Must I Join a Church to Be a Christian?

Jeff Robinson: In my ministry context, I have heard many versions of this notion over the years, phrased as both a question and also a declaration: “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian, do I?” More often than not, it’s put this way: “I love Jesus and the Bible, but I don’t love the church.” Some have told me, “I can get my church on the internet. There are lots of great preachers there. I just download sermons and I get fed plenty.” Yet after years of hearing these aphorisms and being asked this question (with the “no” answer often strongly implied), I remain unconvinced that one can be a Christian and intentionally remain outside the visible, local church. Granted, the grounds of a sinner’s salvation in Scripture are clear: Grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone. True, the Bible never adds “church membership” as a condition of salvation. Note the qualifier “intentionally” in my thesis—it is the key pillar in my

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A Case for Covenant Membership in the Local Church

Sam Storms: Does the New Testament explicitly mention or describe formal church membership? No, it does not. However, there are numerous truths and responsibilities in the NT which would be minimized or denied if there were no definable local church membership. In other words, the fact that membership is not explicitly mentioned does not mean it didn’t exist. Those things which are explicitly mentioned necessarily assume that covenant membership existed. Therefore, if we conclude that covenant membership is necessarily entailed by the Bible’s commands for the church and the description of its life, we are morally obligated to pursue it in our churches today. If we conclude that it is not, we are free to regard local church membership as a matter of prudence which we may disregard if we think it not to be helpful in fulfilling our calling as the body of Christ. As I read the New Testament, I can see several truths or responsibilities that, in

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How Should Church Members Relate to Their Pastors?

  Jared Wilson: From Jonathan Leeman’s excellent little book, Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus: Every church member will stand before God’s throne and give an account for how he or she worked to protect the gospel in the lives of his or her fellow members (see Galatians 1). That said, the Holy Spirit has made pastors and elders the overseers of the church (Acts 20:28;Titus 1:7; 1 Pet. 5:2). That means pastors or elders represent the church’s work of oversight in the day-to-day life of the congregation. Submitting to the church often means submitting to them. Broadly speaking, how should members relate to pastors? 1. Members should formally affirm their pastors. Different traditions disagree on this, but I believe that since Christians are ultimately responsible before God for what they are taught (see Galatians 1), church members are responsible for choosing their leaders. Congregations should let elders lead in this process, but the final affirmations is

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Why Go to Church?

By Josh Moody: This summer Christian Focus released my new book How Church Can Change Your Life. It’s written to answer an overall question that many people today seem to be asking: “Why should I go to church?” To do that, it’s broken down then into “the 10 most common questions about church.” In thinking about that question of “Why go to church?” here are some reasons you should consider if you are a Christian: The New Testament nowhere even considers the possibility of a Christian who is not also a part of a local church. If you call yourself a Christian and you are not part of a local church, you fall into a category that is at least questionable, and to be avoided if at all possible. All other things being equal, given that there are churches nearby that you could belong to, not going to one may also put you in a category that is by definition outside

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Why Join a Church

David Mathis: One of the most counter-cultural things you can do is become an engaged member of a faithful local church. In our flighty and noncommittal age, neither non-Christians nor Christians are naturally inclined to find a place to put down roots and make longstanding, objective commitments for the good of others. We want to keep our options open and, above all, preserve our own freedom of choice, rather than make a covenant for the long haul and embrace a framework for real life in all its ups and downs. But what if you went against the grain and became part of the solution to the modern problem of being so noncommittal? What if you joined the rebellion, and pledged your loyalty and engagement to a Bible-believing, gospel-cherishing local church? Does the Bible Even Mention Membership? Most of us have raised eyebrows at some point about the concept of church membership. “Membership” — where do we see that in the

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6 Reasons Why Membership Matters

Kevin DeYoung: “Why bother with church membership?” I’ve been asked the question before. Sometimes it’s said with genuine curiosity-“So explain to me what membership is all about.” Other times it’s said with a tinge of suspicion-“So tell me again, why do you think I should become a member?”-as if joining the church automatically signed you up to tithe by direct deposit. For many Christians membership sounds stiff, something you have at your bank or the country club, but too formal for the church. Even if it’s agreed that Christianity is not a lone ranger religion, that we need community and fellowship with other Christians, we still bristle at the thought of officially joining a church. Why all the hoops? Why box the Holy Spirit into member/non-member categories? Why bother joining a local church when I’m already a member of the universal Church? Some Christians–because of church tradition or church baggage–may not be convinced of church membership no matter how many

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If You’re Thinking about Leaving A Church . . .

  Mark Dever: BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO LEAVE 1. Pray. 2. Let your current pastor know about your thinking before you move to another church or make your decision to relocate to another city. Ask for his counsel. 3. Weigh your motives. Is your desire to leave because of sinful, personal conflict or disappointment? If it’s because of doctrinal reasons, are these doctrinal issues significant? 4. Do everything within your power to reconcile any broken relationships. 5. Be sure to consider all the “evidences of grace” you’ve seen in the church’s life—places where God’s work is evident. If you cannot see any evidences of God’s grace, you might want to examine your own heart once more (Matthew 7:3-5). 6. Be humble. Recognize you don’t have all the facts and assess people and circumstances charitably (give them the benefit of the doubt). ​IF YOU GO . . . 1. Don’t divide the body. 2. Take the utmost care not to sow discontent

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Church membership

  Ray Ortlund: “We have in our day started by getting the whole picture upside down.  Starting with the doctrine that every individual is ‘of infinite value,’ we then picture God as a kind of employment committee whose business it is to find suitable careers for souls, square holes for square pegs.  In fact, however, the value of the individual does not lie in him.  He is capable of receiving value.  He receives it by union with Christ.  There is no question of finding for the individual a place in the living temple which will do justice to his inherent value and give scope to his natural idiosyncrasy.  The place was there first.  The individual was created for it.  He will not be himself until he is there.” C. S. Lewis, “Membership,” in The Weight of Glory (Grand Rapids, 1974), pages 41-42. No wonder, then, that when we join a healthy church, we feel refreshed, reinvigorated, more alive.  We may

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Membership in the Local Church: a neglected text

  Sam Storms: A couple of years ago, following a rigorous and careful study of the Scriptures, we implemented formal church membership here at Bridgeway. One of the biblical texts that moved us in that direction was the reference to the people in the local church as being in the “charge” of the Elders (1 Peter 5:3). Some may translate this as “those allotted to you,” or those for whom you bear responsibility. In my opinion, there’s no way to escape the fact that this exhortation to Elders implies some expression of formal membership in the local church. Of course Elders can and should extend their love to anyone and everyone, within the limits of their ability. But the question is whether the Bible tells Elders that they are to have a special responsibility and care for a certain group, a group of covenant members. Consider Acts 20:28 where Paul tells the Elders how to care for their flock. “Pay careful

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Where do we see church membership in the New Testament?

Michael McKinley: Matthew 18:15-17: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault…if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you…If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” The ability to exclude someone from “the church” presupposes that it’s known who belongs to “the church” as a member in the first place. Acts 5:12-13: “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.” So, people faced the decision of whether or not they would join the church in Jerusalem. This joining is more public and definite than an informal association. In 1 Timothy 5:9-12, Paul gives Timothy instructions for enrolling

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Is Church Membership Really Required?

Ricky Jones: This month we will be inducting new members into the most honored body the world has ever known: the church of Jesus Christ. The initiation fee for this club is so high that no human could have ever paid it; God himself had to pick up the tab. The benefits of the club never expire. The fellowship of the club is unmatched; you receive intimate access to the Lord himself (John 17:23). With such benefits, you’d think church membership would be held in infinitely high esteem. But for many reasons, Christians seem to think less of it than ever before. If you’re one who looks upon church membership lightly, then I invite you to reconsider. When we hear the word membership, we immediately think of a club. A member pays dues, comes to meetings, and fulfills the obligations of a club member. When you move, or no longer have time for the club, you simply withdraw your membership

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The Main Reason People Leave a Church

By Dr. Thom S. Rainer: Numbers of gifted persons and organizations have studied the phenomenon of the church “back door,” the metaphorical way we describe people leaving the church. And there will always be the anticipated themes of relocation or personal crises. We should recognize those issues, though we can respond to the latter more than the former. But all the research studies of which I am aware, including my own, return to one major theme to explain the exodus of church members: a sense of some need not being filled. In other words, these members have ideas of what a local congregation should provide for them, and they leave because those provisions have not been met. Certainly we recognize there are many legitimate claims by church members of unfulfilled expectations. It can undoubtedly be the fault of the local congregation and its leaders. But many times, probably more than we would like to believe, a church member leaves a local

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What is church membership?

From Jonathan Leeman: What is church membership? Answer: It’s a declaration of citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. It’s a passport. It’s an announcement made in the pressroom of Christ’s kingdom. It’s the declaration that a professing individual is an official, licensed, card-carrying, bona fide Jesus representative. More concretely, church membership is a formal relationship between a local church and a Christian characterized by the church’s affirmation and oversight of a Christian’s discipleship and the Christian’s submission to living out his or her discipleship in the care of the church. Notice that several elements are present: a church body formally affirms an individual’s profession of faith and baptism as credible; it promises to give oversight to that individual’s discipleship; the individual formally submits his or her discipleship to the service and authority of this body and its leaders. The church body says to the individual, “We recognize your profession of faith, baptism, and discipleship to Christ as valid. Therefore, we publicly affirm and acknowledge you before the nations as belonging to Christ,

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Submit to Jesus, Submit to His Bride

Matt Smethurst: Church membership can feel boring, secondary, extrabiblical, and unimportant. Aren’t there plenty of more pressing things to talk about? Not really, suggests Jonathan Leeman in Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus (Crossway, 2012). In just 132 pages, Leeman unfolds a clear and compelling case for submitting our lives to King Jesus by submitting to his earthly bride. I corresponded with Leeman, editorial director for 9Marks and editor of its Journal, about the surprisingly pressing significance of local church membership. Why is it significant to understand that Christians don’t really “join” churches so much as submit to them? “Join” is a club word. You join a club, whether it’s a country club or a wholesale shopping club. You pay your dues. You receive the benefits. You come and go as you please. Nothing about your identity changes. No real demands are placed on you that you cannot extricate yourself from. “Submit” is a kingdom and citizenship word. It recognizes the presence of

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Bringing Correction

. Endeavouring to build a God-glorifying biblical church community demands the uncomfortable, but necessary, task of brining correction to a brother or sister in Christ. Here’s Jonathan Leeman‘s helpful tips for confronting a fellow church member: 1.      Pray. 2.      Look for any logs in your own eye. Consider: What’s your purpose in confrontation—to get something off your chest and feel better, or to genuinely serve and love the person? Have you contributed to the problem? Have you dealt with your contribution? 3.      Speak to the person alone, unless… It’s with a member of the opposite sex and either you or the person is married, in which case you might want to involve a spouse. It puts you at physical risk. 4.      Generally, speak in person, not by phone or in writing. 5.      Generally, use the Bible. 6.      Give the person the benefit of the doubt. Specifically… Put yourself in the person’s shoes (“Do unto others…”). Assume you don’t know all the

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Why Should You Join a Church?

  Great post from Erik Raymond: As a church we have recently transitioned to a more formalized membership. One of the questions that comes up is “why?” Why should I become a member of a church? Below are five reasons I like to provide. There are more, but this is a good start. 1) It Reflects the Gospel: Church membership is essentially the outward demonstration of the spiritual reality of being united to Christ and his body. Being a part of Christ’s body means that we identify with other disciples, learn the Scripture, submit to God’s authority structure, and serve others. Church membership openly demonstrates the reality of the Body of Christ. 2) It Follows the New Testament Pattern: While it is true that the term “membership” is not explicitly used in the NT it is certainly inferred. Remember that most of our NT books were written to people who have chosen to self-identify with a group of people in a local community. The ministerial structure

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Twelve Reasons Why Membership Matters

By Jonathan Leeman (The following is excerpted from Jonathan Leeman’s forthcoming book Why Church Membership? from Crossway, 2012). 1) It’s biblical. Jesus established the local church and all the apostles did their ministry through it. The Christian life in the New Testament is church life. Christians today should expect and desire the same. 2) The church is its members. To be “a church” in the New Testament is to be one of its members (read through Acts). And you want to be part of the church because that’s who Jesus came to rescue and reconcile to himself. 3) It’s a pre-requisite for the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is a meal for the gathered church, that is, for members (see 1 Cor. 11:20, 33). And you want to take the Lord’s Supper. It’s the team “jersey” which makes the church team visible to the nations. 4) It’s how to officially represent Jesus. Membership is the church’s affirmation that you are a citizen of Christ’s kingdom and

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Should you join a church?

The short answer is “Yes!” Take time to check out the latest 9Marks ejournal. The theme this month is church membership. Is it biblical? What does membership mean? What are the costs of meaningless membership? Is Church Membership Biblical by Matt Chandler Joining a Church the Ancient Way by Michael Haykin Church Membership and Contextualization by Ed Roberts Meaningless Membership by Al Jackson Twelve Reasons Why Membership Matters by Jonathan Leeman Check out the entire issue HERE. (HT: Todd Pruitt)

Evaluating Whether Church Members Are Unconverted

From Brian Croft at The Gospel Coalition Blog: Sometime back, a pastor wrote me and asked that I address the issue of how to evaluate a church member I suspect is unconverted. Even though I have sadly dealt with this on more than one occasion, I tremble to communicate in any way that I have all the answers on this matter. Nevertheless, it is a reality, and it is especially so for anyone who goes to pastor an established church whose previous patterns of taking in members were less than healthy and biblical. So, here are a few suggestions as you wrestle with this all important and very difficult issue in your church. Recognize you are not God. Make sure you start here. It is common to jump quickly to conclusions about a church member’s spiritual state based on his disapproval of you and your vision for the church. It is often not that simple. We are not all-wise and omniscient

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