“Every Sunday, I attend True Way every Sunday already. Why must I also ‘sign up’ to be a member of True Way?” Perhaps that’s how you felt when the pastors spoke about this issue. After all, in the secular world, ideas are pitched all the time – some must-haves, others are good-to-haves and still others are better-not-to-haves. What about church membership? Is it merely a good-to-have? Is it merely a seasonal preference for one or two leaders in the church? Is it merely something that you should brush off as a passing fad? This article expresses why the leaders in True Way Presbyterian Church – English Congregation (TWPC – EC) see church membership as an essential part of being a disciple of Christ. For brevity, below we offer four reasons (among many others) why we think every Christian worshipping regularly with us should be a member of TWPC – EC.
First, church membership helps your leaders pastor you. The New Testament teaches, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17). Here two groups of people are addressed: i) Christians: are called to “obey” and “submit” to the leaders of the church placed over them and ii) leaders of the church: are to “give an account” to God regarding how they have kept “watch over” the souls of the flock. God has instituted the local church as a means to shepherd the flock. Yet, how can leaders shepherd the flock if they don’t know who the members of the flock are? How can the leaders shepherd the flock unless the individuals who comprise the flock “submit” to their leadership? Essentially, becoming a member of TWPC – EC is the formal way to submit to the shepherding of the leaders in the church. It communicates to congregation as well as the leaders, “I want to be shepherded.”
Second, church membership is an act of committed love. Over and over again, the New Testament stresses the centrality of loving one another (John 13:34). We read of various expressions of this love, such as, “forgive each other” (Ephesians 4:32), “bear with one another” (Colossians 3:13), “encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), “exhort one another” (Hebrews 3:13), and the list goes on. The call to love one another is truly an indispensable mark of a disciple of Christ. In fact, the Apostle John goes so far as to say, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Yet, how are we to love fellow Christians, unless we have committed to a Christian community to love? Is it possible to love without commitment? Is it possible to love only when we want to and move on when we get sick of the people in a community? We trust it seems obvious enough that love requires commitment to people. Much like the analogy of marriage, for love to flourish in a church, commitment must come first. We can’t simply “date” the church and expect that either us or the church will flourish from this casual approach. Not only is committed love expressed in showing up regularly (Hebrews 10:24-25), it is also expressed formally in the covenant of commitment. In other words, it is expressed in becoming a member of the church formally. For when one transfers membership or when one is baptised, he pledges commitment to the community. Within this context of commitment, relationships have confidence to flourish and love has room to blossom.
Third, church membership seems to be precedence set by New Testament believers. Perhaps you are still unconvinced about how essential it is to be a member of a local congregation. Consider these two passages (among others) in the New Testament that assumed church membership: i) In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus outlined a process of disciplining a brother who had sinned: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Here, the process assumes that there is a definable group who constitutes the church and that the members within this group have a weighty responsibility of holding each other accountable. ii) In 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, Paul had to instruct the Corinthian church to put someone out of the church because of sexual immorality: “What have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’” Paul’s instruction seems to suggest that an official group of persons exists, from whom someone from inside the church may be removed because of sexual immorality. These passages seem to suggest that church membership was a precedence set by New Testament believers in the early church. A pattern that we will be wise to follow.
Fourth, church membership has been an emphasis in TWPC – EC across various leadership teams. Perhaps you may be wondering, “If church membership truly matters, why is it only being emphasised now? Could it be just be the preference of the current batch of leaders?” In response to this thought, let it simply be stated that pastoral teams across the years in TWPC – EC have emphasised the importance of membership. Leadership teams led by our senior ministers, Pastor Graham & Pastor Cheng Huat, both emphasised the importance of church membership. Yet at this juncture in church life, the leaders of TWPC – EC, led by Pastor Kien Seng see it as important that we i) reiterate the importance of membership and ii) revisit the basis of membership. We are of the conviction that for us to effectively shepherd the flock that God has entrusted to us, we need to know who the flock is. After all, our resources are limited and effective shepherding requires commitment from both sides. Knowing that we have to “give an account” (Hebrews 13:17) to the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4) when He returns, we approach this work with fear and trembling.
Church membership – you should be bothered.
Having said all this, if being a member of the church allows your soul to be shepherded, enables you to love the Christians here, is a precedence set by the early church, and has been emphasised by the leaders over and over again, then the question remains – what’s stopping you? i) Perhaps, if you were honest, you just can’t be bothered. Maybe you feel this way because you don’t know Christ and so you are not convinced by how important the church is to God and you don’t feel any desire to love people in the Christian community. ii) Or perhaps, you simply remain unconvinced by the reasons in this article. iii) Or even more likely, you are afraid to share your testimony in front of hundreds of people. iv) Still, perhaps, there is a truly reasonable apprehension you feel regarding joining the church formally. Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps. The list of apprehensions goes on – yet the response might well be both simple and singular: why not simply speak to an elder or pastor about how you feel about church membership?
For the detailed paper on Church Membership, click here.