one another's burdens and so
fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). This involves seeking to
correct the errors of one another (v. 1). When you enter into covenant
relationship with other brethren, you accept the obligation to correct and
encourage others; and agree that they should correct and encourage you. You
are to love your brethren, not in word only, but in deed and truth (1 Jn.
3:16-19). True love removes the chips from our shoulders. It suffers
long and is kind, envies not, does not parade itself, is not puffed up, does
not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not easily provoked, etc. (see 1 Cor. 13). These things need to be remembered when correcting, and
when being corrected. If you have missed this aspect of fellowship in a
local church, you are depriving others, and yourself, of help every saint
needs and has a right to expect.
People Are Different
Yes they are, and joining hands in the Lord's service
does not remove all differences. Occupations, hobbies, financial status,
regional customs, age, and many other personal differences will dictate
friendships and associations. There is no reason to expect these differences
to vanish when we become members of the same local church. But if we will
concentrate on what we have in common: on our love for the Lord, and desire
to do His will; we will not allow personal differences to destroy our more
noble purpose. We may, in fact, learn to share with one another to such an
extent that our differences only expand the field of our church work. We can
help one another "fill out" what is lacking in each of us, so that our
differences become our balance and our strength.
A very few, who "stand fast in one
spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel"
(Phil. 1:27), will be a mighty force for good. Remember the church at
Smyrna, rich in God's sight (Rev. 2:8-11); and determine to do all
possible to make the church where you are a member, a Christ-approved