Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Necessity of Church Membership

By Greg Simmons

Todayʼs various strains of evangelicalism, whether mega-church or emerging church, is in the process of redefining the Christianʼs relationship to the visible body of Christ. Church membership, which is structured and identified with a local congregation, we are being told doesnʼt matter. Itʼs not necessary to commit to a “church”, but be the church. In other words, membership in an institutional church is passé. But membership is a biblical as well as human concept. The most basic, God ordained institution is the family, of which we are individual members. Paul, in Romans 12:5, is clear that we are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. The notion that we have now moved beyond the organized church and the individual Christian no longer needs to be bound to it must be rejected. The alternatives to traditional church membership being offered by the marketing studies of the mega churches and calls for relevance by the emergents are simply not biblical. This is not the way of the New Testament church. From the earliest times the local church congregations were made up of identifiable members who committed their lives to one another. This form of gathered and committed membership to Godʼs visible family is seen in the Old Testament as well. Those forms were always ordered and structured. Israel had corporate duties and functions in their worship, which set them apart as members of Godʼs chosen people. They came together corporately as an identifiable people at set times determined by God. (The Sabbath Ex 16:22-24  The Feast of Unleavened Bread Ex. 23:15; The Feast of Harvest Exodus 23:16) The practice of regularly attending an organized corporate community for worship and sacraments was brought forward into the church age.  The following are the forms and functions of church membership that are seen in New Testament.

1. Members of the church were first identified by public baptism. Acts 2:38, 41; Acts 8:12; Acts 16:15, 33

2. Members gathered regularly for the Lords Table. Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10: 14-17; 1 Cor. 11:25-27
3. Members regularly gathered for corporate instruction in the apostles doctrine and the preaching of the Word. Acts 2:42; Acts 14:7; Acts 14:26-28; Acts 15:35

4. Members served and supported one another by loving acts of service and gifts. Acts 2: 44-45; 2 Cor. 8:1-4 2:Cor 16:2-4; Phil 4: 16-18; 1 Pet. 5:5

5. Members submitted to and supported church leaders. Acts 11:30; Heb. 13:17

6. Members gathered together for prayer. Acts 2:42; Acts 12:5; Rom 15:20; Phil 1:19; Col 4:1-3

The biblical model is one of membership in a corporate body where the individual is brought into covenant relationships with other believers. This is a clear obligation for all believers. It cannot be redefined by the whims of culture or by so called leaders of an emerging church. Our membership is in the household of God chosen by him to live as a clearly defined community with clearly defined forms and structures.

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