There is a golf course in Phoenix, Arizona. They cater to you as if you were a king. It is not open to just anyone, though. Before you can play that course, you have to become a member.
There is a big store in Tulsa called SAM’S CLUB that has just about everything you can desire, and it is all priced at a discount. It is not open to just anyone, though. Before you can buy things there, you have to become a member.
Diana and I have a car financed through a credit union. Rates are lower there than just about anywhere else, but before you can use their cheaper services, you must become a member.
The common denominator in all those places I just mentioned is that you must first join them as a member before you can receive any benefits from them.
People don’t have a problem with joining most places because we are not solitary beings. We need other people. We need to feel like we belong with our own kind. Little kids like to play baseball, and they go through this ritual of choosing up sides. Have you ever been in that situation, and they didn’t choose you right away?
What happens is that they start choosing others, and you are not chosen yet. Then, pretty soon, you start feeling really embarrassed and then after a couple more choices and you are still standing there like leper, you start getting mad. Why do you feel mad? You feel angry because you feel rejected by your own kind.
Then, what happens when you finally get picked? Your heart soars and your frown turns upside down! You become happy once again, and you think it’s because you can now play ball, but in reality it is because you are now a part of the group.
We should also know that every time you join anything, there is always some kind of a commitment that you must make to that organization. Sometimes, your commitment may be money, paid in dues. Other times, your commitment may be the giving up of your time. There will always be a certain amount of commitment you must be willing to make before you can join anything.
This morning, we are going to be talking about committing yourself to the church. This might surprise you but most people do not understand why they need a church. Unlike the places I mentioned earlier, you do not have to join the church to derive certain benefits from it, but you do need the church if you want to succeed as a Christian.
There are three points I want to discuss this morning. The first point is –
1. ARE CHURCHES ACTUALLY SANCTIONED BY GOD?
In ACTS 14:21 it says that Paul and Barnabas preached the good news and won a large number of disciples. In verse 23, it says they appointed elders for that church.
In EPHESIANS 2:21, we read:
’We who believe are carefully joined together, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.’
Paul and Timothy were in the business of planting churches. There were many churches that started in that time period, and as different as they were from one another, they all had one thing in common: They all had members who celebrated and worshiped Jesus.
James, the brother of Jesus, was the first bishop of the church in Jerusalem, which members numbered in the thousands. There were smaller churches like the churches in Thessalonica, Colosse and Myrna that were held in people’s homes, just like many of our Small Groups, or home churches do today.
In the Old Testament, in 1 KINGS 6, it gives the extraordinary details of how the Temple was built so they could have a church to worship God in. There are many other places in the Bible, which also show God has indeed ordained the church for His people to come together and worship Him.
2. IS BEING A MEMBER OF A CHURCH SANCTIONED BY GOD?
In HEBREWS 10:25, it tells us to not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, then it tells us to encourage one another.
In 1 CORINTHIANS 12:12,13, we find that the body of the church is made up of many individuals. It says that both Greek and Jew were baptized into one body. Not only does that show that individual people join the group as members, but that the church accepts everyone, no matter their status, race or sex. There are only two requirements a person must have before the church can accept him into its membership: The person must be a professed believer in Jesus Christ as his personal Savior, and the person must have been fully baptized in water or is willing to be baptized by full immersion in water for the redemption of sin.
To fully understand the inner workings of a church, we must understand what it was like during the time the churches were being born. In those days, many people owned slaves and it was not uncommon for a master and his slaves to both go to the same church and both become Christians. It was also not uncommon for the slave to end up taking on a leadership role in the church and actually hold authority over their masters in the church.
I knew a man once at another church who was a multi-millionaire many times over. He had a worldwide company that had thousands of employees, and whenever he spoke, every single one of them listened – and then obeyed his instructions. In church, however, it was very common to see this man sweeping the floor or hanging the Christmas lights from a ladder in December.
I knew the man had a true and correct heart for Jesus when I saw him working for the benefit of Jesus, and not for his own glory or desires. He worked very hard for the church, and he willingly became a servant of the Lord so that he could help build the church for God. He did not seek any glory or credit for himself, but did all he did for the glory and credit of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In ACTS 2, we see that when the disciples came out of the Upper Room after Pentecost, they preached and ‘many were added to their number that day’.
The answer to our question is: Yes, God does sanction the church and He does sanction membership in the church. But that brings us to the final and most important point in today’s sermon.
3. IS MEMBERSHIP REALLY NECESSARY & WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
To boil it down to its simplest definition, being a member gives you the chance to do things you would never be able to do on your own. It also gives you the chance to help others do the same thing.
Jean Nidetch, a 214-pound homemaker desperate to lose weight, went to the New York City Department of Health, where she was given a diet devised by a doctor. Two months later, and very discouraged about the 50 plus pounds she was still overweight, she invited six overweight friends to meet at her home to share the diet and talk about how to stay on it. Today, almost 30 years later, one million members attend 25,0000 Weight Watchers meetings every week.
Why was Nidetch able to help people take control of their lives? To answer that, she tells a story. When she was a teen-ager, she used to cross a park where she saw mothers visiting one another while their kids sat on their swings, with no one to push them. "I’d give them a push," says Nidetch. "And you know what happens when you push a kid on a swing? Pretty soon he’s using his muscles to do it himself. That’s what my role in life is - I’m there to give others the push they need to get started."
She said she gives others a push. What a beautiful way to help others. This encourages others so they can have the confidence to do things they could not do without the fellowship of others.
Membership does have a price though. The price of being a member of a church is simply this: You commit yourself to be involved so that others might do things for Christ that they would not do by themselves.
How do you know which church to join?
There are many churches out there that say they are the only ones that are really going to go to Heaven, and if you do not belong to them you will surely go to hell. Let me tell you right now that is a false teaching and nowhere in the Bible does it say anything at all about that. There is the difference between God’s Law and man’s selfish desires.
You probably have not thought about this yet, but statistically, most of you will be gone from this church ten years from today. You will have gone on to other churches. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I believe that is a good thing and is used by God to help build His kingdom. Let me explain how it helps build His kingdom when people move away from a church.
First of all, I want you to know right now that I am merely a man who is trying to teach you how to become a servant of Jesus Christ. Pastor Shane and any other leaders who may ever be in this church are just humans trying to do the same thing.
Since we are humans, there is a limit to how high we can take you. When you have gone as far as you can with us, or when we have helped you grow as much as we are able, then God will generally call you into duty. He might want you to stay here and become a leader in this church, or He may call you to another church where someone else can take you to a higher plateau.
At any rate, most of you will be gone within a ten year period. So, we can understand now why God does not call people to just join one church for life. That would prohibit any real work being done for His glory. Also, with as many references in the Bible about establishing churches, there are absolutely no references about these things called denominations. That is something that man has produced for his own good, not God’s.
Nowhere does it say in the Bible that we are to limit our work for His glory to one specific kind of church. If we do some studying, we find that the early church only focused on the worship and discipleship of Christ Jesus. Church doctrine is not the same as God’s law.
I have read in the paper several times lately about how some of the larger denominations are actually having bitter internal disputes about allowing the gay community into the church hierarchy. In these articles, it goes on and on, giving both sides to the rules of the church and what they do and do not allow. But nowhere in any of the articles have I read anything about what the holy Word of God will or will not allow.
We can see now that when man starts writing his own laws of the church, he automatically erases the laws that God has already written for the church, and in so doing, man actually denies Jesus Christ His rightful authority over the church. Once again, man tries to replace Christ. That is the difference between God’s law and manmade church law. One is right and the other is wrong: Very, very wrong.
Even considering the fact that you may leave us someday for another church that will allow you to grow to greater heights in God, there are benefits to becoming a member of this church.
Why would I need to show a commitment to this church?
In the book of JEREMIAH, it says that God has a special and unique plan for each one of us. He cannot fulfill that plan in us, however, unless we become open to letting Him do His work in us. That establishes a commitment from you to God.
Now, by joining this church, you are putting that commitment on the line and showing God that you are willing to work for Him – to be His. If you are unwilling to give Him your commitment, He will not be able to give you the blessings He has for you in this life.
Also, in order to hold any position at all in the church, you must be a member of the church. That is because the church can only allow those who have shown the commitment to be involved in leadership, to have any real influence over others in the church. See, in any position of leadership or ministry within the church, we have direct influence over others and we cannot have anyone be in that position who has not shown the level of commitment necessary to join this church.
Do we find commitment talked about in the Bible? Many times, the Apostle Paul refers to himself as a ‘prisoner’ in the Lord. I would say that if you would willingly place yourself in that position, you would be showing that you had a very high level of commitment.
In AMOS, it talks about two people being in agreement with one another. That implies a commitment right there. In ROMANS it talks about being devoted to each other. You cannot be devoted to anybody for any reason unless you also have a commitment to that person to some degree. In PHILIPPIANS it tells us to work side by side. Again, you cannot do this unless you are committed.
In ROMANS 12:5, it says,
‘So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.’
The word ‘belongs’ is a translation from the word ‘melos’. That word actually means “limb” or “part of the body.” We are all connected together in this church as the parts of your body are connected to make you whole.
None of us are here by accident; God has brought us together in this church for a specific plan. By becoming a member in this church, you are actually recognizing God’s plan for this church and showing Him your commitment in realizing that plan.
In today’s society, we want to “leave our options open”.
We are taught today that we should leave our options open, you know - in case something better comes along. What we do not realize is that this shows a very deep lack of commitment on our parts.
For instance, many people just live together today. They claim they are devoted to each other, but in reality, they don’t get married because they don’t really love each other. They love themselves and are only truly focused on keeping themselves “safe” in case other things develop elsewhere.
Did you know that more people have a higher level of commitment to their football team than they do a church? Also, many people consider themselves to be a member of a church even though they do not attend, do not financially support it and have absolutely no involvement with it at all. Why do they think they are members? Because their families were members, and their families told them they were members.
Tell me something; how can anyone be a member of a bowling league if they never show up to bowl? If they never pay their dues? They can’t. So, if a person considers themselves a member of some church somewhere else, but never goes there and never thinks about it and never financially supports it – guess what? They are not a member there, no matter what anyone says. And, if they feel so strongly about their membership there that they just cannot commit to being a member anywhere else, they need to get back to that church and start living the life of a member, instead of just talking about it.
In finishing up about commitment, let me just say that commitment in a church means that you have to be there, and you have to participate to some degree. And, those who understand this and do this will find that they have never been happier in a church.
Many people are afraid of the word membership when it pertains to a church. Let me tell you right now that the only difference between you not being a member and being a member is your happiness; your peace and your satisfaction in what you are doing for God.
At the beginning of this sermon, I told you about some of the places that you had to become a member before you could derive any real benefits from them.
You can go to church and receive many benefits, including the best of all: Jesus Christ as Savior, but you cannot go and DO for the Lord. Non-membership means being a spectator for the most part.
You have a choice to make as to whether or not you want to be safe and not commit yourself to this church. But, let me tell you something that is required for membership in this church.
In order to become a member, you must request it. We will not chase anyone down and hound them about joining our church. That is a decision that only you can properly make with the help of God.
In ACTS 2:37, people asked Peter what they had to do to be saved. Peter’s answer told them to repent from their sins, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
If a person must repent of their sins, that person must be old enough to judge right from wrong and make a choice to turn from a sinful life and turn towards God. A person who is too young to understand repentence is not making a choice – someone else is making a choice for him and it therefore is not according to scripture. If someone else makes the decision for you to get baptized, that baptism becomes nothing but a bath for you, spiritually speaking.
It is only after a person repents, that they must be baptized. In MATTHEW 3:15, Jesus tells his cousin John that He must be baptized to fulfill the righteousness of God. He is setting the example for us that we should be baptized, and He is also explaining the reasoning to us: To fulfill our righteousness in God.
In verse 16, it tells how Jesus was completely submersed, and when He came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him as a dove. Coming out of the water shows that baptism is by total immersion in water. The reason for this is that by being baptized, we symbolize that we have died to the world and was buried with Christ, and coming out of the water, we arise new in Him. Secondly, it is our public statement that we are now born again (or saved) Christians.
This church needs you. You can stay where you are and be satisfied to just attend, or you can make the decision to commit yourself to the growth and building of this church. That is a decision that only you can make. Of course, we want you to become a member of this family, not just a visitor.
I want you to ask yourself what you really think about this church. Is it a church you want to stay in and get involved in, or is it a church you think you’d rather not get too close to? Are we a church where you’d be more comfortable by keeping your options open?
We pray that we are a church that you would like to be a very welcomed part of; a very active part of, and a church in which you would truly be able to exalt God.
LET’S GO INTO OUR TIME OF INVITATION