Involvement in a local church and accountability to its leadership is integral to Christian discipleship. So as people make Trinity their home church and get involved in a small group, it’s important that you and I encourage them to pursue church membership. I’ve found that as men and women are encouraged to become members, the most frequently asked question is, “Is church membership biblical?” I praise God when people ask questions like this! It shows that they love the Word of God and want to ensure the church is living according to it.
So is church membership biblical? Absolutely! It may not be as explicit as doctrines like justification by faith, but there is still significant evidence for it. Here are 5 reasons why church membership is biblical:
1. Jesus’ teaching assumed there was a mechanism to determine who formally and publicly belonged to a local church
In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus gives instructions on how to deal with a brother or sister in Christ who is living in unrepentant sin. After speaking to that person individually and then bringing two or three others along with you, Jesus says in verse 17, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Implicit in this text is Jesus’ assumption that believers formally belong to a local church and submit to its authority. Whether or not the first century church called this mechanism “church membership” is uncertain, but the principle is the same.
2. Paul’s teaching assumed there was a mechanism to determine who formally and publicly belonged to a local church
Similar to Jesus’ teaching, Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 explains the importance of church discipline. In verse 12 he says, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” He then encourages us to put the unrepentant person outside of the church if they refuse to repent. Again, implicit here is a mechanism for determining who is ‘inside the church’ and who is not. How can you kick someone out if you haven’t established whether or not they’re in?
3. Paul demonstrates an awareness of who is a church member in Romans 16:1-16
In Romans 16:1-16, Paul puts forth a list of members whom he’d like the Roman church to greet on his behalf. Paul demonstrates an awareness of who publicly belonged to the church in Rome.
4. Church membership in a local body allows us to be obedient to the commands of God in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 and Romans 12:3-6
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 and Romans 12:3-6, Paul uses the illustration of the body to describe what the church is to function like. The church is one body that has many members. Church membership allows us to determine who is a member of the local body at Trinity Bible Chapel and who is not. Furthermore, your membership in a local body reflects your membership to the universal body of Christ. Paul seems to have both the local church (i.e.: 1 Corinthians 12:21-26) and the universal church (1 Corinthians 12:12-13,27) in mind in this passage.
5. The Bible assumes that pastors are responsible for a specific flock of people
In 1 Peter 5:1-2, Peter says this, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” How do we determine who belongs to the flock and who does not? Which people will pastors have to give an account for (Hebrews 13:17)? Is it simply whoever is present in the worship service on a Sunday morning? I don’t think so. Thus, there must be an understanding of local church membership.
So while I cannot point to a verse that says, “You must be a church member,” church membership is still a biblical concept that is certainly assumed throughout the New Testament. Scripture clearly commands us to join a local church and submit to its elders. Furthermore, it commands churches to uphold the church discipline process. In order for all this to happen according to Scripture, church membership is a non-negotiable necessity. So let’s value church membership and encourage others to pursue it.
You Are Loved!