It’s All About Baptism!
There are many reasons that Church Membership is important … biblically … and theologically … and practically. The title of today’s message is “It’s All about Baptism!” Actually, it’s all about discipleship, but baptism is where we all begin. Before I get into that, let me move to today’s scripture … which comes from the very last verses of the Gospel of Matthew, known as The Great Commission…
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)
Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations … is what Jesus says. That’s what the Church is to be all about. But, how in the world do we do that? What is the process that we go through? Well, Jesus talks about it here. Let me give you a brief diagram that will help us all to picture the discipleship process (at least one perspective) and then I’ll briefly unpack it from there…
- Baptism (with vows either by parents—if infants—or by the individual—if at an age of accountability…)
- Confirmation (if infant baptism, the young adult has a chance to confirm the baptismal vows taken on their behalf by the parents)
- Membership (a living out of the baptismal vows)…
So, there’s the process we all go through in discipleship… But, how important is that last part of this process? There’s an OLD QUESTION that’s continued to surface throughout Church history and it’s about church membership; here’s how it goes:
“Can I be a Christian without joining the church?”
Answer: Yes, it is as possible as being:
A student who will not go to school.
A soldier who will not join an army.
A citizen who does not pay taxes or vote.
A salesman with no customers.
An explorer with no base camp.
A seaman on a ship without a crew.
A business man on a deserted island.
An author without readers.
A tuba player without an orchestra.
A parent without a family.
A football player without a team.
A politician who is a hermit.
A scientist who does not share his findings.
A bee without a hive.
In other words, one is not very effective without the other! They have to go together! In other words, Christianity is about community! And, you cannot be a part of Christ’s Body … unless you’re connected to that Body! And the local church is that Body of Christ that we connect to tangibly. Membership is our tangible way of doing what Jesus called us to do in making disciples. And, Jesus had a couple more things to say about discipleship. Let’s unpack that… What did Jesus say?
BAPTIZE THEM IN THE NAME OF… The discipleship process begins with the dunking (or sprinkling, etc.), but it’s really about belonging… Baptism is the gateway to becoming a part of the Body of Christ (Paul’s analogy) and the actual living out of our faith—belonging to Christ’s Body in a tangible way…
Please forgive me for digging into something here; I do this at the risk of this topic only being exciting to ME! As some of you know, my doctoral focus was in the area of membership. My wife (and others) warned me prior to this message that I was probably the only one who got excited about this topic of membership! As a matter of fact, one friend told me that they had support groups for people like me … you know, that suffer from an extraordinary interest in things like … membership!
Because we’re Methodists, I need to teach today that for John Wesley (founder of Methodism), membership was really all about living out one’s baptismal vows. In other words, those vows that you made at your baptism (or someone made for you and you confirmed later), in Mr. Wesley’s understanding they were what people committed to and lived out in membership… Here are those basic questions:
• Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
• Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
• Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?
So, we answer these questions or take these vows at the time of our baptism. But, how do they become real? How do we live them out tangibly? Through membership… We can take all of the vows we want to, but unless we’re actually going to live out those vows in our real life … there’s not much integrity to those vows is there? With membership, we promise to live out our baptismal vows through … our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service—tangible ways…
Again, baptism is the gateway to the Body of Christ—the actual living out of our faith… Jesus gives us the rest of the process when he goes on to say…
TEACH THESE NEW DISCIPLES… The discipleship process begins with baptism, but also involves preparation… Being ready to ‘live out your faith—your baptismal vows’ doesn’t just happen; we have to be very intentional about this! We have to teach the basics of the Christian faith … along with some other important/Godly concepts…
If there’re two things in this ol’ world that are extremely unpopular, they might be … commitment & accountability. Yet, that’s exactly what healthy membership requires! Think of membership like you would a marriage. Both are ‘covenant relationships’ (agreements). In both, there should be … commitment & accountability…
Think of it this way: If Klint McCutchin were gone during the day … and began to not show up back home until the wee hours of the morning … on a regular basis, I will guarantee you that someone named Wanda is going to hold him accountable! Why? Because she cares (#1) and she has every right to (#2), since they are in a committed ‘covenant relationship’… And, need I say, Wanda would be holding Klint accountable … out of LOVE! Does that make sense?
It’s the same with church membership; we are in a covenant relationship with both God and the Church—with Christ and his Body. Commitment & accountability should be expected; it’s part of the covenant or agreement we make through membership. AND, the accountability in the Church is also done OUT OFLOVE! Why? ‘Because we care about others’ eternal relationships with God…
Folks, let me mention the difference between belonging to a club and church membership. It is … relationship. Most club memberships are based on a common concern/community cause. Church membership is based on a relationship—an eternal one … with God!
If you’re still not convinced about the importance of church membership, hear this:
D. L. Moody was visiting a prominent Chicago citizen when the idea of church membership and involvement came up. “I believe I can be just as good a Christian outside the church as I can be inside it,” the man said. Moody said nothing. Instead, Moody moved to the fireplace, [now] blazing against the [harsh] winter outside. He removed one burning coal and placed it on the hearth. The two men sat together and watched the ember die out. “I see,” the other man said.
Do you see, today? Do you understand we have to have a tangible way to live out … what we’ve promised God—at baptism or at confirmation? CHURCH MEMBERSHIP MATTERS … more than any other membership. Why? Because it’s about a relationship with God—a connection that’s eternal…