Throughout our lives, most of us have been a member of one thing or another. It might have been a sports team, a choir or a band, a club at school, or perhaps the local swimming pool. Regardless of the organization, the bottom line was if we wanted to participate, we had to make some kind of commitment. It might have been agreeing to show up for practice, regularly attending meetings, actively working to advance the organizations goals, or in the case of a community pool – actually paying dues. At some point… at some time… we had to say – in one way or another, “I belong to this group, I share its goals, and you can count on me.”
But what about a local church? Do we need to become a member of a local church or is merely attending when we want… serving when we want… and giving when we want enough? Is membership even Biblical?
That is a great question. Fortunately, the Bible speaks to the issue of church membership in two specific ways. The first is membership in the global church and the second is the local church.
Throughout the New Testament, the church is likened to a body – specifically the body of Christ. In Colossians 1 and Ephesians 4, where the Apostle Paul is talking about the global church (the church that is made up of the totality of all born again believers in Jesus Christ) he speaks of a body in which Jesus is the head and where his followers make up the various other parts of the body. We become members of the Global Church, by receiving Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul also likens the church to a body, but this time he is not only referring to the global church, but by extension also to the local church. In this context, he literally calls us “members of the body of Christ.” I might be an eye, you might be a finger, and the person sitting beside you during worship might be an ear. The point that the Apostle Paul is trying to make is that although we all have different roles, if the body (i.e. the local church) is going to function properly, we need each other. If the finger is there one day and gone the next, there is no way for the body to function properly.
The Apostle Paul further develops the concept of local church membership throughout the pastoral epistles. In 1 Corinthians 5 we see him commanding that a sinful/unrepentant individual be excluded from the Corinthian church. The idea that someone could be excluded presupposes that they were first included. In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul refers to the “majority” which seems to refer to a group commonly recognized as church members. Finally, in 1 Timothy, we see that the local church kept lists of people who were a part of their ministry (e.g. widows). All of these references support the concept of formal church membership.
That is why membership in the local church is so important. It is only through membership – through a follower of Jesus Christ making a specific, intentional commitment to the local church – either by verbal vow or signing on the line – that the body knows who is really committed and who isn’t. It is impossible for the church to do what Jesus has called the church to do unless is knows who is a member and who isn’t.
So for these reasons, it is our desire that every Christian who calls Living Water home, becomes a member of our church family. And for these reasons, we require that everyone who serves as a leader, or a teacher, or who leads others in worship put their name on the line saying,
“This is my church home. I am committed here. These are my brothers and sisters. I am here for them and I believe they are here for me. I want to serve with them. I want to give with them. I want to share the Gospel with them. And if I mess up, I expect them to loving set me straight, so the Gospel might be advanced and so that God might be glorified.”