What is Church Membership?

The Five Membership Commitments

What is church membership?

In the PCA Book of Church Order, the chapter on membership is entitled, “Admission of Persons to Sealing Ordinances.” That sounds important, but the language probably causes more blank stares than recognition and familiarity.

Sealing Ordinances are elements of worship which God has commanded the church to perform (hence: “orders” or “an ordinance”). A “seal” on the other hand, is something which attests to the validity of a contract or covenant. A seal can be a signature or a stamp. So, a “sealing ordinance” is an order which performs the purpose of “sealing” a promise.

Sealing Ordinances are the two sacraments which Christ has commanded that we perform and they have been given to us by Jesus to serve as attestation to the validity of His promise to save all who profess faith in Him. The two sacraments of the church are: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These sacraments are gifts to the church to comfort and provide tangible evidence of His promises to the church. As a seal between two parties, both must be in agreement as to the nature and extent of the promises which is why the sacraments are overseen by the Session so that their integrity is maintained. Church membership then, is merely admitting persons to proper participation in the sacraments.

Membership is not salvation

Membership in the church does not save a person in much the same way participating in the sacraments cannot save a person. However, not entering into the mutual promises of commitment to the Body of Christ is much like denying oneself the opportunity to receive what Christ has commanded and given for our good. The question is not “Why become a member?” The question is, “What is keeping you from a committed participation in the Body of Christ – the Church?”

When one becomes a member one makes the following vows to God in front of the congregation or Session:

  1. Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?
  2. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do ou receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?
  3. Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ?
  4. Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability? and lastly,
  5. Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?

Notice that the first two vows contain a very basic theology: “I am a sinner in need of a Savior, and Jesus is the Savior of sinners.” The later three vows speak to our behavior among one another and before a watching world as we bear the Name: Christian. We endeavor as followers of Jesus Christ to:

  • live as a Christian,
  • engage the work of the church, and
  • submit to one another.