In Acts 1:15 we see that the names of the members were kept.
In Acts 2:41, those that were saved on the day of Pentecost were “added unto them.”
This is church membership.
Four Reasons for Church Membership
Church membership is a matter of practicality, like many other things in the assembly. If a church does not have membership, how can it know who is in the church and who is out?
First, we need church membership because each church is a body.
In the New Testament all believers are a part of Christ and the family of God but each church is independent and has its own business. See Acts 14:21-23. Here the first missionaries set the example by establishing each church with its own leaders and functionality. We see the same thing in Revelation 1:4, where each church was addressed individually. In Revelation 1:12-13 Jesus is standing in the midst of the churches, which are signified by the golden candlesticks. In the Old Testament there was one candlestick in the tabernacle, but in the church age there are many candlesticks, as each church is a light. See 1 Timothy 3:15, which says the church is “the house of God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” In the context this refers to the church that has pastors and deacons (1 Ti. 3:1-14).
In the New Testament, each separate church is a spiritual body and has its own members. “And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (1 Co. 12:26-27).
We have the example of Phebe in Romans 16:1. “I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.” She was on business in Rome but she was a servant of one particular church. This is the biblical pattern.
Second, we need church membership for unity.
The Bible requires that the believers have one mind in doctrine and practice. “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Co. 1:10). “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Php. 1:27). For this reason our church has a lengthy statement of faith and we require every member to agree with it, whether he or she is joining by profession of faith and baptism or from another church.
Third, we need church membership for discipline.
“But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (1 Co. 5:11-13).
This passage deals with church discipline, and in verse 12 we see that there are those who are in the church and those who are without. How can a congregation know who is in and who is out, who is under discipline and who is not, unless it has some form of membership? It is a matter of practicality. Parents can’t discipline other people’s children, and churches can’t discipline those who are not a part of their own body. Also verse 11 says those under discipline cannot eat, which refers both to personal fellowship and to the Lord’s Supper. The church has the obligation before God to exercise discipline over its members and those who are under discipline cannot partake of communion. Thus there must be a way for the church to know who is a part of the family and who is outside.
Fourth, we need church membership for authority.
Hebrews 13:7 and 17 say, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. ... Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”
According to these passages each believer is to be under the authority of church rulers, and we know from other Scriptures that these rulers are the pastors and elders. How can the church leaders know whom they are ruling if there is no membership? Do pastors have the rule over anyone who visits the church? Of course not, so there must membership, which involves a standard by which the church accepts members and a commitment on the part of those seeking membership.
A Matter of Liberty
That a church needs to maintain membership is clear from Scripture, but each church is free to decide how to handle this matter. It is like the church services. The Bible does not spell out how many services the church has or how they are to be conducted. These things are matters of practicality that each assembly determines before the Lord with the objective of fulfilling the Great Commission and the New Testament faith.
One church cannot judge another in this matter, because it is a matter of liberty before God. It falls under the category of the things spoken of in Romans 14.
“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.”
When Paul says, “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant,” he is talking about judging in matters in which the Bible is silent. The examples that he gave make this clear. He mentioned dietary matters and holy days. In both of these cases, there is no rule in the New Testament. There is no one Christian diet (as there was in the Mosaic dispensation) and there are no holy days in the sense of those that were required under the Old Covenant. In such matters each believer and each congregation is at liberty to make their own decisions. Since the Bible does not spell out the issue of church membership, this means that each congregation is at liberty to determine how to conduct this matter.
Church membership can be as formal or informal as the congregation sees fit. There are some general guidelines for these things in Scripture, as we have seen, but the details are not spelled out.
Thus each church makes its own determination in submission to the Holy Spirit and in conformity to the principles of Scripture and in light of its particular situation.
Since God says we should obey them that have the rule over us (Heb. 13:7, 17), this means that when the church leaders determine a direction from the Lord in these issues, the members follow, unless the leaders are clearly moving contrary to Scripture.
In light of these Bible truths it is obvious that absenting oneself from and neglecting the assemblies is unscriptural. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).
The biblical pattern is for the believer to be committed to one particular church. Phebe was a servant of the church at Cenchrea (Ro. 16:1).
Further, the concept of “inactive membership” is unscriptural. A 1997 study in the Southern Baptist Convention found that out of 16 million “members” only 33% show up on Sunday morning and only 12% participate in anything else (Founder’s Journal, Feb. 7, 1999). Church members that do not actively participate in the life and work of the church are not members in any scriptural sense. The members of the first church did not merely profess Christ and sign a membership card. They “continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). This is New Testament Christianity.
- Receive these reports by email
Sharing Policy: Much of our material is available for free, such as the hundreds of articles at the Way of Life web site. Other items we sell to help fund our expensive literature and foreign church planting ministries. Way of Life's content falls into two categories: sharable and non-sharable. Things that we encourage you to share include the audio sermons, O Timothy magazine, FBIS articles, and the free eVideos and free eBooks. You are welcome to make copies of these at your own expense and share them with friends and family. You may also post parts of reports and/or entire reports to websites, blogs, etc as long as you give proper credit (citation). A link to the original report is very much appreciated as the reports are frequently updated and/or expanded. Things we do not want copied and distributed are "Store" items like the Fundamental Baptist Digital Library, print editions of our books, electronic editions of the books that we sell, the videos that we sell, etc. The items have taken years to produce at enormous expense in time and money, and we use the income from sales to help fund the ministry. We trust that your Christian honesty will preserve the integrity of this policy. "For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward" (1 Timothy 5:18). Questions? firstname.lastname@example.org
Goal:Distributed by Way of Life Literature Inc., the Fundamental Baptist Information Service is an e-mail posting for Bible-believing Christians. Established in 1974, Way of Life Literature is a fundamental Baptist preaching and publishing ministry based in Bethel Baptist Church, London, Ontario, of which Wilbert Unger is the founding Pastor. Brother Cloud lives in South Asia where he has been a church planting missionary since 1979. Our primary goal with the FBIS is to provide material to assist preachers in the edification and protection of the churches.
Offering: Offerings are welcome if you care to make one. If you have been helped and/or blessed by our material offerings can be mailed or made online with with Visa, Mastercard, Discover, or Paypal. For information see: www.wayoflife.org/about/makeanoffering.html.
Way of Life Literature
Publisher of Bible Study Materials
Way of Life Literature
Publisher of Bible Study Materials