Christian Living

One Body with Many Members: Correct the Church Membership Fallacy

Instead of Joining a Church, Align Yourself with Jesus

Most churches talk about church membership—a lot. Some treat it as the next step after salvation, even as if it’s salvation part two. It’s not. And if your church is part of a denomination, membership in the local church is automatic membership in the denomination.

Church Membership

With membership, many carry a smug pride of religious superiority. Others expect their membership to provide them with benefits.

Some church membership benefits are explicit, carrying specified privileges. These include being able to vote at meetings, eligibility for certain church positions, and enjoying a higher status than nonmembers, who are mere attendees.

Other church membership benefits are assumed. Basically, this means our ministers must be available whenever we need them. This includes celebrating our special events, dealing with any crisis we may encounter, and listening to our “concerns” about some church issue or theology. When we say “jump,” they’re supposed to act.

Denomination Membership

Church denominations used to be much more important than they are now. Church members were loyal to their denomination.

When they moved, they sought out a church in their same denomination. And as a member of the denomination, they’d be accepted without question at the new church—even though no one knew them. It was a simple matter to transfer their membership to the new congregation.

Most denominations struggle today. They’re losing members (and affiliated churches) at an alarming rate. Some had scandals. Others faced a theological rift between polarized perspectives, where it was impossible to please everyone. And the dissenters voiced their frustration by leaving.

Most denominations have become nothing more than institutions fighting for survival. Membership numbers are the way they gage their battle.

What Does the Bible Say?

Scripture never mentions church membership. There are no commands to join a local church. The apostle Paul, however, does talk about members. He repeatedly says that we are members of one body. That’s right. Not a church or a denomination, but a body—one body.

He writes that there is one body. He tells this to the church in Rome (Romans 12:5), Ephesus (Ephesians 3:6 and Ephesians 4:25), and Colossae (Colossians 3:15). He even gets more specific, saying we are members of his body, that is Jesus’s body, the body of Christ (Ephesians 2:19-20, Ephesians 5:29-30 and 1 Corinthians 6:15a).

There is one body with many members, each with their own function (Romans 12:3-4).

What Does Jesus Want?

In his final prayer before his execution, Jesus prayed that we—his future followers—would be one, just as he and Papa are one. Why is this? By being one, we become the optimum witness to the world so that they may believe (John 17:20-21).

Jesus knew that if we divided ourselves by forming denominations, we would divide ourselves and our witness, fracturing the ideas of one body in the process.

He knew that by establishing church memberships, we would divide ourselves—and his one body—into two levels of followers, with some in and others second-class.

Jesus wants us to be members of one body, the universal body of Christ. We automatically become a member when we follow Jesus. Local church membership doesn’t matter.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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