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A Brief Theology of Church Membership

May 4, 2016

“What benefit do we get out of joining the church?”

Early in my ministry I was asked that question by a couple I was encouraging to join the church. The question left me dumbfounded and without a good answer. Since then I have had opportunity to ponder more fully the Bible’s teaching about church membership. I have had a chance to develop a Biblical answer to that and similar questions. Rightly answering questions about membership is important because a robust, Biblical view of church membership is essential to the health of the church. While it would be difficult to prove a specific New Testtament method of keeping track of church members, the New Testament reveals that the apostles and earliest Christians viewed church membership as a normal part of the Christian life.

Church membership is rooted in the nature of the church. The local church is the visible expression of the body of Christ. Church membership is the Christian’s commitment to the body of Christ. Church membership is a joining of oneself to the local congregation (Acts 9:26-28). Not all who gather with the church are members (Acts 5:10) and being a member of the universal church is not a replacement for being member of the local church. The local church is given the responsibility of caring for the spiritual well being of its members and removing from its membership those who refuse to turn from sin (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:4-5). Church membership is the Christian’s intentional attaching of himself to a specific body of believers for their mutual spiritual benefit.

The long list of New Testament commands given to Christians regarding their treatment of one another clarifies the obligations attendant with church membership. The members of New Testament churches were commanded to love one another, consider one another, comfort one another, serve one another, submit to one another, speak truth to one another and be in unity with one another. Consequently, church membership must be recognized as a humble, compassionate attachment of the individual Christian to a local church for the edification and encouragement of the body. A healthy view of church membership correctly sees it as a covenant between a Christian and a church for the spiritual benefit of all. Church membership is a commitment to uniquely serve a particular body of believers. Church membership is a profession of unity with an individual church and a promise of submission to the authority of that church’s leaders. Church membership is the church’s covenant with the Christian to care for his spiritual well being. Church membership is the mutual declaration of church and Christian to “exhort one another daily . . . lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”

Because of the unique nature of the covenants between the church and the Christian membership is a privilege for the believer. This privilege is not earned but graciously given by God. The privilege of church membership is not found in the opening up of new avenues to fleshly success or personal attainment. Membership is a privilege because it actively works for the spiritual growth and health of the Christian. Membership is a privilege because it provides an opportunity to serve, to refine the use of one’s gifts, to be under loving leadership that cares for the eternal well being of your soul and to work alongside other believers for the increase the kingdom of God.


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