Commitment is a rare commodity today. In the church, it’s not uncommon for Christians to move from church to church without ever submitting themselves to the care of Pastors and never committing themselves to a group of fellow believers.
Although Scripture does not contain an explicit command to formally join a local church, the biblical foundation for church membership permeates the New Testament. Here is why joining a local church is important.
1. The early believers modeled it for us
In the early church, coming to Christ was coming to the church. The idea of experiencing salvation without belonging to a local church is foreign to the New Testament. When individuals repented and believed in Christ, they were baptized and added to the church (Acts 2:41, 47; 5:14; 16:5). New believers joined together with others believers in a local assembly where they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42). Also, note that the letters of the New Testament were written to churches or leaders of churches. Also, in the book of Acts, much of the terminology fits only with the concept of formal church membership: “the whole congregation”, “the church in Jerusalem”, “in every church”, “the whole church”, “the elders of the church”. All of these suggest recognizable church membership with well-defined boundaries.
2. I need spiritual authorities in my life.
The Pastors or elders of local churches are charged by God to shepherd believers and provide oversight for our spiritual well-being. Submitting to the care and authority of Pastors or elders is done through church membership. Scripture teaches that believers are to submit to their elders. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders, and submit to them.” The question for each believer is, “Who are your leaders?” This verse implies that every believer knows to whom he must submit, which, in turn, assumes clearly defined church membership.
3. Church membership gives Pastors/elders the authority to restore me if I’ve fallen into sin.
In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus outlines a four-step process (one to one, two to one, before the whole church, remove from membership) for dealing with members who have fallen into sin. Jesus instructs Pastors/elders to meet with those who have fallen into sin and encourage them to repent and walk in obedience. Without church membership, you become isolated from such restorative grace.
4. It will help me grow in my walk with Christ
Scripture exhorts all believers to edify the other members by practicing the “one another’s” of the New Testament (see Heb. 10:24-25) and exercising their spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-7; 1 Peter 4:10-11). Mutual edification can only take place in the context of the corporate body of Christ. This assumes that believers have committed themselves to other believers in a specific local assembly (church).
When it comes to church membership, much is expected, but much is at stake. For only when every believer is faithful to this kind of commitment is the church able to live up to her calling as Christ’s representative here on earth. To put it simply, membership matters.