What is membership? In Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 Paul speaks of the concept that the church is a body with many members.
“We are members, one of another” Romans 12:5
In Judaism a child became a member of Israel on the 8th day after birth by going through the circumcision ritual. The parents were accountable were accountable for their child until age thirteen. The role of the parents during this time was to teach their children the Laws of God (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). When the child would reach age thirteen, the child would go through a ceremony to become a “child-of-the-law” (bar-mitzvah). From age thirteen onward the child was a full fledged member of the community who was responsible for themselves to God, His laws, and to the community.
In the secular culture of the Greco-Roman world, there were many kinds of membership: to the city, to a guild, to a religion. To become a member the various religions had ceremonies and expectations for their adherents.
Similarly in Christianity the early believers were called “disciples” meaning followers of Christ (or “Christian” meaning “adherents of Jesus and His teachings” – Acts 11:26). They were together and had all things in common (Acts 2:42-47)through religious fellowship / membership. They were known as “the people of the Way” (Acts 9:2). The “way” meant three things:
- Jesus is the way to salvation – meaning belief that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life, that no one comes to the Father (Yahweh) except through Jesus (John 14:6).
- Commitment to preaching Jesus is the way – meaning the commitment to proclaiming to people who do not know that Jesus Christ is Lord. To say Jesus is Christ means you believe He is King of kings. To say Jesus is Lord means you believe He is Lord of lords. to say Jesus Christ is Lord is to say Caesar and all other so called “gods” are not. In that culture, to profess to believe Jesus Christ is Lord resulted in two things: (A) promise of salvation (Acts 16:31); and (B) persecution because you are not pledging your allegiance to the Emperor. This is not a pluralism. This is exclusivism, not because you or I are exclusive but rather because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is exclusive.
- Adhering to the ways and teachings and ethics of Jesus – meaning there are expectations by Jesus for how His followers will live and interact with each other.
These three concepts are the essence of membership. When a person became a member of a church it was signified through baptism (Acts 2:38-41) and they were fully devoted to the Christian community including submission to the Apostles’ teaching as authoritative, and the sharing of communion and prayer, as well as practical needs in everyday living (Acts 2:42-47). They were committed (or rather “devoted” – Acts 2:42) to one another and they were on mission together as a community to try to make disciples through preaching the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20).
Their membership was seen in what is known as the “church” meaning “to gather.” Their gathering was “to Jesus, for worship, and for mission.” (Jeff Vanderstelt, Saturate)
We also are called to follow Jesus with other Jesus followers in the community called the church. But it is kinda hard to do this when people are not “devoted” to one another. Without making a commitment of devotion it is like saying you are part of a family but you never spend time with them.
I am not advocating for people only joining my church. But I am advocating for people joining a church as a sold out member to try to make it better and work together with a group of people to go fishing together for men and women who need to hear the gospel and be saved to Jesus and biblical community (Matthew 4:19).
So may you not just “believe” in Jesus and go about your way. May you also commit to being a biblical Christian, a disciple, a follower of Christ, and become part of the “people of the Way.”