This answer is in two parts, beginning today and concluding next week.
Church membership is covenantal (in terms of the Covenant of Grace). The marks of those who are in God's covenant fellowship (the church) are that they love the means of grace: God's Word, prayer and the sacraments—baptism and the Lord's supper. When a person becomes a member of the church that person is bound by solemn vows made to the Triune God.
In other words, members of a particular church are under discipline. Discipline does not pertain merely to judicial discipline (dealing with those delinquent in doctrine or life), but to discipleship. Church members are disciples of Christ, and the rules governing the behavior of church members are a major part of the ongoing ministry of the church. Membership vows are binding on the consciences of all church members.
This responsibility of communicant members needs to be impressed on those taking membership vows. It is the plague of the present age that people take all sorts of vows, make all sorts of promises, without any serious sense of responsibility! So whoever teaches candidates for church membership ought to impress upon the candidates that membership in the church brings with it great benefits, but also great responsibilities.
As in all legitimate human affairs, privilege and responsibility are always, like lawfully wedded man and wife, always tied together. Read Scripture and you'll find that God blesses you freely to be a Christian; but it also costs to be a Christian. This present age, subtly and openly, opposes those who quit running with them in their secular mindset and begin seriously living according to the promises and law of their Savior-King. This also is involved in church membership.
Please do not feel overwhelmed by this answer. Romans 14:1 commands his saints to "receive even the weak in faith..." for, in verse 4, "God is able to make you stand" as a pillar of truth in his Church. Note also these words from Hebrews 13:20-21, "Now may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (NKJV)
[See also part 2 of this answer.}
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