Pastor John discusses the Biblical value of church membership.
by John Hays on August 17, 2017
No serious student of the Bible can minimize the importance of the church, both the church as a universal body
and the local church in which believers are clustered together geographically to share faith and life. Those who
have experienced the redeeming grace of Christ are immediately immersed into a borderless spiritual union
with Him and every other believer (Ephesians 4:4). As a result of our union with Christ, we are united with
other Christians regardless of ethnic or geographic identity into the universal church of God.
However, there is a second church to which all believers are expected to be connected, a local body of
believers who grow in the faith together (Hebrews 10:25). The Christian life is to be lived out in community.
The importance of the local church cannot be stressed enough. Paul called it, "the pillar and foundation of the
truth." (1Timothy 3:15). The church actively seeks to make disciples, cares for one another through spiritual
gifts, and gathers together for worship, study of God's word, baptizing professing believers and observing the
Lord's Supper. The local church has been assigned the awesome responsibility to share the gospel globally
and to raise up mature disciples locally who experience their highest joy in God.
Fulfilling this glorious calling is an awesome task that demands unwavering commitment, and a supernatural
anointing by the Spirit. Determination and inspiration without accountability and clear responsibilities can make
for an exciting 'flash' event but will not result in the "deep roots" Kingdom churches require (Ephesians 3:17).
Godly leadership is also essential for accomplishing the Great Commission. Deciding on church leaders
requires knowledge of who is "in" the church and much more. No church wants leaders who lack both
commitment to Christ and commitment to the people they will serve. Paul wrote to Timothy of specific
requirements for those who would serve as Overseers and Deacons in the church (1Timothy 3:1-13). Scripture
clearly communicates that teachers in the church will have a higher accountability than non-teachers (James
3:1). This kind of thorough vetting and accountability indicates that being in leadership in the church was taken
very seriously by the early Apostles. To facilitate these processes, it is extremely likely that something very
similar to church membership was in place in these early congregations.
Church leaders are to provide oversight for the care of those within their "flock" (Acts 20:28; Ezekiel 34:1-10).
Dr. Luke provides an example of how the early in church Jerusalem cared for the widows in their
fellowship (Acts 6:1). Within cities like Ephesus and Jerusalem, there were many more non-Christians than
Christians and many people outside the church who needed compassionate care but the Bible teaches that
primary responsibility of the local church leaders was to take care of its flock. This is not to negate the churches
responsibility to care for people beyond its faith community but rather it serves to highlight the fact that there
must have been in place some means to identify the sheep who were in the flock (John 10:3,4). Church
membership is a simple vehicle to achieve this defining of responsibility. Just as within a family there is a
unique responsibility for a father and mother to care for their children, likewise there is a unique responsibility
within the church to care for our spiritual brothers and sisters.
Even though there is a higher degree of accountability for leaders in the church, there is also responsibility for
the individual in a local congregation to use his or her spiritual gifts for the edification of their brothers and
sisters in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13). As Paul addressed the believers in Ephesus, he used the same
metaphor he used in his letter to the Corinthians; the church should function like a healthy human body. Christ
is the head, while the leaders and congregation are the rest of the body; some arms, others legs. The
implication is that a healthy church is fully equipped to efficiently fulfill her purpose and look increasingly like
her Lord. It works cohesively, in a spirit of love, with every member of the body having a part to play
(Ephesians 4:15-16). Clearly this type of divine intentionality bears the marks of a church that would
organically embrace a form of membership.
Experiencing a church that functions in love with clarity of responsibilities is a beautiful thing. However, it is
possible to have a church function like a well-run restaurant with the dining room and kitchen working in
harmony while serving food poisoned by the bacteria of false doctrine. A church may seem to have it all
together, every seat filled, the music is sung with passion, and the preacher is polished but it is serving
spiritual food that sickens the soul (Romans 16:17,18). The church at Pergamum was guilty of allowing false
teachings to corrupt its congregation and God had one simple word for them, repent (Revelation 2:16). Church
membership cannot prevent heresy from creeping into the church but it can help to weed out those who hold
dangerous doctrines before they are allowed to influence the church. When church membership is functioning
well, it will require a candidate for membership to affirm a doctrinal statement, where the essentials of the faith
are clarified (1Corinthians 15:1-4). Early in the history of the church confessions of faith like the Apostles
Creed helped to preserve doctrinal integrity. The church at Jersey embraces the BFM2000 as its primary (apart
from the Bible) doctrinal summary.
Regretfully, doctrinal heresy is not the only way for a church to be corrupted. The witness of a congregation
can be severely damaged by moral failure. Most every Christian is aware of "church people" who behave like
members of the dark side rather than children of the light (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 5:1-10). When this
happens, the Bible provides helpful instruction on how the local church is to respond (Matthew 18:15-17). After
unsuccessful attempts to bring repentance, the sinner is to be brought before the church. If he is persistent in
his sin, he is to be cast away from the church. Church discipline is at best compromised by a lack of church
membership. How can you define whom the unrepentant is to be brought before if the church is not defined by
membership? How can an unrepentant sinner be cast away from something to which he has never been
joined? Sadly, not every church which has membership administers discipline but discipline supported by
membership helps keep the church more free from sin and moving toward repentance and restoration
Even though Scripture does not explicitly require a local congregation to maintain church membership, we
cannot help but see its shadow cast throughout the functioning of the first century church. Church membership
has indispensable value in helping the local church to be faithful to its God ordained purpose. If a church hopes
to hear the type of affirmation that God gave to the church at Philadelphia, a regenerate church membership
will make this more likely. Revelation 3:8 says "I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have
kept My word, and have not denied my name, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to