1. Being a Christian includes deliberately belonging to a Christian community
The first people to hear the Christian message on the day of Pentecost and be baptised went on to devote themselves to the local community of believers (Acts 2:41-42).
It was a natural thing for them to do. It was through that community in the form of the original one hundred and twenty believers (Acts 1:15) that they had come to hear of Christ and believe in him.
It was in that community that they would continue to learn from the apostles’ teaching, to experience the Spirit and play a part in an exciting enterprise.
Becoming a Christian was not just a personal decision. It was a social event as the original Christian community extended its reach and incorporated ever increasing numbers within itself.
Being a Christian is not just a matter of finding personal salvation. It involves becoming part of a project through which God is working in the world. That project is the Christian Church and it occupies a central part in God’s purposes.
2. The Church is God’s project.
The apostle Peter could say to the churches, ‘But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light’ (1 Peter 2:9).
Through the church, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has come to be honoured and worshipped to the ends of the earth.
It exists to live out under the reign of God, the way of life that came to be incarnated (or fleshed out), not now in the book of the law, but in the life of Christ.
The Church is God’s project.
We can only become Christians and be baptised because the Church is already there exercising its witness. We are indebted to it and to the people within it who have been committed enough to hand its benefits on to us.
When we become Christians we enter into the Church’s life and become a part of it.
We are like the parts of a body that are intimately connected to each other and are directed by the head, which is Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-21).
None of us can say we have no need of it or of each other. By believing in Christ we have committed ourselves to belong to Christ’s people and this deserves the best that we can bring.
3. Belonging to a church in general is expressed as committed belong to a local congregation in particular.
GBC is made up of those people who say “This is my church”. But belonging is a two way thing. We belong to each other.
This is best expressed in the word covenant. A covenant is a two-way commitment which is open-ended and unconditional. It involves both giving and receiving. For centuries, Baptists and many others have called this idea of covenant: “membership”.
Where there is covenant commitment between Christians, churches become strong, they can endure through time and they can do good work.
Church membership is designed to be a foundation for strengthening the relationships within a congregation. When people commit themselves to a church in membership they are strengthening the inner life of the church in a way that will make it more effective in its mission.
There is no doubt that becoming a member in a local Baptist church is challenging. It involves commitment and this in turn requires sacrifice.
This may mean the sacrifice of time and money and of emotional and physical energy. In return, there is the reward of belonging to a community of people who strongly believe in what they are doing and who are working cooperatively to achieve their goals.
Membership involves swimming against the tide of modern culture in which people have come to see themselves first and foremost as consumers rather than contributors.
If the role of the church is to offer alternative ways of living, ways of the Kingdom, which arise from the covenant relationship we share with God, then committed church membership is worth entering into and commending to others.
Church membership is important because it demonstrates:
1. That we have understood the importance of the church in the mission of God. The church is described in the Bible as the people of God (1 Peter 2:9), the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-30) and the temple of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Each of these images requires commitment from us as living parts of God’s project. When you belong to a people, you take your identity from them. When you are part of a body, you are organically joined to it. When you are part of a temple, you are like a brick or a stone cemented together with others (1 Peter 2:4-5).
2. The reality of our personal commitment as declared in baptism. It shows therefore, the sincerity of our commitment to Christ and to Christ’s people because we are not holding back from people.
Church membership follows on from baptism by showing that we have truly entered into a new way of life, just as the first Christians ‘devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers’ (Acts 2:41-42).
3. A strong church needs, at its core, a people who are prepared to commit time, energy, finance and their own Spiritual gifts and talents to the building up of the body of Christ.
Being a member therefore means becoming an active participant in the crucial work of sustaining congregations and passing on the faith to new generations. It also means taking a responsible part in the church’s government since church members share in the process of making decisions in Baptist churches.
4. We need the support of other Christians in sustaining our discipleship and in enduring testing times of illness, bereavement and crisis when they come to us.
It also means that we live out our lives under a degree of pastoral oversight that will enable others to correct and guide us should we begin to stray or deviate from a truly Christian lifestyle.
This is what Paul means when he says in Galatians 8:1,’My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit, should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness’.
5. We are connected to other “church members” in the local Christian community and more widely with other such communities.
It is a solid bond that enables us to say that we belong to a movement and to take our place within the universal Church.
6. We are contributors and not consumers.
Being a Christian is not a spectator sport but requires our personal and dedicated involvement in the things of God and of the church.
Church membership is a mutual relationship
Membership is something mutual, a covenant involving commitments on both sides. Existing church members are also entering into a commitment to new members and therefore they receive them intentionally into the community.
Here we re-express our commitment to one another publically and annually. This is what we are doing today. Our covenant describes the ways we are committed to one another. It reaffirm our baptismal vow to:
Trust in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour and I will l serve him in his church and in his world
It reaffirms our commitment to the historical truths of the Christian faith
It describes fives areas in which we express our mutual commitment to each other – giving illustrations of each area:
We share responsibility for our church
We• belong and contribute to a worshipping congregation
We belong and contribute to a small group
We seek to serve Jesus Christ
We seek to grow in faith and make disciples