Church membership is something that has begun to fall along the wayside in some churches today. There was a time, and this is still often the case, when the member list of a church might be much larger than the actual attendance of the service on Sunday. It is a growing trend in churches today that the membership of a local assembly is far smaller than the actual attendance of the church, there are even churches that don't have membership at all. At Athena Baptist Church we believe that meaningful church membership is important to the health of the local church. Because membership is meaningful in the life of the believer, and for the body of Christ, it is important to understand the biblical example of church membership.
While the word "membership" is never used in the New Testament, it is clear that the New Testament church practiced membership. Before we look at examples of this we must define what meaningful, biblical church membership is. When a sinner is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, he becomes a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13) and is therefore united to the rest of the members of the body. Becoming a member of Christ is the reason for which we commit ourselves to a local assembly of believers who gather for the purpose of worshipping and glorifying God. In membership, we place ourselves into a position of mutual accountability with other believers and in a position of submission to the authority and care of qualified and called pastors/elders.
The Biblical Example
There were several realities in the New Testament Church that show us the example of meaningful church leadership. First, we can see that as soon as people began to believe in Jesus they were baptized and added to the church (Acts 2:41, 47, 5:14, 16:5). In fact, when members of the church moved from one city to another, they took with them a letter from one church commending them to another church (Acts 18:27; Rom. 16:1; Col. 4:10). The Epistles (letters) of the New Testament were written to many churches. They were written to churches in Rome, Corinth, Galatia (a region, thus this was written "To the Churches..."), Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica. We see in the early chapters of Revelation that there were organized churches in Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea as well.
The existence of church government is another evidence of the organized church submitting itself to each other and its leadership. The God-given responsibility of elders is to shepherd the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2), to have charge of the church (1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17), and to keep watch over the souls of those they have charge over (Heb. 13:17). It is impossible for the leadership of a church to have spiritual oversight and care over everyone who has ever been at a local assembly, therefore the members of a local assembly are to willingly submit themselves in membership so that they know who they are accountable to, and so the leadership knows who it is accountable for (Heb. 13:17).
The command of Christ, and example of the New Testament, to practice church discipline also indicates that local assemblies of the body of Christ are to be accountable to one another (Mt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:1-13). In order for the leadership to know who it is accountable for and who it is accountable to, the elders of the church must know who the members of their flock are (1 Cor. 5:1-13; 1 Tim. 5:20; Titus 3:10-11). Many people cringe at the idea of church discipline, but it is essential to the life of a church. Sin is deadly in the life of the believer and the life of the church. Discipline is not for the purpose of shaming people who sin, but for the purpose of restoring those members who refuse to repent of sin so that they, the church, and the testimony of the church might be protected from the horrible effects of sin.
The Benefits of Membership
The Bible teaches that every individual member of the church is to live a life committed to the growth and edification of the body of Christ. The local church is the place for the church to fulfill the commands of Christ given toward "one-another" by exercising spiritual gifts (Heb. 10:24-25; 1 Cor. 12:4-7). The church can only be built up into the image of Christ when every part, committed to one another, works together for the glory of God and the building up of the body of Christ.
Living out meaningful membership involves many things, among which are: faithfully worshipping together (Heb. 10:25), contributing financially to the work of the church (2 Cor. 8:1-7), living a godly life as an example to the world (Mt. 5:14-16), and giving and receiving correction and encouragement from other believers (Heb. 10:24).
Membership matters, and if you are interested in becoming a member of Athena Baptist please contact the church office to set up an appointment with the pastor.