During the pandemic, many people went to extraordinary lengths for the local church. But the confusion many had regarding the local church before the pandemic was often amplified during the pandemic. The topic of church membership is critical. Often questions come up: “Do I need to be a member of a local church to be saved?” “Do I need to be baptized to be saved?” I could answer those questions. But they’re really the wrong questions to ask.
Every one of us elders is excited as regathering and ministry ramps back up. After 15 months of pandemic-life, we are thrilled to experience church life as Christ has designed it. The need to make disciples has never waned, nor our commitment to it. But we all had many challenges. Many went to extraordinary lengths to love, care for, and support the local church. Others flourished: we have witnessed men and women trusting Christ as their Savior and getting baptized.
This is a good time to revisit a few basic doctrines of the local church and align ourselves with Jesus’ mission. The topic of church membership is very critical now. Often people have questions. But the real question is, “What is my relationship to Christ, and what does that mean for my involvement in the local church?”
To inherit eternal life and be saved from the eternal wrath of God in hell one must repent of sin and trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is that last part that entirely determines a person’s relationship with the local church. If you fully embrace the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, you will embrace its implications. That will mean a commitment to a local church. It glorifies Him and is best for you.
Let’s start with what the church is to Christ. The church is the people of God redeemed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus was clear that he will build his church (Matthew 16:18). The word ‘church’ means assembly. We say it often that the mission of God is to make a people for his glory through Jesus Christ. He will be their God; they will be his people. That people forms an assembly. Theologians talk about the universal church, referring to all believers of all times in all places. It is called “the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23). We will experience the fullness of this in the new heavens and earth (Revelation 21, 22). The universal church is precious to Christ. Ephesians uses the word ‘church’ multiple times and every time it refers to the universal church. God gave Christ as head of the church (1:22), the church manifests the wisdom of God (3:10), it glorifies God forever (3:21), and is redeemed by his own blood (5:23–24). The church is precious to Christ because he died to save her.
But that is not all. Christ sent his Spirit to regenerate and indwell every believer including them in the church. The Spirit causes us to be ‘born again’ (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3) and includes us into Christ’s body the church. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). This is the heart of the New Covenant. We are purchased by Christ’s death receiving forgiveness by faith. We are given that faith, indwelled and sealed by the Spirit. To be truly saved is to be included into Christ’s body—the church.
The Apostle Paul then makes an important extension of this into the life of the local church. We see this in many places. The Ephesians elders were to, “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Here we see that the local church is a manifestation of the universal church and is equally precious to Christ. God gives qualified elders (1 Timothy 3:1–10, Titus 1:5–8) to care for and protect the local church. He also calls Christians to submit to elders (1 Thessalonians 5:12, Hebrews 13:7, 17) because they are entrusted by the Spirit of God to guard its wellbeing.
Furthermore, all the members are to have the same care for each other. Paul writes, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). There is no class or race superiority in the church. Rather,
…that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Corinthians 12:25–27
Paul is saying very plainly. If you are saved, you have been included into the body of Christ, and therefore you should see yourself as an inseparable member of a local church actively showing care for others in it.
God has instituted ordinances to both celebrate God’s grace and insure healthy membership. First, he has instituted water baptism for believers. The Holy Spirit baptizes a believer into the church at salvation, and the church baptizes a believer in water as a public recognition of the Spirit’s work. Baptism is commanded by Jesus both as a public confession of faith and as a mechanism for the church to know who is in the household of God. The Lord’s supper was instituted by Jesus as a means for us to remember him in his death for our sins. This supper reminds us of His commitment to His people and His people for each other (1 Corinthians 12:29).
The local church is to glorify God by its members hearing and obeying the word of God together, by living holy lives together (1 Peter 2:8–10), serving one another (1 Peter 4:9–11), loving each other (John 13:35), worshiping in the assembly in relational and doctrinal unity (1 Corinthians 14), building each other up in the gospel (Ephesians 4:12–16), and witnessing to the gospel of Christ to unbelievers (Acts 1:8).
The local church is a manifestation of the universal church, and is equally precious to Christ.
The local church has a mutual responsibility for its members spiritual growth and protection. When a fellow member falls into sin, or begins to stray, it is the responsibility of the members to exhort and restore them (Hebrews 3:23, 10:23–25, Galatians 6:1–3, Matthew 18:12–16).
Let me summarize what is so precious to Christ. A local church is an assembly of Christ followers redeemed and led by Him through His Word, and who by mutual agreement worship together, serve each other, and witness to Christ’s gospel to an unbelieving world. It is led by qualified elders and deacons; celebrates the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper and practices restorative church discipline to uphold the glory of God and the purity of the gospel.
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ you have been spiritually included into the universal church. The natural fruit and necessary evidence is water baptism and a mutual commitment to a local church (1 Corinthians 12:25). Today we express that mutual commitment through membership. Christians in the NT moved to different cities or regions and transferred their membership. One church would commend a believer to another (1 Corinthians 16:1). With the multiplication of denominations and independent churches people move churches for good reasons and bad ones. If you are thinking about leaving Faith Bible Church, you should talk to an elder and make sure it is for good reasons and then let us help you find another biblically sound church. If you are wanting to join Faith, we want to make sure you are baptized or have moved from another church for good reasons.
You should also make sure you are known well by others so they can help you grow. You should know some people well enough that you can help them grow. There are many opportunities to show care, service and love. There are ministries that can use your help. There are informal needs that you can meet.
Finally, and most importantly you should be engaging the Lord in prayer for your leaders, and the rest of the local church. As other churches come to mind, pray for them too (Ephesians 1:15).
The church is precious to Christ—the universal church and the local church. Each of us in a local church honor Christ by making a mutual commitment to each other. We become part of the means Christ uses to reach the lost and build each other up until he returns.