LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Baptists are a peculiar people. We insist that one make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. We insist that they be baptized before they can join our church. And, yet, some of us insist upon nothing else once they’re members.
Equally peculiar is the fact that we Baptists claim to be a “people of the book,” putting the Bible before all else when it comes to defining and defending our faith. Yet, we ignore its teaching on church membership.
The writer of Hebrews paints a clear picture of what God expects of His children in His church.
“And let us be concerned one about another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Notice the three privileges/benefits that we enjoy as members of the church.
1) We are to promote love among ourselves. When we promote love among ourselves, love flourishes in the church, and we are loved ourselves. Jesus said that it is by our love for one another that the world would know that we are His disciples.
2) We are to promote good works. When we do this, the church’s ministries prosper and we may be blessed by someone else’s good works. Again, Jesus said you will know His people by their fruits, that is, their good works.
3) We are to encourage one another. We are to lift one another up and to be their support system in a hostile, sinful world. Sometimes we lift others up. Sometimes we are lifted up.
So far, so good. No Baptist would question the value of such benefits. However, here’s where it gets interesting. To receive the benefits of church membership, one must not only be on the rolls but also in the pews. We are not to be “staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do” (Hebrews 10:25). Doing so does not just limit our exposure to those benefits mentioned, it is a sin.
Christians who stay away from church for any reason other than health or travel are living in outright rebellion against the revealed will of God. They are out of communion with each other. They are out of communion with Christ. Worse, their absence may in fact suggest that they’re not really children of God after all.
Rather than accepting the fact that several million Baptists will be AWOL next Sunday, we ought to be alarmed. We have on our church rolls so-called members who don’t act like members and, as evidenced by this ongoing pattern of sin, they don’t act like believers, either.
Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Those who rebel against the most basic of commandments concerning church membership reveal a dysfunctional relationship with Christ. It’s time we start treating those people like lost people, not lost children who’ve meandered a little too far into the woods. These people may never come out of the woods. We need to stop waiting for them to return, stop treating them like members, and start treating them like unbelievers. We need to share something more than good memories with them. We need to share the Gospel.
Join your church leadership in reaching out to “members” who are living like the world. Share your love and, more importantly, share your faith.
Peter Beck is pastor of Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., and a Ph.D. student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also located in Louisville.