Do You Need To Be A Church Member?, Part 3

church1.jpgOkay, so I couldn’t wait.

In rereading Dever’s answer, I realized that it really wouldn’t advance the conversation much from where it was yesterday, so I decided to jump the gun and post some of my thoughts today—maybe one or two points today that you can then jump in on and tear apart, and I’ll just keep on posting until all my best arguments are out there.

Now, truth be told, I didn’t really start thinking seriously about the place of membership in the life of the local church until I started reading Dever (9 Marks of a Healthy Churchan absolute must read), so if you detect his influence in what I say, you can understand why. That being said, I do not agree with Dever at all points, and in this particular book (What Is a Healthy Church?) it seems to me that the answer he gave was a good answer for why all believers should be involved in a local a church, but did not necessarily answer why all believers should be formal members of a local church.

So, I’d like to lay out a few points regarding why I think church membership is imperative for believers. But before I do that, a caveat: Some of what I’m going to argue will not apply to every church because not every church takes membership seriously. In other words, some churches are (in my view) inappropriately lackadaisical about formal membership, and in those churches it would be difficult to expect individual believers not to be similarly lackadaisical. So, in my response on this issue I assume that a given church takes membership seriously, even as I admit that many (if not most) do not.

That being said, here are some reasons why I think that if you are a Christian it is imperative for you to be a formal member of a church that takes membership seriously:

1. You need to make a distinguishing declaration. Let’s be honest: membership, as we conceive of it, is probably not something that the first century church practiced. There is little biblical evidence of ‘church membership’ per se, and it seems that formal church membership didn’t become a regular practice of the church until at least the second century. But here’s the reality: Declaring yourself a follower of Christ WAS a distinguishing declaration in the first century. The social and (later) legal penalties of declaring yourself a follower of Christ in first century Palestine put beyond a doubt with whom you were aligned: Jesus and his people. The title of “Christian” was not something undertaken lightly in the time of the composition of the New Testament.

Sadly, the same does not hold today. Most Americans, on some survey or in some church at one point or another, have declared themselves to be ‘Christian’ with no particular commitment to Christ and his body whatsoever. It seems to me, therefore, that formal church membership is a useful and meaningful practice by which we can distinguish ourselves as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…” (1 Pet.2:9).

Now, I’m not saying that there are no nominal (i.e. disingenuous) formal church members. Of course there are, and every church has them. This is a cumulative case argument and there are exceptions to every one of these points. Nevertheless, I’m more interested in the rule than the all exceptions.

2. You need to take seriously the biblical metaphor of household. Paul refers to those who are “of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10) and “members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19), as does Peter (1 Pet. 4:17). The connections between church and household in the Pastoral epistles are legion (1 Tim. 3:4; 3:5; 3:12; 3:15; 5:4; 5:8; 5:14; 2 Tim. 1:16; 3:6; 4:19).

“Household” (oikos) was a common word in Greek and was well-understood. It is almost synonymous with “family” (see Acts 10:2; 11:14; 16:15, etc.). So, in this regard, the “marriage” analogy raised in some of the comments yesterday is entirely valid. The entire (capital “C”) Church of God is a “household” or “family” of sorts, but so is each local church a “household” (cf. 1 Tim. 3:5; 3:15) within the larger household. Christians must be members of both. Membership in the universal Church is a matter of union with Christ. Membership in the local church is a matter of union with other believers. Neither commitment ought to be taken lightly. You don’t commit to Christ and then only half-heartedly commit to the local expressions of his Body. Ever.

Now, obviously that doesn’t mean that we cannot associate with, serve with, enjoy fellowship with, etc., other local churches—of course not. I’m not a separatist. That said, all believers must choose a local church that they will commit to as a household, and serve in that church, submit to the leadership of that church, worship regularly at that church, give financially to that church, and consider involvement with other churches “icing on the cake.”

Let me leave it there for the day. I’ll be back for more tomorrow (including the argument I am probably most passionate about). Let the comments fly.


15 thoughts on “Do You Need To Be A Church Member?, Part 3”

  1. Maybe it would be additionally helpful to the conversation to clarify what it looks like for a church to take membership seriously.

  2. Great point, Hottie Hot.

    Vince and I have something planned for that in the coming weeks. A joint blogging project.

    You’re the bomb, baby.

  3. Yes, that was a helpful clarification. Some people might have mistakenly thought that Pastor Bryan and Pastor Vince were going to smoke weed as a team. And blog about it.

    My bad.

  4. I can’t wait for points 3-10.

    The more I think about it I think the more important it becomes to me. That being said I am not a member of the church I attend. But it is important to me for a couple of reasons. One. I think it is important for the leadership of the church to know who’s on their team roster. I used to attend a church that had four locations and owned no buildings. They wanted to buy a building but had to act fast on the one that came available. They came to us as members and asked if we would prayerfully consider giving very substantially. Our church body raised 1.3 million dollars in less than a week. That is a heck of a team roster. That is a lot of sacrificial giving.
    B. It is important for everyone else to know who is really committed to the team. When you belong to a church that takes membership seriously then the other members know that you are taking this commitment seriously. That being said I am not a member of the church that I attend.

  5. Hi All,

    My name is Ken and I’m a friend of Brett. He suggested I check out Bryan’s blog. Brett also let me know I could post and strongly suggested, in oder to be concise, to simply respond with “I agree with Brett”

    As for the question regarding membership, I do think that membership is necessary. To me it is a public declaration of my commitment to Christ and His body. It is also a way of signifying that I am prepared to be held accountable by a body of believers and that I can be called upon as needs arise.

    That being said, I believe that the value of membership is dependant on the heart of the person. There are those who will join a church for what they can get out of it as opposed to what they can contribute. Is there valus in a person becomming a member in order to increase his prospect pool for his insurance business?


    P.S. Brett, this sort of agreed with you. Hope it was OK to post.

  6. “To me it is a public declaration of my commitment to Christ and His body. It is also a way of signifying that I am prepared to be held accountable by a body of believers and that I can be called upon as needs arise.”

    Doesn’t baptism fill the role of public declaration of commitment to Christ?

  7. Hi Darius,

    Yes, baptism does do that. That being said, that is also what membership means to mean but in a more specific and narrowly defined way. My baptism is a commitment to Chist and His body at large while membership is a commitment to a specific segment of the body.

    As I said, this is my own view of what membership means to me personally.

  8. Darius:

    Sure, that’s a function of baptism, but perhaps different in scope: baptism speaks toward crossing the line of faith; i.e. it’s a public acknowledgment not of your commitment to the local community (i.e. church), but rather to Christ (i.e. Church).

    And, even if baptism fills that role to some degree, is there any reason it necessarily is the only outward statement of commitment? (Of course, you only get ‘married’ once, so if you like that metaphor…..)

    Ken’s comment about accountability is interesting to me. Is there any *real* accountability to the local body — regardless of how active you are — without formal membership? I’m uncertain.

    How important is accountability to the church, as opposed to accountability in general to fellow believers?

    I always have more questions than answers. Sorry.


    P.S. Thanks, Ken. You’re coming around….

  9. P.S. Thanks, Ken. You’re coming around….

    – See Brett. And you said there was no hope for me because I’m Canadian. I suppose you’re coming around too. 🙂

  10. 2. You need to take seriously the biblical metaphor of household. Paul refers to those who are “of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10) and “members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19), as does Peter (1 Pet. 4:17). The connections between church and household in the Pastoral epistles are legion (1 Tim. 3:4; 3:5; 3:12; 3:15; 5:4; 5:8; 5:14; 2 Tim. 1:16; 3:6; 4:19).

    In what household or family do you have to apply for membership? Being a Christian is not like getting on “big brother”. It is signified by the fellowship of believers. It is not scriptural that *real* fellowship or *true submission to my brother/sister/elder* is only made real through a membership process/class/certificate.

    just some thoughts.

  11. I also have an “outward statement of commitment” it is a cross tattoo with an icthus around it. If outward statements of commitment were all that mattered would it be right if a church required all members to get tattooed? (My tattoo is a very sincere statement, BTW, not a young man’s mistake)

  12. maybe I am 5 months behind… but I am starting to feel the pressure at my church. Here’s my shtick…If I hold myself acountable to the church…practive submission to the leadership, tithe every week, do bible studies, participate in womens ministries (even suggesting and offering to host)… am I not a member? Why do I have to go before *man* (i.e. the elders) and *apply* for membership? Is that the way Christ did it?
    Many blessings-

  13. I’m researching this very thing right now – I’ve always believed similar to the way Amanda believes. Man is sinful, Christ is perfect – why do I need other people to know what is communicated between Christ and myself? I’m the only one in my family (in my lifetime) who has always chosen to go to church. I’m the one who has always been involved with the church choir. I volunteer for church events, I donate baked goods when I can, I tithe, why should I have to proclaim to the people at the church that I am committed to Christ? My husband’s church is putting pressure on me to become a member ASAP. I was going to do this for my husband. I already feel allegiance to the church and do not need to sign on the dotted line. My signature that I am committed to Christ is in my heart. But, his church does not allow non-members to sing in the choir or do other volunteer activities. I feel as if my faith is being questioned. I haven’t been so hurt by my faithful peers in 28 years. I’m trying to decide what to do – asking God to lead me in the right direction. He led me here – thanks for your posts.

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