We’ll all stand before the judgment seat of the Christ one day…let that sink in for a moment… What if He asked for proof of our church membership like a police officer probing for our registration and license? What if He looked us ominously in our eyes as we fumbled around for our church membership card that we left in our other pair of pants?
The time will come when we stand before Christ and wait to hear him say either “Well done, good and faithful servant!” or “Depart from me—I never knew you…” Thankfully, Christ will not be waiting for us to provide the correct documents in order that He might grant us our operator’s license from New Jerusalem’s BMV. Thank-you, Lord!
And so, if Christ will not ask us to cough up our church’s membership roll when our number is called in line, just what is the point of church membership anyway? Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that we must provide formal church membership as a means of entry into our churches. If Christ doesn’t care what church we were a member of, then what’s the deal? Certainly, there will be individuals who were “members” of churches who find themselves in Hell and individuals who were never “members” of churches who find themselves in Heaven. Membership? Who cares?!
Ephesians 2:19 says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God…” Now, obviously, when Paul wrote this, he did not have formal church membership in mind. However, Paul was drawing a line between those who were of God’s household and those who were not—people are either members of God’s household or another household. In this particular passage, Paul was talking about the Church (all Christians combined) and not about churches (localized collections of Christians). Paul was pointing out that membership in the Church (i.e. being a Christian in general and not necessarily being a formal member of a local congregation) is important—a membership so special that only God can grant it. Local church membership definitely is not as significant as that!
Despite that, I want to assert that local church membership, while not a prerequisite to enter Heaven, is still a blessed and Christ-honoring construct. Why? Can one claim to be a part of the FFA if they are never a part of one of its localized chapters? Can a person be called a citizen of a nation if they have never lived in a city within that country? Can a displaced piece of asphalt truly be called a part of a road?
Paragraph 260 of The Discipline of The Wesleyan Church 2016 says, “To be identified with an organized church is the blessed privilege and sacred duty of all who are saved from their sins and are seeking completeness in Jesus Christ.”[i] While Christ ultimately is inviting us to be a part of His Church, He is inviting us to be a part of the localized expressions of His Church as well. Why did the Holy Spirit lead Paul to plant churches and not just a single church? It is because every Christian needs to be in communion with God and the fellow Christians that surround them in their area.
That being said, while I am making a case for local church membership, it is necessary to point out that there are unholy reasons to enter into local church membership. People will look at our membership status, but the Lord will look at our heart (1 Sam. 16:7). The Lord will never look at whether we are members of local churches but why we are members of those local churches. That being said, local church membership is intended to be a sign of holy commitment to the collection of believers God has us among.
Why become a member? Simple (but not necessarily easy)… To demonstrate commitment to Christ by demonstrating commitment to one of His local churches.
There is one Church. Though, there is no Church without churches.
Jared M. Webb, Assistant Pastor
[i] The Discipline of The Wesleyan Church 2016, (Indianapolis, Indiana: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2016), 25.