If you want to discover how radical individualism has infected the American church, mention the necessity of church membership on social media.
But wait a minute: How can I say that church membership is mandatory? For context, let’s take a look at the first half of the answer to Question 104 of A Baptist Catechism:
It is the duty of those who are rightly baptized to give themselves to some visible and orderly church of Jesus Christ…
It is your duty to give yourself to a church.
The Bible instructs us to not neglect gathering together1 and in fact simply assumes that all believers are naturally joined to some sort of congregation. The people who love God love the people who love God.
More than that, this is your duty. The Bible most often uses the word duty in reference to the responsibilities of the priesthood. These responsibilities were deadly serious and had to be performed by the priests no matter if they felt like it or not. In fact, not feeling like it meant they had to repent to get their hearts in order first.
“The people who love God love the people who love God.”
Are you a priest? Yes indeed, Christian, you are. Do you not also have duties to perform in service to your King and your people? Absolutely.
Now, to anyone who may want to visit my church, this is not my backdoor attempt to get you to sign a membership card on day one. But you also have a duty to join a church, mine or another one. You may need some time to decide, and that’s perfectly understandable, because we know that it’s a serious decision that requires sobriety.
Staying at home and studying your Bible is not enough. The writers of the above catechism were wise to say the church must be visible and orderly. This means an actual church with actual leaders who faithfully preach the Word, handle the sacraments, and exercise church discipline. Consider the following command:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.Hebrews 13:17
If you have no one to obey, then you are not in a visible, orderly church.
Next, the authors of the catechism say give yourself. Isn’t that wonderfully instructive? They did not say visit, attend, or even join. They say give yourself. God will bless you from the ministry of any church with Word, sacrament, and discipline. But your primary job is not to seek that blessing. Your job is to give yourself. It is a glorious responsibility to love your brothers and sisters.
When you go to a church, look at the people around you in the pews. You are to be priests for one another. You are to serve one another. You are to bind the broken-hearted. You are to confront the prideful sinner. You are to seek out the lonely. You are to take each other’s cares to the throne of grace. And if you are at all like me, you just might have to get over yourself.
And remember: The Holy Spirit gladly strengthens you to perform your duty to give yourself to your church.