ASK 2015 “Where in the Bible does it say anything about Church Membership? Why insist on it?
When it comes to what we do as believers…we desire…of course to be in line with the Scriptures. Not just to know how to be His people, but also how to be His Church. Principles/precepts that are just as current/relevant today as when first written.
There are some do not believe in Church membership. They do not see it as Biblical nor expected by God. But actually, when we take a close look at the Scripture we see that it is. Here at Fellowship we take membership very seriously. We do not demand it, but rather encourage it. I firmly believe it is one of the ways that God uses to grow us into maturity…and conforms us into His likeness. That of course is the end result/goal. To be like Jesus. And so this morning I want to share with you some of the Biblical evidence that supports Church membership. Each point serves as an individual strand of the the grand tapestry…church.
If you are a MEMBER…let this remind you of the value/purpose of your membership here at Fellowship…If you are NOT A MEMBER…let this encourage you to seriously consider membership in a local church. Now to be clear here…there is no explicit imperative that says “you must be a church member”. Yet when you think about these Scriptural facts they would really make no sense if there was no such thing as “church membership“.
1. JOINING & ADDING WAS PART OF THE EARLY CHURCH…Acts 5:12-14 “And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were being done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly…And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.”
So here in the early church, a distinction is made…there are those in Solomon’s Porch (part of Herod’s Temple)…all together with one accord…and also those who are faced with the decision of whether or not they would join the church in Jerusalem. They chose not to join them. But esteemed them highly (great respect) Now this was not just an informal getting together of believers it was public and organized. Now before you think this is merely a vague reference let’s consider another.
2. CARING FOR WIDOWS…1 Timothy 5:9-12
Here Paul gives Timothy (pastor of the church in Ephesus) instructions on how to care for the widows in the church. To “be taken into the number” means “to be enrolled“. Enrolling widows on the list of those receiving support from the church. Then adds characteristics of these godly women. “…wife of one man, good works, lodged strangers, washed feet of, relieved the afflicted, followed every good work but refuse the younger ones…”
What roll…a list of who gets support…what listing of persons would this be if it wasn’t for the local church. Now I know this is not conclusive evidence for formal church membership…but you must admit it is hard to imagine any Church keeping a list of widows and not having a master list of who actually belongs to the church. At Fellowship we have a master list of people along with a list of members and those who are even inactive.
3. ACCOUNTABILITY…Matthew 18:15-17
In this passage Jesus is giving His disciples step by step instruction on how to resolve interpersonal conflicts between brethren. NOTE: It is very clear and a very important part of the fellowship of believers. Church membership is implied by the way the church is supposed to discipline its members. Matthew 18:15-17 “the church” appears to be the final court of appeal in matters of church authority as it relates to membership. If there is no church membership, then how can you define the group that will lovingly care for this matter? Who is the group who will come alongside an unrepentant person…and who will render the final judgment about his standing in the community.
Can you imagine if just anyone showed up claiming to be a Christian that they could be part of the group that mediates the problems? Here is another implication…“the church” must be a definable group to handle such a weighty matter. You know who you mean when you “take it to the church.” There must be a formalized, definable, organized body that needs to be that group. Just any old bystander will not suffice especially when sin is probably involved.
4. INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE CHURCH EXISTS… 1 Corinthians 5:12-13
1 Corinthians 5:12-13 Paul giving Corinthians instruction to deal with sexual immorality within the church. implies this where he deals with the necessity of putting someone out of the church. He says, “For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside (the church)? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore put away from yourselves the evil person.”
There are two implications here that we cannot escape here: First, there is an “in the church” group and an “outside the church” group. Both are definable. The other implication is that someone can be removed from being “in the church.” So how do you remove somebody from the church if no membership does not exist? Those inside the church are accountable to those inside the church.
5. THE EXAMPLE OF SUBMISSION TO LEADERSHIP…
Church membership is implied in the biblical requirement of Christians to be submitted to church leaders. The point here is that without membership, who is it that the NT is referring to who must submit to a specific group of leaders? There must be some kind of willingness on the part of committed group to be submitted to their leaders. And the leaders must be willing to lead the group.Just like a basketball coach is responsible to teach and instruct his 12-13 player and they are required to submit to him as their coach…there is a willing commitment to the boundaries of that team. A player does not pick what team he plays for on game day. Nopr does the coach try top coach the other team. They are committed to the team.
Consider the way the New Testament talks about the relationship of the church to her leaders.
- Hebrews 13:17 “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch over your souls, as those who must give an account.”
- 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 “And we urge you brethren, to recognize those who labour among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.”
- 1 Timothy 5:17 “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially those who labor in the word (preaching) and doctrine (teaching).”
So a question to ask at this point is how does leadership lead and how is submission going to happen if there is no membership defining who has made the commitment to be led and who has been chosen as leaders? If we ignore membership, how do we take these commands to submit and to lead seriously and practically. If I am not a member of a local church why bother submitting to the the leaders. If I am a leader who am I leading if the people do not want to be led?
6. THE EXAMPLE OF SHEPHERDS CARING FOR THEIR FLOCK…
Church membership is implied in the way the New Testament requires pastor/elders are to care for their flock. Of course elders should love anyone and everyone to the extent that they can. But the Bible tells elders/pastors/shepherds that they are to have a special responsibility and care for a certain group…as in a group of members. For example, Paul tells the elders how to care for their flock. Acts 20:28 This verse does not say elders cannot care for unbelievers or those who are not yet members. But it does make clear that their first responsibility is to a particular group the flock.
How are they to know who their flock is? Who are we as elders and pastors responsible for? For whom will we give an account to God?
Look at 1 Peter 5:2-3 The way Peter speaks to pastors here is even more to the point. “those entrusted to you/those in your charge” implies that the elders knew who they were responsible for.
This is just another way of talking about membership. If a person does not want to be held accountable by a group of elders …they will resist the idea of membership. And they will resist God’s appointed way for them to live and be sustained in their faith.
7. THE METAPHOR OF THE BODY…
1 Corinthians 12:12-31 Church membership is pictured in the metaphor of the body. The original meaning of the word “member” is member of a body, like hand, foot, eye, ear. That’s the imagery behind the word “member” in v.12 “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”
So the question this imagery raises for the local church that Paul is describing in 1 Corinthians 12 is: there is a unity implied…the different parts (members) are part of a body…and each serves a particular function. You cannot simply be part of the body…if you are not attached to the body. A binder on the head does not a mer of the body make. Silly as that may be.
So for these seven reasons and more we believe membership is a New Testament expectation for all believers.
- If we desire to GROW in our faith and service…each of us should be a member of a local body of believers. Our purpose is to grow up into His likeness.
- If we want to TAKE SIN SERIOUSLY in our own lives…sin brings reproach on the name of Christ….we will take seriously the commitment of our local church to help us.
- We should SUBMIT ourselves to the body so if we happen to stray…we would be subject to loving corrective, restorative discipline.
- We need to be UNDER CHURCH LEADERSHIP…the God given authority to spiritually care for us…
- And we should FIND OUR PLACE IN THE WHOLE AS A BODY… as a member of a local body of Christ. Your gifts are an organic part of the ministering body!
That is God’s plan for us and for this church. That’s what we mean by church membership. All of these aspects of membership are rooted in the truth that the local church is an expression of the universal church. Part of what it means to belong to the body of Christ is to belong to a body.
The Church both LOCAL and UNIVERSAL are a blood-bought gift of God’s grace…
Let me close by urging you to pray and to think this through for your own life. I forget who it was who said: “There is no such thing as Lone-Ranger Christians” …It would really be a contradiction of terms because when we come to faith in Jesus Christ we become part (unified) of the body of Christ. And when we are united with Christ we express that reality by being united with a local body of believers. This is why the issue of membership is so important.
Church membership is a blood-bought gift of God’s grace. Being committed to a local body of believers is LIFE SUSTAINING…FAITH STRENGTHENING…and JOY PRESERVING…