Church Membership

What is a church?

The church is the assembling together of all those in a given place who are Christians; see here.


What is a church member?

A church member is someone who assembles with the people of God and submits to the instruction and discipline of the church leadership.


What is required of those who would become members of a church?

They must make a profession of faith in Jesus.


What is faith?

Faith is a sincere trust in Jesus for salvation; see here.


Where does Scripture teach that a person must confess faith in Christ in order to be a member of the church?

Consider 1Cor. 1:2, “…to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours”  Note that Paul addresses the church here as:

  1. Those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus;
  2. Saints by calling;
  3. Those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ adding here that Jesus is both “their Lord and ours.”


What else does the Bible teach is necessary for a person to be a member of a church?

This person must gather with the church and worship with them.


Why is this necessary?

The obligation to gather is inherent in the very term “church” itself.


How so?

The Greek word for “church” was a common term in the Greco-Roman world.  It was not a word that Christians invented.  It was just the word used to mean a gathering of any kind. This can be seen even in the Bible itself.


Where does the Bible use the word ecclesia or εκκλησια but not referring to a gathering of Christians?

Recall that when Paul was in Ephesus, he provoked a riot because his preaching threatened the trade of the silversmiths. (Acts 19:25f) The mob which formed is called an ecclesia.

(32) Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly [ecclesia] was in confusion; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together. … (39) But if ye seek anything about other matters, it shall be settled in the regular assembly [ecclesia]. … (41) And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly [ecclesia]. (Acts 19:32, 39, 41)


Why are these texts important?

Because they show us that the central idea behind the word “church” is a gathering of some kind.  In Acts 19:32, the gathering is an unruly mob; in Acts 19:39, the gathering is an organized political body.  In both cases, however, the word is used to refer to some kind of gathering.  This is likely why the apostles chose to use this word to define the followers of Christ.  Where as the kingdom of God is something invisible, the church is something visible and constitutes a gathering of Christian believers. See Robertson for a long list of words which Christians adopted into their own usage from Greco-Roman society. source


What else is necessary for a person to join a church?

He must freely choose to enter into communion with the church.  The choice cannot be the result of some government mandate or forced by someone else in authority over the person.  This is, of course, implied in the first requirement; i.e. that a person be a believer in Jesus.


What else is necessary for a person to join a church?

He must submit to the authority of the church leadership.


What is the church’s leadership?

These are the elders of the church; see here.


Where does the Bible say we must submit to the leadership of a church in order to be a member of the church?

The author of Hebrews teaches us this in chapter 13:

Obey your leaders, and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)

Here the leaders are the elders of the church since they are the ones who watch over our souls as stated here and in Acts 20:28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”  (cf. Isaiah 62:6; Ezekiel 3:17)


Is there more necessary to be a church member than there is to be a Christian?

Yes.  To be right with God, a person needs only to believe in Jesus.  Nothing else but faith justifies us before God.  This faith makes itself known, however, in a multitude of different ways.  This is called sanctification which is the long and gradual process of God renewing us into His image.  One of the means which God uses to sanctify us is church membership.  So church membership is not just about being a Christian but also about growing as a Christian and fulfilling the purpose for which God called us out of our sin and to Himself.


Who makes the decision about whether to allow a certain person into the church’s membership?

This decision is made by the elders.


Where does the Bible teach this?

This is not explicitly taught in Scripture but is implied from the general principle that it is the elders who have the responsibility to protect the church of God.

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:28; cf 1Tim 4:16; 5:17)


How can the elders know who is really a Christian and how isn’t?

This is not even possible; neither is it what God expects from the elders.  The elders are simply to receive a person’s profession of faith and to ensure that he makes it intelligently.  More than this, they cannot do and are not allowed to do.


What does it mean to make an intelligent profession of faith?

This means that a person claims to trust in Jesus for his salvation and that he has a basic understanding of what this means.


Why did you say previously that the elders are not allowed to try and determine whether a given applicant is really a Christian?

Because Jesus forbid this in the parable of the wheat and weeds.


What did Jesus teach in this parable?

The central point of this parable is the fact that there will be true and false Christians in the kingdom of God until the end of time.  This is the reason for the distinction between the visible and invisible church.  The Second Helvetic Confession, for instance, states:

…not all that are reckoned in the number of the Church are saints, and living and true members of the Church. For there are many hypocrites, who outwardly hear the Word of God, and publicly receive the sacraments, and seem to pray to God through Christ alone, to confess Christ to be their only righteousness, and to worship God, and to exercise the duties of charity, and for a time to endure with patience in misfortune. And yet they are inwardly destitute of true illumination of the Spirit, of faith and sincerity of heart, and of perseverance to the end. But eventually the character of these men, for the most part, will be disclosed. For the apostle John says: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would indeed have continued with us” (1 John 2:19). And although while they simulate piety they are not of the Church, yet they are considered to be in the Church, just as traitors in a state are numbered among its citizens before they are discovered; and as the tares or darnel and chaff are found among the wheat, and as swellings and tumors are found in a sound body, And therefore the Church of God is rightly compared to a net which catches fish of all kinds, and to a field, in which both wheat and tares are found (Matt. 13:24, 47).   source


Where does this parable teach that there will true and false Christians in the kingdom of God until the end of time?

Jesus states:  “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:41-42)


Where does Jesus give the command that elders are not to try and determine who really is a Christian and who isn’t?

This we find in the request of the servants of the man who owned the field.  Upon discovering the weeds among the wheat, they asked the owner if he would like them to tear out the weeds?  The owner responds “No, for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them.  Allow both to grow together until the harvest;” (Matthew 13:29-30)  The meaning of this is that the elders of the church, represented by the servants, should not try to tear out the weeds which represent false Christians or hypocrites in the church.


Why should Christians become members of a church?  Does God command it?

There is no explicit command in Scripture to become a member of a church.  There are several verses which amount to as much, however.


What are these verses?

First, it is well documented that the Jewish synagogues did have something like membership some limits to this are given in Deut 23.  This is assumed in those places which speak of “being put out of the synagogue” as in John 9:22; also John 12:42; 16:2.  Since the NT church grew out of the Jewish synagogue, it is assumed that they would have carried over this practice as they were used to doing.

Second, every time we read of someone coming to Christ and being saved, it almost always involves baptism part of which involves joining a church.  In Acts 2:41, 3000 people become Christians, were baptized, and were added to the church.  Luke writes that the “churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.” (Acts 16:5)  Again, whenever someone became a Christian, they were baptized and joined the church.  Indeed, people becoming Christians and God adding to the church are synonyms in the book of Acts.

Third, in 1Cor 5:2, Paul tells the Corinthian church to remove someone from their midst.

Third, in John

In the early church, coming to Christ was coming to the church. The idea of experiencing salvation without belonging to a local church is foreign to the New Testament. When individuals repented and believed in Christ, they were baptized and added to the church (Acts 2:41, 47; 5:14; 16:5). More than simply living out a private commitment to Christ, this meant joining together formally with other believers in a local assembly and devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42).



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