Church membership is on the decline across America. Even in strongly evangelical, Bible-believing churches, there is a growing number of Christians who view church membership as unnecessary at best, unbiblical at worst.
Previously, we looked at biblical evidence for church membership. Today we consider four practical reasons to formally join a local church in membership. While practical in nature, these four reasons are also steeped in biblical authority. 1. Join the church for the sake of other Christians Mature Christians need to set an example for weaker Christians, and weaker Christians need the encouragement of stronger Christians. Being a member of a local church provides significant opportunities for that encouragement. Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., tells of a man in fulltime ministry who didn't want to join the church he regularly attended because he thought it might slow his ministry down. Dever agreed that joining the church could well slow him down. But had he given serious thought to the idea that joining the church may speed others up? Mature Christians need to realize that not joining a local church sets a poor example for weaker Christians who truly need the accountability of formal church membership. Further, Christians are called to love one another (Matt. 22:37-40; John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:16). Biblical love is characterized by commitment and sacrifice. That's why Paul compares a husband's love for his wife to the love Christ has for the church (Eph. 5:25). The weakest Christian needs to be committed to a body of believers to be loved, encouraged, and held accountable through good times and bad. The strongest Christian needs to be committed to a body of believers for the same reasons, and to make sure the weaker Christians have someone to do all that encouraging. Join a church to encourage and to be encouraged, and to make your love for Christ known by committing to love others.
2. Join the church to encourage godliness and obedience in Christ Part of identifying with a local church is the accountability that such a relationship provides us. Consider First Corinthians 5:1-5, where Paul addresses a man in the Corinthian church who is living in a sexual relationship with his father's wife-a relationship so immoral that Paul says it was even unknown among pagans. Paul says that this man needed to know that he could not live the life he was living and consider himself a Christian. In directing the church to put him out of the fellowship, he was driving this man to an awareness of his sin and his need to repent of it. Being willing to submit to such accountability, and caring enough for people to exclude them from the fellowship to clarify what God requires, is an act of love. God has given the local church the responsibility to encourage one another in the faith and to correct unrepentant sin. Join a church as a means of accountability, to encourage holiness in your life and others. 3. Join the church to be under biblical authority This reason goes hand in hand with the previous. God has ordained that the church be led by elders and deacons (Acts 14:23). Elders are responsible for the spiritual well-being of the believers in their care. The qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:4-9 make it clear that elders are to care for the church in the same way they would care for their own families. If elders are entrusted by God with a leadership role to direct the affairs of the church, they must know who the church is. Most churches have many more "members" than attendees. How can a pastor or an elder watch over a flock he never sees? How can leaders serve the church if they do not know who the church is? How can the individual members of the body of Christ place themselves under the elders' authority if they are not part of a local body governed by elders? Join a church to be under biblical authority. 4. Finally, join the church because it is God's design In the New Testament, God is not building a collection of individual believers. He is building an ekklesia, a gathering of believers called out of the world together. In Acts 2, through Peter's proclamation of the gospel and the faith that resulted, many people were saved. As we saw in Acts 2:47, " the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved." "Their number," the known and identified believers, was the local church of Jerusalem. They were identified with the church in a personal way. When Jesus confronted Paul on the Damascus road in Acts 9:4, he said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Who had Paul been persecuting? The church. Jesus is saying that when Paul is persecuting the church, he is persecuting Christ. Christ identified with the church completely. Christians should do the same. Join the church because it is God's design for you as a Christian. Tim Schoap is co-pastor of Signal Mountain Bible Church, a non-denominational body
in Signal Mountain, Tennessee.