Again, many today argue that church membership isn’t in the Bible. But the early church did keep a roll, at least in some form. We see the early church mentioning the number of additions and baptisms. We see them talking about both inclusion in and exclusion from the church. How could the New Testament authors report on these matters without some kind of a membership roll?
THE NEW TESTAMENT & THE CHURCH
More broadly, when you survey the New Testament, you see it’s all about the church. In Matthew 16, Jesus declared, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18). Jesus fulfilled this promise through his own death, having shed his blood for the church (see Acts 20:28).
The book of Acts begins with the birth of the church through Peter’s preaching at Pentecost. The book continues as the church spreads throughout the Mediterranean region and beyond through the apostles’ preaching and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, the New Testament epistles were all written to or about churches. In them, the authors explain what churches are to believe and teach, and how they ought to minister and organize themselves. At the end of the New Testament—the book of Revelation—the apostle John records Jesus’ seven letters to seven churches and punctuates the Bible’s conclusion with Jesus’ dramatic return for his bride, the church.
On the road to Damascus, Jesus likens the church to himself. Remember what he said to Saul? “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).
Simply put, how one views, engages and treats Jesus’ church reflects how one views, engages and treats Jesus himself.
SUM IS GREATER THAN ITS PARTS
When local churches gather, the sum is greater than the parts—especially as it pertains to their collective worship, collective ministry and collective witness.
In the New Testament, we see that local churches gathered in homes to sit under the teaching of the Word and to break bread together. As the church developed, we see the primacy of gathering for worship on the first day of the week—the day of Christ’s resurrection.
In fact, those who neglected gathering with God’s people received a stern warning. The author of Hebrews exhorted believers not to “neglect to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).
Believers today would be wise to heed this advice and to join a church body for all the benefits of collective worship, as well as encouraging others to do the same.
When you became a believer, God granted you spiritual gifts for the edification of the local church. Reflect on the following passage: