faith in the Old Testament was a given by all that called themselves Israel and they prided themselves in that membership. The New Testament is an outgrowth of the Old Testament with its concomitant assumption that one is a member of the body of faith. Instruction was not necessary for something that everyone understood and assumed to be the natural order of things-the way it had always been.
Two, just as a member of the Old Testament church could be “cut off” and thereby removed from the believing community, so, in the Gospel of Mathew we are giving instructions on how to deal with a recalcitrant member.
“And if thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone: if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he hear thee not, take with thee one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established. And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church: and if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican.” (Matthew 18:15-17, ASV).
Certainly, it is not possible to “tell it to the church” and take steps to sever a relationship that never existed. Jesus does not start this section teaching on the importance of church membership, He just assumes it.
Three, we are specifically and pointedly instructed to obey and submit to leaders in the Church. Outsiders have no such obligations, only those who are admitted to the visible family of God have such a responsibility.
"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." (Hebrews 13:17, ESV)
At this point it might be appropriate to ask “why would any believer not want to come under the care and discipline of the Church?” I think the most obvious answer to that question is the spirit found in the fallen human race. People simply don’t want anyone “telling them what to do.” People are often hyper independent. Such a state of un-connectedness gives the person opportunity to obey and submit if they want to or to ignore the church if that suits them better. This spirit of rebellion is the driving force behind this arms distance attitude between the so called believer and the church.
I use the term “so called believer” simply because there is no functional way to identify a person as a Christian who is not a part of the visible church.
“Again, notice that this is a definition of a functional Christian, that is, one who is functioning like a Christian. No one knows the heart of another; we cannot determine a person’s faith by looking into their soul. Even if a person is a member of a Christian church, we cannot look into their heart and know their spiritual condition. Cheap words are common in religion. Such words are referred to as having the talk but not the walk. However, Christians should indeed have a walk, and the most immediate element of a Christian walk is membership in a Christian church. As a result, no person is accepted as a functional Christian who is outside of a Church of Jesus Christ. And indeed, in the history of Christianity, all such as have made some sort of profession or had some sort of experience, but did not bring themselves under the care and discipline of a Christian Church and thereby partake of the Christian ordinances, were simply considered lookers or seekers, not Christians. When a person comes under the care and discipline of a Christian church, when that person is admitted to the Christian ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, then we can see what appears to be a Christian. If a person removes himself or herself from the authority of the local church, that person becomes a functional unbeliever.”
Church membership is an act of obedience to Scripture that identifies us as the people of God. Failure to come under the care and discipline of a Presbyterian Church or any Christian Church is simply an act of disobedience to Jesus Christ.
Subscribe to this Site
The importance of church membership is often discussed. Although at one time no one seriously doubted the obligation of a Christian to be a member of a church, in recent years this attitude has changed dramatically; in fact, changed so much that there are now churches that have no membership.
So, we must ask the question, is church membership taught in the Bible? The answer to this question is, yes. However, there is no single verse in the New Testament that actually instructs a person to become a member of a church. That being the case, how can it be said so dogmatically that the Bible requires church membership?
Three points come to mind which bear on the answer to this question.
One, church membership was assumed. Membership in the community of
Church Membership - Is That in the Bible?
Let's Look Inside