IS CHURCH MEMBERSHIP IMPORTANT?
The implication of church membership begins in Acts 2:41. Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. The word “added” tells us there was a count taken of those “who gladly received his word were baptized”. V47 also uses the same word “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved”. So we see a pattern clearly developing right at the birth of the Church. And that pattern is conversion followed by “baptism” followed by “added”. And it’s important to note a fourth step in the life of a Christian that comes in later passages, involvement. So it is clear that there was an accounting of these new believers. Many reasons are added to the importance of this accounting and spelled out later in the New Testament including: leadership appointment, leadership responsibility, personal accountability, church unity and church discipline.
There are two offices within the church spelled out in scripture: deacon and elder. The appointment of these officers is said to be “from among you” ~ Acts 6:3, and the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 would naturally require a thorough knowledge of a prospective candidate’s character. Therefore, in the establishment of appointing these officers we can see that they chose men they knew well and that they were chosen from those that had already been added (past tense). There was a high priority placed on being aware of someone else’s faith proven over time and experience.
It says in Acts 20:28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. Here we see the Apostle Paul exhorting the Ephesian Elders to watch over “all” the flock which they are made overseers. Without an account of who has been added how is a pastor supposed to know who he is responsible for? The author of the book of Hebrews understood this also. Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. ~ Heb 13:17
Accountability is probably the easiest understood reason for keeping a record of believers because it’s a record of those to whom we share our faith. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. ~ James 5:16 We do this in our own families and marriages. We more commonly encourage the marriage commitment over cohabitating. So why should we think of our church commitment differently? The original church necessitated individual responsibility several places in scripture (I.e. Gal 6:1-5, Luke 17:3, 1st Thess. 5:11, Heb 10:24-25, Col 3:16, 1st Cor 14:26). So how can this accountability be held to those who are expressly uncommitted? A process of defining and identifying those within our church membership accomplishes this.
The Apostles urged the early church and calls out to us today to be completely and utterly unified under our common faith with “no divisions”. (1 Corinthians 1:10, 1 Peter 3:8) Paul says “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” ~ Philippians 2:2 So how do we “agree” and have “unity of mind” or “the same mind” unless we know what to agree on? Church membership processes are built with biblically-based confessions of faith or doctrinal statements that define what we are to agree upon and what we are unified under. It is always beneficial as church members to become familiar with what unifies us by thoroughly examining your church’s doctrinal statements and governing documents.
Church discipline is simply irrelevant when church membership is nonexistent. Also, church discipline cannot be a problem if every member keeps their focus on the real object of worship rather than themselves. But we know that won’t happen 100% of the time. And imagine confronting sin in the church that has required no one to hold to or even say what they believe. An agreement (i.e. constitution, by-laws, doctrinal statement) between church and members addresses this. Although no one really wants to talk about church discipline…that is until the problem effects you.
To close I’ll offer insights from my experience as a coach. I coached various sports and had the privilege to coach several kids over the years. Many were there simply because mom or dad wanted them to try something new. Some didn’t care about improving their athletic skills and abilities. But occasionally I would get to coach a kid that truly had a passion for the game and a deep drive to improve their own skills. They were eager to hear what the instructions were at the beginning of every practice. They were excited to come to practice and put out full effort day after day. And they were the ones that made practice enjoyable for me as a coach. The interesting part is that the passionate kids were not necessarily the most naturally gifted in the sport. In fact, the naturally gifted athletes were often not very team oriented. Church membership i.e. “being added” provides protective rules and responsibilities, as well as privileges. The walls of protection won’t help you when you stand higher than the wall itself. When we place ourselves above the needs of the whole church, we risk making ourselves the point of worship. When people are passionate about why they are there and have a clear understanding of their duties and privileges, the Church thrives. And when the Church (the Bride of Christ) thrives, Jesus Christ is glorified.
About the Author
Matt Gutting is an Elder at FBC Kahoka and Service Manager at Kahoka Motor Company. He and his wife Erin are looking forward to both of their sons getting married in 2023.