Article by John Warren Antalikaat GraceLife London
While church membership is not a direct command in the Bible, the need for every true Christian to be a member is implied by a number of ideas written large in Scripture:
Lists: The obvious implication comes from a number of sources that imply lists were kept:
1. The fact that they knew how many people were in the church and they counted the people who belonged to the church (see Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:2). Someone obviously kept a tally, and presumably it had names, not just numbers. (N.B. The fact that “the full number of disciples” could be summoned in Acts 6:2 means that they knew who was included.)
2. When you see people moving from one church to another in the New Testament, they’re commended by letter, which implies a transfer of membership.
3. People were obviously considered either in the church or out of the church. To be accepted as part of the church, or rejected as not part of it.
In this way, the practice of church discipline makes the need for church membership obvious.
4. You can’t put someone out of a church they’re not in.
According to 1 Corinthians 12, the spiritual gifts that God gives to every member are not for your personal use, but for the mutual benefit of the body. (Click here listen to our sermons on Spiritual Gifts)
The Bible is not shy of expressing things which really cut against the spirit of our age. Many people today want to simply be able to “do what I want when I want” and to be accountable to no-one.
By contrast Hebrews 13:17 says, “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.”
Our leaders have to be accountable for their oversight of your spiritual life, and we are accountable to obey and submit to them to allow them to do this and to exercise leadership without causing them grief in the process.
Notably, when the writer says “Obey your leaders,” it implies that you must know who your leaders are. You know who your parents are because you belong to a family and they are your parents. By becoming a member, you are identifying yourself as part of a particular church body that has leaders. You are saying in effect, “These are my leaders.”
We need godly leaders who can deal with false teachers and those who are rebellious. Church leaders (elders) need to be godly men who are able to “rebuke those who contradict” sound doctrine (Titus 1:9. See the lists of qualification in both Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3). The reason Paul gives for this high standard in Titus 1, is that “there are many who are insubordinate” (Titus 1:10).
Insubordinate people are rebellious and unwilling to submit to the authority of their elders. It needs to be said that the whole concept of church membership cuts against the independent minded spirit of our age. In placing ourselves in a church and under authority we’re bucking the trend of this age because the world around us is an individualistic world that says “I get to do what I want, and if I don’t like what you say I don’t have to take any notice.”
While nothing in the concept of submission to elders gives elders the right to abuse that authority—either to micromanage our lives, or to ask us to sin—the principle of submission is in scripture for very good reason. Sadly, in the history of the Church, much harm has come from people who desire to set aside this biblical principle when it suits them.
Know your leaders
GraceLife London has seven elders. The local pastors: Tom Drion, Ross Orgill and Adam Waller, as well as four offsite-elders: Ray Meringer, Kevin Edwards, Jack Hughes and Keith Essex. For the day-to-day life of the church, Tom, Ross, and Adam take care of most issues, but when problems arise, it’s reassuring to know that all of these men are involved, bringing well over a century of pastoral experience to the table, and holding the local pastors accountable to lead biblically. We praise God for these men, and are so grateful that they are both available and approachable as the need arises.