Not too many years ago, I remember hearing about a “drive-through church.” The whole concept was people would drive up to the church building parking lot, listen to the sermon, sing along with the songs, then leave.
What was missing from that equation? People getting out of their cars and actually interacting with each other.
There is no shortage of people today questioning the entire structure of a church service. Moreover, they ask me why church membership is even Biblical – as to whether there’s even a precedent for it in the first place.
The answer is a resounding yes, even if it may not seem very apparent on the surface.
Biblical Support for Church Membership
Before you start hearing my own opinion about the nature of church membership, it’s better to hear what the Bible says. After all, if I’m the only one banging the drum for people to be in services, that opinion isn’t worth much.
But when God says it, we should listen.
Church Growth at Pentecost
It’s a beautiful scene.
At the end of that chapter is a note that talks about God’s response to their decision: “The Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
Some would argue that this is just a spiritual body, not so much a physical gathering of saints. And yet, when you get to Acts 4:4, it says that the church had continued to grow, accounting for nearly 5,000 men alone.
So what is more likely? That the author of Acts was just counting a “spiritual” number of the total body of believers, or that the church in Jerusalem had a literal number of members? The latter makes the most sense, and is a testament to the simple fact that a local church was organized in the city.
Paul’s Desires at Jerusalem
After Paul “saw the light” on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and was subsequently baptized after a conversation with Ananias (Acts 9:18), Paul desperately wanted to be a part of the congregation that met at Jerusalem (Acts 9:26).
They refused – not entirely sure whether he was actually converted – until Barnabas took him by the hand and vouched for him.
Shouldn’t Paul’s desire be our desire? Shouldn’t we want to be a part of a group of people that believe the way we do and are committed to helping us grow?
Paul knew that he would derive strength and encouragement at this specific time in his life by being joined to a local body. Don’t we want the same?
Epistles Written to Individual Churches
Of the 27 letters written in the New Testament, nine are written to individual churches. The letters to the church at Corinth, the letter to the church at Colossae, the letter to Rome – they all were written to address a specific group of people.
Why would those letters be written if the concept of church membership wasn’t Biblical?
The reason these people gathered together was to fulfill the very practice that Hebrews 10:24-25 talks about: to “stir one another up unto love and good works.” How could they do that unless they knew and could identify fellow believers that were close by and organized as a group? Without that unification, there’s no responsibility.
Furthermore, the idea of “disfellowshipping” that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 5 only works if those people were gathered together in the first place. Otherwise, there’s no group for them to be removed from.
What are the Biblical Requirements for Church Membership?
A lot of churches have different beliefs when it comes to church membership. Some require a series of classes, others require forms, while still more insist on a probationary period to ensure the person is “right.”
Surprisingly, even some may ask for a cash donation.
According to Scripture (the ones mentioned above and others), the only requirement to be a part of a local church is that you be a Christian. That’s the only requirement for God to add you to His church, so it shouldn’t be any different when you’re talking about a local group.
However, that does not mean that the elders don’t have the ability to ask a few questions. Paul commanded the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 to “guard the flock among them” and especially to “watch out for wolves.”
This isn’t nearly as intense as it may sound. When a person or family wants to become a member of a local church, the elders will usually meet with them in private to get to know them. This is not only done to keep the church safe, but just as importantly, to know how to help shepherd these new people.
Every individual is different, so the elders have to know their flock in order to serve them best.
Anyone that challenges why church membership is Biblical usually does so because they don’t want to be accountable, when many times it’s that very accountability that is what they need.
No man is an island, after all. If we’re going to be in Heaven, it’ll take us all working together to get there.
That’s just one of the reasons God designed the church like He did. He knew what He was doing.