Is church membership biblical? Part I

Published 10:39 am Wednesday, August 2, 2017

In this series, we have discussed the definition of the church, why we should cherish the church, how we can cheapen the church and who the people of the church are. But, is church membership biblical? After all, there are churches that do not even have church membership. There is no formal way to “join” the church other than attending. So, is a formal process to join the church necessary?

Membership in a local church is not explicitly commanded in the Bible in the sense that there is no verse that says, “thou shalt be a member of a local church.” But, it is at the very least implied in the Bible. I will put forth five ways membership is taught in the Bible, two of which will be discussed in this column.

Membership is implied by the word “member” used in the Bible. The word “member” may have modern connotations of paying a membership fee and receiving perks. But, church membership is different. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 12:26-27, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now, you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” The Greek word for “member” is “melos” and is translated in other Greek literature as the word “song.” The English word “melody” is derived from this Greek word. The idea is of individual parts coming together in harmony. Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 12 that some parts are the hands or the head or the feet or the ears or the eyes. All parts come together to form one harmonious whole, the body of Christ. I can’t think of a better word to call those who are committed to a local church than the word “member.” It’s used in the Bible. If the Bible speaks of members of a church, it also implies that there are non-members of a church. There must be some way to distinguish between those in the body and those outside the body.

Membership is implied by the pastors’ responsibility to care for specific sheep. Paul charges the Ephesian pastors in Acts 20:28 to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. …” This verse begs the question, who are those in the pastors’ flock that the pastors must pay careful attention to? Peter tells fellow pastors in 1 Peter 5:2-3 to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you … not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” This begs the question: who is in the charge of the pastors? Hebrews 13:17 explains that pastors are “keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” This begs the question, for whom do pastors give an account before God someday? The answer is those who have committed to be a part of the pastors’ particular flock — the membership. 

This doesn’t mean that pastors do not have a responsibility to the unbeliever that comes into contact with the church ministry or the believer who has not yet committed to the local church, but it does mean that the pastors are particularly responsible for their own sheep. The pastors are shepherds and they have their own flock. There are other flocks with other shepherds.

Matthew Homan is the pastor of Eureka Baptist Church. His email address is