This week I read two books on the exciting topic of Church Membership. Yesterday I told you about book number one and now I will tell you about book number two:
Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus by Jonathan Leeman
Like Rainer’s book, this one is also small (postcard size, 139 pages), which again is helpful to me. It is part of the new 9Marks books on building healthy churches, all which fit into this unburdening size. But don’t let it fool you, Leeman’s brevity does not keep him from painting a complete and winsome picture of church membership. To compare, in my opinion Rainer’s book aimed to take the ordinary church attenders/members and shift their attitude toward the church resulting in growth for them and their church. However, it is conceivable that an attending person could engage with Rainer’s book, commit to his 6 pledges and still not retain an official status as a “member.” Leeman’s book, on the other hand, helps the pastor, elder, layperson see the importance of the entire structure, founded in the biblical text and with specific Gospel oriented purpose for our world whereas you will immediately run to your pastor and ask “What must I do to become a member?!” Where Rainer’s book wants you to become a better member, Leeman’s helps you see the glorious purpose of the church, God’s design in its uniqueness, and practical ways for membership to facilitate a greater representation of Jesus to the world (even in our flawed churches).
I think that the primary gift that this book brings its readers is to make a big deal about church membership. In Leeman’s introduction he makes some grand statements regarding church membership and his purpose for writing this book:
My primary purpose is to show you what church membership is, because it’s not what you think it is. I’m not going to defend it, not directly anyhow. I’m going to present a vision for it. And here’s my prediction: if you grab hold of how the Bible views church membership, it just might change the shape of your Christianity. (p 18)
Pretty bold, isn’t he. But can I tell you, having finished the book… he did. At least for me. At least my vision of Christianity was altered, and I hope as I continue to work through these ideas that it will change its shape too.
What kind of changes are we talking about? It begins with viewing the church as the primary human authority on earth to affirm and give shape to your Christian life.
Just as the Bible establishes the government of your nation as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your citizenship in that nation, so the Bible establishes the local church as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your discipleship to Christ and your citizenship in Christ’s present and promised nation. (p 25)
Well, that sounds pretty different from something that I go to once in a while, duck in, get “fed,” talk to a few people about sports or the weather, eat a donut and duck back out. It honestly sounds a little scary because it might change how we live our lives. Jesus gave authority to the church, but does that mean we have too? We are so used to thinking about the church in terms of optional engagement that performs a service for us (like a country club, or gym membership). But Leeman, while address the many other metaphors describing the church, wants to help us begin by thinking through the church as an embassy of Christ’s future kingdom.
What’s an embassy? It’s an institution that represents one nation inside another nation. It declares its home nation’s interests to the host nation, and it protects the citizens of the home nation living in the host nation. (p 27)
If you lose your passport while on foreign soil, an embassy doesn’t make you a citizen, but it will affirm what you don’t have the authority to declare yourself – citizen of the United States. Similarly the local church functions to recognize people publicly as Christians. Leeman again:
Jesus didn’t leave us to govern ourselves and to declare ourselves his citizens. He left an institution in place that both affirms us as believers and then helps to give shape and direction to our Christian lives. (pp 29-30)
If we say “I’m with Jesus,” its through the local church that we get to show it to be true, which then gives the world somewhere to look to see what Jesus’ people are like.
Let me finish this review/recommendation with Jonathan Leeman’s “Twelve Reasons Membership Matters.” I hope you’ll check this out, and if it intrigues or upsets you, then please, by all means get the book and read the rest for yourself. The church is worth it.
“Twelve Reasons Membership Matters” by Jonathan Leeman
- It’s biblical. Jesus established the local church and all the apostles did their ministry through it. The Christian life in the New Testament is church life. Christians today should expect and desire the same.
- The church is its members. To be a church in the New Testament is to be one of its members (read through Acts). And you want to be part of the church because that’s who Jesus came to rescue and reconcile to himself.
- It’s a prerequisite for the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is a meal for the gathered church, that is, for members (see 1 Cor. 11:20-33). And you want to take the Lord’s Supper. It’s the team flag that makes the church team visible to the nations.
- It’s how you officially represent Jesus. Membership is the church’s affirmation that you are a citizen of Christ’s kingdom and therefore a passport-carrying Jesus representative before the nations. And you want your representation to be authorized. Closely related to this…
- It’s how you declare your highest allegiance. Your membership on the team, which becomes visible when you wave the flag of the Lord’s Supper is a public testimony that your highest allegiance belongs to Jesus. Trials and persecution may come, but your only words are, “I am a Christian.”
- It’s how you embody and experience biblical images. It’s within the accountability structures of the local church that Christians live and experience the interconnectivity of his body, the spiritual fullness of his temple, and the safety and intimacy and shared identity of his family.
- It’s how you serve other Christians. Membership helps you to know which Christians on planet Earth you are specifically responsible to love, serve, warn, and encourage. It enables you to fulfill your biblical responsibilities to Christ’s body (for example, see Eph 4:11-16, 25-32).
- It’s how you follow Christian leaders. Membership helps you know which Christian leaders on planet Earth you are called to obey and follow. Again, it allows you to fulfill your biblical responsibility to them (see Heb. 13:7, 17).
- It helps Christian leaders lead. Membership lets Christian leaders know which Christians on planet Earth they will “give an account” for (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2).
- It enables church discipline. It gives you the biblically prescribed place to participate in the work of church discipline responsibly, wisely, and lovingly (1 Cor 5).
- It gives structure to your Christian life. It places an individual Christian’s claim to obey and follow Jesus into a real-life setting where authority is actually exercised over us (see John 14:15; 1 John 2:19; 4:20-21). ItIt’s God’s discipling program.
- It builds a witness and invites the nations. Membership puts the alternative rule of Christ on display for the watching universe (see Matt 5:13; John 13:34-35; Eph 3:10; 1 Pet 2:9-12). The very boundaries, which are drawn around the membership of a church, yield a society of people that invites the nations to something better. It’s God’s evangelism program. (pp 79-81).
But I thought it was just a gathering of God’s people? Yes, it is, and much much more. And it is for our good, and God’s glory.