Church membership is something that many have taken for granted over the years. Or, better stated, it’s something that many Christians have never given much thought to. They may have walked down the aisle of a local church service, told the pastor they wanted to join, and maybe even filled out a card on a small clipboard that somehow seemed to be angelically placed there for that specific purpose. Some well-meaning Christians (and pastors) have never really given much more thought than that to church membership.
Well, Biblically speaking there is much more to it than that. The glory of God is at stake when we speak of church membership. The purpose of the church is the glory of God. Ephesians 3:21 says, “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” So, when you become a member of a local church you are actively uniting yourself with a group of God’s people for the purpose of glorifying God together.
In the first century church each congregation was led by pastors / elders, along with the servanthood of deacons. They gathered regularly (especially on the 1st day of the week; cf I Cor. 16:2), and worshiped together. In his book A Summary of Christian History (Broadman & Holman, 1994), Robert Baker states, “Worship was simple, consisting of hymn singing, praying, Scripture reading, and exhortations.”
So, they sang, prayed, preached, and observed the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This was how the earliest Christians conducted themselves in a worship service. But does a Christian have to join a church to do this? Should all Christians join a local church? To answer this I would like to share an article from 9Marks ministries. 9Marks is a ministry that exists to equip churches with a Biblical vision and practical resources for displaying God’s glory to the world through healthy churches. Give some thought to what the article is saying:
Why Should Every Christian Join a Church?
Every Christian should join a church because Scripture requires it. Granted, there is no direct command in Scripture that says, “Every Christian must join a local church,” but two factors in Scripture indicate that every Christian should be a member of a local church.
- Jesus established the church to be a public, earthly institution that would mark out, affirm, and oversee those who profess to believe in him (Matt. 16:18-19, 18:15-20). Jesus established the church to publicly declare those who belong to him in order to give the world a display of the good news about himself (John 17:21, 23; see also Eph. 3:10). Jesus wants the world to know who belongs to him and who doesn’t. And how is the world to know who belongs to him and who doesn’t? They are to see which people publicly identify themselves with his people in the visible, public institution he established for this very purpose. They’re to look at the members of his church. And if some people claim to be part of the universal church even though they belong to no local church, they reject Jesus’ plan for them and his church. Jesus intends for his people to be marked out as a visible, public group, which means joining together in local churches.
- Scripture repeatedly commands Christians to submit to their leaders (Heb. 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12-13). The only way to do that is by publicly committing to be members of their flock, and saying in effect, “I commit to listening to your teaching, following your direction, and to submitting to your leadership.” There’s no way to obey the scriptural commands to submit to your leaders if you never actually submit to them by joining a local church.
(You can visit 9Marks here http://www.9marks.org to find many other resources that will assist any church that is seeking to become a healthy, Christ-centered church).
The bottom line is this—Church membership is ordained by God for His people. If churches today haven’t managed this responsibility well then it’s the individual church’s fault. Church membership is vital to a person’s individual growth as a Christian. And it’s to be done God’s way, not our own. We all should give serious thought to what it means to be a member of a local church family and what God expects from each of us as members. It is only then that we will begin to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
By His Grace,