This Sunday, Lord willing, we will receive seventeen new members into the body at Orlando Grace. Thanks be to God! What better time to review ten reasons why church membership is biblical and necessary.
First, God keeps lists and the New Testament church did as well. God has a book. It’s called the book of life. It’s where He keeps the list of all those who belong to Him having been bought by the precious blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. Rev. 20:15 – And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. The New Testament kept lists of members like widows who were enrolled according to strict criteria (1 Tim. 5:9-16). Paul speaks of the punishment of church discipline upon an erring member as sufficient by the majority in 2 Cor. 2:6. It makes no sense at all to speak that way if there was not some way to distinguish who belonged to that majority and who did not. Membership distinguishes accordingly. More on church discipline is to come later in this post.
Second, the New Testament clearly notes the reality of specific churches meeting in specific geographical places with specific individuals practicing specific ministries in covenant relationships. Among them are Rome, Galatia, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Crete, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. The church universal and invisible of believers everywhere manifests itself as the church local and visible in distinct locations and places in which all members participate.
Third, the initiatory rite of baptism implies an entrance into and belonging to a new community, the body of Christ. 1 Cor. 12:13 – For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. Baptism identifies you uniquely with Jesus’ church. It marks you as belonging to His church. Membership in a local church serves a similar purpose, identifying you with a visible, functional assembly.
Fourth, the proliferation of false/heretical doctrine in every age necessitates affiliation with a ministry which identifies the believer with all-important sound doctrine which is able to save one’s soul. In 1 Tim. 4:16 Paul gives this charge to his young pastor friend. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. Certain teaching, if you sit under it and buy into it, will damn your soul to hell for an eternity. Sound doctrine, if you sit under it and embrace it, will save your soul to heaven for eternity. This is why we are a confessional church. We subscribe, with a few but some strategic exceptions/clarifications, to the London 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. It represents one of a handful of historical, thoroughly orthodox summarizations of biblical Christianity that all of church history has commended as conducive to salvation. You want to be a member of that kind of church to help keep you from straying into error and shipwrecking in your faith.
Fifth, the demands to examine continually one’s faith, to make one’s election more sure, to solidify one’s assurance of salvation, to give evidence to the legitimacy of one’s profession of faith, particularly in obeying the all-important command to love one another, as well as all the other one another’s of the New Testament, make membership an absolute necessity. A command like 2 Cor. 13:5 – Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves – makes little to no sense to a great many professing followers of Jesus in today’s evangelical world. They pray a prayer or walk an aisle and merrily go about their lives with little to no concern for making their calling and election more sure (2 Pet. 1:10).
Mark Dever calls the local church an assurance of salvation cooperative. We need the church in our lives and disciplines of membership to test the fabric of our so-called faith to ensure that we are not self-deceived, that our faith is not bogus. Never underestimate the capacity for spiritual drift (Heb. 2:1). Peter says if you lack qualities like faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love — what’s more if you aren’t making every effort to supplement them and grow in them, you may become ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ and be so nearsighted as to be blind. Don’t fool yourself. Membership in a local church is one way to help guard yourself from spiritual shipwreck.
Sixth, membership provides a practical outlet for the exercise of one’s spiritual gift and fulfilling of one’s role as a spiritual priest in God’s house (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Pet. 2:4-5). For example, if someone has the spiritual gift of teaching, a wise church will not permit that person to exercise his/her gift apart from the examination that the membership process brings to bear on that person’s life. To release someone to teach without that doctrinal and personal filtering process puts the body potentially at risk for the proliferation of error in its midst.
Seventh, membership manifests a tangible expression of your willingness to submit to duly constituted ecclesiastical authority (1 Pet. 5:5; Heb. 13:17 – obey your leaders and submit to them). Don’t fool yourself on this one. You are not genuinely and rightly and fully under the authority of the Lord Jesus you profess to follow if you are not pledged covenantally to membership in a church governed biblically by servant-minded godly elders as established by Jesus for the good of His church. God has ordained such leadership in all the social spheres of His invention–the home, the state, and the church.
Eighth, membership affords you spiritual oversight and care by shepherds charged with your wellbeing including your discipline in the case of your getting ensnared in sin. Here is another huge way the isolationist, free-agent Christian is at risk. Without being under spiritual authority, you have no one answering in heaven for you. You fall under no one’s ecclesiastical jurisdiction who can rightly come to your rescue if need be in ways prescribed in a host of passages like Matt. 18:15-18, 1 Cor. 5, Gal. 6:1-2, 2 Thess.3:14-15, 1 Tim. 5:20, etc. That puts you in a most vulnerable position without the benefit of the means of grace that is godly servant shepherding.
Ninth, membership in a local church makes possible the provision of material means in the case of a crisis in one’s life that necessitates help. That does not mean that benevolence giving cannot happen to a nonmember. At times it does. But I invoke 1 Tim. 5 here in the case of widows as proof of what I mean. For a widow to make the list that would assure her benevolence help, she had to meet strict criteria. Membership makes for the lines of demarcation that can assure that the help is warranted and appropriate. We get calls in the office asking for help regularly. The answer is the same. It is reserved for our members into whose lives we may speak and shepherd. That’s good stewardship.
Tenth, and finally, membership assures access to the continuation ordinance of communion with less prospect of self-delusion that leads to incurred judgment for eating and drinking unworthily (1 Cor. 11:27-32). The elders of this church will at the necessary times instruct specific members from partaking FOR THEIR SAKES. Why — because we will give an account (Heb. 13:17) — among other reasons. I am not accountable for you in the same way at all if your name appears on the active church list without a bullet mark indicating you are a member. If there is such a mark, you are a stewardship allotted to my charge by God and He will judge me for the way I handle it. You want that kind of sanctified pressure in my life as a pastor, in the elders’ lives as servants, when it comes to shepherding you. Woe unto you if your pastor doesn’t tremble at the thought of giving an account for your soul at the judgment.
Let there be church membership.