We all have tendencies to see the negative in our circumstances. Usually it involves inconveniences; never when life is at risk. When Robinson Crusoe was wrecked on his lonely isle he drew up in two columns what he called the evil and the good.
He was cast on a desolate island, but still alive—not drowned, as all his ship’s company were. He was divided from mankind and banished from human society, but he was not starving. He had no clothes, but he was in a hot climate where he didn’t need them. He was without means of defense, but he saw no wild beasts, such as he had seen on the coast of Africa.
He had no one to speak to, but God had sent the ship so near to the shore that he could get out of it all things necessary for his wants. So he concluded that there was not any condition in the world so miserable but there was something negative or something positive to be thankful for in it. Even when things look bleak, there is reason to give thanks.
How should we understand church membership? And what kind of attitude should we have as church members? This morning, in our concluding message based on Thom Rainer’s I Am a Church Member, I want us to challenge in our way of thinking about church membership. And, if needed, let us change our way of thinking about our church and involvement in its ministry.
There are two different types of church members. There are those who expect perks, privileges and service. They know what they want and when they want it. They will stop at nothing to get it: complaining, writing letters (often without signing them), gossiping. When asked to do something, they begrudgingly accept with a bad attitude. Others get mad when asked. They are chronically discontent. They make life miserable for everyone around them. Ministry to them is a prison sentence. They expect the pastor or other leaders to do it all. Aren’t we glad that Jesus did not take that approach? Such members don’t last long.
Then there’s the second type of parishioner. They see church membership as a gift; something to be treasured. They see their testimony as depicted in Ephesians 2:1-10. That they were once dead in sin, living in disobedience, both outwardly and inwardly. Gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and objects of God’s wrath, as the rest of the world.
But God, who is rich in mercy, brought life to our souls. Poured out his grace in us, raised us up, expressed His kindness in us and drew us to Himself. This describes what theologians call regeneration. As a result, we repented and trusted in Jesus. When that happened we realized the full meaning of Ephesians 2:8: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
We also understand that with becoming a Christian, many blessings are bestowed. Things like…
• Eternal life; life that is not just waiting for you after you die, but also true life that equips you to deal with what comes your way during your stay on earth; one that gives you joy and peace despite your circumstances.
• Adoption by the Heavenly Father; Regardless of your family background or level of dysfunction, when you come to faith in Christ, God the Father adopts you. You are His. Tied to this is the…
• Forgiveness of sin; that all of my mistakes and atrocities; those things public and private that would make me deserving of God’s wrath, Christ has taken away from me. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, when the Father looks at you, He does not see your sins and mistakes, He sees His Son, Jesus Christ. He loves you with an everlasting love. I love what Psalm 103:11 tells us: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
• The Holy Spirit as Comforter, Guide and Friend; Jesus said in John 14:15: “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. The Holy Spirit has been given to you as a personal assistant who will never leave you. He is ever present to teach, guide, convict and help you.
• Becoming a part of the body of Christ, which is a family. When someone joins the church, we sing: “Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love….” When you become a member, you become a part of a family to help you grow and mature as a Christian.
As a response to God’s goodness, we live for Christ and serve in the church and in the world, not from a sense of obligation, but as a way of worship and thanksgiving. Now, they look at the opportunity to serve as a way of giving. They take the Biblical “one anothers” seriously: to love one another, to encourage one another, to admonish one another, to build one another up.
The first sees the church as a club, an organization, and that they are a member, a share holder, that makes demands and says do this for me, or else! The latter sees the church as a family that welcomes a diversity of contributions. When we are thankful for something, we have less time and energy to be negative. What strikes me as odd is that one can exist quite awhile incognito. Sooner or later, it comes out. These rob themselves of a blessing. God has called you to a specific work. He’s given you gifts for service. For the building up of the body of Christ.
How does one become a member of a local church? What does it take to be a church member? But it goes beyond just what one believes or how one behaves. It takes, of course…
• A confession of sin and your need for Christ; You may know that our bylaws state: “The belief in God as the Heavenly Father, in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and in the Holy Spirit as Sustainer is a prerequisite for membership in the Central Schwenkfelder Church.” Repentance from sin and faith in Christ is part of this.
• A class in which to learn what it means to be a disciple; The classic expression of belief in the Trinity has been the Apostles’ Creed. So it is that when you join the church, you are taught what these things mean, along with the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, this is what members of Christ Church have been taught since the very beginning, a sort of curriculum for discipleship.
• A commitment to serve Christ and others; We must serve out of joy. As Rainer puts it: “Healthy church membership means you find your joy in being last, instead of being first.” As someone once asked: “How do you spell J-O-Y? Jesus first; others second; yourself last. It is not cheap; it will cost you. Commitment? Yes. Convenience? Yes. But it also births joy, blessing and satisfaction.
So the church should have an important place in your life, but the most important place in your life. It is a God-ordained family to provide, education, spiritual growth, moral and emotional support, and opportunities for service, as you learn how to be a disciple of and ambassador for Jesus Christ.
Back to that story about Crusoe’s list. We can always concentrate on the negative. But is that right? What will happen as a result?
Some ask the question: “Can I be a Christian without joining the church?”
Answer: Yes, it is as possible as being:
A student who will not go to school.
A soldier who will not join an army.
A citizen who does not pay taxes or vote.
A salesman with no customers.
An explorer with no base camp.
A seaman on a ship without a crew.
A business man on a deserted island.
An author without readers.
A tuba player without an orchestra.
A parent without a family.
A football player without a team.
A politician who is a hermit.
A scientist who does not share his findings.
A bee without a hive.
God loves His church. So as you reflect on your membership, or if you aspire to join a church, know that it takes a commitment to Jesus Christ and committing oneself to the people He died for.