Shows Main Idea – Does the Bible command that I become a church member? Of course not. But the Bible does not mandate most of the things we do. Asking whether the Bible mandates church membership is not the best way to approach this subject. It would be better to talk about the wisdom of becoming a church member.
You may want to read:
- You Do Not Need a Verse for Everything You Do
- How to Make a Biblical Decision
- Are You Committed to the Dearest Place On Earth?
Sometimes folks will ask me if I have a verse for something that I believe personally or suggest to others. Their question implies that everything we do must have a Bible verse attached to it. While I understand their concern, having to attach a verse to everything you do is an untenable way to live your life.
Members Don’t Need a Verse
Most of the things we do throughout our lives do not have Bible verses directly attached to them. Herman Bavinck had the best advice about this worldview.
Scripture was not given to us in order that we should merely repeat its exact words in parrot-like fashion but in order that we should digest it in our own minds and express it in our own words. That use was made of Scripture by Jesus and the apostles, who not only quoted the exact words of Scripture, but also by a process of reasoning arrived at inferences and conclusions based upon these words.
The Bible is neither a statute book nor a dogmatics-text but it is the source of theology. As Word of God, not only its exact words have binding authority but so have all conclusions that are properly derived from it. Furthermore, neither study of Scripture nor theological activity is at all possible unless one uses terms that do not occur in the Bible. – Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2: God and Creation
Bavinck is correct: the Bible is not a statute book or dogmatics-text, but the source of theology. Most of life’s decisions come under the big umbrella of wisdom issues. The requirement is on us to study the Bible, so we know how to live in such a way that is not out-of-step with its direct teaching or applied wisdom.
What about Church Membership?
The issue about membership is not whether the Bible commands it, but if it’s a wise thing for the believer to do. In almost every case, it is. I say, “almost every case” perchance there is a solid reason not to, though I’m not sure what that reason would be. Here are seven things for you to think about regarding church membership.
If you’re “in faith” to be part of a church, you should submit to its teaching and expectations. I’m not saying you have to believe or teach precisely what they teach, but you must humbly submit to the leadership. If you can’t submit with joy, perhaps you should find a church where you can.
Here are three illustrations of this concept of submitting, even if you don’t adhere to all the beliefs.
- Let’s say you choose to work at the local production plant. You don’t like all of their rules in the company handbook, but you believe you should be there, so you follow the rules because they are not asking you to sin.
- I live near Bob Jones University, a Christian university. I have also counseled scores of alumni who went to that school. Many of them talked about how they rebelled against their rules while attending. They would not submit to the authority in every way, though they gave the perception that they were in-line with the beliefs of the institution.
- Some folks take food and drinks into movie theaters that forbid them from doing so. This attitude is similar to the cake shop that refuses to make a cake for a gay couple. They have the right to write a policy that suits their beliefs. If you don’t like what they stand for, go to another cake shop.
Selectively choosing the rules you want to follow, when those rules are not sinful, speaks to a person’s lack of integrity, humility, and biblical wisdom.
This kind of selective obedience is also called self-reliance. We are called to live out our faith by relying on God. We are not to make decisions apart from complete trust in God. Partially relying on Him is a form of double-mindedness.
Self-sufficiency typically has functional fear in the heart of the individual. Fear tethers a person to their wisdom while they are attempting to walk God’s way. You cannot serve two masters. Mortifying the fear that hinders full faith is essential.
Another reason to become a church member is for the protection of the children. Every church should do background checks on all the members who work with children. No non-member should be permitted to work with any of the children in any capacity.
Church membership is a way to determine who the people will be that serve the babies, toddlers, children, youth, and young adults. The membership covenant should make it clear that membership creates a pool of volunteers, and those who want to work with the young people of the church will go through appropriate evaluations like background checks.
The leadership of the church is not omnipresent or omnipotent; they cannot appropriately care for every person who shows up on Sunday morning. The leaders need methods that help them know where to commit their time efforts for caring for those who come to them. Pastoring is a hard job, and as much as you want to be there for everyone, it’s not possible.
I would love to care for all 12,000+ folks on our Facebook page. I want to care for the 6000+ free members on our website, but I can’t. It’s not possible. The way that I determine who gets my best time and care is their commitment to our organization.
Our Mastermind students receive most of my time because they are making the most significant commitment. The supporting members are next. Though I can provide resources for the 100,000+ who come to us each month, I can only give a few folks my best care. Read: Do You Want My Attention or My Care.
Jesus, in all His greatness, could only care for a few. His commitment to people was comparable to their commitment to Him. Though He was not rude or uncaring, He had to have parameters to determine who would receive His most intentional care (Matthew 19:16-26).
I do not recommend a church disciplining (church restoration) a person who is not a member of their church (Matthew 18:15-17). The member’s covenant must state clearly that the church does employ the discipline, restoration process with its members.
Counselors have similar agreements with folks who come to them. We call them Informed Consent Forms, which lets the person know how and why we counsel a specific way. A membership covenant should inform the potential church member all of what it means to commit to that local assembly.
It’s nothing more than a “policy manual” that informs you of what you’re going to receive from this church and the expectations they have for you. Like my employment illustration earlier, it’s perfectly reasonable to have expectations, and kind of the leadership to be clear about them.
Unity is a vital necessity for all of our Christian relationships. There should not be a hairline fracture in the body of Christ, which includes the local church. If you’re going to be part of a local gathering, you must be willing to submit to the leadership, which means following them according to the policies of the church (Hebrews 13:17).
If you can’t do this, you want to be doubly careful about setting an example that creates and perpetuates division in that body. There will never be a church that you agree with in every way; it’s not reasonable to expect that kind of allegiance.
No church covenant should be like the Hotel California, where you can check in any time you wish, but you can never leave. If you don’t like the church any longer, assuming your reasons are biblical, you are free to go. Church membership cannot be binding.
Church membership is a reasonable expectation for the Christian. If you’re not able to become a member from a conscience perspective, you should talk with one of the leaders to work through the inhibiting issues.
Call to Action
- Are you “in faith” to be at your local church? Do you know what “in faith” means? If not, please read the “decision-making” article that I linked in the supplemental section of these Show Notes.
- What is your church’s membership policy? Do you agree with it? If you don’t agree on every matter, will you talk to your leadership to gain their perspectives, as well as a path forward?
- Do you believe that you must agree with everything that your church believes? If so, why do you believe that way? Do you hold a similar view on marriage or with children? Do you think it’s reasonable to be in lock-step with everyone become you commit to the relationship?