Summary: Is church membership a biblical idea? Why should one identify themselves with a local body of believers?
There was a time when the role of the pastor and the place of the church were respected. A pastor was a person who was held in high esteem in the community just by virtue of his position, and the church was seem as an institution to respect. Those days, however, are gone.
The church has fallen on tough times. Sadly, some of the negative
perceptions are the church’s fault. Stories of sexual abuse by a few ministers and avarice and greed by others have tarnished the testimony of the church. I am convinced that such infractions represent the exception rather than the rule. But such failings among ministers have made the job of truly called men and women more difficult in our day.
Many outside perceive the church as being more concerned about buildings & budgets, nickels & noses, piety & pretense, than people & their problems. Oh, people are still involved in a search for meaning, but while spirituality is “in,” the church is definitely “out.”
Many today question the relevance of the church. Not just the people outside but also many inside. The church is seen as an institution that puts form before substance, tradition before truth, conformity before creativity, and seems more concerned about following their constitution and by-laws than the leading of the Holy Spirit. Some have even advocated that they need to leave the church to save their faith!
George Barna, the Christian pollster, has written that large
numbers of American Christians are disillusioned with the church. He supports this trend and has labeled these church dropouts “revolutionaries,” who are on the verge of forcing a decline of the churches in the 21st century. Other prominent writers, like John Eldridge, of “Wild At Heart” fame, agree with Barna. Amazingly, many professing Christians see themselves as part of the universal church of Christ, but do not participate in a local body. Others openly discredit the idea of formal membership in a congregation.
But while many have given up on the church, Jesus has not. The church is still the center of God’s work in this world, and if you are going to have a right with God, you will have a relationship with His church.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:25, that Jesus loved the church and gave Himself for her. The church is the bride of Christ. Now, just like you cannot have a good personal relationship with me and bad mouth my wife, how can you expect to be right with Christ and
disrespect His bride?
This brings us to today’s question: “Is joining a local church necessary? Is it even biblical?” Let’s see what the Bible says.
1. The biblical basis of church membership.
When an individual is saved, he becomes a member of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). Because he is united to Christ and the other members of the body, he is therefore qualified to identify with a local expression of that body. To become a member of a church is to formally commit oneself to an identifiable, local body of believers who have joined together for specific, divinely ordained purposes.
We read here of a local body of believers who met in an organized fashion to study, fellowship, celebrate communion, and pray. And Luke indicates that there was some record of who was part of this group by what he says in verse 41, “3,000 were added to their number.” The biblical basis for local church membership is seen in . . .
A) The example of the early church.
The New Testament assumes that Christians “connect” to a local church where they live out their commitment to Jesus. Each New
Testament letter was written to a local church or a local church leader.
Just as there was a list of widows eligible for financial support (1 Timothy 5:9), there may also have been a list of members that grew as people were saved (Acts 2:41, 47; 5:14; 16:5). In fact, when a believer moved to another city, gave him a letter of commendation (Acts 18:27; Romans 16:1; Colossians 4:10; 2 Corinthians 3:1-2).
B) The existence of church government.
The pattern throughout the New Testament is for pastors to oversee the local body of believers. Their duties presuppose a clearly defined group of members who are under their care (Acts 20:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:2-3).
“the lot assigned to you” - 1 Peter 5:2 (literal translation)
Pastors & Deacons (1 Timothy 33:1-13)
C) The exercise of church discipline.
In 1 Corinthians 5:2, Paul called for disfellowshipping a member. To formally exclude someone, you to have previously formally included him. Church discipline would be difficult, if one didn’t know who was in good standing and who wasn’t.
D) The exhortation to mutual edification.