Church Membership And The Bible
“I don’t need local church membership. I am a Christian I have been baptized into the invisible world wide universal church.”
This is a common refrain from a significant number, possibly a growing number, of Christians that I come across. Several from within my own congregation.
The belief is that if only we would divest ourselves of the the bonds of individual membership then we would have the unity and the love that is so desperately wanting in the visible church.
Unfortunately it is my experience that far from being a source of unity it is usually a source of conflict, mistrust and disorder. This is because without affiliation there can be no accountability and we are called to be accountable. (1 Peter 5:5; 1 Peter 2:18; Titus 3:1; Ephesians 5:24)
An Excuse To Be Free From Responsibility
In fact it is my experience that non affiliation is usually just an excuse to be free from responsibility and do whatever you want or worse, do nothing. It often has more to do with “you can’t tell me what to do” than doing what God wants.
But for those who do it because they believe it is what the scriptures are saying, it is worth examining God’s word to see if any light can be shed on this subject.
What are the biblical references to do with membership?:
- Eph 5:30 & Rom 12:4
- 1 Cor 12:14
However these are references to all believers being members of the universal church. Taken on their own they could appear to support the argument that there should be no individual membership.
It Is Implicit
There are other verses to consider however:
- The Widows Gild. 1 Tim 5:9
- The Apostles. Acts 1:21-23
- Selection of Deacons.1 Timothy 3:8
- Selection of Elders and Bishops. Titus 5-9
These verse show that there was a clear understanding within the early church that there is a place for groups within the congregations and for those groups to have a membership criteria.
Whist it is true that there is nothing in the Bible that says that you should join the local church, it is implicit.
Membership Of Groups
It is implicit in that, if there is membership of groups within a congregation that implies a membership of the congregation itself.
Choosing Of Deacons
Also it is implicit in the choosing of Deacons. Because that was to make sure that resources were more fairly distributed and you can’t do that if you don’t manage numbers of people. You can’t manage or administer something you have no control over. That control implies a formal registration or membership in some form or other.
Then again it is implicit in the pastoral care of the church. Because a pastor will never be able to minister to an undefined group of people.
And again it is implicit in fellowship, in that people will always be more willing to share deeply with someone who has made a committed to them.
Body of Christ
Yet again it is implicit in the concept of the body of Christ in that you can’t be part of a body and not also be a member on a local level. For example: if you are a finger you are a member of the hand as well as a member of the whole body.
If you love Jesus you declare it with baptism or it’s equivalent. Men and women declare their love for each other in marriage. If you love a group of people and are committed to them, why wouldn’t you declare that by bonding with them in membership? You effectively forgo your universality anyway as, if you are committed them, commitment requires bonding and people can’t bond universally.
The Concept Of Universal Church Membership
Whilst I really am in love with the concept of universal church membership instead of local, it is not, cannot and will never be a reality on this earth. It will be in the new heaven and earth that will be rule by Jesus. But until that time there has to be a manageable system of membership for without a system of membership unity will always suffer.