Peninsula Community Church
January 24, 2016
The Value of Belonging
1 Corinthians 12:14-20 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
Today I would like to look at a subject that has caused much consternation and debate within the Christian church. There has been and continues to be a plethora of ideas and discussions surrounding the church, what the church is about, and how it is to function. And for sure there has been much debate about the purpose, structure, and implementation of membership in the church. So, with that said, I recognize that not everyone will agree with everything that I will say this morning and that is ok because we will most likely agree to disagree. But we will move forward and remain united in our purpose and our vision to reach this community for Christ.
As we begin our discussion, we find that in the Book of Acts coming to Christ and joining a local church was often an immediate act. For the new believer experiencing salvation without connecting and belonging to a local church was totally foreign to their way of thinking. More than once we find that Scripture shows that individuals repented, believed in Christ, they were baptized in water, and were then added to the church (Acts 2:41, 47; 5:14; and 16:5). With that said, let me be quick to note that joining the local church is not the same as coming to Christ. Neither is joining the local church a requirement for salvation. We must understand that there is the local church made of members of a community of believers and there is the universal church which is made up of every believer in the world whether they are a part of a local church or not.
In the Greek, the key word translated for church is the word “ecclesia” which means “called out ones.” Historically, the term ecclesia was a political term where citizens were called together by the trumpet of the herald. These assemblies were an opportunity for news and information to be disseminated to the citizens of the town or village. It was also an opportunity to engage the assembly in kingdom action. In time, the church usurped the word from secular society and began to use the word ecclesia to define their meetings. Thus they called Christians together to disseminate information and to call believers into action. Additionally, it was a place to unite believes under the banner of Christ.
In terms of our understanding of the church we need to discuss that the church is in essence two churches in one. While we have the local church and the universal church where all believers are participants we also have a visible and an invisible church. The visible church is identified by its buildings, its programs, and the people involved. The places where the church gather may run the gamut from a local coffee shop, a road side gathering, or a large edifice. The visible church is what is visible to anyone and everyone. The fact is however that all who attend physical churches or profess to be Christians are not necessarily true Christians.
On the other hand, the invisible church are those who who have accepted Christ and have committed their ways to His ways. Christianity is not comprised merely of religious patterns, attending of churches, tithing, taking communion, etc. True Christianity is made up of those who have made a conscious decision to follow Christ and have accepted Him through regeneration. These are the redeemed, true Christians. The local church is more than a place. The invisible church is the glorious gathering of the redeemed, the sanctified flock of the great Shepherd, the united household of God, and it is the beautiful body and bride of Christ. Such an exalted picture of the church seems silly as long as we’re content with superficial relationships and shallow connections. The real church is so much more than all of these things.
To be sure church membership is a formal relationship between the Church and the believers in Christ. This relationship is characterized by mutual affirmation and submission to one another. It is a matter of living out one’s discipleship in the care of the church. The question for us is how is the church to be organized. The beauty of the Bible and the wisdom of God is that Scripture does not always detail how the church should be specifically organized. With that said, the Bible does refer to the fact that the church does organize itself with elders and pastors to lead the church who give guidance to the structure and organization of the church. The founding fathers of this particular church had the foresight to develop and implement just such a means to govern this local church body.
As we look at the church within the culture of the day, we must understand that while we are not of this world, we do live in a world that is litigious by nature. Therefore, we must do all we can do to protect the church against any possible negative outcomes. In essence, we must protect the invisible church from the worst of the visible church. It is for that reason that we do many things that may not be spelled out in the Bible but we still do them. For example, insurance is not in the Bible, but we have insurance to protect the church from loss in case of an emergency or in case of a frivolous law suit. As a leadership team, we have been tasked with establishing the governmental structure within the church to help the church function in a way that is healthy and protects every member and attendee. As most of you know, we have a specific membership process that requires those who desire membership to attend an orientation class, submit their testimony to the church, and upon approval by the leadership team sign a Covenant agreement.
Some have argued against this process and I understand the issue. As a leadership team we are reminded that because we deal with both the visible and invisible church we are tasked with establishing guidelines that protect, guide and empower the church to accomplish its God-given task of evangelism, discipleship, and outreach. As we have stated before, the beauty of the body of Christ is that we have the privilege to organize and operate within the context we believe will best move us forward in terms of God’s will and purpose for our life individually and corporately.
In terms of the Covenant agreement I might remind you that in the Old Testament there were several outward signs of covenant relationship between God and man. Even in Jesus’ day it was common for contracts to be sealed by the exchanging of a shoe or livestock. At times those agreements include cutting animals in two and walking between the pieces (Genesis 15), placing a hand under a thigh (2 Samuel 24), removing and exchanging a sandal (Ruth 4), or instituting and enjoying a ceremonial dinner (Matthew 26:17-29). We do not do that today but we do require the signing of a covenant agreement. For us, we seal the covenant by asking you as members to sign the covenant of agreement. This is not a tool to be limiting or legalistic but rather it is intended to be freeing and orderly.
This brings us to the place where must ask the question “Why join the church?” To begin with, joining a local church counters the independent and go-it-along mindset of society. This culture is committed to consumerism, and if Christians are not careful, even our churches will be nothing more than a semi-sanctified microcosm of the surrounding world. We attend when we want, are accountable to the degree we want, submit to whom we want and only when we want, and give only when it is convenient. That was never the purpose of the church or God’s calling for the church.
Secondly, joining the church counters the results of an uncommitted society. We live in a day that commitment is a rare commodity. For that reason, it should not come as a surprise that church membership has a low priority to so many believers. Sadly, it is not uncommon for Christians to move from church to church, never submitting themselves to the care of elders and never committing themselves to a group of fellow believers.
Thirdly, we understand that we join because when the body of Christ is working together it is a force to be reckoned with. By working together we accomplish more together than as individuals. I am sure that you have heard the fact that two horses can pull more than two individual horses. The story goes that a single draft horse can pull a load up to 8,000 pounds. What they found is that two horses working in tandem can pull up to three times the weight of one individual horse. Together they can pull 24,000 pounds.
The passage before us today is one that shows us the value of being a part of a team. Together we can do more than we can do apart from one another or as individuals. We can pray together. We can study together, and we can grow together. We can unite around the vision of the church and the vision of God through the church. We can reach the community together. There is so much we can do together.
Living out a commitment to a local church involves many responsibilities: exemplifying a godly lifestyle in the community, exercising one’s spiritual gifts in diligent service, contributing financially to the work of the ministry, giving and receiving admonishment with meekness and in love, and faithfully participating in corporate worship. Much is expected, but much is at stake. For only when every believer is faithful to this kind of commitment is the church able to live up to her calling as Christ’s representative here on earth. To put it simply, membership matters.
But here is the deal. We should never let any of the things we have in place be a hindrance to joining. Join because you desire to. Do so because you are called. But don’t refuse to join because we are imperfect and our processes are imperfect. Join because you believe that God is in the midst of the church and you desire to be a part of what God is doing here! Join because you believe it is God’s will to join and connect to the church in a more official capacity. May God direct your steps and guide your decision as we join our hearts in prayer.
Copyright © 2016 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom