What sheep thrives apart from the flock? Church membership is highly valued at FBW because it publically recognizes, facilitates, and forges identity with Christianity at the local church level. When an individual is saved, he/she becomes a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13). Because he/she is united to Christ and the other members of the body in this way, he/she is therefore qualified to become member of a local expression of that body.
To become a member of a church is to formally commit oneself to an identifiable, local body of believers who have joined together for specific, divinely ordained purposes. These purposes include receiving instruction from God’s Word (1 Tim 4:13, 2 Tim 4:2), serving and edifying one another through the proper use of spiritual gifts (Rom 12:3-8, 1 Cor 12:4-31; 1 Pet 4:10-11), participating in the ordinances (Luke 22:19; Acts 2:38-42), and proclaiming the gospel to those who are lost (Matt 28:18-20). In addition, when one becomes a member of a church, he/she submits himself/herself to the care and the authority of the biblically qualified leaders that God has placed in that assembly.
The biblical foundation for church membership permeates the NT, seen in (1) the example of the early church, (2) the existence of church government, (3) the exercise of church discipline, and (4) the exhortation to mutual edification.
The early church provides an example for church membership. 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 NT. Most of the epistles of the NT were written to churches—clearly delineated groups of believers. The NT epistles themselves demonstrate that the Lord assumed that believers would be committed to a local assembly.
Church government is a consistent pattern throughout the NT. The specific duties given to the leaders presuppose a clearly defined group of church members who are under their care. Among other things, these godly men are responsible to shepherd God’s people (Acts 20:28, 1 Pet 5:2), to labor diligently among them (1 Thes 5:12), to have charge over them (1 Thes 5:12, 1 Tim 5:17), and to keep watch over their souls (Heb 13:17). Scripture teaches that they will give an account to God for the individuals allotted to their charge (Heb 13:17, 1 Pet 5:3).
Church discipline (or restoration) is exercised within communities of Christians clearly delineated. In Matt 18:15-17, Jesus outlines the way the church is to seek the restoration of a believer who has fallen into sin—a four-step process commonly known as “church discipline.” The exercise of church discipline according to Matt 18 and other passages (1 Cor 5:1- 13, 1 Tim 5:20, Titus 3:10-11) presupposes that the elders of a church know who their members are. For example, our leaders would have neither the responsibility nor the authority to restore a member of the church down the street. Yet, the Bible’s teaching on church restoration assumes church membership.
Mutual edification happens at the local church level. The NT teaches that the church is the body of Christ, and that God has called every member to a life devoted to the growth of the body. In other words, Scripture exhorts all believers to edify the other members by practicing the “one-another’s” of the NT (Heb 10:24-25) and exercising their spiritual gifts (Rom 12:6-8, 1 Cor 12:4-7, 1 Pet 4:10-11). Mutual edification can only take place in the context of the corporate body of Christ. Exhortations to this kind of ministry presuppose that believers have committed themselves to other believers in a specific local assembly. Church membership is simply the formal way to make that commitment.
Finally, living out a commitment to a local church involves many responsibilities: exemplifying a godly lifestyle in the community, exercising one’s spiritual gifts in diligent service, contributing financially to the work of the ministry, giving and receiving admonishment with meekness and in love, and faithfully participating in corporate worship. 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, being a part of a flock counts: membership matters.