We at ONElife Church are intentionally counter cultural in the way we call professing believers to make a commitment to our local church. This is not going to change and, Lord willing, it never will change. What is going to change though is what we call that commitment. We have referred to it up to this point as being a "Church Member," but moving forward we are going to refer to this as being a "Church Partner." There are two reasons why the eldership feels a deep conviction about making this change. First, for theological reasons and second, for contextual reasons.
The Bible does explicitly state that all believers are members of the body of Christ, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27). This verse, in context, is clearly speaking about the universal Church and not a local church. If it was speaking of a local church we would then conclude that the church at Corinth is the body of Christ. A person does not become a member of the body of Christ by first becoming a member of a local church. Rather, they become a member of the body of Christ when they are regenerated, leading them to repent of their sins, and put their faith in Jesus Christ. By using the term partner to describe the believer's relationship in the local church, it alleviates any confusion a person may have about their membership in the universal body of Christ. A believer does not first become a member of a local church to gain entrance into membership in the universal Church but rather they should partner with a local church as evidence of their membership in the universal Church.
"I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
A second theological reason is we are convinced that the term "Partnership" honors the priesthood of all believers more faithfully. The priesthood of all believers is really one of the lost doctrines of the reformation. The Apostle Peter introduced this glorious theme to the Church in his first letter, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9). In the Old Covenant era only those of the line of Aaron belonged to the priesthood and out of that line a high priest was always appointed as their leader and representative. The priests were given unique privileges and special access to the presence of God. In the book of Hebrews, Paul makes it clear that Christ is now our high priest (Heb. 4:14-16) and all believers are part of the priesthood. Therefore, no one in a local church has greater privileges or access to Christ and all are submitted under Christ with different duties and responsibilities as priests. Too often the term "Church Membership" communicates that the church body is to submit under the elders who are submitted under Christ. That is not the way it works. The church elders, deacons, and congregants are all submitted under Christ, partnered together and working side by side as priests. The term "Church Partnership" honors the priesthood of all believers more faithfully than the term "Church Membership."
How we communicate matters. How we communicate the truth of God’s Word matters. This is why most of us in the American church came to the realization that the King James version of the Bible is not the best version to use. The old english language is much more confusing, as many of the words in the King James Bible we no longer use, or the meaning of those words has changed. The words we use matter.
The word member in our society and culture today is really understood as belonging to an organization by paying a nominal monthly, or yearly, fee with little to no long term commitment. A member pays this small sum of money to benefit from the features and benefits of that organization. This is the exact opposite of what we are calling people to commit to at ONElife Church. We are looking for partners who are committed to investing their time, talents, and treasures in order to expand the Kingdom in Genesee County and beyond through our local church. Church Partnership captures more of what we intend to communicate when we call people to belong and commit at ONElife Church.
Contributor / Eric Stewart
Eric Stewart is the Lead Pastor of ONElife Church in Flint, MI.