Is Church Membership Biblical?

This was the question posed by Matt Chandler (pastor of the Village Church in Dallas) on the 9Marks (Nine Marks) blog the other day.

His conclusion, as expected, is that church membership is of course biblical. In his article, he brings up a number of good points about why church membership is biblical. He rightly points out that Christians are to be “members” of a local body. In my opinion, if a Christian is not a “member” of a local body, then he is either not a Christian at all or is committing ecclesiastical adultery.

But unfortunately he does not describe what biblical church membership is, its true purpose and how it comes about…biblically…not man made. My concerns are not with the idea of membership, but what exactly does biblical church membership look like, what is its purpose and how does it come about? I am afraid that all of these churches that have “membership” do not have true, intimate, edifying, God-honoring, Christ-exalting membership. Just because someone has been through a new members class, been examined by the elders and the body, signed a covenant agreement, and been voted in, does not mean you have true biblical membership…far from it.

You can read his article here...which I highly encourage you to do. When you're finished, please read my comments below.

What Is Biblical Church Membership?

Biblical church membership is when you have a group of repentant and regenerate followers of Jesus Christ living within the same geographic vicinity coming together as individual members to form a body of Christ. And they all gather on the Lord’s Day to break bread and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. While gathered, they build each other up with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, praises and the preaching and teaching of the Word. They not only gather on the Lord’s Day, but they gather and minister together throughout the week. Each member uses his or her spiritual gift to edify the body. Each member is intimate with and committed to the other members. They are willing to lay down their lives, resources and desires for others in the body.

Why?

So that the Body of Christ will be built up to the “fullness of Him” and that the “dwelling of God” will be seen to the world around them.

How Does Biblical Church Membership Come About?

On an individual level, biblical church membership occurs when a sinner has heard the Word, been convicted of their sin, has repented and believed (on Jesus Christ of course) and been baptized (by immersion) and then commits (faithfully attending and serving the Body of Christ) themselves to a local body of believers. Thereby, voluntarily putting themselves under the authority of local church and the Elders of that specific body. The individual does not need to be saved for X amount of time, nor does he have to attend a New Members class, sign a covenant agreement (the covenant agreement should be in his heart not on a piece of paper) or be voted in. This does not mean that you don’t explain to new people the unique qualities or theological positions of your church and teach them what it truly means to be in covenant with one another.

Now the Elders and the local body should do their due diligence in examining all that attend. If someone comes in and has apparent sin issues, heretical teachings or simply isn’t a believer at all, then that person needs to be either biblically church disciplined or be presented the gospel. That person does not need to be a “member” as identified by the article above, to be church disciplined. A local body and its Elders, has every right and duty to administer biblical church discipline to anyone who is attending…regardless of membership status. Are we saying that it is biblical and OK to church discipline and if necessary kick out a “member” who is stirring up strife, but we won’t church discipline and kick out a “non-member” who is doing the same thing? We will just let non-member wolves hang out amongst the sheep??? I don’t think so!

So the statement in the article that “Church discipline won’t work if local church membership doesn’t exist” is and should be false.

Bottom line, make sure membership is brought about by God, not man-made rules or additions.

For more information on how we view membership here at the Church of Charlottesville, please see Intimate Membership/Koinonia.