We practice membership at Central Oaks. Most of the people who attend are official “members” of our community, and some are not. One question I’ve been considering lately, and one that many have is, “Is church membership biblical?”
If we mean “Is it commanded in Scripture?” The very simple answer is no. It’s not biblical in the sense that there is no verse in the Bible that says, “Thou shalt be a member of a local church.” However, I still think we should practice it as a church and that it’s best for every follower of Jesus to be a member of a gospel church.
So, Why Then?
Now that should pique your interest. Why practice something if it’s not commanded in Scripture? Because not practicing membership makes it difficult for us to be biblical in many other ways.
Consider some of the things God’s Word tells Christians to do in relationship with other Christians:
- “Love one another” (Romans 12:10), “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10), “live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16), “live in harmony with one another” (Romans 15:5), etc.
- “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls . . .” (Hebrews 13:17).
- “Contribute to the needs of the saints“ (Romans 12:13).
- “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church . . .” (Matthew 18:17).
- “Let a widow be enrolled . . .” in a program to receive benevolence funds (1 Timothy 5:9).
- “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one” (1 Corinthians 5:11).
With those in mind (and there are countless more), imagine the churches the Holy Spirit wrote to had no way of identifying who belonged and who didn’t. It would essentially be impossible to do those things well.
The same is true for us. We cannot be the church God wants us to be if we don’t have some kind of official way to identify who belongs and who doesn’t.
Necessary To Be Biblical
I used this illustration the other day to describe it. Would you say someone could follow Jesus without owning access to a Bible (whether in print or digitally)? Some who live in oral cultures or who can’t read perhaps have God’s Word read to them, so technically it’s possible. And Scripture certainly doesn’t command everyone to own a Bible. But wouldn’t it be best for every follower of Jesus to have a way to access God’s Word on their own whenever they wanted or needed to? Of course. I’m sure you agree with me then, that owning a Bible is probably necessary in order to follow Jesus well.
The same is true for membership. You can certainly be a Christian without joining a local church, and there are times when it’s probably fine to attend a church without joining (like when a college student attends a church when he’s away from home). But can we live like God wants us to live as Christians without practicing membership? Probably not.
Membership, therefore, is a necessary, practical tool that helps Central Oaks live how God wants us to live together.
If you’re following Jesus and consider Central Oaks to be your church but haven’t actually joined, please contact me so we can talk further.
Pastor Jacob Riggs has been serving at Central Oaks since 2013. Email him here.