Is Church Membership Biblical?

In my spare time, I have recently begun to compose a membership packet for the church. Obviously, this has caused me to starting thinking deeply about the entire concept of church membership, so I decided to initiate the membership packet by answering the question of whether or not church membership is biblical (which is what I am sharing here). The following is slightly adapted to make it more suitable for being on a blog, and I owe much of the following thoughts to Jonathan Leeman and his book, Church Membership (which is certainly worth reading).

All of that said, here are some of my thoughts on the basic idea of church membership.


A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35

Have you ever seriously considered the idea of church membership?

I mean, the concept is mentioned nowhere in the Bible. You have the church, the body of Christ, discussed in terms of a family, a nation, and even a flock of sheep. Never, though, is it spoken of in terms of membership.

This is because our cultural presuppositions tell us that memberships belong with clubs and organizations, and while the church is in some sense an organization, the Bible never condenses the weight of being a part of Christ’s body into the terms of merely joining a social group. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we do the biblical idea of the church a severe injustice by simplifying it down to social-organizational terms.

Look no further than the four descriptions that Peter gives of followers of Christ: we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession.”[1] As new creations in Christ, Peter calls us a chosen race, a new breed of humanity that is being remade in the image of Jesus. We are also now citizens of a heavenly kingdom, a nation within the nations of the earth. The apostles, likewise, use familial terms for believers throughout their letters. The idea of Christians living among a tightly-bound community of other Christians is outlined by our Lord Himself in the verses listed above: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” To be clear, one of the primary goals of following Christ is to let the world know that we follow Him and how they too can know Him. Thus, loving one another is intricately tied into the very core of being a Christian. Biblically, you simply cannot be a Christian if you have no love for other Christians.

If we, therefore, begin to think of church membership more in terms of a citizenship or becoming a member of a family, we then have a very biblical idea on our hands, an idea that is present throughout Scripture. This is the concept of church membership that I want to emphasize.

Furthermore, if you seek membership, the church ought to not ask that you join the church but that you submit to the church. Note that in saying this, we must remember that the local church is a collective body of followers of Christ. Thus, in doing so, we are obeying Paul’s call for each of us to submit “to one another out of reverence for Christ.”[2] With this comes “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom”[3], but it also involves serving each other: “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave”.[4] As being a part of Jesus’ church, we also obey our “leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”[5]

I, therefore, urge you to submit to your church, not simply join it. By doing this, you become a servant to the rest of the body of Christ, a brother or sister in Jesus’ family, a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

Does this mean a Christian must become a member of a local church before truly being saved?

Absolutely not! In one sense, every believer upon salvation becomes a part of the universal Church, which encompasses all followers of Christ. But I would also argue that if you are saved, you will long to become a part of a local church of Jesus followers.

You will crave to have other brothers and sisters in Christ to live life with, to teach and help one another.

You will desire to be under leadership, whom God has placed to watch over your soul and to serve as a model of how to follow Christ.

Ultimately, if we are followers of Christ, we will love one another, just as Jesus loved us, so that the world might know that we are His disciples.

If we are then to have church membership, let us strive to do so by emphasizing all of the weight and depth that the Bible gives to being a member of Christ’s body.

[1] 1 Peter 2:9

[2] Ephesians 5:21

[3] Colossians 3:16

[4] Matthew 20:26-27

[5] Hebrews 13:17

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The Man of Faith

Abraham and Circumcision (Genesis 17)

Abraham Study Guide (Week 7)

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. (Genesis 17:5)

And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. (Genesis 17:7)

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christs, then you are Abrahams offspring, heirs to promise. (Galatians 3:28-29)

OPENING THOUGHT

Thus far, we have witnessed eleven years in the life of Abram since he first began his walk of faith with God. Abram has stood in the presence of kings, receiving and declining their gifts, and he has also defeated kings in war. He has shown astounding faith in God, and he has expressed utter faithlessness. Chapter 16 saw Abram’s biggest failure yet. Impatient from still not having a child, Sarai told Abram to impregnate her servant, Hagar, in Sarai’s stead. This defiling of their marriage wreaked havoc in the lives of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar, as each of them sinned against one another. All the while, God showed great grace to Hagar, promising to bless her and her child, Ishmael.

In this chapter, we learn that thirteen more years has passed, and Abram has apparently accepted Ishmael as his offspring. God, however, speaks to Abram once again. First, God further expounds upon His covenant with Abram and his offspring. In doing so, God clarifies that Ishmael is not the offspring that God promised to Abram; rather, Sarai would give Abram a son. Second, God symbolically changes the names of Abram and Sarai to reflect His renewed covenant. Third, God commands Abram to circumcise himself and the men of his household as a sign of God’s covenant with him, leaving Abram with a physical reminder of God’s promise to him.

Significant in this section of Scripture is God’s promise to bless and keep covenant with all of Abraham’s descendants. In the third chapter of Galatians, Paul explains that Jesus is the ultimate offspring of Abraham, the woman’s seed (from Genesis 3:15) who would crush the serpent’s head and reverse the curse of sin. Thus, because Jesus is God’s remedy to the problem of sin, in Christ we are called offspring of Abraham. When we have faith in Jesus (Abraham’s promised offspring), we become Abraham’s descendants and heirs to blessings that God gave to him.

Read verses 1-8 and discuss the following.

  1. God appears to Abram and commands him to walk blamelessly before Him. Why does our way of living concern God? Are we able to live a completely blameless life that God demands?
  2. In establishing His covenant with Abram, God gives him a new name. What is the significance of this act?

Read verses 9-14 and discuss the following.

  1. God orders Abraham to be circumcised as a sign (or a reminder) of their covenant. In the first century, the Apostle Paul debated against some people who claimed that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Why is circumcision unnecessary for salvation? What are some modern equivalents of the circumcision issue?

Read verses 15-21 and discuss the following.

  1. Though Abraham already had a son through Hagar, God specifically says that Sarai (now Sarah) will bear him a son. God promises to bless Ishmael but to establish His eternal covenant with Isaac. What does this say about God’s sovereignty and the plans of men?

Read verses 22-27 and discuss the following.

  1. “That very day Abraham” and all the men of his house were circumcised. In doing this, Abraham obeyed the LORD. What are some forms of obedience that Jesus asks of us today?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Consider God’s command for Abraham to walk blamelessly before Him and your own obedience to the LORD’s commands. Repent of any sin, and ask for grace to walk faithfully and obediently with Christ.
  • Pray in thanks to God for His loving covenant with you through Christ.
The Man of Faith

The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 15)

Abraham Study Guide (Week 5)

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.  (Genesis 15:6)

But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:23-25)

OPENING THOUGHT

We continue to see the man of faith, Abram, grow in his walk with the LORD. Starting out as a worshipper of false gods who was probably considered cursed, Abram trusted God by going wherever He told him to go. Even though we saw Abram show a lack of faith by selling his wife to Pharaoh to save himself, God remained faithful.

Now, after the major military conflict of last week, we see a different side of Abram. He is exhausted and afraid. He’s fearful that God will not follow through with His promise of giving Abram an offspring. Though his questioning of God displays a degree of doubt or lack of faith, God does not chide Abram; instead, the LORD lovingly gives Abram a visual and physical covenant.

This covenant is today called the Abrahamic Covenant. It is one in the series of major promises and agreements that the LORD makes with His beloved people. Through the animal sacrifice, God made an official agreement with Abram, with no conditions on Abram’s part. God took full responsibility for the fulfillment of the covenant. Today, the Abrahamic Covenant reminds us of the New Covenant in Christ. Just as the covenant with Abram was sealed with a sacrifice, the New Covenant was sealed with the ultimate sacrifice, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is only because of that sacrifice that both Abram and us are now counted as righteous.

Read verse 1 and discuss the following.

  1. Following the warfare of chapter 14, Abram is weary and fearful, but God graciously responds by promising to be his shield and reward. Can you remember a time when you were exhausted and anxious? How did the LORD bring you through that time?

Read verses 2-5 and discuss the following.

  1. Abram is honest with God about his frustration of not yet having an offspring. God’s response shows that He is big enough to handle our doubts and questions. What are some doubt or questions that you have wrestled with concerning God? How has the LORD helped you with those things?

Read verse 6 and discuss the following.

  1. Abram had faith in God, and the LORD counted Abram as righteous. How is this a picture of the gospel today?

Read verses 7-11 and discuss the following.

  1. Abram wants visual proof of God’s trustworthiness, and God prepares a covenant ceremony. How is this similar to our observance of Lord’s Supper? How does it relate to the gospel?

Read verses 12-16 and discuss the following.

  1. God warns Abram that his descendants will only inherit the land after much suffering. How does God often use suffering to refine and sanctify His people? Do you have personal examples of this?

Read verses 17-21 and discuss the following.

  1. God alone completes the covenant by walking through the animals, taking the responsibility of upholding the covenant completely upon Himself (as well as the punishment if it is not upheld). How does this allude to the gospel?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Recall Jesus’ death in your place for your breaking of God’s cov­enant. Believe and thank Him for the forgiveness of your sins, whether for the first time or thousandth time.
  • Consider any fears, worries, or doubts. Bring them honestly before God in pray, trusting that He is big enough to handle our questions and doubts.
  • Pray for brothers and sisters to have strength during times of fear, anxiety, and doubt.