Increasingly we are seeing a trend away from church membership. People attend church and may even give and be involved in a small group or Sunday School class, but the current culture of the church is that membership is not important. In fact, in some circles it is frowned upon as exclusive or offensive because of requirements.
I’ve been thinking and reading much about this, and I’d like to offer a few observations.
Church membership is biblical.
In Scripture we have clear evidences that the church was distinct from the world, and that people were in the church while others were not—and they knew it. Thabiti Anyabwile, in his book What is a Healthy Church Member?, says that there are three pictures in Scripture that let us know membership is biblical: it had leaders (who were in charge of a specific group of people—the members, Heb. 13:17, 1 Tim. 3:1-13), it practiced discipline (only on members, 1 Cor. 5:9-13, Matthew 18: 15-17), and it had lists and voted (list of widows in 1 Tim. 5:9 and voted in 2 Cor. 2:6).1 Those in the first century certainly knew those who were in the church and those who weren’t.
Church membership is essential to your spiritual walk.
We need one another. We cannot thrive in the Christian faith on our own. That’s why it says in Galatians 6:2 that we are to “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” This was written to a church that was to encourage and strengthen one another so that they would continue in the faith. There is something emboldening about worshiping and sharing and bearing burdens with fellow followers of Christ. For this reason, the writer of Hebrews said that they were “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:25).
Church membership is how we represent Christ.
When Christ ascended into heaven following His resurrection, He left a few followers who would represent Him to the world. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul paints the picture of those who follow Christ as His body, of which He is the head. So here’s the picture: Christ has a body, and people make up the members of the body (1 Cor. 12:12-27). Thom Rainer says that this means that we are all necessary parts of the whole, and that we are different but we still work together.2 This means that our working together and love for one another (1 Cor. 13) is how the world sees Christ. They hear the gospel from us, and they see the gospel in us.
I am proud to be a member of the universal church (Christ’s bride—all the redeemed from all ages), but I am also proud to be a member of this local expression of Christ’s church (Greenbrier FBC). My prayer for you is that you will renew your commitment to being a faithful, loving, contributing member of your church, knowing that your membership serves a profound purpose.
1 Thabiti Anyabwile, What is a Healthy Church Member? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 65-66.
2 Thom Rainer, I am a Church Member (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), 11-13.