Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Membership in the local church is often considered optional. In fact, for most, the only benefit local church membership provides is that I can “vote” at business meetings. If that is what membership entails, one has a mutated view of membership and, if in fact that is how it functions, there is good reason why one does not desire to become a member.
However, local church membership means and provides so much more.
Ray Ortlund gives us an excellent reminder of the importance of Church membership, the corporate which gives meaning and expression to the individual. Most of the time we look at this in reverse. It is the individual that brings meaning to the corporate. There is, of course, some truth to that. But there is something else that is just as, if not more, important. It is the corporate that gives meaning and significance to the individual.
To support his point, Ortlund quotes C. S. Lewis, “Membership,” in The Weight of Glory (Grand Rapids, 1974), pages 41-42:
We have in our day started by getting the whole picture upside down. Starting with the doctrine that every individual is ‘of infinite value,’ we then picture God as a kind of employment committee whose business it is to find suitable careers for souls, square holes for square pegs. In fact, however, the value of the individual does not lie in him. He is capable of receiving value. He receives it by union with Christ. There is no question of finding for the individual a place in the living temple which will do justice to his inherent value and give scope to his natural idiosyncrasy. The place was there first. The individual was created for it. He will not be himself until he is there.
Of course, all have dignity because we are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). However, at another level and in another realm, we receive value and worth as adopted sons and daughters through our union and communion with Christ. But that is not the end. That new creation is not an end in and of him or herself, but, rather, the fulfilment comes when that person becomes a part of the living temple. The meaning is not found in the individual alone. Rather, it is found as the individual fits into the temple of the living God, the corporate. This is why we have focused on the corporate aspect of God’s purpose in Article 1 of our Statement of Faith: “God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory.” A people, not only person. This is, as Lewis notes, upside down from how most understand this. But in reality, this is the kingdom Jesus inaugurated.
Ortlund spells this out in relation to the local church. He writes,
No wonder, then, that when we join a healthy church, we feel refreshed, reinvigorated, more alive. We may have looked for our church as if we were shopping, like consumers. But God is better than that and was up to something deeper. He was fitting us into his temple as living stones. It is in discovering the larger reality for which we were created that we come alive. Not by getting our own way, but by fitting into something sacred, ancient and massive.
Church membership is glorious.
Do we sense the importance of the corporate as that which fulfills and gives meaning to the individual?
Do we see church membership as glorious?
There are aspects of the church we will address at our upcoming Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Church. We pray that through this Conference we will love more deeply and sacrificially Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, and his Bride, the people of God. And we will see membership as glorious. Please register here.