The Bible gives us many reasons to consider church membership, and I explored some of those in my last article. But it also gives us reasons to question church membership as we know it today.
A lot of it comes down to interpretive methods and the presuppositions that people have when they read the Bible. Many Christians embrace the idea of formalized church membership, while others raise valid biblical reasons against it.
So let us now consider alternative perspectives that challenge the conventional understanding of church membership. Let’s delve into these perspectives and examine the biblical principles that underpin them.
Church Membership Series:
1. It Is Time to Rethink Church Membership
2. The Evolution of Church Membership
3. Did the First-Century Church Have Members?
4. Does the Bible Actually Support Church Membership?
5. Biblical Arguments Against Church Membership (this article)
Emphasis on the Universal Body of Christ
1 Corinthians 12:13: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”
Some people argue that the New Testament prioritizes the universal body of Christ, composed of all believers worldwide, rather than individual local congregations. They believe, therefore, that formal church membership may create unnecessary divisions within the body and detract from the unity that all believers share in Christ.
Likewise, the Bible never actually mentions a membership list of any specific church. The emphasis on the body of Christ and the relationship that believers have with one another immediately upon salvation is a legitimate reason to say that all believers are part of the church whether or not they have their name on an official list.
Although not necessarily an argument from Scripture, some people also point out that structured church membership allows non-Christians to become “members” of local churches even though they are not truly part of the body of Christ.
Flexibility in Ecclesiastical Structure
Acts 2:46-47: “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
Some proponents of informal church fellowship argue for a more flexible ecclesiastical structure that allows believers to gather and worship in diverse settings, including homes, community centers, or outdoor venues. They point to the early church’s model of meeting in various locations and emphasize the importance of adaptability in fulfilling the Great Commission.
They may also argue that membership imposes unnecessary restrictions on a person’s freedom. They believe that individuals should have the freedom to fellowship with believers in various settings without being bound by formal membership requirements to one specific organization.
Primacy of Personal Relationship with Christ
Philippians 3:8: “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”
Opponents of formal church membership may prioritize the personal relationship with Christ above institutional affiliation. They argue that salvation and spiritual growth are primarily based on individual faith in Christ and reliance on the Holy Spirit, rather than membership in a particular church organization.
While formal church membership has its benefits, we must acknowledge the valid biblical perspectives against it. The New Testament provides principles that emphasize the unity of all believers in Christ, flexibility in ecclesiastical structure, and the primacy of a person’s personal relationship with Christ.
As we navigate these diverse viewpoints, we need to recognize the opposing perspectives so that we can come to objective conclusions and extend grace to one another in areas of disagreement.
We all have our different biases, experiences, and traditions. Unfortunately, we don’t all always have an open mind or a willingness to listen, consider, and change.
In an upcoming post, I will do my best to consider practical implications and potential alternatives for fostering authentic Christian community in light of the biblical perspective both in for and against church membership. I hope that you will continue along with me with an open Bible, an open mind, and open hands.
Do you think the arguments above are good reasons not to practice formal church membership?