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What is Church Membership? Part 2

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

The New Covenant Kingdom Inaugurated through the Spirit:

The internal disposition of the human heart could not be remedied by the external giving of the law (Deut. 6:1-4; Rom. 5:20-21; 7:4-5, 12; Gal. 3:1-5). Thus, the Creator God Himself would redeem the infrastructure of the kingdom-tide not by undoing the temple-sanctuary, but rather by reconstructing a new temple altogether. The temple motif, consequently, signifies a dual function: (1) atonement and (2) His covenantal presence.[1] Accordingly, J. Ryan Lister contends “God’s presence, then, is both eschatological (it is the end-of-time aim of the Lord’s mission) and instrumental (it is ultimately what fulfills the Lord’s mission).”[2] That is, the temple presence of God is the end-goal as well as the central means by which that goal is accomplished. To this end, the building of God’s temple is paramount in comprehending the biblical storyline of redemptive history.


The temple’s reconfiguration, then, is depicted most clearly in the Gospel of John. Not only does the fourth Gospel assert that Jesus tabernacled (Gk. eskenosen) with His disciples (Jn. 1:14) but Christ Himself, when contending against the Pharisees and alluding to His Person and work, said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn. 2:19, emphasis mine). Andreas J. Köstenberger, in conjunction, asserts that the prominent cause for the penmanship of the fourth Gospel circled around the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in AD 70.[3] Not only was Jesus’ statement about the temple’s downfall prophetic toward His own death and resurrection but signaled a double entendre in that the temple structure—the brick and mortar—was under judgment itself (Matt. 21:12-22; 24:1-2; Mk. 11:12-26; 13:1-2, 24-31; Lk. 19:41-48; 21:20-24, 29-33; Jn. 2:13-22).[4] The Gospel according to Matthew, too, alludes to the notion, i.e., the presence of God, by referencing the name of Jesus as Immanuel, "God is with us" (Matt. 1:23; cf. Isa. 7:14). The incarnation, in turn, becomes the new temple. It is through His work and Person that Christ brings forth an atoning work, grounds for authentic worship, and access to the covenantal Lord Himself. Meaning, Christ is the centerpiece to which atonement will be purchased and the indwelling Spirit will be obtained (cf. Ezek. 33:26-27; Jer. 31:31-33). Thus, redemption is built upon new birth that, now, comes through the new temple, Christ Jesus Himself (cf. Jn. 3:3).[5]


The Church as the New Temple.


The construal of Christ as the new temple leads to the notion that the community of saints, respectively, take on a similar mantle amid the doctrine of union with Christ.[6] The apostle Paul affirms this notion when addressing the church at Corinth: “you (Gk. humin) are God’s temple and . . . God’s Spirit dwells in you” (1 Cor. 3:16, emphasis mine). “As a gathered community,” writes Gordon D. Fee, “they formed the one temple of the living God.”[7] This is supported by the Gospel of John when Jesus commissioned His disciples (Jn. 14-17). James M. Hamilton suggests that as God “the Father sent Jesus as the replacement of the temple, it would appear that, in part, Jesus sent His disciples as the replacement of the temple.”[8] Retrospectively, Adam was called to operate amid the priest/king office in order to administer God’s presence to the world, Jesus—the Second Adam and greater priest/king—appropriates the presence of God through the local assembly, the new temple of God.[9] The church (Gk. ekklesia), then, becomes the primary vehicle to carry forth the Gospel message; all of which is done via the promise: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20; cf. Acts 1:8; for further development click here).[10]


Church membership, then, functions under the covenantal allusion framed in the new temple of God. As was stated in part one (click here), membership functions to distinguish the people of God as well as to defend and safeguard the Gospel of Christ. The temple structure operates as a cleansing agency which expands forth the kingdom reign through proclamation. “We glorify God by multiplying images of Him who are crowned with His glory;” writes G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim, “we glorify God by multiplying disciples.”[11] The premise of this work is to articulate the remaining two D’s that assists us in understanding the necessity of church membership and the function of the gathered assembly.


Developing the Saints. We are what we worship![12] Church membership functions as guardrails to propel His covenant people toward faithful, obedient worship of the triune God. If Christians are to be conformed into the image of the Son (Rom. 8:28; Col. 3:10), it is imperative that they set their “minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). To this point, the author of Hebrews encourages the saints to “not [neglect] to meet together” (Heb. 10:25). Corporate worship, then, is not merely a social construct built upon anthropological means. Rather, the gathering of the saints is an entrance into the heavenlies through the proclaimed Word and the presence of His Holy Spirit. The author of Hebrews, in turn, cements the corporate assembly upon the mediatorial work of Christ. “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19); that is, due to His atoning work, our entrance into the holy of holies is blood-bought and, hence, must not be taken for granted nor neglected. John Hammett rightly concludes, “Since participation in Christ brings believers to maturity, and because Christ is uniquely present when they assemble, assembling brings maturity.”[13] Covenantal gatherings, thus, are a means of grace to “[fix] our eyes on Jesus” (Heb. 12:2, NIV). “When we cultivate local church community that is not evidently supernatural,” contends Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop, “we compromise both thrusts of our commission. We compromise our evangelism and we compromise our discipleship.”[14] It is essential to see that through the corporate worship of Christ, the community of saints are sanctified into the image of the Son. When the body of Christ physically assembles, the presence of Christ is made manifest in a unique way.


Not only does the corporate gathering fuel the worshipful posture of individual Christians, membership into the embassy of God’s kingdom assures the sharpening of one to another. That is, covenantal commitment fosters an intentional engagement in the “one anothers” that is prevalent in the New Testament. The epistles are plastered with commandments to love one another, especially those of the covenantal fold (e.g., Jn. 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; Rom. 12:9-12; 13:8-10; Gal. 5:13-15; 1 Jn. 3:16-18; 4:7-21; 5:1-5). This love, then, is centered upon building one another up in the affections and admonition of Christ. Leeman helpfully describes this amid the confines of ecclesial membership,

Christian life should be placed inside the accountability and authorizing structures of the local church both because Jesus commands it and because that’s how both the individual and the body grow best. It means that, from the perspective of living out the Christian life, the words Christian and church member should be almost interchangeable. The individual Christian lives his or her life in and through the relationship structures that are the local church.[15]

Membership commitment, then, not only encourages believers, but intimately sharpens the saint specifically; that is, ecclesial oversight gives eyes toward spiritual gifts that are given to every individual regenerate believer in Christ (e.g., Eph. 4:7-16). The fruit of the Spirit along with spiritual gifts empower saints to pour back into the community of believers. It prepares them “for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13). Church membership is designed to develop the saints to safeguard the temple, the body of Christ, and to expand the kingdom of God through the proclamation of the Gospel.


Dispatching the Church into the World. Membership identifies regenerate believers who are, in turn, employed to live out the Great Commission to the glory of God (cf. Matt. 28:18-20). The Lord Jesus Christ authorizes His followers to propagate forth His kingdom reign through the proclamation of Good News. Unbelievers enter the kingdom of light and, consequently, the fold of Christ by faith in the work and Person of the Son expressed in obedience through baptism. Amid the Great Commission, according to Köstenberger, the “two participles ‘baptizing’ (baptizontes) and ‘teaching’ (didaskontes) specify the characteristic mode of making disciples, whereby baptism and instruction are to be construed in complementary terms.”[16] The mission of the church, then, is to expand the worship and Lordship of Christ through all the earth. Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert articulate a helpful summary of the church’s mission by saying,

[The] mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship and obey Jesus Christ now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father.[17]

Yet, if this is the mission of the church, is membership necessary to fulfill the divine mandate? Or put another way, can accomplishment of the Great Commission be achieved without the local church? A helpful and poignant response in question form helps to captures the essence of the dilemma: who are the ones baptizing and teaching? Who is sending and going? Individuals? Or a corporate entity? Clearly, the New Testament witness describes this feat as being undertaken by the covenant people of God; that is, missions and, thus, being missional cannot properly function outside the confines of the local church; outside faithful church membership. Dever further articulates, “Churches fulfill the Great Commission through planting more churches. So the Great Commission involves you, the individual Christian. But the Great Commission also involves you through your local church.”[18] Membership, necessarily, identifies regenerate believers, equips them for the work of ministry, and dispatches them to fulfill the divine mandate of reaching the world to the glory of God.


Godly Order in Cosmic Chaos:


Amid the cosmic chaos, the covenantal Lord brought order and, in turn, placed image bearers into the garden of Eden (e.g., Gen. 2:8, 15). He instructed the priest/kings to expand its territory and mediate His presence to the ends of the earth. Similarly, when sin entered through the disobedience of Adam, God covenanted with Abraham and formulated the nation of Israel in faithful response to His redemptive plan (e.g., Gen. 12:1-3; Rom. 5:12-21). His covenantal people would be the agent to which salvific hope in the messianic seed would be brought forth (cf. Gen. 3:15). Furthermore, the new covenant epoch, inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Christ, introduces and establishes the New Testament church. This new community, enveloped by the indwelling Spirit, is commissioned to carry forth the salvific message to every tongue, tribe, and nation (e.g., Rev. 5:9; 7:9). Yet, the gathered assembly is not left in disarray, but is given ecclesial oversight through the apostolic agency, the New Testament Scriptures; that is, one of the apostles' mission was to establish and organize churches. This, successively, will allow her to fulfill the divine mandate that has been assigned to her. As Leeman contends,

But this universal rule is visibly and institutionally manifest in history through the proclamation of the Gospel and the binding and loosing activity of the local church, the two activities that constitute an otherwise unincorporated group of Christians as a particular church. To become a member of a church is to be declared a citizen of Christ’s kingdom. It is a local church’s politically authorized corporate existence that constitutes a group of Christians as a visible embassy of Christ’s kingdom on earth and that, in turn, formally authorizes every individual within that assembly to represent the King’s name before the nations and their governors as an ambassador.[19]

Therefore, the leadership of local churches reflect God’s orderly character in making much of Himself and blessing those who would come under His covenantal reign. This order and structure, then, grants prosperity and well-being. In an age of anti-institutionalism, the church fosters a well-rounded authority that empowers individuals while granting accountability to the covenant community. This, in turn, points the hearts and minds of the church toward the infinite God who governs the Universe by the power of His Word. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***


[1] James M. Hamilton Jr., God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old & New Testaments, NACSBT (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2006), 144.

[2] J. Ryan Lister, The Presence of God: Its Place In the Storyline of Scripture and the Story of Our Lives (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 24.

[3] This, then, becomes the framework for the evangelist’s aim, according to Köstenberger, in ministering and reaching the Jewish Christians through his Gospel account (Jn. 20:30-31). He further insinuates that a “link between the destruction of the temple and the composition of John’s Gospel (and in particular its Christology) would be in keeping both with previous responses to the loss of sanctuaries by God’s people and with Jewish messianic expectations centered on God’s coming and manifesting His presence more fully in the person of the Messiah.” See Andreas J. Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters: The Word, The Christ, The Son of God, BTNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 71. Also see pp. 422-435. Kruger affirms the assertion by saying, “John’s Gospel appears to have an evangelistic goal, namely, to reach a Jewish audience struggling with the end of the temple and to give them the good news that Jesus is not only the fulfillment of the temple, but one greater than the temple. Drawing near to God no longer requires an earthly location (John 4:21), but a relationship with Jesus (14:6). But John goes even further than this. In order to put Jesus in his proper redemptive-historical place, he also argues that Jesus is the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament, including Israel’s festivals (e.g., 7:37) and even Israel’s own history (e.g., 3:14; 6:32). See Michael J. Kruger, “John,” A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized, ed. Michael J. Kruger (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 115-135.

[4] Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters, 427-429.

[5] The prophetic fulfillment, then, terminates upon the work and Person of Jesus Christ. It is through His death and resurrection that the Holy Spirit is inaugurated, and the new age realized (Acts 2:2-41). Not only does the first advent effectuate His official Sonship and, henceforth, substantiates the grounds for the believer’s salvific holiness amid the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ, but, also, propagates through the incarnation the paradigmatic shift from temple—brick and mortar—to Christ Jesus Himself (Jn. 1:14; 2:13-22). The gathering of the saints, then, is not merely a social construct within the broader scope of communal norms but becomes the representation of Christ’s ministry on earth fulfilling the eschatological aim (1 Cor. 3:16-17; Eph. 4:1-16). The foreshadowing of Christ was given in seed form through the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah (Ezk. 36:26-27; Jer. 31:31-33). All of which was to showcase that Yahweh, via the new covenant, would accomplish His redemptive decree by giving “you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezek. 36:26). See Michael S. Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 454-455.

[6] Arnold makes a captivating connection in conveying that the “prophetic description of the mission of the Messiah declared by Isaiah that Jesus applies to Himself (Isa. 61:1-2) has now been passed on to the church. The Spirit of the Lord has come upon the new covenant people of God; they have been anointed to proclaim the good news; and they are called ‘to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set a liberty those who are oppressed’ (Luke 4:18).” See Clint E. Arnold, “The Kingdom, Miracles, Satan, and Demons,” The Kingdom of God, TIC, ed. Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 168.

[7] Gordon D. Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God (Grand Rapid, MI: Baker Academic, 1996), 18.

[8] Hamilton, God’s Indwelling Presence, 155.

[9] Hamilton rightly asserts, “When Jesus told His disciples that God would dwell with and in them (14:17, 23), and when He gave them the authority to forgive and retain sins (20:23), He was transferring the mediation of the temple’s blessings from Himself to His disciples.” See Ibid.

[10] Allison fervently contends that the “church is the key instrument in announcing the good news, and through its communication of the Gospel new citizens enter the kingdom of God. Thus, the church, as the community of the kingdom, provides entrance into the kingdom through its untiring preaching of the Gospel, and its newly born citizens live as kingdom people under the sovereignty of the king.” See Gregg R. Allison, “The Kingdom and the Church,” The Kingdom of God, TIC, ed. Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 190.

[11] G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim, God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2014), 35.

[12] See G. K. Beale. We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008.

[13] John Hammett, “The What and How of Church Membership,” Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age, ed. Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015), 184.

[14] Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop, The Compelling Community: Where God’s Power Makes a Church Attractive, 9Marks (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 37.

[15] Jonathan Leeman, “Introduction—Why Polity?” Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age, ed. Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015), 13.

[16] Andreas J. Köstenberger with T. Desmond Alexander, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission, 2nd ed. NSBT (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2020), 63.

[17] Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 241.

[18] Mark Dever, Understanding the Great Commission, Church Basics (Nashville, TN: B&H Academics, 2016), 2.

[19] Jonathan Leeman, Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule, SICDS (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016), 23-24.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (11), McColsen (9), and DeYoung (5). He is a Teaching Pastor at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN and a homeschool dad to his four children. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.

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