This Sunday we will be receiving several new members into the fellowship of our church. I thought this would be a good idea to ‘cheer lead’ the cause of church membership.
We live in a time in which many professing Christians regard church membership as optional. I’ve heard statements and questions such as: “Where does the Bible say ‘Go join the local church?’” or “I’m a Christian but I don’t believe in the institutional church.” Some think “My relationship to God is a very private and special matter. It is between me and my Savior. I don’t want to impede this relationship by joining a church with all its problems.” Or even “I’m part of the invisible church. Therefore, there is no need for me to join the visible local church.”
When examining the biblical evidence for church membership one must keep in mind that there are no explicit commandments in the Bible which says, “Go join the local church.” But, even though there are no explicit statements on this issue in Scripture, church membership is clearly a priority.
When Christ instituted the church He set up church officers and laws for the government of His church. Jesus, who is the Good Shepherd of His sheep (cf. John 10:7-18), has placed under-shepherds (pastors) over His flock for their protection and edification (1 Pet. 5:1-4). These under-shepherds are given authority over a specific group of people. Pastors are “over you in the Lord” (1 Thess. 5:12). They “rule over you…. they watch out for your souls” (Heb. 13:7, 17).
Believers are commanded to “obey those who rule over you, and be submissive” (Heb. 13:17). They are “to recognize” and “highly esteem” their own pastor. Are Christians supposed to submit to anyone who claims to be a pastor? No, only their own pastor.
A church function that presupposes church membership is church discipline. Can a person be cast out of an organization without first joining and being a part of that group? Of course not. A person who is not a member of a church cannot be disciplined by that church.
The biblical study of the church proves that the New Testament church was not a mere voluntary association, or merely a loose group of individuals. It was created by God with a definite form of government and strict rules of discipline for its own health and growth.
The New Testament speaks of pastors (Eph. 4:11), shepherds of the flock (Ac. 20:28), and teachers (1 Cor. 12:28). There are also deacons (Ac. 6:1-6; 1 Tim. 3:8-13) who handle some of the affairs of the church.
Pastor are responsible to teach (Eph. 4:11-12), exhort (1 Tim. 6:2), admonish (1 Thess. 5:12-13), “rebuke with all authority” (Tit. 2:15), and preach (2 Tim. 4:2).
Church leaders receive their authority from Christ to edify the church and not to destroy it (2 Cor. 10:8). As guardians of the flock they have a responsibility (after following the necessary levels of admonition) to “reject” (Tit. 3:10), “put away from” the church (1 Cor. 5:13) and regard as “heathen” (Mt. 18:17) those who do not repent of immorality and heresy. They also must re-admit into church membership all those who repent (2 Cor. 2:6-8).
I really believe that church membership is important. It doesn’t save you, and you can’t trust your church attendance or membership to get you to heaven. Just because you live in a garage doesn’t make you a car. But, a car is supposed to stay in a garage… that’s where it belongs. And a Christian belongs in the membership of a local church.