CHURCH DISCIPLINE

In 1 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul instructs the believers in Corinth to "put out of their fellowship" a man involved in sexual immorality. The Lord Jesus commanded a similar action in Matthew 18:15-17. Part of the reason the Bible commands the practice of church discipline is so that clear distinctions can be maintained between God's people, the church, and the surrounding world (1 Cor. 5:9-13). If there is no practical, visible way of determining who belongs to the church and who belongs to the world, this distinction is lost, and "putting out of fellowship" is an impossible feat since there is no real way of being in the fellowship.

KEEPING LISTS AND VOTING

There is slight evidence that the early church kept some lists associated with its membership. For example, lists of widows were kept (1 Tim. 5:9). Also, Christians in the local church voted for some actions. It was the "majority" who voted to remove the man from membership in the church at Corinth (2 Cor. 2:6).

Electing leaders, submitting to them, regulating membership, keeping lists, and voting only make sense if a known, identifiable, and distinct body is recognized. So while the Bible doesn't provide us with a biblical treatise on membership per se, there is enough evidence in the inspired record to suggest that some form of membership was practiced and was necessary to the church's operation. Church membership is no less important in our day.

The Essence of Membership: Committed Love

Our Lord Jesus specified one defining mark for his disciples. Of course, there are many marks of true discipleship, but one mark is singled out as signifying to the watching world that we belong to Christ:

A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

The mark of Christian discipleship is love—love of the kind that Jesus exercised toward his followers, love visible enough that men will recognize it as belonging to those people who follow Jesus.

Not surprisingly, then, a healthy Christian is one who is committed to expressing this kind of love toward other Christians. And the best place for Christians to love this way is in the assembly of God's people called the local church. Is it no wonder then that the author of Hebrews instructs us to "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works," and then right away says "not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Heb. 10:24-25)? Faithful church attendance is associated tightly with stirring each other to love and good deeds. The local church is the place where love is most visibly and compellingly displayed among God's people. It's where the "body of Christ" is most plainly represented in the world.

What Does a Committed Church Member Look Like?

In one sense the question "What does a committed church member look like?" is what this entire book is about. But here we want to explore this question in relation to the essential command and mark of love. Below are ways committed membership expresses itself.

ATTENDS REGULARLY

This is the first and most important ministry of every Christian in the local church. Being present, being known, and being active are the only ways to make Christian love possible (Heb. 10:24-25).

SEEKS PEACE

A committed church member is committed to the maintenance of peace in the congregation. "Let uspursue whatmakes for peace and mutual upbuilding" (Rom. 14:19). "And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:18).

EDIFIES OTHERS

The one consistent purpose or goal of the public meeting of the church is mutual edification, building each other up in the faith (1 Cor. 12, 14; Eph. 4:11-16). A healthy and committed member comes to serve, not to be served, like Jesus (Mark 10:45); to provide, not to be a consumer only.