The Process of Membership
- The Welcome to Harbor Seminar - Your first step is attendance at the Welcome to Harbor class. Contact us to tell us you're interested and we'll let you know when the next Seminar is scheduled,
- The Membership Interview – You meet with a pastor or one of the elders. Generally, these meetings last about 45 minutes.
- The interviews are designed for several purposes: First, it gives us a chance to get to know you better, to hear your experience in coming to know God in Christ and what is happening presently in your spiritual life. Second, you have an opportunity to ask any questions you might have — about the church, its position on certain issues and how the church operates. This is your opportunity to interact, to make sure you are comfortable with your decision to join Harbor.
- The pastor or elder you meet with will review the public promises you will be asked to make before the congregation to make sure you are clear about what you are promising and to determine whether you can affirm these promises.
- Public Vows - After the your interview a staff member will call to confirm the date of the Sunday service when you will make your public promises. When the time is called, you will go forward and affirm the promises after a pastor reads them.
What are the Formal Membership Promises?
Harbor belongs to a wider family —the Presbyterian Church in America (“PCA”), a denomination with roots in the Reformation and the Calvinist tradition. Membership at Harbor means that you have committed yourself to our family of believers — that you have agreed to participate as fully as you are able in the life, ministry and government of our church. Therefore, Harbor members must affirm the following promises as a vow unto the Lord:
- Do you believe that you are made in the image of God, created to worship, serve, and enjoy him in all of life?
- Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope except through his sovereign mercy?
- Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?
- Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes a follower of Christ?
- Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?
- Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to strive for its purity and peace?
- Baptism - If you have never been baptized, we would be delighted to baptize you when you make your membership promises. Let the pastor know during your interview and we will schedule your baptism (or for parents, a child baptism).
The Meaning of Membership
What Does Membership in the Church Community Mean?
To be a member of a church is to make a public promise to follow Jesus, to live according to the Bible, and to participate and support the work of the congregation. In the Bible this is called “a covenant.”
Why Formal Membership in a Church?
Of course, many of the benefits of a vital congregation are available to anyone who becomes involved, whether they are members or not. But there is a rationale for formal membership. “Church” in the New Testament usually meant the specific local church like that at Ephesus or Corinth. Did people actually join local churches formally, or was it an informal association? Five indications that membership was a formal promise:
- The instructions for church discipline. Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5 talk about putting a person out of the church (“remove” NASB, “expel” NIV) and treating him like an unbeliever. Since unbelievers were welcome at worship, removal must have indicated a distinct formal association.
- The meaning of the word “join.” After the fiery end of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:13, no non-Christians “dared join them [the church], but the people esteemed them highly.” The Greek word “join” means strong commitment. The same word is used of sexual relationships (1Corinthians 6:16) and “joining” to the Lord (1Corinthians 6:17).
- The meaning of “the whole church.” In 1Corinthians 14:23, Paul says “if the whole church comes together in one place...” How would the leaders know if the “whole church” was there if no formal relationship was established?
- The instructions for pastoral oversight and spiritual leadership. Pastors/overseers/shepherds were to care for “all the flock” (Acts 20:28. cf. 1Timothy 3, Acts 20, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1). Leaders of the citywide churches must have had some listing of believers. Since leaders were accountable for the souls of the flock under their care (Hebrews 13:17), they must have had some commitment for care.
- The biblical metaphors used to describe local churches. Flock, temple, body, and household are used specifically of local churches (Acts 20, Ephesians 2, 1Corinthians 12, 1Timothy 3). Each of these metaphors has a clear distinction of who is part of the church, and who isn’t.
The Benefits of Joining a Church
- The benefit of accountability to spiritual leaders. Christians must “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls” (Hebrews 13:17). This command requires a covenant with spiritual leaders. Some say, “I am accountable only to God”. We should be humble enough to be leery of being the sole judge over our own hearts. Hebrews 3:13 says we need others to exhort us “daily” lest we become hardened by sin.
- Voting and Feedback rights. The benefits of shaping the ministry of the congregation. Members guide the direction of the congregation. Formal membership entitles you to voting rights within the government of our church. In congregational meetings only members may nominate leaders, vote, and pass resolutions.
- You stop being an independent Christian (Matthew 18:15-17, Hebrews 13:17), and aren’t ashamed to identify with Christ or his people (Mark 8:38).
- You have greater opportunities to use your spiritual gifts (1Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4). You participate in a stronger, more unified effort of God’s people. You openly demonstrate the reality of the Body of Christ (1Corinthians 12:27).
The summary of the Bible’s teaching is that (1) people must be joined to the body of Christ (1Corinthians 12:12-13), (2) Spiritual leaders are responsible to God for the Christians in the church (Acts 20:28). Church membership is how we bring these truths together at Harbor. Submitting to the leaders of the church means submitting to the leaders only insofar as they are reflecting the authority of Scripture. If a leader requires something contrary to Scripture, you do not need to submit. When there is disagreement between you and an elder, you may also appeal (more on this later).
“In the New Testament there is no such person as a Christian who is not a church member. Conversion was described as ‘the Lord adding to the church’ (Acts 2:47). There was no spiritual drifting.” (Douglas Millar).