Church Membership

What is church membership? Church membership is a process that is required to fully participate in the life of the local church. I can't think of a church that does not have some sort of membership whether it is formal or informal. The restrictions implemented for those who are not official members vary from group to group. The local church I am now a part of requires church membership in order to vote on church issues, whereas the church I grew up in requires membership to participate in communion. The methods and requirements of church membership may vary but the concepts are still the same.

The above definition of church membership is from observation of the current state of affairs, but it is incorrect. Church membership should be defined as anybody who is a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12). It is not a matter of process but of recognition just like what Peter did when he preached to the Gentiles, and I have already discussed here. It is important that local churches understand that they are an expression of the Church. If a local church rejects a person who is part of the Church from participating in the life of the Church, then they are not a very good expression of the Church.

As an aside, it must be noted that membership is distinct from leadership. The Bible makes it clear that there are extra requirements for leadership. For example, elders should be "above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination (Titus 1:6)." Many churches are strict about membership but relaxed about leadership, which seems to be the cart leading the horse.

Adding extra requirements to membership is similar to the situation of the Galatians in the early church. The Galatians where divided because certain people where insisting that circumcision was required as well as faith in Christ (Gal. 2:17) to be a member of the Church. Local church membership is important because it represents membership in the Church. Adding extra requirements to local church membership is like adding requirements to faith in Jesus Christ. It is a distortion of the gospel if only through what it represents. The degree of the distortion is proportional to the additional requirements and the restrictions that are enforced.


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