We often hear people telling us that they are members of a club or society – perhaps a political party, a horticultural society or a sporting club. When they tell us that they are a member, we can guess what it means for them to be a part of that group. They are committed, keen, enthusiastic, and play a part in it. However, when someone speaks about being a member of a local church, what does that mean? Indeed, the questions can be asked, “Is it important to be a member?” and “Do I have to be a member?”. So, through this page we want to explain what membership means at Pantiles Baptist Church.

We begin with the Bible, which uses many pictures to show what a Christian is like and these include

  • The sheep within God’s flock (John 10:1-18)
  • The soldier in the army (Ephesians 6:10-20)
  • The athlete in the race (Hebrews 12:1-2)
  • The farmer in the field (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)
  • The child within the family (Ephesians 3:14-15)

As you look at the pictures, the one common thread is that a Christian has his or her spiritual life within a wider community. The sheep is part of the flock and not a lonely animal out on the hills. The soldier is not a 'lone ranger' but rather is part of a battalion. This demonstrates that Christians cannot exist in isolation – God has designed it that they are part of the wider family – the church.

Throughout the Bible, the church is seen as all believers in Christ and when we trust in Christ we become part of his church; this is sometimes known as the Universal Church. This in itself is a great privilege since we become a part of God’s people who will gather together in eternity. However, that sense of belonging to the Universal Church can only have its fullest meaning when we work it out in practice by becoming members of a local church such as Pantiles Baptist Church.

This follows the New Testament pattern because when we read about the New Testament churches there is a sense of the church knowing who belonged. For example, on the day of Pentecost the Lord did a great work and three thousand people were saved. Following that, more and more people were saved.  As Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, writes in Acts 2:47 “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Those who became Christians were added to the number of people who were known as being in the church. We could also consider the letters Paul wrote to the churches where it seems clear that Paul is writing to a specific group of Christians. When he writes in Galatians 6:10 he speaks of the “household of faith”. Could he be referring to those who were members of those churches picturing them as a single family unit?


The Benefits of Membership

Bringing this together, the God who loves us and saves us in Christ not only makes us members of his Universal Church but also leads us to become members of a local church (such as Pantiles Baptist Church) so the meaning of being part of a church can be worked out in practice. We can illustrate this as we consider what Christians do together.

Christians are to love one another. Jesus said it was through this that people would know we are his disciples (John 13:35). How can we love fellow Christians if we don't know who they are or if we don’t meet them on a regular basis? We need to make a positive commitment to love and care for a specific group of people that God has gathered together in a local church.

Similarly, Christians are to encourage one another in the light of the Lord’s return (Hebrews 10: 24-25). How can we encourage those we don’t meet with and share with?

Then, Christians are to share communion together and the apostle Paul tells us “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17). The Christians at Corinth were united in one body and so could break the one loaf together in the local church amongst its members.

Christians are also to serve the Lord. Ephesians 4 tells us that God has given us gifts “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God”. The context is serving within the local church so that the members of that church can grow, becoming more like Christ. This is how spiritual gifts are recognised and used for the Lord. On a practical note too, how can people welcome others to a church that they don't belong to themselves?

Then, finally consider church discipline (or Christian discipline). There were times as a child when we did things wrong and because our parents loved us we were corrected, we were disciplined. The Bible teaches the same is true for us as Christians. God disciplines us because He loves us and cares for us (Hebrews 12:5-6). One way that the Lord does that is through the love of the local church where Christians are accountable to each other, subject to the authority of the God's Word, the Bible. A local church can  only discipline those within its number as it has no real authority over non-members.

Becoming a member of a local church allows the leaders of that local church to;

· welcome you a a member of the local 'household of faith' and help you to fulfil God’s requirement to be a part of his church

· encourage and disciple you through  teaching

· show Christian love and care to you as someone who has joined the church family

· give you opportunities to serve and to develop your gifts

· exercise discipline as God's under-shepherds to help you to keep walking with God.

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