CHAPTER 18-THE PURPOSE OF CHURCH MEMBERSHIP
Why join a church of Christ? What is the church of Christ for? What is its mission in the world? These are elementary questions, but they need to be asked. Let each one of us here today check and double check himself by asking this question. As I go over the list of our members, I often wonder why such and such a person ever joined the church. It is to be feared that many join the church from a motive that is entirely unscriptural, and even sinful.
1. Not in order to be saved. I expect this motive heads the list of wrong motives in joining the church. The lost man persists in feeling that he has a better chance of being saved if he is in the church. But the very opposite is true. Church membership is dangerous for a lost man because:
1a) It gives him a false hope.
1b) It adds to his condemnation.
2. Not for business reasons. I will not say much about this motive because I think it does not apply to many if any of our members. Our church is so unpopular with the world that I think some stay out for business reasons. What makes a church unpopular? The truth.
3. Not for social reasons. I do not think this motive is very prevalent among our members. Have you ever realized that Christianity is largely split up into social groups. True even of individual churches. Old men's class, young men's class, young married women's class, young business women's class, etc. Then there are family groups, groups according to wealth, etc.
4. Not to be petted. Some want to go where the folks are the nicest to them. The only heaven some people want or will ever have is a place where they are the center of attraction. I think I have known people who have left one church and joined another for no other reason than that their own church did not seem to give them the attention they felt they should have. Instead of assuming their obligation to help the church show its attention to visitors and strangers, they wanted to be treated like a visitor. As a member of this church, I must not expect attention to be shown me; I must help the other members show attention to visitors.
1. To help preach the truth. "But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (#1Ti 3:15). "We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellow helpers to the truth" 3 John 8. The church is a base of supplies for the truth. It is a great spiritual commissary where the bread of life is dispensed. That is my vision for this church that our ministry may be enlarged and that the truth may go from us by word of mouth, beginning right here at this pulpit and reaching every spot where we have a member, that it may go from us by our written ministry beginning here in our community and reaching to all parts of the earth.
2. To let our light shine. Every saved person has some light, spiritual light. Light and darkness: day and night, are Scriptural symbols of truth and error; good and evil. Lost people are called children of darkness; saved are called children of light and of the day. "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of the light" (#Eph 5:8); "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (#Eph 5:11).
Now a candlestick is the place for a light. "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (#Mt 5:14-16). And the spiritual candlestick for spiritual light is the church. "The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches" (#Re 1:20).
3. To evangelize the world. To evangelize means to gospelize. To gospelize is to tell good news. It is to tell the world the good news of a Savior from sin, the good news that a specific for sin has been found. If you had a friend or even an enemy who was dying with tuberculosis and you had a certain cure for that disease, wouldn't you get the news to him in a hurry? You wouldn't have much trouble in telling him about it, would you? Or if you saw a man starving for material food, you wouldn't have much trouble in finding words to present him with some food, would you?
Brethren, we have a specific, a certain cure for sin and we ought to present it to lost men everywhere. It is the only thing we have that is sure. We do not have a sure cure for tuberculosis or pneumonia or smallpox or cancer. Every remedy has at some time or other failed, but we have a remedy for sin that has never failed when taken.
One of the saddest things I know is the difficulty we have in getting members to attend church. The forces of antichrist point to this fact as a proof that church members themselves do not believe in their religion, not even worth their effort to attend meetings.
Why go to church?
1. Because God commands it. "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" (#Heb 10:25).
2. Because you cannot have a church without it. Church is an assembly. Shut the church doors, let the people stay in their homes and never get together, and you would have no church. The building does not make the church, and it is physically possible to have saved people and yet not have a church. Suppose there are 100 saved people in this community, they stay in their homes or go about their business, they have no contact with each other in a religious way, they have no fellowship in the word of God, they never meet to pray or sing or hear the word of God, would they constitute a church? No. I said it was physically possible to have saved people in a community without a church, but it is not morally possible. Love for God and for one another will bring them together. We come to church to have fellowship in word.
3. Because we need to learn. The church is a school. Believers are called disciples or learners. Christ had a school and His followers were called disciples. The pastor of the church is their teacher. "And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient" (#2Ti 2:24). A church meeting is a school of spiritual instruction. From this viewpoint the churches look bad.
3a) From standpoint of attendance. We get alarmed about our day school if the attendance is much below enrollment. We expect a boy to grow up to be a sort of numbskull if he misses about half of his classes. And when he does come and the lesson is taught he doesn't know what it is all about. He doesn't get the lesson taught because he failed to get something else that must be learned first.