The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is described by theologians as both invisible and visible. Those words are never used in Scripture, but they help us to understand a key element of what makes up the church of Christ on earth.
Christ's church is invisible in that it includes a multitude whom no man can number whose names are written in the "Lamb's book of life" (Rev 21:27). These are the elect of God throughout the ages and will only be gathered together in heaven at the last day.
Christ's church can also be described as visible in that we see a group of people meeting together and call it a church - even though it is not the whole church. An example of this sort of terminology is where all those who attended services of worship in the meetings of the province of Asia are included in Paul's greetings to the church at Corinth (1 Cor 16:19). This is a number that can be counted.
Following from that understanding, we can see in Scripture reasons why every Christian should join a local church. Some are noted in the following points:
The Structure Of The Church Implies Church Membership
Ephesians 2:19, 22 NIV
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
1 Peter 2:5 NIV
“you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 12:27 NIV
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
Acts 5:14 NIV
“Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.”
The Great Commission Implies Church Membership
Matthew 28:19–20 NIV
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.””
Discipleship means obedience to the Word of God. A vital outward sign of obedience is baptism (see also Acts 2:41). The goal of church planters is to build churches so that commands of Christ can be carried out (evangelism, baptism and discipleship).
The Sacraments Require Church Membership
There were two main sacraments in the Old Testament and are two corresponding sacrament in the New Testament. Circumcision was replaced by baptism. One passage which links the two together:
Colossians 2:11–12 NIV
“In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ,having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”
The Passover was replaced by the Lord's Supper. A passage which links the two:
1 Corinthians 5:7–8 NIV
“Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.”
With respect to baptism, note how the following verses imply a numbering of those who had been baptised:
Acts 2:38, 41 NIV
“Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
Other verses imply that there was a group of people set apart from the world and shown by their circumcision.
Genesis 17:7, 14 NIV
“I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.””
Romans 4:11 NIV
“And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.”
With respect to the Lord's Supper, note how it is the responsibility of elders to see that the sacrament is administered Scripturally:
Exodus 12:43–49 NIV
“The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “These are the regulations for the Passover:
“No foreigner is to eat of it.Any slave you have bought may eat of it after you have circumcised him,but a temporary resident and a hired worker may not eat of it.
“It must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones.The whole community of Israel must celebrate it.
“An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD’S Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it.The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you.””
Acts 20:28 NIV
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”
Church Discipline Requires Church Membership
Church discipline cannot be carried out unless Christians become members of the local church and voluntarily place themselves under the authority of its elders.
1 Peter 5:2 NIV
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;”
Hebrews 13:17 NIV
“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
Practical Considerations Require Church Membership
Setting the tone for these considerations is:
1 Corinthians 14:40 NIV
“But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”
- Elders and deacons must be elected by the members of the church. Unless there is some formal recognition of who is a member and who isn't then any pew-warmer conceivably may vote in a show of hands.
- Property and buildings must be owned by someone and in our society it is best to put that in the hands of a legal, incorporated body - which is what church members are when they voluntarily organise themselves together under a constitution.
- Budgets must be approved by the members of the congregation.
- The only requirements for church membership are the same as has always been - a credible profession of faith and baptism.
- We accept people into membership when they are prepared to fulfil these requirements, understanding their place and responsibility as church members.