Several years ago, I took a mission trip to Romania. Romania continues to recover from a communistic rule. One thing that stuck out to me when I came back stateside was the amount of advertising here versus over there. Seeing this overload of advertisement reminded me of how individualistic oriented our culture in North America has become. The ethos of individualism has leached its way into the local church. While you will not find any passages that say, "Thou shalt be a member of a local church," here are some biblical reminders of why church membership is necessary:
- In the Old Testament, God made a clear distinction between his people and the world (see Lev. 13:46, Num. 5:3, Deut. 7:3).
- Christ says that entering the kingdom of God means being bound to the church "on earth" (Matt. 16:16-19; 18:17-19). Where do we see the church on earth? The local church.
- The New Testament explicitly refers to some people being inside the church and some people being outside (1 Cor. 5:12-13). Church membership is much more than a casual association. It means being a covenant community, similar to a marriage covenant.
- The church in Corinth consisted of a definite number of believers, such that Paul could speak of punishment inflicted by the majority (2 Cor. 2:6).
- Not only does the New Testament speak of the reality of church membership, but its dozens of "one another" passages are written to local churches, which fill out our understanding of what church membership should practically look like.
The conclusion on church membership is that it is a biblical concept. Even though it lacks direct biblical commands, like the Trinity, the concept exists and remains an expectation for God's people. We must not approach the local church the same way we shop for cell phones, moving around when somewhere else has a better deal of us individually. We should view our local church as a family (Ephesians 1:5), we don't leave just because the family is going through a difficult time. We also don't leave our families because we don't like something someone said. There may be times to leave a local church, which I have about previously, but overall it is always in the best interest of Christians to stay in a covenant commitment to one local church. It is what brings maturity and accountability into our lives.