Does membership in a local congregation really matter? And if it does, what implications exist in issues such as participation in Holy Communion? In my ongoing discussions of Close(d) Communion in my parish, church membership is one area I have emphasized. It seems odd that we would make so many demands on prospective members - demands of fidelity to their confession and a commitment to support the church - only to wave all of them at the altar where unity and spiritual intimacy are so great. Yet, many LCMS parishes practice a minimalistic approach to communion fellowship requiring only a basic assent to faith in Jesus and the real presence, standards far below what they expect of their members in general. Why place so much stress on communicant membership when in practice our only interest is their future involvement in congregational meetings? Is voting on the annual budget and next year's council officers of greater importance than what occurs in this blessed Sacrament and in the fellowship of the faithful?
Unfortunately we treat the Sacrament in practice similar to a consumable product and little more. The idea is that by virtue of my implied faith in Jesus and agreement to the doctrine of the real presence, it is my inalienable right to now eat what is here offered. How did the Supper descend to levels barely above what we expect of those attending the local fast food establishment? If fellowship is important in the church, why do we care so little for it at the Table? A disconnect of huge proportions exists between the sacramental life of the church and its understanding of fellowship. Even Baptism is too often viewed as a consumable product to secure with no implications of any future commitment. How often are requests made for a baby to be baptized and yet the parents show no intent or interest to return to church or make any effort to raise their children in the context of the church's ongoing life of Word and Sacrament?
The Early Church understood Table Fellowship far better than the church does today. Membership took on implications as reconciliation occurred before reception of the elements, and before this in a bold confession of the faith at the font, not in a formal inclusion on some arbitrary list. We need to reexamine what membership means in the church, especially as it relates to the Sacrament, before all we have is another club united by the regular collection of annual dues.