Why Church Membership?
One of the things that I try to do on the podcast every week is answer your questions. But that’s not what I’m going to do this week. This week, I’m going to give an answer to a question that nobody asks. Nobody has asked it. I’m not aware that anybody has ever asked me about it. But I want to give an answer to it because I wish more people did ask me about it. I want to talk about church membership. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about membership in the local church. It occurs to me that that is a foreign concept to almost everybody. For unbelievers out there, if you’re a person who’s lost, and you’re not a Christian, and maybe you’ve visited church but you don’t think about church very often. I think most of those people out there don’t even know that church membership is a thing. If they did, they would wonder why anybody would want to be a member of this thing called the church. But it’s not just unbelievers. I have been a Christian since I was a freshman in high school. I have been in ministry since college, and I have been pastoring in one way or another since I got out of college. I think most Christians don’t understand church membership. I think a lot of Christians understand church, and I think they know that they need to go to church. Some Christians have a more or less sophisticated view of that. Some Christians feel this sort of subtle, nagging, oh, I should really go to church. Other Christians are much more committed, and I don’t miss church. But the idea of church membership, I think, is foreign, even to Christians. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and I wish Christians thought a little bit more seriously about church membership than they do.
Church Membership is a Biblical Idea
The first thing that I want to say to you about church membership is that it is a biblical idea. We get this idea of church membership. You don’t have the word membership. But you get the idea of church membership that starts in a place like Acts 2:41. The apostle Peter has preached the gospel, and there has been a massive response to it. In Acts 2:41, the Bible says, “Those who received his word were baptized.” So you got people who didn’t just hear the word. They received the word they believed in Jesus, “They were baptized, and there were added that day about 3000 souls now.” The important thing right now is not the exact number of 3000. The important thing right now is that there was this group that we understand is the church, and there were people added to it, and the membership of the church increased. And they knew how much the membership increased because somebody counted, somebody extended their index finger and put it on heads, 1, 2, 3, 4, and they got all the way to 3000. There was this group called the church, and about 3000 people were added to it. That’s an idea of membership without the word, and in verse 47 of Acts 2, it says, “The people were praising God, and having favor with all the people, and the Lord added to their number, day by day those who are being saved.” So here again is this idea of addition to a body to this group called the church. You see the same thing in Acts 4:4, which says, “Many of those who heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to be about 5000.” So again, somebody is keeping track of who is in and who is out. And not just who’s in and who’s out but how many are in.
You get this same idea in the epistles. If you flip over to 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, the Bible says, “What have you to do with judging outsiders?” This is the apostle Paul talking about people outside the church; he says, “What have you to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.” The apostle Paul here talks about membership. Again, the word membership isn’t here, but he has the idea of those who are in and those who are out. There are some people who are inside the church, they are church members, and there are others who are outside the church. He says, if you’re outside the church here, that’s God’s responsibility. But inside the church, the church has a responsibility for you. You are to judge those inside the church. There is some sort of stewardship that a church has to judge to take care of, to shepherd to steward, those who are inside the church. Even though you look up the word member or membership in your New Testament concordance, you don’t find the word membership. You don’t find a passage like this in the Bible, but all throughout the New Testament. You see, we’ve looked at just a few passages. All throughout the New Testament, you see this distinction made between those who are inside the church and those who are outside the church, those who are members, and those who are not members. And so, church membership is a biblical idea.
Church Membership is Good for You and for the Whole Church
Listen, there’s a lot I could say to you about membership. But here’s the one other thing I’m going to say to you this week. Church membership is good for you and is good for the whole church. In Romans 12:10, the Bible says, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” This is language here of “one anothering.” It’s an idea that shows up dozens of times in the New Testament. And it’s the idea of I do something to you, and you do it back to me. It’s not a quid pro quo. It’s not like I do this thing to you and earn your response of doing it back to me. It’s just saying my responsibility is to do this to you, and then your responsibility is to do it to me. And it’s fascinating all the different things the New Testament tells us that we are to do to one another. I just picked one of them. I picked Romans 12:10, which says, “Love one another with brotherly affection.” It talks about brotherly affection. That’s different language talking about membership. Again, it’s not the word membership. But the Bible talks about those who are inside the church, those who are church members in a family way. I am your brother, you are my sister, and we have these family relationships. And it says when you are inside the church, there ought to be that kind of family affection. It says we are supposed to love one another. I am supposed to love you, and you are supposed to love me. Now, the Bible is also clear that we’re supposed to love our enemies, and we’re supposed to love all sorts of people. But the reality is, those people who are outside the church, those people who are not a member of your church, they can’t love you the way the Bible here commands. The Bible says we need to come together in this family of which we are members, with the expectation that there will be an environment of love. I need to love you. That’s good for you. It’s good for the members of my church when I love them and when I care for them.
Listen, I come to church on Sunday; I come to church on Wednesday, I come to church throughout the week, knowing that the love and the care I show to folks who are part of my Christian family, who are members of my church, knowing that that might be the only expression of love they received that week. It’s good for the church, for me to love them, for me to fulfill this command of loving one another, but it’s also good for you. It’s good for me; you need to be loved. And I need to be loved. That’s the reason the command is in the Bible. God gave us a command because we need it. And God gave us a command to love and be loved because we need to love and be loved. There are other “one anothering” commands in the Bible, but this is one really important in a hateful world. We need to love one another, and one of the mechanisms that God has provided for us to be able to do that is the church. He hasn’t just provided the mechanism of the church. He has called us to be members of the church. Listen, if you are not a member of a local church, then you’re in disobedience, and you need to fix that. And the first thing you need to do is repent of your sins and trust in Jesus Christ, and believe in him as your whole hope of life and death. And then you need to find a Bible-believing Christ-exalting church, and you need to do more than attend; you need to become a member.