Church Membership

Biblical Church Membership

Church membership has fallen on hard times. Some question whether formal membership is taught in the Bible. Isn’t it a man-made tradition that ought to be abandoned? Others accept it, but wonder if it has outlived its original purpose.

Increasingly, church membership is viewed as optional and is ignored, dismissed, and even actively resisted. This is not only true of individuals, but of pastors and churches as well. Are those who practice church membership beating a dead horse? It this simply a shop-worn tradition that should be discarded, or is church membership a biblical practice that ought to be restored to its original significance?

Concept and Terminology

The word “member,” used to identify individual Christians in the church, is a biblical term. The most extensive passage is 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, where “member” is used fourteen times in the space of ten verses, sometimes as a singular noun but more often as a plural. Although the phrase, “church members” is not used, parallel concepts such as “members of the body” and similar phrases are employed.

We are told that the church is one body consisting of many members. Together, Christians constitute the body, but individually, each Christian is a member. This is true of the Church Universal as well as churches local. The passage begins by focusing on the universal aspects of the church, but continues to talk about each believer’s membership in a local body.

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Romanticism vs. church membership in "Is Church Membership Biblical?"

"Do formal commitments enhance or stifle the heart’s longings? Romanticism, as the 19th-century literary and philosophical movement was called, insists that formality represses truth and that the only honest lifestyle is to follow one’s heart."

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Why Be a Faithful Member of a Local Church?

From Voice, May/June 2014. Used by permission. Related: “De-Churching” Trends.

It is my conviction that every Christian should be an active member of a Bible-teaching local church. As believers in Christ, we are members of His body and must discipline ourselves to be actively involved in ministry as a way of life. Here are some specific reasons why you should be a committed member of a solid, Bible-teaching local church.

You follow the pattern set forth in the New Testament. Although the word “membership” itself is not used in the New Testament, the principle is present nonetheless. For example, most of our New Testament books are letters that were written to specific groups of people who had chosen to identify themselves with Christ and each other. The word “church” is almost always used to refer to a specific group of people who in some way had committed themselves to serving the Lord and one another in the same ministry location. Numbers were known (Acts 1:15, 2:41, 4:4), rolls were kept (1 Timothy 5:9), servants were selected (Acts 6:2-5), discipline was practiced (1 Corinthians 5:12-13), worship was corporate (1 Corinthians 14:23), and shepherds knew for whom they were responsible (Hebrews 13:17). If you are a part of the body of Christ by virtue of repentant faith in Jesus Christ then you should want to make that association visibly known through church membership.

You have a greater opportunity to use your spiritual gifts. At the moment of your conversion the Holy Spirit came to live inside of your body (1 Corinthians 6:19). When He did this, He brought along the spiritual gift(s) that He sovereignly chose for you to possess for the blessing of the church (1 Corinthians 12:7, 11). As we use our gifts, we are being good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1 Peter 4:10). Can you use your spiritual gift without joining a church? Yes, but in most churches many ministry opportunities are limited to church members only. This is as it should be. Unity in doctrine, purity of life, and submissive accountability to one another and leaders are necessary for a healthy Christian life. The process of becoming a member also gives the existing leadership the opportunity to discern one’s agreement in doctrine, ministry purpose, and goals; thus enabling them to know where best you may serve.

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