Jonathan Leeman attempts in this book to present a concise and clear biblical picture of what church membership is. He says that he’s not trying to defend church membership, only create a vision for it based on the Bible. To do that he begins by showing how Jesus has “imperium”, which is a fancy word meaning that Jesus has absolute rule and reign over His Kingdom. This Kingdom, Leeman argues, is a heavenly Kingdom with local churches acting as “embassies” here on Earth. Just like an American embassy in Brussels cannot make you an American citizen, it can only recognize and affirm your citizenship, so also the local church acts as an Edenic embassy that recognizes and affirms who are true Kingdom citizens. Leeman devotes time extracting the vision of church membership from the New Testament (not a case for church membership, mind you), defining a church and a church member, as well as covering the duties of the church to it’s members and the members to their church. All in all, this is a great introduction to church membership and it has served me well.
Leeman has admitted that church membership in and of itself isn’t so easily spelled out in the Bible. He says, “So when people ask me, ‘Is church membership even in the Bible?’ I’m half tempted to reply, ‘No, it’s not in the Bible, at least not in the way that you mean.’ The Bible has a much richer and more complex vision of how Christians should live out their unity in local churches. It’s as though we’ve been looking for apples when really we should be looking for whole bowls of fruit” (p. 71). The potential reader should understand this point upfront, because reading this book with the hopes that it will make an airtight scriptural defense for church membership will undoubtedly leave you wanting. Instead, the value in this work lies in the impression it leaves with the reader that although church membership isn’t specifically spelled out in Scripture, the hints of it are there, and when you consider this along with the practical benefits that church membership provides the member as well as the church, then you will be hard-strung to argue against the wisdom of having a formal church membership. Leeman basically argues this point, saying, “you cannot fulfill your obligations to other Christians and to church leaders without the local church, at least not in the way that Scripture calls you to fulfill them. And other Christians and church leaders cannot fulfill their obligations to you without the local church. You need a body of Christ to be the body of Christ. You need a family of God to be the family of God.”
Formal church membership is a useful tool for churches to employ and for church members to submit to. Without it, then the tasks and responsibilities of the church as laid out in the Bible become exponentially harder to fulfill. That, I believe, is the point that Leeman is trying to make and it is one that I whole-heartedly agree with. For that purpose, this book definitely succeeds in its stated goal.
“The local church is the authority on earth that Jesus has instituted to officially affirm and give shape to my Christian life and yours.”
“There is a place on earth where the citizens of heaven can, at this moment, find official recognition and asylum: the local church. Churches represent Christ’s rule now. They affirm and protect his citizens now. They proclaim his laws now. They bow before him as King now and call all peoples to do the same.”
“My guess is that many Christians have never stopped to consider whether it’s legitimate for them to claim to speak for Jesus. Ever since the fall, we human beings have felt entitled to do whatever we want, and we carry that lens of entitlement right into our Christianity.”
“What is the local church? It’s the institution that Jesus created and authorized to pronounce the gospel of the kingdom, to affirm gospel professors, to oversee their discipleship, and to expose impostors.”
“Every biblical metaphor for the church becomes embodied–puts on an body–in the local church. The family, the body, the temple, the people, all of these descriptions of Christ’s church don’t just float around in the air. They become concrete in particular places. They get put into practice locally.”
“Christ’s body, the Father’s people, and the SPirit’s temple will fully gather in glory. But amazingly you can find imperfect expressions, outposts, or embassies of that gathering right now in the local church.”