Understanding Why Church Membership is Way Different
What do Costco, fitness centers and the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station have in common? You can't even think about getting in without your membership card. Forget your membership card and you'll be politely asked -- no, told -- that you're not allowed in. "Those are the rules. No membership card, no entrance and no service."
It's the same at the Huntington Beach Public Library or the golf course or tennis club down the street. No swinging the clubs or racquet or checking out a book without that all important piece of plastic. No wonder why American Express has trademarked the slogan that says it all: "Membership has its privileges."
Just think of how many membership cards you have, either in your wallet or purse or in the desk drawer at home. Everything from Blockbuster to CVS to REI to AARP to .... . Some memberships give us privileges on airplanes, others give us perks in hotels, and some others give discounts on rental cars. We live in a society that values the blessings of being a member, and the more exclusive that membership and the more exclusive the benefits, the better.
All of that is fine and good, but when it comes to membership at a Christian church, things are (or should be) very, very different.
Yes, there are congregations that give the impression very quickly that they operate in much the same way. Visitors are treated as mere visitors and get the message very fast that although it's great that they came to sit-in on a service or a Bible study, everyone knows who's in charge and who calls the shots -- and whose church it really is.
Whose Church Is It?
But Christ has called his Church to be his Church -- his body -- with himself alone as the gracious ruler and Lord and head. We learn in Scripture that the true Christian Church on earth is constituted not by the issuing out of plastic membership cards and secret oaths and handshakes, but (as we sing in the great hymn The Church's One Foundation) by the saving reality of "one Lord, one faith, one birth."
It is Christ who makes us members of his very Church -- his very body -- and he does it through his Word and Spirit -- without any of us filling out an application form and receiving a piece of plastic with our name on one side and a magnetic strip on the other. It is God-created, God-sustained faith in our Lord and his substitutionary death and resurrection and all the promises given on the basis of his work makes us a member of the Church - the family of God.
Nevertheless, Christ calls us to not only put our trust in him alone but to give witness before him and before our neighbor that, through Word and Spirit, he has (as the Small Catechism says) called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.
This is what "church membership" means in a Christian congregation that is faithful to the Scriptures and to our Lord Christ. Our birth certificate is the legal document that verifies our birth into our family -- for all to see, just like our Baptismal Certificate verifies that we have been washed in the saving waters of regeneration.
Back to the Basics
Periodically we offer a six-week adult information class we call "Back to the Basics." It is an explanation of what it all means to be born into the family of Christ, the family of faith and a member of Redeemer Lutheran congregation. Not because ushers are going to begin asking for membership cards as you enter the sanctuary, but because being part of the family means being called to grow in our understanding of who we are in Christ Jesus, that his good and gracious gifts lavishly poured out upon us would spill into the lives of those around us.
In Christ, being a member of his Body, the Church, definitely has its rewards -- eternal rewards -- that our Lord calls us to grow in and celebrate and share as he gives opportunity.
Prayerfully consider joining us at the next opportunity for "Back to the Basics" -- a good refresher for those who have been a member of Redeemer Lutheran for a while, and a great introduction to the Christian faith for those who are just beginning to understand what it all means to be a part of the family of faith and a member of the body of Christ.