See: 1Corinthians 12:12-27, Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11-16
‘Membership’ is a Christian word, that has now been used by other organisations. Christians are described as Members of the Body of Christ. This picture is used to show how we need one another. The Head (Jesus) supplies much of his life to us through the prayer, fellowship and ministry of other Members. There is nothing in the New Testament that supports the idea of a solitary Christian life. It’s always assumed that Christians live in community. The epistles are mostly written to Churches and contain much teaching about their life together. Over 50 times the phrase ‘one another’ or something similar is used (e.g ‘love one another’).
These Biblical passages show that the spiritual truth of being a member of the body is to be lived out in daily life.
Each Christian was also a ‘member’ of a local Church body. They were ‘joined’ to other believers, they had a definite place in the body where they would receive a spiritual supply. More than that, it is in the essence of Membership that every Member fulfills a function or ministry according as they are graced by the Lord. It seems clear that there should be no doubt as to who is a Member of a local Church and who is not. Therefore we need to have a clear-cut way of receiving new Members and helping them find their place in the life of the Church.
In many ways the local Church is to be the image of the universal Church. The local body is a miniature version of the whole. You enter Membership of the Body of Christ through a commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, and then in Water Baptism the Church publicly welcomes you as a member. Similarly you enter Membership of the local body by committing to that Church, which in turn welcomes you openly as a Member.
Passages that talk about Pastoral care and authority clearly imply that the Pastor should know who he has responsibility to watch over and care for. It was also clearly known by the people what spiritual leadership they were under. Therefore to accomplish this they had the equivalent of ‘Church Membership’ - an open mutual agreement and commitment to one another (Hebrews 13:7, 1Peter 5:1-5; Acts 20:28-32; 1Thessalonians 5:12,13; 1Timothy 3:4,5).
The clearest proof of a clear-cut Church Membership is in Bible passages that relate to Church discipline.
In Matthew 16:18,19 Jesus announces He will build His Church and will invest it with great authority. It has an important mission to fulfill, and it needs to be equipped to overcome all the wiles and attacks of satan.
Then in Matthew 18:15-19, He shows that part of this authority is to discipline a sinning brother. This is for the man’s sake (to bring him to repentance and life) as well as for the Churches’ sake (so that it is not compromised or infected by the open sin of a Member). Jesus outlines a procedure, which if the man is not repentant can result in him being dismissed from Membership (v17). This shows that being a Christian and attending a Church or Fellowship is not Church Membership, for ultimately the Church (not just the man) has the power to decide if he is to be a Member (v18). Now when it says ‘treat him as a heathen’ - it means that since he is acting like an unbeliever (he is unrepentant and his sin has become his lifestyle), he is to be treated as such and therefore can’t continue as a Church Member and partake in the inner fellowship life of the Church. Now, of course, we should show unbelievers the love of God and pray for them to be restored to God.
For another example of this see 1Corinthians 5:6-13 which clearly teaches the expulsion from Membership of Christians in open immoralityuntil they repent. Otherwise the witness of the Church would be compromised and the leaven of sin would infect the whole Church. If Membership is just attendance, then there is no way for the Church to do this.
“Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump (open sin in the Church lowers the moral standard of the whole Church)? Therefore purge out the old leaven (remove the sinner from Membership), that you may be a new lump (a pure Church) since you truly are unleavened For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.
Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people (as part of Church discipline, we do not act toward them as if nothing was wrong). Yet I certainly did not mean (having nothing to do) with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company (fellowship) with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner -not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore: ‘put away from yourselves the evil person.’
This Church discipline was successful (2Corinthians 2:3-11). The man repented and was allowed back into Membership. This also keeps the Church a pure and powerful witness in the community (Acts 5:1-16).
2Thessalonians 3:6-15 says concerning troublemakers:
“We command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us... some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies (1Timothy 5:13).... and if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”
Titus 3:10-11: “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.”
Romans 16:17,18: “I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly (desires and ambitions), and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.”
The Benefits for the Church are clear.
The Churches’ PURPOSE is to fulfil the Great Commission
- WITNESSING to the world and DISCIPLING believers.
Church Membership enables us to do this more effectively:
1. It helps bring us into unity and commitment together under the same vision. It brings forth a greater commitment to one another and our mission. Unity enables us to accomplish our goals (Gen 11:6)
2. It gives us a way of welcoming new people into the Church, sharing our vision, and encouraging them to get involved. Those on the edge are more easily drawn away by other things. If everyone is part of a small group or accountable in some ministry then they will be missed if they stay away for some reason.
3. It gives us a chance to teach new-Christians what Church life and commitment is all about, rather than just hope that they ‘catch-on.’ It gives a chance to answer any questions and misunderstandings about our beliefs and practices. Many need encouragement to join a new group.
4. It gives us a chance to emphasise to new Members the importance of finding a place of ministry (service) in the Church; and to place them into that ministry.
5. It gives us a clear chance to tell people ‘up-front’ about Membership Standards and the role of Pastoral care, which removes many potential problems and protects people somewhat from falling into various sins. It lays a basis for loving Pastoral correction when necessary.
6. It guards against compromise. By having a clearly defined Membership we can extend God’s love, acceptance and mercy to all visitors and attenders, without it looking like we approve of any immoral lifestyle they are in. Thus since the Church is only defined and represented by its Members, its witness and credibility is not spoilt. Membership protects the Church and its witness against sin and compromise.