Bible Boot Camp: Lesson 3: Church Membership

Bible Boot Camp: Lesson 3: Church Membership

One of the most important aspects of the believer’s life is the church to which he belongs. Church is where the Scripture is taught, where believers fellowship and encourage each other, and where Christians gather to worship God as a community. Church is a very important thing.

  • What are some ways in which people understand the word “church”?

Usually the building; a denomination, all believers, a local group of believers


  • What are the two ways in which the term “church” is used in the NT?

1 Cor 1:2; Rom 16:5 a certain church in a town, i.e., a local church

1 Cor 12:13; Eph 1:22-23 all saved people, i.e., the universal or “catholic” church

  • Read the following verses and formulate a definition for what the local church is.

Acts 2:41 saved and baptized

Acts 2:42 devoted to teaching, etc

Acts 5:42 preaching the gospel

Matt 28:19-20 going, making disciples, baptizing, teaching (fulfilling the Great Commission)

Heb 10.25; Acts 20:7 meeting regularly

Phil 1:1 organized with elders and deacons

Definition of church: combo of above elements

  • Are you currently a member of a church that follows this definition?

  • How do you become a member of a church? Acts 2:41

For new converts, baptism is the means of addition to a church. You would talk to the pastor, explain how you got saved and that you want to be baptized. If the pastor is convinced you really understand and are saved, he’ll schedule a baptism, usually after a PM service. After the baptism, the church votes to take you into membership. Next time we’ll look at the meaning and importance of baptism.

Unlike the universal church, membership in a local church is voluntary. One must choose to become a member of a particular local church. Unfortunately, some Christians choose not to.

For Discussion

Why do some Christians refuse to join a local church? They are disobedient; they see it as optional; they don’t agree with every aspect or philosophy of the church.

What about people who attend a church but refuse to formally join it? Same as above. They want the benefits of a church without the commitments involved.

Do you have to wait to find the perfect church, or can you join one that is slightly flawed? If you find the perfect church, don’t join it; you’d wreck it. Obviously, no church is perfect, and you won’t agree on every single point. But as long as the church is doctrinally and philosophically sound, there’s no reason not to join.

The fact that some Christians refrain from uniting in membership with a local church is unfortunate, for church membership is a good thing.

I. The Reasons for Membership

Though it is true that church membership is not explicitly taught in Scripture, the general concept is found throughout the NT. Consider the following:

A. Biblical precedent suggests church membership.

1. Believers were added to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:47). They could not have been added to an organization that did not exist.

2. Records of membership were kept (1 Tim 5:9).

  1. Members could be removed from the local church (1 Cor 5:12-13). One obviously cannot be removed from something he is not a part of.

4. Members could transfer from one church to another (Rom 16:1).

B. Biblical principles suggest church membership.

1. The principle of accountability

The local church is the context in which one makes himself accountable to other believers. Members of a church are responsible to exhort, encourage, warn, and disciple one another. We should welcome and seek such accountability. Unwillingness to join a church implies an unwillingness to be held accountable.

2. The principle of commitment

The members of the early church had a sincere commitment to one another (Acts 2:41-47). The author of Hebrews exhorts his readers not to forsake the assembly of believers (Heb 10:25). Members of a church ought to be firmly committed to one another and to the ministry of their church. Those who are not members have little or no ownership of the ministry. No matter how faithfully they attend, they are not really committed to the assembly.

Most churches have a formal covenant that members agree to when they join. A covenant is an agreement or contract which lists the obligations members voluntarily take upon themselves. Such a document is helpful in that it spells out very clearly the commitments people are making when they join the church.

Pass out copy of church covenant and read thru it.

3. The principle of orderliness

In the local church, all things are to be done in an orderly manner (1 Corinthians 14:40). Church membership promotes orderliness by clearly identifying who is part of a local church and who is not. If one is part of a church, the church members have the right and responsibility to help that person live an orderly life. If a non-member is living a disorderly life, the church has no right or obligation to confront the person about it. Non-members are not under the authority of any church.

II. The Requirements for Membership

A. The initial requirements

  1. Salvation (Acts 2:41,47)

A dearly held principle of Baptist polity [explain polity] is regenerate church membership. That is, only those who can give a reasonable testimony of salvation are considered for membership. This obviously prohibits infants from membership, as well as anyone else who does not have a testimony of salvation. Many churches extend membership to anyone who cares to join, whether or not they claim to be saved. Why do you think they’d do that? In the hope that such people would get saved. What are the dangers of doing that? It could lead to unsaved people having an influence over the church.

2. Baptism (Acts 2:41)

Just as salvation and Spirit baptism are prerequisites to membership in the invisible church, so salvation and water baptism are prerequisites to membership in the visible church.

Normally, when one gets saved, he is shortly thereafter baptized. This is the clear NT pattern. The church then votes to accept the person into membership. If a baptized believer moves to a new community, his membership is transferred from his old church to his new one; he is not re-baptized.

If a person has a legitimate testimony of salvation, has been baptized, and has evidence of an orderly way of life, he may expect to be welcomed into the membership of a church.

B. The continuing requirement: an orderly walk

In order to remain a member in good standing, the church member must live a consistently righteous, although not perfect, lifestyle (2 Thes 3:1). Those who persist in sin and are unwilling to repent are to be excommunicated from the assembly (see 1 Corinthians 5). A church may discipline a member out of the fellowship for a number of reasons: doctrinal deviation, a disorderly walk, a divisive spirit, etc.

III. The Responsibilities of Membership

“Membership has its privileges” was a catchy advertising slogan several years ago. As far as the local church is concerned, this saying might be modified to read: Membership has its responsibilities. What are some of the responsibilities of a local church member?

A. Attendance (Acts 20:7; Hebrews 10:24-25)

This is not sporadic, hit-and-miss attendance, but faithful participation. A church member should strive to support all the services and activities of his church that pertain to him. If one does not attend, he can’t be an active participant. A non-attending member is a drag on the whole operation.

B. Giving (1 Corinthians 16:2)

The sacrificial giving of the members of a church finances the ministry of that church. The local church is both the collection and distribution point for the money Christians give. Members should seek to give a portion of their income to sustain and expand the ministry of their church. Those who don’t give are not only disobedient, they are not pulling their weight. Non-members really don’t have a place to give.

One’s own church, not para-church ministries, should be the primary recipient of Christian giving. Support your local church instead of some other ministry that is not directly interested in you.

C. Fellowship (Acts 2:42)

Fellowship is more than just social interaction. The fellowship that church members have with each other is based not only on their common bond of faith, but also on their common commitment to one another as members of the same church. Thus, if one is not a member of a church, the degree of fellowship that he can experience with other believers is greatly diminished.

Members of a church have made a pledge and a commitment to one another. They can count on each other. Non-members have not so committed themselves, and thus are outside the fellowship.

Attenders and non-members may enjoy a degree of fellowship, but they can’t expect the same treatment as members can.

  1. Ministry

Note all the ways in which church members are to minister to each other.

1. Pray for one another (2 Thes 3:1; see also Lesson Ten)

2. Do good to one another (Gal 6:10)

3. Serve one another (Gal 5:13)

  1. Forgive one another (Col 3:13)

  2. Edify one another (1 Thes 5:11)

  3. Admonish one another (Rom 15:14)

  4. Bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2)

  5. Teach one another (Col 3:16)

  6. Comfort one another (1 Thes 5:11)

  7. Exhort one another (Heb 3:13)

  8. Encourage one another (Heb 3:13 and 10:25)

Members fulfill these ministries (and more) primarily within the context of their church. If one is not a part of a church, he can’t fully participate in either the giving or the receiving aspects of these ministries. He really has no outlet for ministry within the church because he’s not part of it. He may have a personal ministry of outreach and discipleship, but this would be separate from church ministry.

Further, leadership is only for members. If one wants to be a pastor, deacon, or Sunday school teacher, he normally has to be a member. In fact, if one desires to fulfill nearly any responsibility in the church, he has to be a member. Thus, membership is required to obey the above commands.

Admittedly, some churches are very loose when it comes to whom they allow to minister within the church. Some churches allow anyone to be involved. We don’t.

  1. Membership privileges

The saying “membership has its privileges” is true. There are things church members can participate in that non-members cannot.

  1. The ordinances

The Lord’s Supper is for church members. This ordinance is strictly for those who have been baptized and are part of a church. The other ordinance, baptism, is directly linked to membership. That is, those who are baptized are normally added to the church.

Some churches have closed communion, others close, and others open. We practice close communion—one has to be a member of either our church or a church of like faith and practice. This is based on the order in the Great Commission: make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching. The Lord’s supper comes under the “teaching” part.

  1. Ministry

As noted above, ministry is a responsibility, but it’s also a privilege. Knowing that the other members of the church have obligated themselves to minister to one another is a very comforting and strengthening thought. There are times when we need to be ministered to, and members should be able to count on other members to do so. Knowing that one has a definite place of ministry is also helpful. Ministering among a group of people who have committed themselves to each other is a real joy.

  1. Fellowship

Like ministry, fellowship is both a responsibility and a privilege. The members of a church have committed themselves to each other, and thus have a unique bond of fellowship. Non-member have no such privilege.

Conclusion:

  • There are several reasons why believers should be members of a church. The Bible demands it, there is no accountability without it, and orderliness is impossible without it.

  • There are several requirements for membership. One must have a valid testimony of salvation, must have been baptized, and must walk in an orderly manner.

  • The responsibilities of membership include participation, financial support, ministry and fellowship.

  • The privileges of membership include participation in the Lord’s Supper, ministry, and fellowship.

Discussion:

1. Can you think of any scenarios in which church membership is not required for the believer? Perhaps when a saved person moves to a place where there is no Christian church, or where all the churches are bad. Then he should start a church.

2. Should a church ever baptize someone who does not intend to join the church? No, not normally. Certain circumstances may allow it, but not normally.

3. Should we have a negative, arrogant attitude toward those who attend but refuse membership? No. If we are charitable, we’ll see them as disorderly brethren. If we are a little more dogmatic, well see them as unbelievers. Jay Adams: “People who are not members of a church should be treated as unbelievers, because they are treating themselves as unbelievers” (LITFH, 18). Believers unite with churches; unbelievers don’t.

  1. What problems do churches that don’t have membership face? 1. It’s unbiblical; 2. They have no basis for discipline; 3. There is no basis for control or limitation; 4. Little or no commitment from attenders, especially when times are tough—people will be prone to cut and run easily.

  2. To whom in the local church is the believer accountable? (See Matthew 18:15-20 & Hebrews 13:17.) To one another and to the church leadership

  3. How does church membership make accountability possible? If one is not a member of the church, no church discipline can take place. You can’t throw someone out of an organization he is not a part of. The church has no influence over those not in its membership.

A Sample Church Covenant

LIBERTY BAPTIST CHURCH

Antigo, Wisconsin

(typical of most conservative Baptist church covenants)

CHURCH COVENANT

Having been brought, as we believe, by divine grace to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior; and having been baptized, upon the confession of faith, into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we do now most joyfully and solemnly enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ. As His body, we will seek to do all things to the praise of the glory of His grace.

We engage, therefore, as the Holy Spirit shall enable us, to walk together in brotherly love; to exercise Christian care and watchfulness over one another; to participate in one another’s joys and sorrows; to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation; to provoke one another unto love and good works; and to forsake not the assembling of ourselves together.

We further engage to boldly strive for the advancement of Liberty Baptist Church in grace, knowledge, and holiness; to promote its prosperity and spirituality; to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; to sustain its worship, ordinances, and doctrines; and to contribute cheerfully and liberally to the financial support of the ministries of the church.

We further engage to walk wisely and watchfully in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts; to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our behavior; maintaining family and private devotions; bringing up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; seeking the salvation of the lost; availing ourselves of the great privilege of prayer for one another and for all men.

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