Discovering Membership Part 3: Belonging, Believing and Committing
Welcome to our Discovering Membership course!
The purpose of this course is to get our EBC community reflecting on whether membership may be appropriate for them. To do that, there are a few things that we need to understand about what church is supposed to be about in the first place. We’ll then get on to how we at EBC express that in our particular way of doing things, and finally talk about membership itself – what sets it apart from simply belonging to the church, what indications to look for (that membership might be for you), and the significance of membership in our church’s life.
As a recap on this, please take a few minutes to look at our introductory blog and Parts One and Two (see previous blogs, below).
In this third section, we take a look at Belonging, Believing and Committing.
In our last session, we saw how at EBC we have what we call our five “C” values, which represent the sorts of things we want to reflect in the various things we do together as we go about our mission. These are CARING, COMMITMENT, COMMUNITY, CELEBRATION AND COMMUNICATIION –
In this section, we focus on how we want to be a radically inclusive COMMUNITY but also a fully COMMITTED gathering of disciples – followers of Jesus.
A Radically Inclusive Approach
In the accounts of Jesus’s life we see Jesus modelling for us an amazingly open approach to people that we might expect Him to want nothing to do with. Time and again we find him approaching and getting to know people whom most of society – especially the “religious” types – wanted nothing to do with. People with disabilities, hated tax collectors, adulterers…
Whatever reasons there were for people to be shunned by society, Jesus was not put off by them. Instead, He took the time to get to know them and to speak into their lives. Some very well know examples include the “woman at the well” (John Chapter 4), the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19, 1-10) and the woman about to be stoned for adultery (John 8, 1 -11).
Here at EBC, we want to faithfully represent Jesus’s radically inclusive approach. So we don’t insist that before coming here people are somehow perfect in all they say and do – we know that’s impossible! We don’t insist that people have been baptised or even that they are already Christians – instead we want to invite people to come as they are, with all the faults and doubts we all have experience of in one way or another. We call this belonging before believing and we want everyone to know they are welcome here!
Believing and Committing
While we don’t want to put up barriers to people coming along and being part of the church, we definitely do want people to change, grow and be transformed by God’s Holy Spirit as a result of their belonging. That is after all, what church is for, as we saw in Part One, when we looked at the mission we are called to, that is to “go and make disciples of all nations…”
Part of our mission statement says that we exist to “… grow together to become more like Jesus” and so it should be clear that even as we seek to grow our little branch of God’s church numerically, we also long for growth spiritually as well.
Without this spiritual growth and deepening commitment to God, the church would be no more than a well-meaning club.
Sometimes churches can be too inward-looking and focus only on meeting the expectations of those who are already Christians, or at least nominally Christians, so they become rather like an exclusive club for Christians rather than seeking to reach out and save others.
Hopefully at EBC we are much more outward-looking and welcoming of everyone than that. However, we must also be mindful of the danger that we too could become just a kind of club – in our case perhaps a Club for a mixture of Christians and non-Christians, but still just a club nonetheless!
So when we talk about “Discovering Membership”, let’s just remind ourselves that we’re talking about membership not of a club, but of God’s holy church.
Each one of us should be on a journey with God – as we travel alongside Him our belief in Him will be affirmed and strengthened. We’ll feel a deepening sense of commitment to Him as our Lord and Saviour, and to His church as the gathered body of believers, the bride of Christ (see Part One) on a mission for God!
It is this process – God changing us from the inside out – that takes us from merely belonging to the church in the wider sense of attending and perhaps getting involved in some aspects (as members belonging to a club might do), to a much deeper sense of belief and commitment to God and the work of His mighty church.
There are a couple of very significant steps we can consider as our faith and sense of commitment deepens. We might even think of them as milestones on our journey with God. These are baptism and membership.
As our name suggests, EBC is a Baptist church and that means that we place a strong emphasis on the importance of baptism in the life of the Christian. We believe that a decision to be baptised should be made by someone who has decided for themselves to follow Jesus, however young or old they are. For us at EBC, “believer’s baptism” as we call it usually means a total immersion in water – and at EBC we would make alternative arrangements when this would not be physically possible for someone.
Baptism is a powerful, public display that one has turned one’s life over to God, and it symbolises a dying to our old sinful life (as we are immersed in water) and a re-birth to a new life with God in charge, as we rise up again from the water It is also a step of obedience to Jesus’s teaching and example. Baptism is a very significant step and one which requires us to think carefully. In Chapter 16 of Mark’s account of Jesus’s life, the resurrected Jesus says this to His disciples:
“Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptised will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. (Mark 16: 15 – 16, NLT)
However, we don’t want to alienate people or exclude people brought up in other (i.e. non-Baptist) church traditions. Here at EBC we recognise that for many people, a full-immersion baptism is a difficult step to get their head around, especially if they have already experienced Christening as a baby and “confirmation” later in their life. There are different traditions in the church and, again, we don’t want to alienate people.
Some of us, having been Christened and confirmed have come to decide to be baptised as well, later in life, when we have made an informed decision that yes, we really do believe and accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
Jesus was Himself baptised of course and there is no harm in our being “done in triplicate” as it were if we have already been Christened and confirmed – in fact there are quite a number of us at EBC who have done just that!
Baptism is a very personal decision and also a very important one to contemplate with Christian friends and mentors.
At EBC, in keeping with our inclusive approach, we have what’s called an “open” membership – which means we do not exclude people who have not had a full immersion “believer’s baptism”. However, our constitution (which we’ll take a look at later in the course) does require people to “meet the church’s qualification on baptism” if they are to be a member. That means that we ask anyone who might become a member at EBC to seriously consider the Bible’s teaching on baptism.
This is our way of recognising and accepting that there are different traditions in the church and that, for some people, the process of Christening and (particularly) confirmation may have been as significant and meaningful a step as a “believer’s baptism”. The important point is that there has been a careful and prayerful discerning of this by the person concerned, such that they are sure they have in one way or other met the “qualification on Baptism” – which is really to say they have been faithful to Jesus’s teaching that we must “believe and be baptised.”
The end result of this thing called church is all about making disciples, who then go out into the world to be salt and light for people everywhere and to share the good news of Jesus.
As we explored earlier in this course, in order to make disciples we must first be disciples ourselves. Therefore, if the mission given to us by Jesus is to “Go and make disciples…” then signing up to that mission requires:
A decision to believe in and follow Jesus
A decision to pursue His mission
Belief in the importance of the church Jesus said He would build - and commitment to being fully a part of it!
So how do we know when membership is appropriate for us?
Well, there are some clear indications to look for – signs that can tell us whether the time has come for us to go beyond attending, beyond getting involved… and on to a step of much deeper commitment, where we’re really putting Jesus and His church at the centre of our lives.
We have already looked at the special place that baptism has as a very significant step in its own right – indeed baptism is so significant that it would traditionally be the final step in becoming a fully-fledged member of EBC. However, there are some other indicators which would normally be in place before someone takes that wonderful and exciting step of being baptised and therefore it’s important we don’t lose sight of these but rather consider them carefully too.
Next time, we’ll look at what those indications are.