Why Church Membership?

Pastor Brad Nutt   -  


Let this sink in: Jesus loves the church. The apostle Paul is quick to remind us of this fact. He goes on repeat in Ephesians chapter 5 driving this point home: “Husbands, love you wives, as Christ loved the church” and “No one every hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.”

Jesus loves the church. When you read through the Scriptures you cannot escape this truth and for good reason. The love of Jesus is the beginning of the gospel. Why did Christ save sinners? What propelled him to come down from heaven? Why did he go and die a bloody wrath bearing death on the cross? Because his heart was consumed with the love for the church. The Apostle Paul confirms this for us. Listen to what he says about the love of Jesus in Galatians 5:20, “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.”

 Even more, the love of Jesus is the end of the gospel. What have we to look forward to in coming ages? What will satisfy our hearts in two thousand years from now? What will we continue to explore and seek out? It will be the love of Jesus.

Listen to how the Apostle Paul prays in Ephesians chapter 3, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith––that you being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”

But we have to be clear, the love of Jesus is not something to just know and enjoy. The love of Jesus transforms us. When Christ saves us he washes us up and makes us clean. By the power of his Spirit he pulls out our old dead heart and gives us new ones. He then indwells us by his Spirit so that we might live for him. So powerful is the transformative love of Jesus that the Apostle Paul once said, “The love of Christ controls us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). Jesus’ aim is that in this present life we would begin to love what he loves. That we would cherish what he cherishes. That our heart would run in the same tracks as his heart.

So dear friends, the truth is before. Jesus loves the church. Now, I ask you does love of Christ control you? Do you love the church?


Right from the get go I’m going to lay my cards on the table for everyone to see. The New Testament teaches us how we are to tangibly love the church. We tangibly love the local church by becoming a member of the local church. Or put it this way, the clear expectation of the New Testament is that every baptized follower of Jesus be a function member of a local church.

Now, if you are listening carefully to what I just said that statement should land on you with some weight. What I just said if true sets some clear and definable parameters for us. It charts out the path of obedience to King Jesus for us. It can be put like this. You are walking in obedience to King Jesus if you are a functioning member of a local church and you are walking contrary to King Jesus’ will and desire if you are not a functioning member of the local church.

That is weighty. And I start off this way, heaping up a bunch of weight on your shoulders, so that we would pursue the subject of church membership with real earnestness, so that we would pursue church membership as something that really matters to Jesus.


So the first matter that must be cleared up before we do anything else is defining what church membership is. Simply put, what are we talking about with church membership?

Church membership is all about the matter of relationships. When we talk about church membership we are attempting to define the believer’s relationship with the local church and conversely the local church’s relationship with the believer.

There are all sorts of relationships that we participate in. Some relationships are rather informal. Perhaps you are a fan of a sports team. You don’t need to sign a card. You don’t have to pay any dues. In fact, the organization you cheer for might not even know that you exist. But you still have a relationship with that particular team. You cheer for them when they win and you mourn with them when they lose. This is an informal and loose relationship. You might switch allegiances and start to cheer for a new team. You might for a period of time get too busy and ignore them and its no big deal. No lawyer will show up at your door. There won’t be any sort of reckoning. No trouble will come your way.

On the other hand there are certain relationships that are formal and binding. Take marriage as an example. At the altar vows are made between the man and the woman. “For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.” That vow doesn’t leave any wiggle room in the relationship. No room for straying. No allowances for taking time off or away. It is both formal and binding. And if it is broken there will be all sorts of troubling consequences that follow.

So where does church membership sit on this scale of relationships? Answer, it leans heavily towards the formal and binding end of the spectrum.

And we can ask a follow up question. What exactly is involved in this relationship? What commitments are being made? Answer, as in all formal and binding relationships there are two directions to it. It can be put like this: the believer formally commits to live out his or her discipleship in the midst of that particular local church and the local church commits to oversee that discipleship process. Really the whole matter of church membership can be boiled down to the matter of discipleship. Church membership is the formal commitment to live out the Christian faith with other believers.

What church membership exactly entails is clearly spelled out for us in our church covenant. This is something that we read together and reaffirm every time we take in new members. Take a listen.

Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, and having made profession of our faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we do now, in the presence of God, angels, and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another, as one body in Christ.

We endeavor, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this church in knowledge, holiness and comfort; to promote its prosperity and spirituality; to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline and doctrines; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel through all nations.

We endeavor to maintain family and secret devotions; to educate our children spiritually; to seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances; to walk circumspectly in the world; to be just in our dealings; faithful in our engagements and exemplary in our deportment; so that our lives may be outward symbols to the world in which we live of the saving power of Jesus Christ.

We endeavor to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember each other in prayer; to aid each other in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech; to be slow to take offense but always read for reconciliation and mindful of the command of our Savior to secure it without delay.


A Biblical Argument for Church Membership

So there we’ve got a definition for church membership––a formal commitment to discipleship between the believer and the local church––and we have an idea of what is involved in that commitment by turning to and reading the church covenant. What I want to do now is circle back to how we began. I started off my laying my cards on the table, saying, the clear expectation of the New Testament is that every baptized follower of Jesus be a functioning member of a local church. I then upped the ante by saying that this is the path of obedience for us. You are walking in obedience to King Jesus if you are a functioning member of a local church and you are walking contrary to King Jesus’ will and desire if you are not a functioning member of the local church.

That’s black and white. Those statements don’t allow for any wiggle room. They bind the conscience. This way and this way only is the path of obedience. Now your response ought to be this: what right does this man have to speak in such a way? what right does he have to color only with black and white and leave out the grey and the ambiguous?

What we are going to do with the bulk of our time together is put these assertions on trial. Do the Scriptures really talk like this? Does the New Testament really push us in this direction? Do we really need to talk like this?

The argument that I’m going to make for church membership is a family simple one. It goes like this: if church membership doesn’t exist then I cannot obey that. Now, I am making an argument like this because you cannot open up your Bible and give a simple proof text for church membership. But what I am hoping will become evident as we go is that the New Testament assumes and expects that church membership will be functioning in the local church.

We can think of this argument like a rope. A rope is made up of many strands. One strand by itself is not very strong. It can easily be broken. However, when multiple strands are braided together the rope becomes a thing of strength. It can pull and hold weight. This is what we are going to do. We are going to braid together several strands of the New Testament until we get a strong and sturdy rope.

Strand 1: If church membership doesn’t exist then I can’t submit to my leaders

The Scriptures call for a particular relationship between members of the church and her leaders. 1 Peter 5:5, “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.” Hebrews 13:7, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”

Now these words––submission, obedience, imitation, subjection––only make sense when their are clear boundary lines drawn. These commands can only be obeyed when their are formal commitments made between believers and local churches. Who are we to obey? Hebrews 13:17 says, “Your leaders.” Who are we to remember and imitate? Hebrews 13:7 says, “Your leaders.”

This is all a matter of common sense. Just think about how your life works. You know the boundary markers. You know who your leaders are. Imagine this scenario. Tomorrow morning as you watch the news somehow the president of Zambia hijacks the stream and appears on TV. And once on TV he lays down the gauntlet. He says all Canadians must wear yellow hats on Wednesdays or they will be punished. Well, what do you do? When Wednesday came rolling around would you dutifully put on your yellow hat and wear it all day? No. That’s laughable. Why? Because the president of Zambia isn’t your leader. You aren’t under his leadership and he isn’t over you in leadership.

This is what is going on in the New Testament. The New Testament assumes that there are clear boundary lines function in every local church. Clear enough that Christians can say, “That is my leader. That man is my elder.”

So how does this apply to us today? A couple of applications:

First, this is for non-church member. If you aren’t a member of a local church do you really have any spiritual leaders in your life that you submit to and obey in a meaningful way? Is there a pastor or elder who can enter into your life and speak into it? Or are you operating without any clear boundary lines? Are you operating as if you are not a citizen of any particular nation?

Second, this is for those of you who are church members. I ask, who has more weight in your life, the president of Zambia or your local leader? We live in an age of access. You can binge out on sermons and lectures and other great material. There are great resources out there for us. But at the end of the day who has the most sway in your life, your leaders or the guy or gal on the podcast or Youtube video that you have never met?

Strand #2: If church membership doesn’t exist then we can’t practice church discipline

In the New Testament we get instructions about church discipline. In Matthew 19 Jesus gives us a general blue print for how it might work. And then in 1 Corinthians we actually get a real live case of church discipline. A man is actually expelled from the church.

Now what should catch our eye about both of these passages is not necessarily the procedures or all the events that surrounded them, but what both of these passages assume about the local church. In the mind of Jesus and Paul the local church was not an amorphous blob, without distinctive borders or lines. Rather, they envisioned a community of people who knew exactly who they belonged with and who didn’t as well.

For example, when a brother proves to be unrepentant in sin Jesus interacts us to “tell it to the church” and then if he still doesn’t listen to treat him as a “Gentile and tax collector.” Jesus is drawing lines. There is a inside and an outside to the church. Paul does the same in 1 Corinthians 5. Speaking about the man who was sleeping with his father’s wife he said, “Purge the evil person from among you.” He then goes on to say, “For what have I to do with outsiders? Is it not hose inside the church whom you are to judge.” Paul is drawing lines. Both Jesus and Paul expect us to know exactly who belongs to the church and who doesn’t.

This brings a couple of applications near to us:

First, this is for the non-member, do you have a local church that you are accountable to? If you go off the rails is there a community of believers that has pledged to go after you, that has pledged to care for your soul, that has pledged to use biblical means to bring you back? In other words have you committed your discipleship to the local church?

Second, this is for the church member, do you live in such a way that your membership in the local church actually makes a difference? Is there a circle of folks in this body that know your struggles, your temptations, your sins? Do you have a friend who can console you with and remind you of the promises of the gospel? Have you ever brought a significant prayer request––not my aunt is having knee surgery, but I have this matter in my heart that I need to talk to you about––to another brother or sister? Have you placed yourself in a situation where people can ask how you are really doing?

Strand #3: If church membership doesn’t exist then I can’t love fellow Christians well

We have the responsibility to love all people. It does’t matter where we find them, what their status is, or what kind of value society might place upon them, we owe them love. The Scriptural mandate beckons us, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

But when it comes to the church we have a special call to obey. The apostle Paul puts it like this in Galatians 6:10, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to hose who are of the household of faith.” Paul teaches that we have a particular obligation to care for our brothers and sisters in Jesus.

This is where church membership proves to be a special help. To obey this command we don’t have to go around on our street and conduct interviews to ensure that we are not overlooking the household of faith. No, all we have to do is just look at the membership directory. All we have to do is show up to corporate worship and see the people that we have covenanted together with.

And this is what we find happening in the early church. As the people of God gathered together they took care of their own, providing for each other’s needs. Listen to Acts chapter 4, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common… There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.”

Again, there is application for us.

First, to the non-member, do you have a clear picture in your mind of who you need to love and extend care to? Do you know what household you belong to? Do you know what family members you are particular responsible for?

Second, to the member, do you have a keen eye upon for family in Jesus? Even more, do you have an eager and ready heart to meet their needs? Would the generous spirit of Acts chapter 4 be true of you? Could it be said of us as a people?


So brothers and sisters, there is an argument for church membership. There are three strands––submission to leaders, church discipline, care of Christians. And when you put these three strands together you get a strong and sturdy rope called church membership. Church membership isn’t a matter of number crunching. No, it is and I hope you can see it, vital for the functioning of the local church. Without church membership we simply cannot obey many of Jesus commands.

But that is not where I want to end. I want to end with an appeal. And my appeal is this: Jesus loves the church. He died for the church. The church has been engraved upon his heart. And my prayer is that Jesus would use this word to take control of your heart and move you to love the church more and more. I urge you then, if you are not a member of a local church start the conversation today with one of the elders or myself.