How do you view church membership? Is it something that is cultural for you? Is it tradition that you keep because some distant (perhaps even dead) relative would be disappointed if you were not a church member?
Perhaps you’re not a church member (of any, not just UBC) because you think it’s a man-made institutional thing. Maybe you hold to the (larger) truth that you are part of the universal church and don’t need the local church. Perhaps you believe you get the community you need at a local coffee shop, student union or even para-church meeting. There are many communal experiences that are out there and very beneficial, but the church (gathering of the redeemed, NOT a street address with buildings on it) is unique.
Hebrews 10:23-25, “23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
The writer of Hebrews speaks of the all-satisfying sacrifice of Christ, perfectly redeeming all of His own people. These people He redeems are then exhorted to find their assurance in this fact of Christ’s righteousness. How does the writer say we are to do this? Basically, in the community of the redeemed…the church.
This is not ubiquitous version of the church…it’s recognizable. This is apparent because of what he says next, “And let us consider (think about, figure out) how to stir up one another to love and good works.” Is that by writing more books or sharing in chat rooms or even reading blogs (please don’t stop just yet!!!)? No, verse 25 says the most critical aspect of encouraging other believers is to meet together, and to do so with anticipation…anticipation that Christ will return soon for ALL of His own. So, here you have the universal (church) in mind as the local gathers together.
Now, there are many other passages that make it clear that church membership was recognizable in the New Testament. Whether or not they kept “roll” or had membership classes or not, who knows. We do know that they agreed upon what publicly associated themselves with one another.
In writing to the local church in Ephesus, Paul states, “1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift,” (Eph.4:1-7).
This early church was to have some agreed upon doctrine; rightful practice of the ordinances; unity in spirit; a distinctly God-ward, Christ-centered focus; and a clear testimony of the saving grace of God. Verses 8 and following will make it clear that the working out of this grace is seen through varied spiritual gifts all used for the purpose of building up the people of Christ into maturity in Him. This cannot be accomplished in a coffee shop or by watching a televangelist or listening to a podcast (only). We need to be with the body and join with a local church in order to live out these biblical purposes.
I drive people to other churches pretty regularly for various reasons (preaching and music style, programs, schedule, doctrinal distinctives, etc…). My hope for them all is the same for those who join us… Glorify God by treasuring Christ enough to love and gather with His people to celebrate and share in the gospel. Those all important “one anothers” of scripture will just not be clear to a lost world unless we are associated with one another.