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 for their child until age thirteen when the child would become a “son of the Law” (barmitzvah). This meant from age 13 on, the child (now an adult) would be directly accountable to God. The role of the parents leading up to barmitzvah was to teach their children the Laws of God (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). And during childhood, the parents were responsible to God for their child. From age thirteen onward the child was a full fledged member of the community who was responsible to God 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 of a religion, there were various ceremonies and expectations. In biblical times, Judaism and Christianity were not unique in that they required membership and standards of behavior along with commitment to worship, fellowship, and an organizational structure.
In first century Christianity, early believers were called “disciples” meaning followers of Christ (or “Christians” meaning “adherents of Jesus and His teachings” – Acts 11:26). They were “together” (meaning united as a community in belief and practice) and had all things in common (Acts 2:42-47). This was experienced 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 in Jesus as the way and the truth and the life, that no one comes to God the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6).
- Commitment to preaching Jesus is the way – meaning the commitment evangelism or the proclaiming of the gospel 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 is not, and that all other so called “gods” are false. 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 for not pledging allegiance to the Emperor. To say Jesus is the way cancels our pluralism. This is an exclusive claim. And so investigating the truth of this claim is important. To be a Christian one needs to believe this claim and adhere to it and the community associated with this claim.
- Adhering to the ways and teachings and ethics of Jesus in community –meaning there are expectations by Jesus for how His followers will live and interact with each other, together.
These three concepts are the essence of membership. When a person became a member of a church, it was signified through ritual of baptism (Acts 2:38-41). This signified one is fully devoted to the Christian message and 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 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 as a Christian, may you “believe” in Jesus and may you commit to being a disciple (I.e., a follower of Christ) and become part of the “people of the Way” in a local church.