In his best-selling book I Am a Church Member, Thom Rainer bluntly states, “The concept of an inactive church member is an oxymoron. Biblically, no such church member really exists.”
Like “living death” or “cruel kindness,” an inactive church member is a contradiction in terms. One cannot be a biblical church member and be inactive.
As my pastor said in a recent sermon, “We’ve littered the Christian landscape with people we’ve evangelized, but failed to disciple.” Unfortunately, many church rolls are filled with such individuals.
But what is it that places the idea of inactivity in such opposition to church membership? There are at least five benefits to believers that can only come from being an active member of a local body of believers.
1. Need for community — In Genesis 2:18, God says, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” Note, this is prior to the fall. We were created, in the image of our Triune God, to dwell in community.
Romans 12 reminds us that we are many individuals, but have been united together as one body. That’s how God designed us as both humans in general and Christians specifically.
2. Encourages personal growth — We all have areas in our Christian walk in which we are weak. We have those blind spots. How are we supposed to be able to see them without loving help from fellow believers?
Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” I am sharpened, I grow by being around other Christians and serving with them in a local body. Every aspect of the local church gathering helps me grow.
3. Protection from heresy — One benefit that many people fail to recognize is that a local church helps keep us from drifting into heretical beliefs.
Recently, several individuals and groups who taught that church life was no longer necessary fell into heresy. Take for instance Harold Camping, who infamously predicted the return of Jesus in 2011. He claimed we were past the “church age” and only needed his radio sermons.
4. Use of spiritual gifts — Every believer has been given a spiritual gift. But it was not something to use in isolation. It was given to be used for the good of the body of Christ as a whole and other believers.
After Paul lists some spiritual gifts for the church in Ephesus, he gives them the reason behind those gifts: “for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).
5. Call to disciple others — The church was given the Great Commission (Matthew 28:6-20). We were told to make disciples of others. How exactly do you accomplish that outside of a local church?
There are the biblical commands and New Testament examples of how the church functions to disciple new believers, but even practically speaking, it is impossible to disciple others if you aren’t around them within a church community.
These five things only take place among faithful and active members of a local church. God has intentionally designed it this way.
None of this means that you have to go to church to be a Christian, but all of this makes it clear you have to go (and be involved in) a local church to be an obedient and faithful Christian. Being an active church member is not required for salvation, but it is the result.
It is impossible to be a faithful follower of Christ and remain divorced from His bride.
Oxymorons are figures of speech often used as literary devices to draw attention to the absurdity of the statement. For too long, churches have accepted the absurdity of an inactive church member as something normal.
It’s not normal. It’s not biblical. It’s not even beneficial. It’s a contradiction and one that deserves to be thought of in the same vein as a “true lie” or a “peaceful war”—something that not only doesn’t exist, but can’t possibly exist.