Summary: The biblical basis and rational reasons for church membership and explanation of the process for joining our church.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know (and Maybe Didn’t Want to Know) about Church Membership

Chuck Sligh

October 29, 2006

TEXT: 1 Corinthians 12:12 – “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.”


Paul’s analogy of the church as a body is interesting in the New Testament. Sometimes as you read Paul, you think the body he’s referring to is the Body of Christ—the whole body of all believers in all churches in all of the New Testament age. At other times, he seems to be talking about members of LOCAL bodies of believers—local, visible churches.

I believe this is intentional. On the one hand Paul is saying that believers are part of the larger body of Christ. On the other hand, he’s teaching that we all should be members of local bodies of believers, and we should serve and do our part and play a role in those local bodies.

This morning I’m going to talk to you about church membership and why I believe biblically it is important to be a serving member of a local church—hopefully ours! Many of you are new to our community and have been searching for God’s direction about a church.

My hope is that if you have been one of those on the outside looking in, you’ll become a vibrant, active, participating member on the inside looking out through ministry. To help you here, I want to answer four critical questions about church membership. So let’s start with the very first question:


Many people don’t see the need to be a member of ANY church, much less ours. They’re happy just attending and soaking up what a church has to offer. There are even some who think church membership is a human tradition, and that to reject it is somehow a purer, higher form of New Testament Christianity. This may sound pious and liberating, but the real question is this: Is it BIBLICAL? Let me share four proofs that the idea of church membership is biblical.

1. First, the entire New Testament concept of “church” points to membership.

The word translated “church” is found 113 times in the New Testament. Only twice does it clearly refer to a “universal church”—that is, the body of Christ consisting of all believers in the New Testament age. 109 of those 113 references unequivocally refer to the LOCAL church—that is, the VISIBLE manifestation of God’s people gathered in local assemblies for worship, witness, fellowship and service.

Throughout the entire New Testament it is just assumed that an individual believer will attach himself to a local assembly, not just the universal church.

2. Second, the existence of church government in local New Testament churches indicates that they had some form of clear local church membership.

The consistent pattern throughout the New Testament was that each local body of believers was to be overseen by pastors or elders with specific tasks to shepherd God’s people (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2), labor diligently among them (1 Thessalonians 5:12), oversee them (1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 5:17), and watch over their souls (Hebrews 13:17). – These responsibilities presuppose a membership in the local church—for HOW CAN they shepherd the people and give an account to God for their spiritual well-being if the elders don’t even know who they are?

On the other side of the coin, Scripture teaches that believers are to submit to their pastors. Hebrews 13:17a says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves…”

The idea is that every believer should be under the spiritual authority of pastors and church leaders. Well, tell me how you can be under authority without being a member? What authority do I have over the visitors to our church this morning?—None, but I DO have spiritual authority over our members.

3. Third, church discipline implies church membership in the New Testament.

In Matthew 18:15–17, Jesus outlines the way the church is supposed to try the restore a believer who has fallen into sin—a four-step process commonly referred to as “church discipline.”

>First, he’s to be confronted privately by an individual who has knowledge of the sin (verse 15).

>If he refuses to repent, that individual is to go back with one or two other believers to confront him again (verse 16).

>If the sinning individual refuses to listen to the two or three, they are then to tell it to the church (verse 17a).

>If there is still no repentance, the final step is to put that person out of the assembly (verse 17b).

The exercise of church discipline according to Matthew 18 and other passages assumes that the elders know WHO their members are. For example, I have neither the responsibility nor the authority to discipline a member of the church down the street. And if a person—God forbid—had to be put out of our church, how could we cast him “out” if he were not “in” in the first place? The obvious answer implies the concept of church membership.

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