Philosophy of Church Membership
GCC – Church Membership Statement
A. The Importance of Church Membership
At Grace, we believe that church membership is important! Although church membership is increasingly unpopular today, we see it as an important step in identifying yourself as a true follower of Christ and committing yourself to faithfully minister to an identifiable group of other believers with whom you worship regularly.
While many Christians are convinced that attending a church is important (it is, in fact, a biblical command – Heb 10:24-25) there are a large number who question the necessity of committing formally to a particular local body of believers. After all, they say, “where is church membership found in the Bible.” Our response would be, “everywhere!” In fact, nearly every New Testament epistle was written to a specific city that contained one local church which clearly had some way to identify those who were a part of it and those who were not. The fact that there was only one church in each city made this easier, but not unimportant.
In our day, most cities contain multiple local churches and it becomes even more important to know if a particular believer is committed to a church. Therefore we must have some formal means of identifying church members.
It it certainly true that the formal method of joining a church is not specified in Scripture, but for the following scriptural reasons we believe there must be some process for recognizing church members.
1. Biblical Responsibility to Elders and Church Leaders
The leaders must know who they are instructing (certainly not every believer in a given city), the congregation must know to whom they are submitting (certainly not every church leader in town). The elders of every local church will have to give an account for all the members of the flock who were in their care – this simply cannot be done responsibly without some sort of membership process. Additionally, the ministries of a church are compromised if those serving in them have not given visible testimony to their willingness to follow the elders leadership – as it is ever in accordance with the principles and commands of Scripture. The following verses mean nothing if there is not some kind of formal relationship between leaders and congregation.
Heb 13:7 Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.
Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
We cannot imitate the faith of a radio preacher we do not know – Wayne Mack, To Be or Not to Be a Church Member
2. Clarifying the Difference Between Believers and Unbelievers
It is not possible to know if a person “added to our number” is a true believer if we do not formalize church membership in some way. The church is to have believing membership, not just anyone who desires to join – or those who casually attend. There would, of course, be great harm in having unbelievers try to serve the spiritual needs of the body of Christ.
Ac 5:14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number.
3. Doctrinal Unity
All true believers share unity as a result of regeneration and indwelling by the Holy Spirit. However, it is also essential that the believers in a particular local church share unity around the same doctrinal convictions. Thus, part of church membership is knowing, understanding, and affirming the fundamental Biblical truths laid out in the doctrinal statement. Without this agreement there is great danger of church factions and even false teaching.
Eph 4: 11-13 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
4. Orderliness in the Church
It is impossible to shepherd and oversee with excellence if there is no concept of who constitutes the congregation beyond casual attendance. This is for the benefit of the body so that everyone who is a part of the church can be ministered to well and no one falls through the cracks or is left without nurture and encouragement.
1 Pe 5:1-2 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according tot he will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;
5. Protection Against Apostasy
The Bible is clear that one of the primary ways of determining if someone is continuing in the faith is whether or not they are committed to a local body of believers. The apostle John says it this way:
1 John 2:19 “They went out from us (true believers in a church) but they were not really of us for if they had been with us they would have remained with us (in fellowship through a local church) but they went out so that it would be shown that they all are not of us”.
6. Ministry Responsibilities and Privileges
a) Physical presence
We must be physically present with other people in order to (accomplish the one anothers).
A Christian who is not committed to a local church and rarely meets with the same group of believers cannot fulfill these commands – Wayne Mack
Heb 10:24-25 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
We cannot fulfill the one-another commands of Scripture to everyone in a particular city. We must have some way of knowing who is part of our “household of faith.”
We cannot possibly fulfill these commands to every person in the world…for this reason it is impossible for any believer to fulfill these biblical responsibilities without some kind of formal, regular, continuous relationship – Wayne Mack, To Be or Not to Be a Church Member
Ga 6:9-10 Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
7. Accountability and Discipline
Church accountability and discipline are rendered largely ineffective without some kind of formal church membership structure. A primary reason for church membership is the seeking of accountability to other members of the body of Christ.
Ga 6:1-2 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
Matthew 18:15-17 If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every act may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
B. How Church Membership Works at Grace
While we understand that this particular process is not mandated by Scripture, for all the above reasons we are convinced that the following steps are necessary to properly realize what it means to be a member of a New Testament church:
1. Testify to having received believers baptism or be baptized at Grace
2. Take the new members class
This is a three week class held on Sunday afternoons for two hours each. We offer this course several times a year. In this class we teach our distinctives and the doctrines which must be agreed upon by all who would be a part of the church.
3. Write out your testimony
We ask that each person who is planning to join Grace have a written testimony (between 1-3 pages) that describes your conversion (with the truth of the gospel clearly presented).
4. Meet with an elder or your fellowship group leader to go over your testimony and answer any questions he may have.
5. Submit your testimony to be reviewed by the church membership – we send them out via our email list.
6. Affirm the church covenant in front of the gathered church body (usually Sunday morning).
C. What We Expect of Church Members at Grace
1. Regularly attend the worship service on Sunday Morning
2. Give regularly
3. Pray for the church regularly
4. Use your gifts regularly by being involved in ministry in some way
5. Seek to be a part of a fellowship group if at all possible
D. What Level of Involvement is Allowed for Non-Members
Because of the importance of having believing members, who are committed to one another, in agreement with the church doctrinal statement, and willing to come under the authority of the elder’s leadership, membership is required in order to serve in any regular, ongoing ministry of the church.
We certainly encourage our non-members to pray for the church, attend ministries, get to know the elders, come to our fellowship groups, and love people. However, all of this should be done with a view to joining the church as soon as is appropriate, not just attending it!