There was a time when the question of church membership was not much of a question at all. Jump back a generation or two, and nearly every church in the country had a roster of members.
Now the question, however, is much more persistent. Many contemporary churches have membership but don’t place much emphasis on it. Others don’t have membership at all, encouraging their people to get involved and engaged without a more formal process.
So should believers join their local church?
When you look at Scripture, you won’t find the word “membership.” But that’s not much of an argument against membership, since the word “Trinity” isn’t in the Bible either. The concept is.
The core concept of membership is having a covenant community where you belong. We see that evidenced in multiple places in Scripture.
In 1 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul mentions a case of removing someone from the body of believers, which implies a formal category. In Acts 6, the believers have an election, again implying an “in/out” category. And in 1 Timothy 5:3–16, we see a clear teaching on how to handle widows in the church. In that latter passage, there’s even language of creating a roster so the leaders would be able to care for these women well.
The New Testament writers never say, “You need to become a member of the local church.” But every letter in the New Testament assumes that believers are an active part of a local church gathering.
We see this in the how the writers give instruction on submission to church authority, how believers ought to handle sin within the church, and the elders’ responsibility to shepherd the flock under their care (1 Corinthians 5, Hebrews 13:17, Acts 20:28). If we are to take these commands seriously, we have to be joined to a local body to know who our leaders are.
In my experience, many people resist joining the church because they approach the church with a consumer mindset. They don’t want to belong. They don’t want expectations placed on them. They want to receive something. It may be a good something — biblical teaching, for instance — but the overall approach is consumeristic.
I’m not always opposed to consumer relationships. They’re fine if you’re talking about fast food. But apply that kind of thinking to relationships like your marriage or your children, and you will create major problems.
The church is not a consumer relationship. The church is a family. And families are committed to each other.
The biblical metaphor that shows this most clearly is that of being “one body” (1 Corinthians 12). Can you imagine your physical body with “non-committed” body members? What good is a hand if it’s not actually connected to the rest of you?
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Source: Baptist Press