Recently I participated in a centuries-old tradition of which many might question the validity and the modern relevance: I became a church member.
It was not new; I had done it before – with the call to baptism at 16 came the embrace of membership. But God's leading years ago had brought my husband and I as newlyweds into new places, and now, four and a half years later, He was bringing me back. To the place where I grew and scraped my knees, sang in kids’ choir and made crafts. The community where I struggled and praised, was full of angst and learned about purity, modesty and sex. The home where I found godly mentors and lifelong friends during those rocky post-high school years that are statistically so treacherous for the youth of the church.
An imperfect church (thank goodness for that, or I certainly wouldn't be invited), but a church that sought God, knew Jesus, and taught the Bible. And in His unmerited grace, years later, after change and growth, joy and learning, and a community filled with the best kind of people, God brought me home. To a tradition, to a people, to a place. A place near and dear to my heart. A place that, for all the joys of those in-between years, I never stopped missing.
And so arose the matter of membership and the question of whether membership matters. And within in my community, within my own convictions, within my own heart, the answer stirs “yes.” Because membership, like baptism, is a declaration of commitment – I believe that is why the two so often go hand in hand. Because both say, “I am here. I am committed.”
We give ourselves to a community and open ourselves to receive. We say, like man in the garden, “It is not good to be alone.” That we need more. We need each other.
In membership we say, “Come in. Into my home, into my life, into my struggle. Encourage me and build me up, correct me and hold me accountable. And let me do the same for you.” Membership says, “I want to roll up my sleeves and plunge in, to the joys, tears, sweat and struggle that is learning, serving, giving alongside other broken, sinful people.”
And so the question may still stand – does membership hold more to it than a piece of paper and a vote? Is there room in the modern church for a seemingly archaic tradition? Can a piece of paper and an announcement from the pulpit say belonging, anymore than simply showing up – voting with your feet, so to speak – week in, week out?
I think it holds more; I think membership matters more. More than a formality and certainly more than a free-spirited independence, membership gives our commitment to the community in, well, that community. After all, isn't it a little ironic to think we can commit to belonging to a community, without doing so in front of that community?
When we look at the New Testament church we see no room for the Lone Ranger. Not to say that he couldn't have repented and found freedom in the community of Christ – but as the rough and ragged, no time for anyone, individualist beacon of chauvinism? I doubt it.
Because with all its struggles and its heartbreaking, occasionally church-splitting issues (no rose-coloured glassed here, please), the early church did community. We don't see any concept in scripture of Christians as separate from the church. We are the church and we need each other.
As Hebrews 10:23-25 succinctly says, “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
How beautiful is that call? The call to Christ and the call to His community. His people. His body. His bride.
Let us hold tightly; God always keeps His promises. Let us intentionally challenge each other to fill our actions with love and good works. Let us not give up on meeting together ... Oh, in a culture that is so filled with brokenness, where we come together so imperfectly as a church, where we often unintentionally wound and misunderstand each other, let us not give up.
Never give up. Let us not give up meeting together as a church though so many have chosen to walk away, but let us keep meeting together, encouraging each other, learning and worshiping together.
When asked why we would dive in so quickly, commit so quickly, embrace fully so quickly, the answer for me is simple.
Because membership matters. Belonging matters.
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