Bring up church membership and watch people squirm.
It isn’t that people in culture are against membership as an idea—Costco seems to be doing well.
Perhaps it is because church membership is not often defined well. It’s one of those things that when misunderstood seems a bit like eating your spinach—“at least try it before you decide you don’t like it.”
Makes you want to sign right up, doesn’t it?
But in the New Testament, people in churches are recognized as being in some sort of community. It’s just that the reality is how community is expressed in Scripture has fallen on hard times over the last couple of thousand years.
Membership is often misunderstood, misapplied or not applied at all.
The reality is we have often thought of membership like belonging to a select club, or like the old American Express commercial where “membership has its privileges.”
That is not the way the Bible refers to membership. In fact, in 1 Corinthians Paul doesn’t say the church is like a body. He says the church is a body. The phrase he uses to describe the individual connectedness is we are “members of the body.”
The word “member” in the Bible is more closely related to the medical word “member” than it is to the common cultural term. As an example, some of you who are reading may have lost a finger or toe in an accident. On that unfortunate day, you were dismembered. That’s the actual technical terminology. A member of your body was separated from the body. That is a tragic thing.
Yet today in Western culture, being separated from the body of believers is not tragic. It’s almost normal. It is almost understood that Christians and churches should be separated. Lone Ranger Christians are common.
Why then do we have membership? Because regardless of how the culture sees it or Christians misunderstand it, membership is not simply an opportunity to say, I’m a part of a club, but rather a scriptural expression of covenant connectedness to a church.
There are three things that help us understand why church membership is biblical and important.