Monday, April 09, 2007

Now, for the second installment on Church Membership.


Was church membership practiced in the New Testament? Although the Bible does not directly state that the early churches had a formal membership roll, a close study of the New Testament does seem to indicate that there was some form of church membership. None of the examples that will be stated are overwhelming on their own, yet taken as a whole they form a strong argument for a formal church membership. Mike McKinley in an article on church membership provides several biblical examples that demonstrate the practice of church membership in the early church.

1) Those reluctant “to join” the church. In Acts 5:13 we are told that “None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem.” This occurs in the wake of the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. Fear gripped both believers in the church and the non-believers who heard of the events. The word join means ‘to bind closely together’ or to ‘unite.’ This certainly seems to describe some sort of formal arrangement.

2) The list of widows. In I Timothy 5:9-12 Paul gives Timothy instructions on caring for the widows within the fellowship. He refers to women who had been ‘enrolled’ in the list of widows. This certainly seems to suggest a formal list. It is hard to imagine having a list of widows and not having a list of members of the congregation.

3) The practice of church discipline. In 2 Corinthians 2:6 Paul refers to the “punishment of the majority.” The existence of a majority means that there was a clearly defined group of people from which this majority was constituted. There cannot be a majority of an unspecified group, there must be a majority of something. “Was it a majority of people who happened to be present the day the vote was cast? Could non-Christians vote? Could any Christians who happened to be visiting from another city who didn’t know the situation vote? The most natural assumption to make is that Paul meant the majority of an acknowledged membership of the church.”[1]


Along with the Biblical basis of membership there are several practical, logical reasons for having a formal church membership roll. Healthy church membership is basically an act of commitment. When joining people should understand that they are committing to attend worship, be involved in a small group, serve God through the use of their God-given giftedness, and give their tithes and offerings to that local fellowship. What motivates people to make that kind of commitment is an understanding of the practical benefits that church membership brings. Rick Warren lists several benefits to church membership in his book The Purpose Driven Church.

1) Church membership identifies a person as a genuine believer in Christ Jesus.

2) Membership provides a spiritual family to support and encourage them in their walk.

3) The church provides a place to discover and use their gifts in ministry.

4) Membership places people under the spiritual protection of Godly leadership.

5) Church membership provides much needed accountability for spiritual growth, service, and holiness of life.

[1] Mike McKinley, Church Membership and the NCLHGA, 9Marks ministry

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