The church in our day is greatly in need of reformation and revival! Among other things, because of the neglect of church discipline, church membership has come to mean very little to people today. The Lord’s sheep are scattered, harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. This, we believe, is one big reason why the Lord is raising up churches such as Redeemer OPC.
People take membership vows to be subject to their brothers and sisters in the Lord, but often those vows mean very little to them. Again and again, members attend for a while, then disappear without ever speaking to anyone. They join other churches without ever bringing their grievances before the church they left (in disobedience to our Lord, Mt. 18:15ff.). Rather than seeking to resolve their grievances in a biblical way, they simply disappear. Such people do not perceive the church as having any authority over them. They do not perceive themselves as having any “one-anothering” responsibility to the body. They seem to have no desire to bear the burdens of the body to which they have sworn loyalty. As a result, both Christians and churches grow spiritually weaker.
The situation has become so bad that the very idea of church membership has come to require defense. More can be said, but in a nutshell:
God commands Christians to obey their leaders (Heb. 13:17).
He also commands Christians to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2).
These obligations mean nothing unless they are undertaken toward a particular body of believers with their leaders.
To undertake such obligations is, in essence, to take a membership vow.
As well, the leaders need to know specifically whom they are responsible to serve (Mt. 20:20–26; Acts 20:28–31). The Good Shepherd knows his sheep by name; so must his undershepherds.
Hence, it is not too much for believers to let them put their names on a list.
Such a list is, in essence, a membership list.
Accordingly, a component of the reformation and revival of the church is shoring up this notion of church membership — of shoring up the commitment of the leaders to shepherd the particular sheep that Christ has entrusted to them while at the same time shoring up the commitment of the members to love one another, to bear one another’s burdens, and to bear with one another in specific.
~ adapted from Evangelical Reunion by John Frame