Is church membership biblical? Part II

Published 10:13 am Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Let’s explore two more manifestations of church membership in the Bible.

Membership is implied by the congregation’s responsibility to submit to specific leadership. Hebrews 13:17 states, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” This verse thus begs the question: Which leaders are the Christian supposed to submit to? Is it every church leader in Charlotte County? No!

The implication of this text is that the Christian is called to submit to the church leaders of the church in which he is a member. What the writer of Hebrews means by “leaders” is the pastors of the church (also referred to as elders and overseers in other biblical passages). Pastors are the ones who are charged to keep watch over souls and will have to answer to God for their shepherding.

In our hyper-individualistic culture, this seems medieval — the church having some degree of authority over the Christian’s life. But the Bible clearly teaches this. If you have a hard time understanding submission, then you will have an even harder time when we discuss church discipline.

So, let me caution us, before we start thinking this makes church effectively a cult. At this point I must put on my Baptist jersey and answer this as a Baptist. First, the church is not cultish for church membership is voluntary. Second, the Christian is called to obey leaders as they follow Christ. Just like the Bible calls us to submit to the government and our parents. But, if these authorities lead us into sin, we must follow Jesus for he is our ultimate authority.

Third, the New Testament refers to multiple elders/overseers/pastors in each local church. It was never God’s intention for a church to have only one pastor to oversee the spiritual affairs.

Fourth, and this only applies to congregational churches, while the pastors have authority, they are not given the final practical authority of the church.  Ultimately in a congregational church, the individual members of the congregation choose the leadership of the church.

This leads to our next point: membership is implied by the congregation’s responsibility to choose leaders.

In the next article we will address the strongest argument for church membership being taught in the Bible: church discipline.

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