New Testament Foundations

Church membership isn’t just a great idea we came up with; it’s in the Bible. Throughout the New Testament, we see evidence that belonging to each other has been an important part of following Jesus since the earliest days of the church. Here are some of the New Testament foundations upon which our approach to membership is based:

Members of a Body

This is the metaphor the apostle Paul used when he was describing the local church (see 1 Corinthians 12). The metaphor of the body implies connection and interdependence. A body has members—arms, legs, spleen, kidneys—that work together and are dependent on each other. The body is not just a collection of independent parts.

Shepherd Leaders

The Bible calls the leaders of the church to be shepherds who are required to care for a particular flock. It’s the commitments held in common that define belonging to such a community.

  • “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” Acts 20:28
  • “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 1Peter 5:2

Faithful Members

The Bible calls Christians to an intentional relationship with their leaders. They are obligated to commit themselves to a particular church and a particular group of leaders, or elders. This is the community to which they give their time, talent, and treasure for the building of God’s Kingdom. In turn, pastors are obligated to follow the example of Jesus and to lay down their life for those in their charge.

  • “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
  • “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” 1Thessalonians 5:12
  • “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” 1Timothy 5:17

Redemptive Discipline

Sometimes, the Church is called to discipline its members. This responsibility and the joy of seeing transformational repentance is given to those who belong to each other as members.

  • “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 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. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:15

From these foundations, we draw three conclusions:

  • We cannot follow Jesus by ourselves. We each need to find and occupy our place in the Christian community. Specifically, we need to be members of a church—a particular, local body of Christ.
  • Every person who wants to follow Jesus should take a position under the leadership and authority of a particular group of elders. In our Anglican tradition, this is the rector (the senior priest in charge), the other clergy, and the vestry (our governing board of elected lay leaders).
  • In declaring ourselves part of a church community, we can expect to be watched over and cared for by that particular group of elders.
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