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Though church membership is not directly talked about in Scripture, we believe from the examples of the early Biblical churches and the references about church from Jesus that being a member of a local church body is vital to a Christian’s walk. It is important to do more than just attend a church but rather to be an involved and serving member of a local body of fellow believers. The idea of experiencing salvation without belonging to a local church is foreign to the New Testament.
In the New Testament we see examples of the early churches having people added to their number daily (Acts 2:41, 47; 5:14; 16:5), keeping lists of widows (1 Timothy 5), devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to prayer (Acts 2:42), being encouraged to regularly fellowship together and encourage one another (Hebrews 10:23-24), and living life together to stimulate each other to holiness and faithfulness as demonstrated in the many “one another” statements seen throughout the New Testament (cf. Romans 12:10, 16; 15:5-7; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 4:2, 32; etc). In 1 Corinthians 5 a formal assembly of believers is implied when they are told to exclude a man from their assembly because of his unrepentant acts of immorality.
There is also a description and a clear pattern of church government within each individual church. The specific duties given to these church leaders presuppose a clearly defined group of church members who are under their care. Among other things, these godly men are responsible to shepherd God’s people (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2), to labor diligently among them (1 Thess. 5:12), to have charge over them (1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17), and to keep watch over their souls (Heb. 13:17). Scripture teaches that the elders will give an account to God for the individuals allotted to their charge (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:3).
Those responsibilities require that there be a distinguishable, mutually understood membership in the local church. Elders can shepherd the people and give an account to God for their spiritual well-being only if they know who they are; they can provide oversight only if they know those for whom they are responsible; and they can fulfill their duty to shepherd the flock only if they know who is part of the flock and who is not.
The New Testament teaches that the church is the body of Christ, and that God has called every member to a life devoted to the growth of the body. This happens when we make a commitment to a local church where we can mutually edify one another in diligent service and faithfully participate in corporate worship. Membership and involvement in a local church body should be a reflection of our living commitment to the body of Christ.