Perhaps we’re scared of commitment. Maybe we’re allergic to authority. Certainly we’re weary of any insider/outside distinction. Whatever it is, a lot of people are skeptical about church membership. Is it really necessary? Is it really biblical?
The New Testament assumes church membership and implies its necessity in a few ways, and this post is focusing on the structures of the church, namely its leadership and discipline.
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. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
The words “obey” and “submit” are heavy, and nobody should go around obeying and submitting indiscriminately. But how do we know where to direct our submission if it’s not clearly defined? Submission requires formality, or at least an acknowledged arrangement (e.g. children to parents, wife to husband, citizen to state). Or, as a leader, how do you identify the souls for which you will give an account (before God!) without clear boundaries that define who is and is not under your care? Church membership clears the fog: members obey and submit to their leaders, leaders are accountable for the care of their members’ souls.
1 Corinthians 5:2 – “Let him who has done this be removed from among you.”
1 Corinthians 5:12 – “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?”
The Apostle Paul urges the Corinthians to remove this man from the church on account of his conduct. He then reminds them that they are to judge those inside the church, not outside. Judgment is not to be exercised lightly (hence the instructions of Jesus in Matthew 18:15-20), so the church had better know precisely who is on the outside and who is on the inside. How could they put this man outside if he had never been inside? Paul is assuming that the boundaries are clear, and they are made clear for everyone by church membership.