Not a Club – An Embassy

If the local church is not just another group of many in our city, then, how are we to think about her?  How are we to relate as a part of her?  What does it mean to be a member?  Is membership even necessary?  Author Jonathan Leeman suggests that we need to begin by reshaping the way we think about our church and how we are connected to it.  He writes, “Most likely, you underestimate your church.  You belittle it.  You misshape it in a way that misshapes your Christianity.”  It is difficult to spot the symptoms of our wrong thinking on our own.  As a general rule of thumb today in our country – Christians think it is ok to attend church with little commitment, Christians make major life decisions on their own with little attention given to the community of faith, Christians consume more than they produce, and view “church” as one of many compartmentalized activities that make up our weekly lives.  Therefore, the concept of membership in many churches begins to look more like membership in such and such club.  Most clubs are service providers organized around a common area of interest.  We join clubs at a low cost to get the maximum benefit.  The biblical portrait of Christ’s church is something altogether different.


Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  At the end of the day, the local church does not exist by permission of the state.  Jesus has all authority and any perceived authority that the state has, it gets from Christ.  All other “authorities” will one day answer to Jesus.  Once we get the authority of Jesus then we can understand the local church.  Leeman writes, “the local church is the authority on earth that Jesus has instituted to officially affirm and give shape to my Christian life and yours.”  He continues, “Just as the Bible establishes the government of your nation as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your citizenship in that nation, so the Bible establishes the local church as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your discipleship to Christ and your citizenship in Christ’s present and promised nation.”


We should begin thinking about the church less in terms of a “club” and more so in terms of an embassy.  Why?  Consider this excerpt from Leeman’s book.  This will serve for us as a foundation for the blog submissions that will follow on the local church.

“Where am I getting the idea of an embassy?  I’m getting it from the biblical idea of Christ’s kingdom.  A church is not the kingdom; it’s an outpost or embassy of that kingdom.  What is an embassy?  It’s an institution that represents one nation inside another nation.  It declares its home nation’s interests to the host nation, and it protects the citizens of the home nation living in the host nation.  For instance, I spent five months of college in Brussels, Belgium.  During that time, my US passport expired.  If I had tried to leave the country without renewing my passport, I would have gotten in trouble.  I no longer had valid documentation affirming that I was a US citizen.  One afternoon I went to the US Embassy in Brussels and had my passport renewed.  The embassy didn’t make me a US citizen that afternoon, but it did officially affirm it.  Even though I’m a US citizen, I don’t have the authority to officially declare myself as one before the nations.  Yet the embassy’s affirmation gave me the ability to continue living in a foreign city protected by all the rights and benefits of my citizenship.  So an embassy represents one place in another place of the globe.  But what if I told you there’s another kind of embassy, one that represents a place from the future?  That’s what the local church is.  It represents the whole group of people under Christ’s lordship who will gather at the end of history.  A Christian’s citizenship, Paul tells us, is in heaven.  Christians must look forward to their homeland.  They wait for the day when the “kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ,” when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Rev 11:15; Phil 2:11).  But hold on.  There is a place on earth where 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.  

The idea of church membership immediately follows from this picture of the local church. What is a church member?  It’s someone who walks through the embassy doors claiming to belong to the kingdom of Christ.  “Hello, my name is Christian.”  The embassy official taps a few keys on his computer and then says, “Yep, I see your records here.  Here’s your passport.”  The individual can now enjoy many of the rights, benefits, and obligations of citizenship even though living in a foreign land.  But not only that – and here’s the cray part – the individual becomes part of the embassy itself – one of the officials who affirms and oversees others.  To be a church member is to be the church, at least a part of it.  A church member is a person who has been officially and publicly recognized as a Christian before the nations, as well as someone who shares in the same authority of officially affirming and overseeing other Christians in his or her church.  Church membership is more than this.  We need to talk about the family-ness, the body-ness, and the flock-ness of membership, but we start here because it represents the kingdom authority that Christ has given not to us as individual Christians, but to us as local church members.  Jesus didn’t leave us to govern ourselves and to declare ourselves his citizens.  He left the church in the place that both affirms us as believers and then helps us give shape and direction over our Christian lives.

The embassy-like authority of the local church gives individuals who mouth the words, “I’m with Jesus,” the opportunity to demonstrate that those words mean something.  The local church guards the reputation of Christ by sorting out the true professors from the false.  The local church enables the world to look upon the canvas of God’s people and see an authentic painting of Christ’s love and holiness, not a forgery.  And the local church lays down a pathway with guardrails and resting stations for the long journey of the Christian life.  If Jesus instituted the local church with authority over us, we don’t just join one like we join clubs or voluntary associations; we submit to them as we do to governments.  Even pastors and church leaders must submit to the church in this way.  The church exercises its Christ-given authority very differently than the state does.  “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,” Jesus said, “and their high officials exercise authority over them” (Matt 20:25).  Christian authority, he says in the next phrase, works by giving our lives up for the sake of others as he did for us (vv 26-28).  Christian authority also works by the tender, effective, and heart changing power of the Word and Spirit, not by the manipulative powers of persuasion and coercion.”

– Jonathan Leeman, Church Membership pp 27-30

So What?

How does this view of the local church and membership change the way you look at CLC?  Does it help to clarify the benefits, responsibilities, and privileges that come along with membership?  Have a conversation with someone this week about this.  With this foundational understanding of the biblical portrait of church membership laid, over the next few weeks we will trace out some implications of meaningful church membership and marks of a healthy local church.  I love being a part of this body with you all.  What a joy!  What a blessing!



Posted on: March 18, 2013 - 3:42PM

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