Does your church have membership? What is the difference between a member and non-member? Are you a member? Why? Why not? Is this divisive? Is this biblical? Is this wrong? (continue reading)
Throughout history the church has functioned in many different ways. This is because God’s word gives the local church freedom to operate in a way that is relevant to its mission field. (see blog “Movie Theatre Church”) So when we talk about church membership, we cannot turn to a chapter and verse that provides clear direction on this issue. This means we need to look to other biblical principles in order to determine if church membership is a good thing or a bad thing. Much like most biblical issues, answering the “why” will usually reveal if something is spiritually healthy or not.
Why does your church have membership?
Acts 6:1- 3, 5 – 1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.”…. 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.
In the first century church, we see them working together and making decisions together. The apostles worked with the church members (i.e. disciples) in order to conduct effective ministry. They were all on the same spiritual page. Now it is probably safe to say that these congregants probably didn’t sit through a new members class or fill out paperwork in order to become part of the decision making process. But they did relate in a way that was open and transparent, allowing each other to be known.
Today, that type of relating is rarely found. In fact, many churches today have a significant amount of non-Christians attending who have yet to trust in Jesus. We also live in an autonomous world where people like to stay private and don’t like to be known. Therefore, it makes it very difficult to discern who should or should not be included in the spiritual decision-making process of a church.
In order to help with the challenge, some type of process must be established in order to get to know people. This is where church membership can be a very helpful tool. It can help ensure everyone is on the same spiritual page. Otherwise, you could end up with non-Christians in the decision-making process of a church. You could also end up others on completely different theological pages who are weighing in and causing division. This, of course, could lead to a very unhealthy situation. Therefore, when it comes to congregational decision making or vetting for spiritual leadership roles, membership can be a very helpful process for protection.
On the other hand, if you attend a church where leaders make all the decisions and the congregation has little or no input, then church membership would not be needed. In fact, if membership were used in these situations to simply identify people who are “truly” committed, it can be divisive. Biblical commitment should always be based on what you do, not who you are. In other words, if there is no practical application for membership, then it’s probably not going to be spiritually helpful. But in cases where congregations provide input (i.e. vote) on various topics such as budgets, new leaders, etc., there must be a mechanism to identify those who are on the same spiritual page. Now maybe there is a better name than membership, but the process should still take place.
Let me also state, I do think it is biblical that leadership and congregations make decisions together as we see taking place in Acts 6. But I suppose that is a blog for another time.
So is church membership biblical? It depends on the “why”.