The need for the church and church membership is often discussed both by religious and non-religious groups.
For some, they believe the church does not matter in practicing their faith. Another belief is that attending church is enough and there is no need to become a member. While on the other, people argue that formal church membership is essential.
What does the Bible have to say to us regarding this matter? We’ll look at 10 passages, grouped under six undeniable statements to understand the Biblical basis of church membership.
What Does The Bible Say About Church Membership?
In a previous blog post, we addressed what the Bible tells us about not going to church. From there, we understood how the church goes beyond attendance. Instead, the church is the community we form with fellow Christians.
Now, we will look at Bible passages that will help us understand whether church membership is a biblical requirement. We need to base our understanding on the Bible, so we can have a strong resolve regarding such a weighty matter as formal membership in the church.
Church Membership And The Body Of Christ
1 Corinthians 12:21-26 (ESV)
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
The need for formal membership in a church is indicated in the allegory of the body of the Lord Jesus Christ. Apostle Paul made this comparison to remind the gifted men among the Corinthians of their duty. What we have above is a snippet of this allegory (we suggest reading the whole chapter or at least 1 Co. 12:12-26 for the full context).
In this passage, the organic relationship implied by the various parts of the body pertains to the individual people that are members of one body—that is the body of Christ, the church (Colossians 1:18, 24). They do not have the same function as they are individual parts. But they unitedly work like how the human body works despite various parts having different functions.
A Christian attaching themselves to a body of believers yet refusing to be a legitimate member of the body is quite unnatural. A body part literally cannot be a “member” of the entire body if it is apart from it. If you lose a finger, that finger is no longer part of your body. So, to be truly part of the body of Christ or the church, you need to be a church member.
Ephesians 4:1-6 (NIV)
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
We can also read about how Apostle Paul urged unity and maturity among those that comprise Christ’s body. His exhortation (the entirety of which we can read in Ephesians 4:1-16) is regarding our walk as Christians on this earth.
Taking this into consideration, we are not only to be members of the universal church that is the body of Christ. We must also be united through the bond of peace. In doing so, we mature or grow the body of the Lord.
Church Membership And Elders Caring For The Flock
Acts 20:28 (ESV)
8 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
The existence of elders and a distinct instruction for them to care for the flock is another undeniable biblical support of church membership. The New Testament requires elders to care for the whole church. You can read Apostle Paul’s whole message to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:17-35, regarding how they must look after all the Christians in their particular flock.
Two things are of note here: (1) the existence of elders; and, (2) the flock entrusted to them. These show us that church membership is indeed a biblical concept. Also, take note that Apostle Paul is talking to elders in the local church of Ephesus. Meaning even in the early days of the church, there was a definable local church membership among Christians. There is a definable group or specific group of Christians gathered in a local church, where elders have the special responsibility of caring for them as overseers.
1 Peter 5:1-3 (ESV)
5 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
In this passage, Apostle Peter reminds the elders of the gravity of their duty. The elders he addresses are those overseeing the persecuted Christians in five Roman provinces in Asia Minor. This is another instance in the Holy Bible where we can see the existence of local churches or local church membership in the early Christian days.
Also, in this passage, the Bible tells elders how to properly exercise their church authority. They must not be domineering but be examples to the flock or the local church they administer to.
Church Membership And Discipline In The Church
Matthew 18:15-17 (NASB)
15 “Now if your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be confirmed. 17 And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, he is to be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Church membership is also indicated in the existence of detailed steps to take in maintaining church discipline. The Lord Jesus Christ directs his disciples regarding what to do if a brother sins against them. These directions are intended for preserving peace in the church and avoiding public scandals, to preserve the beauty of the church body.
Not only are the directions of the Lord quite useful for any local body of Christians. This passage also shows us the existence of a proper organization for Christians, where church discipline is enacted according to the instructions of the Lord. This implies that church membership is required to become part of this organization for Christians.
Church Membership And Fellowship Of The Believers
Acts 2:46-47 (NIV)
46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
From this passage in the New Testament, we are given a glimpse of how members of the early church not only served together. They truly lived together as brothers and sisters in a spiritual house. Many are one body, as all the members engage in fellowship in such a way that encourages spiritual growth for all of God’s children.
Perhaps the most important part of this passage, with regards to our topic, is the line “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” There is a formal group of Christians to which the Lord adds many members day by day. In fact, in Acts 2:41, a definite number of additional members was mentioned (three thousand were added to their number). Meaning there are people in charge of keeping track of church membership in the early Christian days.
Church Membership And Ex-communication
1 Corinthians 5:11-13 (ESV)
11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
The existence of ex-communication or the formal removal of members in the early church is another biblical support of church membership. The full context can be better understood by reading the entire chapter (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). The reason for such a formal removal is the sensitive and weighty matter of sexual immorality, to which a brother in the local church of Corinth was found guilty.
To be sure, ex-communication is a serious matter that is not applied to just anyone. Even today, pastors responsible for formally removing members do so after much consideration and discussion. Only then can they be found finally rendering a righteous judgment.
2 Corinthians 2:5–8 (ESV)
5 Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.
It’s important to take note that Apostle Paul also teaches about forgiving those that have sinned, specifically the member that was excommunicated in the passage we read above.
Having been found to be an incestuous person, he was formally removed from the local body of believers in Corinth. Apostle Paul states that the punishment this brother received was enough (2 Co. 2:6), and he may be received back to their communion.
Church Membership And Submitting To Church Leaders
Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Members of the church in the early days were instructed to obey their leaders. The existence of a proper organization even in those early times is in support of membership in the church being biblical. This passage was addressed to local churches in the city of Rome. Truly, local church membership existed even way back then.
The entirety of the first half of this chapter (Hebrews 13:1-17) is dedicated to motivating church members toward performing many excellent duties, for the believers to excel as Christians. Included in these excellent duties is the expressed willingness to submit to the church leaders. The faithful Hebrews are taught not to resist God’s appointed leaders.
From all the passages we’ve read, it is clear that church membership is a biblical requirement that Christians must meet. By God’s grace, Christians are called into the universal church body that is the body of Christ. If you are yet to find a local church to become a member of, our post about identifying a healthy church can help.
While you’re here, you may also be interested in checking out our previous post.