The New Testament knows nothing of the lone-ranger Christian who refuses to join a local church. Far from being an optional aspect of the Christian life, church membership lies at the heart of God’s plan for the world in this age. When Jesus promises to build his church despite the best efforts of hell, He does so understanding church membership to play a foundational role in accomplishing His purpose.
A New Testament Perspective on Membership
A Spectrum of Resistance to Church Membership
There are many reasons why a professing Christian might refuse to join a local church. Some individuals might have had a bad experience at their former church. As a result, they approach the subject of church membership with some degree of trepidation. Others might be ignorant as to the importance of church membership, having come to the conclusion that they can worship God just as well by themselves, understanding church membership to be a modern invention. Still others might be governed by an idolatrous sense of autonomy, have a distaste for accountability, or find themselves running from past church discipline issues. Regardless of the reason, it is neither right nor safe to refuse to join a local assembly. The New Testament knows nothing of the lone-ranger Christian, who refuses to join a local church. Far from being an optional aspect of the Christian life, church membership lies at the heart of God’s plan for the world in this age. When Jesus promises to build his church despite the best efforts of hell, He does so understanding church membership to play a foundational role in accomplishing His purpose. Church membership is not an issue of preference but an issue of obedience.
New Testament Teaching on Membership
The case for local church membership revolves around one’s understanding of the local church. If there is such a thing as a local church, and there is, then it becomes imperative to have some way of identifying the members of that local church. There is ample evidence from the New Testament that God has instituted the local church, and that it is integral to His plan. This is demonstrated in at least the following ways:
- The word “churches” is in the Bible (Acts 15:41; Rom 16:4, 16; Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 23, 29; 3:6, 13, 22; 1 Cor 4:17; 7:17; 11:16; 16:19; 2 Cor 8:18,19, 23, 24; 11:8; 12:13; Gal 1:2, 22; Phi 4:5; 1 The 2:13; 2 The 1:4; Rev 1:4, 11; 22:16).
- There are churches which are defined by geographic regions.
- There are churches which met in houses (Romans 16:5; 23; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:1), a seaport (Romans 16:1); and other locations within a particular city (Acts 5:12).
- Christ’s church is an assembly which is expected and commanded to assemble and when it assembles it is considered a whole church (1 Corinthians 1:18; Hebrews 10:24-25; 1 Corinthians 14:23).
- Particular local churches receive correspondences (1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1; 1 The 1:1; 2 The 1:1; 3 Joh 1:9; Rev 1:4; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14).
- Elders are appointed to oversee particular churches (Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 4:14; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-3; Hebrews 13:17);
- Churches receive corporate commands, ordinances, and responsibilities.
- John receives a vision of Jesus standing in the midst of seven churches (Revelation 1). Jesus instructs John to write letters to these seven churches commending them for the things they are doing well, and confronting them of their unique sins. If the churches do not repent, Jesus threatens to remove their local assemblies.
Because Jesus’ plan to build His church involves the formation of particular local assemblies, it seems perfectly reasonable to attempt to identify the composition of those local assemblies. Furthermore, because the Scriptures often compare the church to a human body which has “members” (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-19), it also seems reasonable to describe the individuals identified as composing a local body as members of that body.
There are many good reasons to think that the early Church made efforts to identify the membership of their local assemblies. Here are a few:
- The Acts of the Apostles is filled with statements indicating that believers were “added to the number” of those who were devoted to the apostles teaching (Acts 2:41, 47; 5:14; 11:24). This indicates that someone is keeping track of their number and keeping track of the additions.
- In order to obey that command to obey your leaders and submit to them, you must have some way of identifying your leaders. Similarly, if church leaders will give an account for the souls which have been entrusted to them, they have to have a way of determining the identity of those souls (Hebrews 13:17). Just as a male and a female make a formal commitment to relate to each other as husband and wife, so also a church member and their pastor should make a formal commitment to relate to each other as pastor and church member. To fail to do so leads to confusion.
- Paul seems perfectly comfortable speaking of “insiders,” “outsiders,” and “unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 14:24). Paul understood that the church of Corinth was composed of particular members. When one of those members persisted in unrepentant sin, Paul instructs the church to deliver the unrepentant sinner over to Satan. They are to purge the lump of its leaven (1 Corinthians 5:5-7). In other words, the individual who was considered to be a part of the lump, would now be purged from the lump. How could one possibly purge the leaven out of a lump which is unable to be identified?
What type of commitment is church membership?
We understand membership to be a commitment to identify yourself with a particular local assembly of the saints. Therefore, to join our church we ask that you set up a meeting with us in order to initiate this process. We will ask you to read, understand, and agree to our ByLaws, Statement of Faith, and Church Covenant.
What does the CBC membership process look like?
- Express interest in membership
- Set up a membership Interview
- Baptism (if new believer)
- Presentation to the congregation
Ok, I am interested!
Great! To take the next step, you can click here to email us or approach the pastor after the next Sunday service.