Preaching Articles

(The following is excerpted from Jonathan Leeman’s forthcoming book Why Church Membership? from Crossway, 2012.)

1) It’s biblical. Jesus established the local church and all the apostles did their ministry through it. The Christian life in the New Testament is church life. Christians today should expect and desire the same.

2) The church is its members. To be “a church” in the New Testament is to be one of its members (read through Acts). And you want to be part of the church because that’s who Jesus came to rescue and reconcile to himself.

3) It’s a pre-requisite for the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is a meal for the gathered church, that is, for members (see 1 Cor. 11:20, 33). And you want to take the Lord’s Supper. It’s the team “jersey” which makes the church team visible to the nations.

4) It’s how to officially represent Jesus. Membership is the church’s affirmation that you are a citizen of Christ’s kingdom and therefore a card-carrying Jesus Representative before the nations. And you want to be an official Jesus Representative. Closely related to this…

5) It’s how to declare one’s highest allegiance. Your membership on the team, which becomes visible when you wear the “jersey,” is a public testimony that your highest allegiance belongs to Jesus. Trials and persecution may come, but your only words are, “I am with Jesus.”

6) It’s how to embody and experience biblical images. It’s within the accountability structures of the local church that Christians live out or embody what it means to be the “body of Christ,” the “temple of the Spirit,” the “family of God,” and so on for all the biblical metaphors (see 1 Cor. 12). And you want to experience the interconnectivity of his body, the spiritual fullness of his temple, and the safety and intimacy and shared identity of his family.

7) It’s how to serve other Christians. Membership helps you to know which Christians on Planet Earth you are specifically responsible to love, serve, warn, and encourage. It enables you to fulfill your biblical responsibilities to Christ’s body (for example, see Eph. 4:11-16; 25-32).

8) It’s how to follow Christian leaders. Membership helps you to know which Christian leaders on Planet Earth you are called to obey and follow. Again, it allows you to fulfill your biblical responsibility to them (see Heb. 13:7; 17).

9) It helps Christian leaders lead. Membership lets Christian leaders know which Christians on Planet Earth they will “give an account” for (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2).

10) It enables church discipline. It gives you the biblically prescribed place to participate in the work of church discipline responsibly, wisely, and lovingly (1 Cor. 5).

11) It gives structure to the Christian life. It places an individual Christian’s claim to “obey” and “follow” Jesus into a real-life setting where authority is actually exercised over us (see John 14:15; 1 John 2:19; 4:20-21).

12) It builds a witness and invites the nations. Membership puts the alternative rule of Christ on display for the watching universe (see Matt. 5:13; John 13:34-35; Eph. 3:10; 1 Peter 2:9-12). The very boundaries which are drawn around the membership of a church yield a society of people which invites the nations to something better.

Jonathan Leeman is the author of The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline (Crossway, 2010) and is the editorial director for 9Marks.

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Robert Glass

commented on May 31, 2011

Fantastic sermon! Let every pulpet preach it! AMEN

Ephrem Hagos

commented on May 31, 2011

A complete lie!

Chaplain Shawn Kennedy

commented on May 31, 2011

Ephrem, it might be helpful if you backed up your accusation- otherwise you're not doing the body if Christ miuch good.

Michael Washburn

commented on May 31, 2011

These are all great reasons to be a part of the Body of Christ. I'm not sure they can be specifically applied to what we call today 'church membership'. Church membership as described in these 12 things requires simply that a person be born again into the family of God. I believe there are very solid reasons for becoming a member of a local church as we use the terminology today, Rick Warren has some very good material on church membership which I have found very helpful.

Jay George

commented on May 31, 2011

Very well done. Biblic ally solid. Structirally sound. Sermonically sensible. Keep up the good word and words.

Ray Ivey

commented on May 31, 2011

I agree with most of this author's that, when we are joined to Christ we are a member of His universal church, as we are baptized into Christ (1 Cor. 12:15) However, like an army, it is broken down into local groups for learning, training and exercising all for the one deploy! The N.T. uses the term "church" in the local sense much more than the universal sense. And Acts is its history of learning, training, exercizing and deploying.

Sterling Franklin

commented on May 31, 2011

Which ones would you say are 'Body of Christ' as opposed to 'local body' specific? I don't see Scripture backing the whole 'rewards club' idea of membership that I see today, but we are members of the Body of Christ through faith and can definitely 'belong' to a local body and be submissive to its leadership.

Scott Dossett

commented on May 31, 2011

Before you start with the amens, you should probably consider in detail the differences between the modern concept of church membership (which is more akin to a club/fraternity/lodge mentality) and the fellowship model of the New Testament. They are not the same.

John E Miller

commented on Feb 21, 2012

An article like this must be carefully written so that it is true to scripture. For example "Jesus established the local church" is a statement that has to be examined and explained. Jesus did not establish a local church when here on earth. Local churches were established by the Apostles and others spreading the Gospel and the Holy Spirit giving them power to do so. We do not have a local church in the four Gospels. They only appear in the Acts of the Apostles. When it comes to membership of a local church, we have no record in the Acts of any formal documentation or written enrollment. We must bear in mind that in any place at that time there would be only one Christian church in a town or city that could be identified as such. The only thing that is a pre-requisite for the Lord's Supper is that a person is a born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and that his or her walk is in accordance with the word of God. Such a person is a member of the body of Christ, a member of the universal church of God. One may choose to apply and be given formal membership of a local church fellowship if it is required, but such membership is entirely subordinate to membership of the church of God. That is ours solely by the blood of Christ. The important thing is not to neglect or despise the gathering of God's people for worship and teaching, but to desire as great an experience and enjoyment of such a priviledge at every opportunity.

Roger Lewis

commented on Apr 13, 2013

Ephrem, it okay for you to believe that, but not okay for you to fail to defend what you believe. Why do you feel that way?

David Nelson

commented on Apr 22, 2018

I'm in agreement with John E Miller. I can find nowhere in Scripture that says one must be on a membership roster in order to take communion at that particular congregational gathering place. I know at our church, communion is open to anyone who is saved. But the "saved" part is stressed; the person needs to be born again. Of course, it's not our job to determine one's salvation, that's God's job. However, when I do communion, I read what Paul said about the possibility of eating and drinking condemnation upon one's self.

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