Do I really need to be a member of a particular, local church?

Ever heard that question before? Maybe you’ve even asked it yourself. I’ve noticed in recent years that a growing number of Christians prefer to think of themselves as part of the universal body of Christ – the Church with a capital C – than as members of a particular local church. Local church membership seems forced, man-made, and messy. The universal body of Christ sounds spiritual, God-centered, and attractive.

That sort of thinking is not surprising for at least two reasons. First, local churches, no less than the Christians who populate them, regularly experience pain and suffering. In some cases, it’s self-inflicted. And when a local church suffers, everyone whom God has joined to that local church also suffers. The closer you are to a person or organization, the more likely you are to get hurt. It’s true in the church, it’s true in marriage, and it’s true in the family. So we protect ourselves by settling for “friends with benefits” instead of going all-in with a covenant commitment.

Second, we live in a culture that espouses individual autonomy and trains us to be self-centered consumers. The spin usually goes something like this. If you’re tired of the drama of local church life, have no fear. You don’t actually have to go anywhere on Sunday morning or Wednesday night in order to be a Christian. God isn’t into organized religion. What matters is that you love Jesus. Of course, if you happen to find a local church that’s right for you, that never offends you, asks for your money, or questions your life-decisions, there’s no harm in settling down. Just remember that you’re already part of the universal Church and that’s what matters most.

It’s an understandable reaction. I’m also convinced it’s an unbiblical reaction. I’m not saying that it’s always wrong to leave a local church when they’re going through a hard time. Nor am I saying that it’s wrong to evaluate a local church before joining. What I am saying is that God didn’t make a mistake when he planned from eternity past to bring us out of the world and into covenant relationship with other Christians in the context of a particular local church. He knew it would be messy. And he did it anyway.

Here are just a few of the reasons why I’m convinced local church membership is a biblical mandate.

  • God has always been careful to distinguish his people from the rest of the world by forming them into a distinct, identifiable community (Ex 7:4-5, 8:23; Ez 10:11; Isa 2:1-5; Acts 2:40-41, 5:13; 2 Cor 6:14)
  • A community is neither identifiable nor distinct if no one knows who’s in or out (Matt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5:1-13; 1 Jn 2:19)
  • The commands and warnings to local church elders are impossible to obey unless you know who’s part of your church and who’s not (Acts 20:28; 1 Pe 5:1-4)
  • The commands and warning to local church members are impossible to obey unless you know which elders are responsible for shepherding your soul (1 Tim 5:17; Heb 13:7,17)

If you’re interested in learning more about the Bible’s teaching on church membership, check out this short book by Jonathan Leeman. And if you’ve been attending Kingsway for a while and are not yet a member, please sign up here for our next Starting Point Class (October 30-31).

Starting Point is your opportunity to learn more about membership at Kingsway over the course of a Friday evening (7-9pm) and Saturday morning (9-11am). Discussion topics include:

  • Where we’ve come from
  • What we believe
  • Where we’re going
  • Why we’re doing it together

I hope you can join us!

Matthew Williams grew up attending KingsWay and joined the pastoral staff in 2009. God has blessed him and his wife, Aliza, with three rambunctious boys, Ethan, Micah, and Tyler. Matthew did his undergraduate work at the University of Richmond in chemistry and political science, spent a year at the Sovereign Grace Pastor’s College, and is nearly finished with his Masters of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.


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