Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Biblical Defense of Church Membership

A Biblical Defense of Church Membership
Jeff Riddle
JPBC June 8, 2008
Sermon Notes:

I. A half dozen Scriptural reasons for a defined and meaningful church membership:

1. We find the roots for the practice of church membership in practices of the Old Testament people of God.

If you were part of the OT people of God you belonged to a particular tribe and a particular family within that tribe (some examples: Numbers 4; Joshua 7:16-18; 1 Samuel 10:20-21).
There was no such thing as a free-lance, unconnected Israelite. There was no such thing as an Israelite who said, "I’m part of the covenant people of God, but I’m not part of a tribe or family."

2. Jesus’ command for love as defining mark among his disciples can only be realized through participation in a defined local body (see John 13:34-35).

3. The descriptions of the local church in Jerusalem in Acts indicates a well defined body of believers (cf. Acts 1:15; 2:41, 47; 4:4).

4. The letters of Paul in the NT were generally addressed to defined churches in distinct geographical areas or to the acknowledged spiritual leaders of those bodies (Rom 1:7; 16:4-5, 16; 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1; Phil 1:1; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1).

5. The local church is necessary for the proper exercise of church discipline (cf. Matt 18:15-17; 1 Cor 5:4-5; 2 Cor 2:6; 1 Tim 5:9).

6. The existence of a defined local church is assumed in the NT both in the setting apart of persons to ministry service and in the exercise of spiritual rule (cf. Acts 6:2-3; 1 Tim 3; Heb 13:7, 17).

II. We can add to this Paul’s image for the local church as a human body, a living organism, to which each member is joined.

III. Challenges:

How do we respond?

1. Be joined to a local body.
2. Love the local church.
3. Pray for and with the local church.
4. Serve the local church.


Anonymous said...

I have a question. What does membership entail? I used to believe in membership, but then I didn't see the demand for membership in the Bible.

I think point 1 is pretty good. I don't see why point 2 demands membership. Point 3 is true, but I don't remember any pact saying that they were members, I thought it was just understood that they were a church and they held together. Point 4 shows that there were churches in certain areas, but to say that they had to take a piece of paper to another church on the off chance they moved doesn't seem defensible. I'm not sure how they would consider themselves as members; I would assume given their situation membership was an understood agreement. Point 5 kind of makes sense, except I don't see why one shouldn't discipline if someone wasn't a member, but still going to the church. Point 6 makes pretty good sense, because it shows commitment to helping a certain individual.

I guess I don't see why we need some sort of contract. If people are coming on a consistent basis, why do we need a contract? Isn't our contract with God more than it is with other people at a church?

I think part of the issue I see is that we could say, "You're not a member. So, I'm not obligated to help you, or serve you, or whatever..." I figure if we are all one body and brothers and sisters in Christ then the idea of membership leads more to exclusivity than promoting unity.

Thanks, I'm trying to get perspective. Input would be appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Authority and Accountability are inherent in our relationship with God. That relationship is also exercised among believers and requires that we be "in agreement to walk" together and that we "do all things decently and in order". Without formalized membership (especially in our culture)there is a loss of the necessity of accountability and the following of authority (Heb 13:7,17). I have found that those that bristle at it have deeper issues of not wanting to be held accountable and or not wanting to submit to Christ's ordained authority in the church.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Anon #1:

You can listen to the entire message on church membership here:


As for Biblical justification for "keeping membership" look at 2 Cor 2:6 where Paul speaks of discipline approved "by the majority." To have a majority implies that they had some definition of the body. They knew when most favored (or did not favor) something. See also 1 Tim 5:9 which speaks of godly widows being taken "into the number." If the early church had lists of widows, does it not follow that they might also have had lists of members in the local body? In addition, Heb 13:7, 17 speaks of obedience to rulers in the church. The idea seems to be not mere submission to all rulers everywhere but to those in the local body where one belonged and where one could consider their conduct.

To define membership in the local church does not mean that we ignore contact and fellowship with believers outside our fellowship nor does it mean that we stop striving to "do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal 6:10).

I agree with anon #2. My experience is that those who object strongly to the concept of defined and meaningful local church membership usually do not want to be held to account for or be responsible for their beliefs, actions, stewardship, or conduct.


Jonathan Louie said...

OK, so I think my stance against membership rest more on how a church may operate with members and non-members. I listened to the sermon and I agree with all the biblical arguments. I agree that a believer should be a committed member to a local body. I agree that the local defined church along with members is biblical. I don't think a person should just go to whatever church floats their fancy each week. They should go to the one God called them to and stick with it.

I think what I am against is not necessarily the point you are trying to make. What I am against is the piece of paper that says or implies "I'm committed to this church, and this church is committed to me." Though I do not doubt it's benefits, I also do not doubt the problems it can create. I think the problem I have is that I have seen membership as a reason to NOT minister to one who comes in the church. Because someone has not transferred their membership, I have seen a church decide not to love, serve, help them grow and serve in the church.

I've seen younger people make our church their regular church when in town, but because they travel to their home town or travel elsewhere about 50%-60% of the time, they didn't bother to transfer membership. In turn leaders have chosen to disregard them as important attendees of the church. But ultimately the people are in the same position at both their home church and ours. Maybe they really shouldn't travel so much; but then what about the person who has a job that requires them to travel?

What now? I am not sure how to handle membership in a mobile society. I don't think the church in the NT and immediate post-NT had to deal with such things. You really couldn't pick and choose. The church was their lifeline. If they left they were in great spiritual trouble; they had no other sources of teaching or even access to Scripture. This world is so different, and it's in the situation I just described that I don't know how membership fits.

Anonymous #1