Question: I am attending a church in my community and enjoy the small congregation and the pastor’s preaching. I know he loves and worships God and preaches God’s Word. I support the church financially and take part in their Bible studies, outreach programs, etc. Is it really necessary that I join this church? This church is not the denomination in which I grew up and I have some different interpretations on theological issues, e.g. the rapture. Just want your take on this
This question hits home for me because my husband and I attend and support three churches and are members of none. One church does not offer membership (which is becoming increasingly popular these days). Another church fits into the category mentioned above—a denomination with which my beliefs are not in total alignment (however, these are secondary doctrines and practices, not core doctrines of Christian faith). The third is a church geographically far from where we live (we “attend” weekly online through their live stream).
My home church is the one that does not offer formal membership, and yet the community of believers is committed in much the same way as members would be in a church that offers membership. The simplicity of church fellowship without membership has become increasingly popular over the last few decades. There are some positive aspects to it, as well as some downsides to it.
The Body of Christ vs. The Gathering Together of Saints
We must distinguish between the Church, as the body of Christ, and the church, as a gathering of believers. Church (body of Christ) membership is a different type of membership and it is one that is given to us. We became members of the body of Christ when Jesus saved us (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). Entering into this membership isn’t something we do, it is a gift He has given us. It is by His regeneration of us (1 Corinthians 12:13) that we become members of His Body, the Church.
Membership in a local church (a gathering of believers) is something we do, and it is something that is instituted and defined in varying ways by church leaders. We become members of churches when we understand their teachings and expectations, decide it is the group of believers that we want to fellowship with and make a commitment to them according to their requirements for membership. Church membership can be a very good thing. It fosters a commitment to a body of believers and encourages corporate unity and accountability. Such unity and accountability are important, but unity can also be found in churches that do not have formal membership.
Is it necessary that I join a church?
The question being addressed here is about a church that does offer membership, but the person is uncertain whether they should join because of theological differences.
My personal understanding from Scripture is that church membership is not mandatory. However, never forget that the Bible does command that we gather together corporately to worship, learn and fellowship with other brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Bible clearly tells that we are not to neglect to gather together with other believers (Hebrews 10:24-25) so it is important to be committed to a fellowship of believers. This doesn’t necessarily mean membership. Some will try to say that small group gatherings can meet the requirement of Hebrews 10:24, but a small group does not replace a church. The Bible clearly defines the requirements for a church to be biblically sound, addressing the structure of leadership, teaching, and accountability. While some small groups might offer leadership and sound teaching, very few offer the structure of leadership church that the Bible sets forth and most do not offer any type of accountability that includes church discipline, which is a biblical mandate
To Join or Not to Join?
Whether it is necessary for you to join this church that you are currently attending, supporting, and in which you serve, is a question that only you can answer. Define what you mean by necessary. Search the Scriptures and seek God’s direction through prayer for what He would have you do. Perhaps you will decide that the theological differences are not something that will deter you from committing to membership and, if you believe this is God’s will for you, then you can join the church.
Or, perhaps you will decide that the theological differences are a problem. In some churches when one commits to membership one is also affirming his/her agreement with the doctrines the church teaches. If any of the differences are in conflict with core Christian doctrines (Read: What is IVDAR? Or IVDARR?), then one should not consider membership.
Regarding you specific circumstances, again, search the Scriptures (Timothy, Titus, and Philemon are helpful) and seek God’s will and guidance before making a decision. Whatever you decided, remember it is important to be in fellowship with other believers in a church that meets the biblical criteria of what God wants His church to be.
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together…(Hebrews 10:24-25)
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