From the promises to Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3) to the ultimate fulfillment of those same promises pictured in the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven (Rev. 21), Scripture is clear—God is saving for Himself a people.
Notice, I said people, not persons. In saying it that way, I don’t mean to suggest that salvation is not a personal matter or that God has no interest in individuals. He clearly does (Rom. 10:9–10). No, I chose people over persons to emphasize Scripture’s emphasis—that Christian identity is necessarily communal (1 Peter 2:9).
As our physical birth includes a network of family relationships, so too does our spiritual birth. This is why, when Scripture speaks of the church, it employs metaphors that call to mind profound connection.
- Jesus is the Vine, and we are the branches (John 15:1–17).
- Jesus is the cornerstone, and we are living stones being built into a temple (Eph. 2:20; 1 Peter 2:5).
- Jesus is the Head, and we are members of His body (Eph. 4:1–16; 1 Cor. 12:1–27).
There’s not a hint of individualism or independence anywhere in those images. Nowhere does Scripture describe, much less prescribe, the Christian life as something that can be lived alone. In Christ, each Christian is related to every other Christian, and together we are the family of God (Rom. 8:14–16; Eph. 2:19–22). Deep commitment to and active participation in the church are nonnegotiable.
All this raises a question, though: How can we build and maintain real, vital, life-giving connection to the church over the long haul? Let me offer four suggestions.
First, we must become members of a church. When we hear the word “member,” we might think of paying our dues and fulfilling the requirements, and then we’ll get the benefits of the club. Church membership, though, is a reflection of Scripture’s language concerning the nature of the church. Paul writes in Romans 12:4–5, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Paul is saying that in the same way your hand is a member of your body, so every Christian is membered with Jesus Christ and other Christians. We are literally a part of one another. When we realize this, placing membership in a local church becomes a natural extension of what it means to be and live as a Christian.