Every Christian should be a church member, however, not all seem to be persuaded of this. Some with hurts from the past feel that the step of membership is hard to take again. Others are on the search for the perfect church and are reluctant put down their roots. Still others seem to have a pride in their supposed flexibility saying, “we belong to a global church.” Some may even out of a wrong sense of responsibility say, “I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.” The purpose of this short article is to show clearly the Biblical principle that every Christian should belong to a visible body of believers.
It goes without saying that not any church will do. The Reformers of the 16th century rightly spoke of the three marks of the church: true preaching of the Word of God, faithful administering of the sacraments and the exercising of Biblical Church discipline. A church that has these three marks evident in its life is the sort of church a Christian should belong to and be visibly committed to.
It is also true that every saved sinner belongs to the wider Church of God. Revelation 7:9 speaks of a great multitude which no one can number. Our membership of this world wide, century bridging company is to be expressed in our membership of the local church. By local this does not necessarily mean the church nearest to where you live. Sometimes this is simply not possible.
We believe also that the children of believers are already members of the church. That is how it was in the OT & NT. For them we look forward to seeing God’s grace apparent in their lives and them professing faith in Christ when they come to the years of discernment. At that stage they will enter in to all of the responsibilities and privileges of being a member of the church.
So why should every follower of Jesus Christ belong formally to a local gathering of believers?
1. Because God Says So
As with many aspects of the Christian life there is no direct command, “You shall belong to the local church.” However membership of a congregation is clearly implied and is what God expects. For example: in Acts 20:28 the elders of Ephesus were told to take care of the flock. How could they take care of the flock unless there was a flock to which the sheep belonged and the shepherds knew which sheep belonged to them. Or take the situation in Jerusalem, Those who accepted the message were baptised and added to their number that day. (Acts 2:41) That addition was not just that there were more of them, but that they were officially incorporated into the developing congregations of Jerusalem. That official belonging is emphasised later in Acts when Luke records, after the incident with Annanias and Saphira, that none of the rest dared join them. The word that is translated join means, “to glue or cement together, to unite, to join firmly.” Use of the word elsewhere shows that this was no casual superficial thing but the cohesive bonded relationship of church membership.
Think also of the implication for membership that there is with regards to leaders in the church. In I Timothy 3:5 speaking of the qualifications for the eldership Paul writes, If a man does not know how to rule his own house how will he take care of the church of God. The implication is clear that there will be a clearly defined church for him to care for. The NT believers officially belonged to a church.
When we take on membership we are obeying the Lord Jesus Christ and that is a sign of our salvation.
2. Because We Need the Care of the Church
The Lord does not call us to live our lives on our own. He expects us to belong to a congregation of God’s people where we will be cared for and can be involved in making and caring for new disciples. The NT is full of instruction on how the flock of God is to be cared for. Matthew 18:15-17 tells us how the church should respond when someone in the church starts to live like an unbeliever - tell it to the church...treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
This has practical implication for our lives. God has designed church discipline to be a blessing in our lives - His means for calling us back when we wander. Someone not in membership of a local congregation does not have this privilege and that is a very dangerous position to be in.
3. Because We Have Responsibilities for Others
In Hebrews 10:24&25 we are commanded to consider one another. Not joining the church sends out a wrong and unbiblical message to other believers and also to the world. Not joining is modelling a sinful pattern to others. This is a serious thing to do. Not joining sends the message - this church and her teaching is not worthwhile being committed to; the work of God doesn’t deserve all of our lives.
Of course the opposite is also true. When we join a Biblical church we are making a massive statement to the unbelieving world and rightly considering others.
We should also remember that every Christian has been entrusted with gifts to be used in the context of a local church. These gifts are given for the common good (I Corinthians 12:7). Yes it is true that someone can use their gifts outside of the church but many of the ministry opportunities are available for church members only. A famous American preacher once said, Not joining the church is saying I don’t want to serve the only institution that Christ ever built.
4. Because we Have a Lost World to Reach
We should join a local church for the sake of reaching the lost. When we work together we can better spread the Gospel at home and overseas. A local church which is Biblical is a lighthouse to the world. When we take on membership we back up the missionary endeavours of the church. Together in the church we can reach our towns and community and combine our efforts to further the gospel across the world.
5. Because we want to Bring Glory to God
How we live our lives can bring glory to God. Peter writing to the early NT believers wrote, Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us. (I Peter 2:12) That is not only true for us as individuals but also in our lives together. Our lives together are to show that we belong to Christ and to bring Him glory. When you join the church you are being adopted into the family of God’s people and in that family the relationships lived out and the service given one for the other will bring glory to God. Bringing glory to God is the reason above all that Christians should belong to a church.
Obviously anyone can come along to the services and benefit from the preaching and the warmth of the fellowship. But there are many more privileges in belonging to the church. You will receive the official care and oversight of the minister and elders; you will have the opportunity to come to the Lord’s Table without being welcomed as a visitor. You will have the privilege of your children being able to receive the sign of baptism. You will have the privilege of being able to stand alongside a group of believers knowing that this is your church where you will be cared for, prayed for and your gifts utilised to God’s glory.
So do not merely attend a church - join. Join because God says so, because you need to, because others will be blessed and most of all because God will be glorified.