A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance
By Benjamin J. Montoya
About the Author
Jonathan Leeman (Ph.D., Wales) serves as editorial director for 9Marks. He has written a number of books and articles, and edits the 9Marks Journal and series of books. He also serves as an elder at the Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC.
“Church membership” is a common concept that many misunderstand. Although we are used to having memberships at gyms, online, etc., church membership means much more. Join Jonathan Leeman as he explains how church membership is biblical, practical, and important for every single Christian. Although we’ve been approaching the topic all wrong, as Leeman writes, he can help us redeem the concept.
In This Book, You Will Learn:
- What church membership is
- How it is biblical
- Why it matters
- What the essential elements of membership are
- How church membership will differ from place to place
The Larger Contribution of This Book:
Church membership is an unpopular topic. In fact, many churches no longer have it; it seems like they are asking too much of someone to join. Similarly, many people simply do not care because they think membership involves only voting. Leeman, however, has written a helpful book that redeems church membership. He explains that it is biblical, necessary, and important for everyone and every church. After all, a church is its members.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 We’ve Been Approaching It All Wrong
Chapter 2 Membership Sightings in the New Testament
Chapter 3 What Is a Church? What Is a Church Member?
Chapter 4 What Are a Church and Its Members Like?
Chapter 5 What Are the “Standards” of Membership? (Becoming a Member)
Chapter 6 How Does a Christian Submit to a Church? (Being a Member)
Chapter 7 What Happens When Members Don’t Represent Jesus?
Chapter 8 Must Membership Look the Same Everywhere?
Chapter 1: We’ve Been Approaching It All Wrong
We have been approaching the topic of church membership all wrong. At first glance, that may come to a surprise. But, when we start talking about Christ and His imperium, it should show us that for many of us, our concept of the church and its members is simply too small.
When you think of the word “imperial,” you may not think of it in relationship to the church. But, that is because we have been approaching the church and church membership all wrong. Jesus is in complete control over the universe. He has an imperium. The church plays an important role in this world for Christ.
Our problem, though, is that we have been approaching the church all wrong. We think that the church is something that we are supposed to join. We treat it almost like a gym membership with associated fees. On the opposite end, some professing Christians never joined a church at all. They seem content to partake of the Lord supper and conduct their lives on their own authority without a church “telling them what to do.” Part of the reason why is because of their own cultural instincts. We tend to think that we are living for ourselves and want to do so, as some sort of innate right. But, Christians cannot live in such a way because they are part of the church. What, then, is the local church?
“The local church is the authority on earth that Jesus has instituted to officially affirm and give shape to my Christian life and yours.” Let us consider this definition further. Jesus instituted the local church with authority. Their authority is based on His authority. If you recall from Matthew 18, Jesus gives the local church the “power of the keys.” This refers narrowly to church membership. Thus, our conception of church membership is often too small. It is connected to the very authority of Christ. We often fail to make that connection. The church is not sort of a country club or a service provider. Rather, it is the embassy of Christ’s kingdom. Grace has all authority over this earth and he exercises it through the local church. His local church represents his future kingdom and his coming universal church. Churches are a national and international threat because they do not have ties to just anyone government. Rather, their loyalty lies with Christ who is over all local authorities. Christians if there ultimate allegiance to Christ, not to any politician or ruler in this age. Some of the earliest emperors and rulers understood the full implications of what Christ was saying. They understood the political implications and persecuted Christians accordingly.
If church membership is so important, then why do we not see the term in the Bible? Just because the word is not in the Bible does not mean that the concept is not there; compare to the concept of the Trinity. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 will explain the concept further and demonstrate that it is biblical.
What, then, does church membership mean in this sort of understanding? This concept of church membership means that when you walk into a local church, you are walking into a local embassy of the kingdom of Christ. “A church member, therefore, is someone who is formally recognized as a Christian and a part of Christ universal body.” And that means that you are part of the kingdom of Christ. Also, we do not join a kingdom, rather we submit to the king and his kingdom. So also when it comes to the local church. Christians don’t join churches, they submit to them.
We need to recover this robust view of church membership if we are to approach it correctly. And to do that, we need to look to the NT.
Chapter 2: Membership Sightings in the New Testament
If we want to understand what church membership is all about, then we need to look at the New Testament. The first place that we need to look his Acts 2. The context is when Peter is preaching on the day of Pentecost. Peter tells everyone to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and that they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38. After the people did these things, we had the first local church; they marked off people of Christ. But as time went on the church experienced both growth and persecution. Not everyone liked Christians because they would say things like, “we must obey God rather than man” (Acts 4:20). There were some who even wanted to kill Christians. If you recall the apostle Paul before he became a Christian even persecuted Christians. As we continue in New Testament, we see that the New Testament is comprised largely of letters to local churches. That is, the apostles were writing to Christians who submitted the local churches. What do we see as we look at these letters?[To continue reading this summary, please see below....]
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