August 20, 2007
Okay, okay, I’m going to say something very soon about the current conversation on baptism, church membership, the Lord’s Table, and the togetherness of Bible-believing, Christ-exalting, Gospel proclaiming Baptists and paedobaptists. But first, let’s celebrate some significant unity on a timely and vital question.
"The local church is the focal point of God’s plan for displaying his glory to the nations" (as my good friends at 9Marks like to say). God intends our life together in a local congregation of Christians to reflect his character and to display his Gospel grace to the watching world. This is just one biblical reason that church membership is so vital and necessary.
There are many ways and places that the Bible teaches us the importance of church membership. But one important way is in how it identifies the local church as the Jesus-appointed place for Christian discipleship. Where do we see that spelled out in Scripture?
Well, for instance, in the Great Commission! In Matthew 28:19, Jesus says "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing . . . and teaching them." So where does Jesus say that the discipleship he commands us to foster is supposed to take place? What is the context of discipleship, according to Jesus? Where does he want you to be discipled? The answer is clear and simple. We are to be discipled in the place, in the context, in which baptism is administered. And where is that? The para-ministry? The campus Christian fellowship? Our favorite Christian voluntary organization? The small group of Christian friends who gather regularly to pray in one anothers homes. No, not primarily. These may all be good things. But Jesus answer here is different and fundamental.
His answer? In the local church. Jesus wants us to be discipled in the context of the believing community where the vows of baptism are taken and where a whole fellowship of Christians is committed to mutual encouragement and accountability – "make disciples, baptizing and teaching them," he says. In other words, real Christian discipleship is inescapably corporate and ecclesial. The discipleship and teaching that Jesus enjoins is to take place in the context where baptism is administered, right smack dab in the middle of the baptized community. Jesus says that’s the place where discipleship happens the local church. And that’s just one reason why church membership is so important.