Why Churches Should have Meaningful Membership

Church membership must be a priority for Christians because God has not only called us into a covenantal relationship with himself, but also with others.

Meaningful membership helps us to see who we have this day-to-day New Covenant relationship with and who we are immediately responsible for. Knowing who we are accountable to helps to clarify what and how we are doing. Membership helps us to see who we are accountable to and responsible for.

 

Church membership is a concept that while not explicitly articulated in the Scriptures is assumed and supported. Many of the New Testament letters were written to local congregations with instructions as to how they were to deal with their life together (for example, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians). Even though church membership is common in churches today and throughout history, I’ve found it helpful to broaden out the answer to help fill out my reasons for why we have church membership.

Is church membership biblical? Is it important? Yes, I believe so. Here are four main reasons why.

First, there are theological reasons. In other words, there are certain truths about who God is and what he has done that require membership language and the practice of membership.

When God caused you to be born-again, he established a new relationship with you. Formerly, you and I were separated from God in our rebellion, but God, being rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4), has made us alive and brought us into his family by “adopting us to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:5). By grace, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1.13). Those who were formerly far off “have been brought near by the blood of Christ”  (Eph. 2:13). To say that we are part of the kingdom of Christ, the body of Christ, the people of God, or God’s family is another way of saying we have become members of the church. This is why 1 Corinthians 12:13tells us that “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”

Membership in God’s universal or collective church happens when God the Holy Spirit unites us spiritually to the body of Christ throughout history. However, membership in the local church happens when we unite together with other believers in a physical location. This is what I am emphasizing here. Church membership in a local church presupposes and necessitates membership in the universal church through conversion. Church membership reflects the theological truth of the gospel.

Second, there are covenantal reasons. A covenant is an agreement or a relationship with obligations. Most commonly we think of the marriage covenant. There is an agreement between a husband and a wife that has obligations pledged or vowed to one another. The relationship is undergirded by an oath. When we become a Christians, we become a part of the New Covenant. The New Covenant is the legal oath that God has made with his people. In a nutshell, God promises to be our God, forgive our sin, give us his Spirit, write his law upon our hearts, and dwell with us forever. Our response, upon entering into this covenant, is that we will follow him and be faithful to him. In other words, to use the language of Jeremiah, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer. 31:34)

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