Is Church Membership Important

Positonal Statements

Many Christians faithfully attend a church for years but never take vows of church membership. They view church membership as an option rather than as a Scriptural mandate. Does the Bible command Christians to join a church? Consider the scriptural case for church membership.
Church membership is biblical
The Bible does not explicitly command Christians to join a church -- it assumes it. The New Testament presupposes membership, for example, in the command, "obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account" (Hebrews 13:17). If you never join a church it is impossible for you to obey this command. Similarly, I Peter 5:2 directs elders to "shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight." How can elders identify the particular flock that God holds them responsible to shepherd unless Christians formally align themselves with particular congregations?
Suppose John Doe attends First Baptist Church for three years but never joins. Then he starts attending Elm Street Baptist Church but, again, does not join. After attending Eastside Baptist for six weeks, is John now under the pastoral care of the Eastside Street Baptist or the First Baptist? How can the pastor of a church know whom they are charged to shepherd apart from congregants taking vows of membership? How can elders know when they are released from their responsibility to shepherd an individual unless that individual informs them that he or she has made a formal commitment to another church? This may not seem like a big deal to some people, but it is a serious issue.
I Corinthians also assumes that membership is the church's normal practice. There in verse two of chapter 5 the apostle Paul commands the church in Corinth to remove from their fellowship a man who was unrepentant of his immorality. The discipline of this man assumes that there is a public knowledge of who is in the church and who is not in the church. How do you put someone out of the church who never publicly said he was in it? In I Corinthians 5:12 Paul asks, "What have I do to with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?" This manner of speaking tells us that there must be identifiable categories of those who are inside the church and those who are outside the church.
Throughout the Bible, God draws a clear line between those inside and those outside the community of believers. The Psalmist says that "the Lord records as he registers the peoples, 'This one was born there'" (Psalm 87:6). In other words, God has a clearly defined list of those who are numbered among his people. Likewise, Paul wrote a letter "to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons" (Philippians 1:1). This implies that the church in Philippi was a clearly defined body of believers with a formal governing structure: elders, or overseers, and deacons.
Church membership is also important because unbelievers need to know who are and who are not church members. I want everyone to attend our church: Christians, non-Christians, adulterers, thieves, homosexuals along with people who eat hominy and beets. And if someone is not a Christian, we are not going to press him to live like a Christian; we are going to love him without condition and present to him the claims of Christ. But once a person becomes a Christian he should join a church. Placing ones self under the authority of the local church means they will
be held accountable. Now if we have all kinds of people attending our church, including some who may be involved in scandalous sin, how do we protect the testimony of our church when outsiders say, "Slick Donald, that crooked businessman, goes to First Baptist Church." If we have church membership, our response is, "Louie attends our church, but he's not a member. We're just glad he's coming and inquiring about Christ." If someone who is a member gets involved in scandalous sin and is unrepentant, our response would be, "We are presently confronting him about his sin. If he does not repent, the day will likely come when he will be put out of the church."
Some Christians justify their reluctance to join a local church by saying, "I am a member of the universal church." While the Bible does speak of the universal church (e.g. Ephesians 5:25 tells us that "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her)" it also refers to local congregations such as "the church in Jerusalem" and "the church of God that is in Corinth" (Acts 8:1; I Corinthians 1:2). To claim membership in the universal church without joining a local congregation is to overly spiritualize something that Scripture makes solid.
Church membership is good for you
We all need a group of Christians who will help hold us accountable. Taking vows of church membership invites fellow believers to hold you accountable to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Some may reply, "Well, that's all the more reason not to join a church. I don't want the church breathing down my neck if I fall into some sin." But the mutual accountability and discipline that flow from a covenant of church membership are intended for our ultimate good.
When I was a soldier at Ft. Huachuca, AZ I attended a church off post. There was a man named Steve D. who was the church treasurer. Steve took the money from the church treasury and went to Las Vegas where he blew the churches monies. What was the church to do now? The pastor brought this up before the church to discuss the matter. Steve was excommunicated from the church. His sins caught up with him. He was now sitting in a Tucson jail cell and facing the long arm of the law over many sins he had committed. He called the pastor of the church who called me to ride with him to Tucson. We went in to pick up Steve. He was a broken man, who seriously asked for forgiveness. Our church forgave Steve but that did not stop the consequences of his sins. He landed in a Florence, AZ prison but forgiven and restored.
We need to join a church because we need accountability. True accountability can exist only when we are under authority, in a committed relationship with others in a congregation. If there is no authority, there can be no true accountability.
Church membership is good for the church
Someone said that the difference between involvement and commitment is like the contribution that a chicken and a pig make to a ham and egg breakfast. The chicken is involved but the pig is committed. People who are merely involved do not build strong churches. People who make a blood earnest commitment to its people and mission build strong churches. Local congregations need people who will say to others in the congregation, "I'm committed to you. You are my family. I'm going to pray for you, encourage you, exhort you, love you, bear with you, and serve you. We may disappoint and even hurt one another from time to time, but I am committed to laboring in this section of Christ's vineyard."
Christian, are you a member of a church? You may have reasonable reservations that keep you from joining. I encourage you to examine your reservations in light of Scripture.
Randall J. Runions, Pastor