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Membership

The What and the Why of Biblical Membership

Once someone has attended our church for a few weeks or more, they begin to notice a distinction or difference between “visitors” and “members”. At first glance, this difference might seem preferential or biased… but we promise that is not intentional. A major part of this appearance is that many people are not familiar with the Biblical teaching of membership. Sadly, so many churches have abused membership and church discipline that these terms bring to mind horror stories of abuse, bias, and broken relationships. However, it doesn’t have to be that way! The Bible teaches a view of membership which is wonderful, gracious and up-building! And it is that view which we strive to believe and practice here in this church! Please take a few minutes to read this page so that you will better understand our principles and practice.

Let us begin by putting your mind at ease: Membership is not intended as a manipulation tactic. It isn’t intended so that we can track or force donations. The whole goal is to be a Bible based flock of God. We use that term intentionally, because we want you to remember that God most often describes Christians as God’s Sheep. Pastors and Elders are called God’s “under-shepherds,” and they do the work of “feeding the flock.” This points us to a number of important aspects of the Biblical view of membership.

First of all, The Bible assumes and implies membership through every description of Christians and the church. There is no such thing as a flock of one. Nor can you have a single solo sheep be a part of an “invisible” flock. The whole analogy of Christians as sheep drives us to acknowledge that we need to be grouped together under the oversight and protection of shepherds (who all work for the chief shepherd, Christ). Think about the other ways the Bible describes Christians. The term “church” is the Greek work for an assembly or crowd. It doesn’t refer to a building but to a group. The idea that you can be a church of one would have been absurd to the writers of the New Testament. It would be like a single man proclaiming that he is in a crowd. He isn’t; he has to be with others to call it a crowd or an assembly.

The Bible actually speaks this way about membership from the very beginning. God’s Old Testament people Israel were always very clearly distinguished from outsiders. New converts from other nations had to go through a process to become full members of the nation of Israel. There was the sign of God’s covenant: Circumcision, and in most cases they had to wait 3 generations to be fully integrated! Those who were officially Jews were then included in the written records of the nation’s genealogies (their “membership list”).

The New Testament is no different. In the New Covenant church, the Lord added countable people to a definable group (Acts 2:41,47). This definable group was distinguished from those who were not a part of it (Acts 4:23; 5:12-13). In 1 Timothy 5:9-16, Paul speaks about a specific list of names of Christian widows in a particular local church. It only makes sense that a church which keeps lists of the widows would also keep lists of who else were members of that assembly or church. Thankfully for all of us guys, circumcision is no longer the sign of who belongs to God’s people. Now Baptism is the sign of being washed/cleansed by the Lord. New converts are baptized into membership of God’s church in a specific place. And having joined that specific local church, then all the directions of the New Testament concerning elders/pastors become applicable to them! For how can a spiritual shepherd feed an unknown flock? How can they teach, rebuke, correct and disciple people whom they don’t even know? Today’s mega churches have done more harm than good in this area – for now people think that it is acceptable and even good to go to a large church where they can slip in and out without being noticed. However, the Biblical model is that a church would be a place where you are noticed, discipled and encouraged in your walk with the Lord! Hebrews 13:7-19 speaks of the relationship between members and leaders. The leaders are to watch out for the souls of those under their care, and the members are to submit to that teaching and discipline. The whole idea of Biblical Church Discipline assumes the necessity of church membership. For how can you be put out of an assembly or church if you were never put in? (Matthew 18:17, 1 Cor.5:9-11; 2 Thess. 3:14-15)

You see, the goal of encouraging people to be members of a specific local church is that they might be fully connected to the body of Christ. It is only within that structure that a Christian can receive teaching, pastoral care, and accountability that goes beyond the surface to their very souls! Membership is about opening yourself to God through the leadership and offices that He appointed for His people. And yes, that means that sometimes you will both get hurt and you will hurt others – that is what happens in every family! We are, after all, a group of sinners saved by God’s grace alone! However, those offenses that happen within the church need not lead to relationship breakdown and transfer to another place. No! For since there has been a commitment to be members one of another in that local congregation – you can be assured that everyone there is willing and ready to do the hard work to resolve that conflict to the glory of God! That commitment gives us the safety and assurance that we need to open up to one another – for we know that we are loved!

We could summarize the arguments the Biblical arguments for specific membership in a local church  in this way:

  1. The Bible always speaks of Christians being connected together (God’s flock/sheep, the “church” or assembly, the body of Christ etc).
  2. The people of God have always been connected together from the Old Testament into the New. You cannot “be added to the number” without having some specific number/list to which to be added (Acts 2:41,47).
  3. The teaching of the New Testament concerning leaders and pastors demands that there be a local specific membership for their work to be possible/practical (see 1 Timothy 3, 2 Timothy 4, Titus 3 and Hebrews 13).
  4. For discipleship or discipline to take place among Christians, there must be a defined “inside the church” and “outside the church.” (Matthew 18, 1 Cor.5, 2 Thess. 3:14-15).
  5. Most of the New Testament was written to particular local congregations. Yes, the letters were intended to be circulated to others as well, but the original intent was that they would be read and explained to specific groups of believers. Therefore, it makes sense that we would continue to be organized the same way.
  6. In addition to all this, we believe basic logic demands membership. One cannot be a member of Rotary International without being a member of a local club/branch. Likewise, one cannot be a member of the Church Universal without being a member of some local congregation. God designed Christians to thrive in fellowship and to wither and fall into temptation when alone… Therefore, it makes perfect sense that we would need to be members bonded together by vows or promises to love God and one another as He has called us to do in His Word!

There is much more that could be said on this subject, but this little pamphlet has been intended to lay out the basics. Please take your questions to any of the elders or pastors of this church and we will do our best to answer them lovingly and Biblically!




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