Church membership is a concept once universally accepted that now must regularly be defended. While there are many reasons for this, the excuse most often trotted out by it’s detractors is that the Bible does not mention church membership.
Besides being an argument from silence,which is not a sound footing on which to build a theology, it’s also not true. To be sure, “thou shalt join a church” is nowhere to be found, but the New Testament is full of teachings that can only be explained in the context of church membership. Here are three:
- Pastors are repeatedly referred to as having the function of “shepherds” (I Peter 5:2) and “overseers” of a flock (Acts 20:28, Philippians 1:1). Shepherds always have a specific flock. Trying to function as a shepherd to some amorphous “whoever” is like trying to cool the yard in July by turning on the air conditioning and opening all the doors and windows. Apart from set boundaries ministry, like air conditioning, is ineffective. For pastors, that boundary is church membership. It tells them who they are responsible for before God and therefore who is under their care.
- Church discipline is a command of scripture. In Matthew 18:17, the final step of that process in the face of stalwart unrepentance, is to tell the matter to the church. The reason? So the church will no longer treat this person as among their number but as a tax collector or sinner. In other words, someone outside the church. This is reinforced by Paul in I Corinthians 5:2 when he commands the church at Corinth to remove an immoral person from among them. Absent an understanding of who is and is not part of the local body, commands like these make no sense.
- Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in the local churches where they were ministering (Acts 14:23) and Paul commanded Titus to do the same (Titus 1:5). Elder is but another New Testament term for pastor or shepherd or bishop – a leader in a local church. Believers are responsible to obey and submit to the elders (Hebrews 13:17). Which elders? Everyone in the world whom a local church has called as an elder? Certainly not. The implication is to the elders of your local church. Again, it’s a matter of knowing who is and is not part of the flock, both so the elders know to whom they are called to minister and so individual Christians know which brothers and sisters in Christ are their primary responsibility and to which spiritual leaders they are accountable.
These are just a few reasons church membership is important, indeed essential, for believers. So why do so many reject the notion of church membership today? That’s another topic for another post but never let anyone (or any church) get away with telling you that church membership is optional or unimportant by claiming the Bible is silent on the topic.
- The Importance Of Local Church Membership/Participation Week: Christ Fellowship Elders, Kansas City – “Why Should I Join A Church?” (thelightheartedcalvinist.com)
- Exhortation: Why Should We Join a Church? (apologus.wordpress.com)