AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
It’s very difficult for churches to come up with biblical reasons why you should become an official member of their particular congregation because (ahem) there aren’t any. So why do we play this game of dividing every congregation up in to inner and outer circles? Business concerns often play an important role. Those with a mother denomination hovering over them have to turn in hard statistics to prove their growth and justify how much financial support they receive from headquarters. It’s a very lousy way for us to treat our own pastors, for we are basically telling them that they’re failing before God if they don’t get people to sign on the dotted line. This is, of course, carnal nonsense and we’ve gotten ourselves into trouble with the Holy Spirit for bossing His lambs about and treating some of them as outcasts because they refuse to commit. Happily, not every church is so obnoxious. Some welcome nonmembers with the same enthusiasm as members, and they just use formal membership to determine who can vote on matters in the church. It seems too late for us to recover from this belief that formal membership is somehow vital to the life of a church. God has always emphasized that there is one Church in His eyes, the Bride of Christ. Any and every soul who has accepted Jesus as their Savior is a member of God’s Church. But it’s not possible for every believer to physically join together as one congregation so instead we group up into geographically convenient clusters. When we do, we can’t seem to escape adding on certain formalities. By the time we want to register ourselves as a non-profit organization, we need a formal headcount, and that results in formal membership. When we want to make important decisions, it seems logical that only those who are really committed to the church should get to vote. With so many perceived reasons why we need to treat our churches like country clubs, formal membership isn’t going anywhere. Though it has no biblical foundation, it’s just too practical to discard.
As a Christian, you need to be quite clear on the fact that you are already a member of God’s Church. The proof of your belonging is the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells inside of you. Signing some piece of paper isn’t going to make you anymore “in” with God than you already are. So does it offend God for us to officially join our local congregations? We can’t afford to just blow by this question, for no matter how much people may have decided membership is good, people’s opinions don’t matter. We must check everything we do past God Himself so that we can be sure we’re in alignment with Him. While God might be just fine with you joining the local church club, there are situations in which you should NOT join, and those need to be considered.
God doesn’t want you to officially join a local church in order to feel more secure with Him. A local church’s set of bylaws carry no weight with Him whatsoever. You are saved because you have put your faith in Jesus’ atonement for your sins. You need to have a firm grip on this fact before you go signing any papers. Anyone who tells you that you’re not really saved unless you join his church is handing out bad teaching and proving himself to be a poor shepherd. It would be unwise of you to bond yourself with any church that claims to control your position with God.
If you are secure in your salvation and would like to join, make sure you fully understand what you’re committing to before you sign something. God says our words as Christians should mean something. Make no mistake, joining a church IS a commitment to something—if it wasn’t, no signature or public declaration would be necessary. Many churches want you to agree with their vision statement and core beliefs. Often those statements and beliefs reach beyond biblical truths and reflect someone’s opinion on how a church should run. Carefully consider those beliefs with the Holy Spirit and make sure that He is okay with you declaring your allegiance to them. Remember your loyalty and devotion belong to God, not a group of people. Many visions statements are focused on evangelizing. Remember that Jesus has already given us His vision statement: it’s that first great command to love God with all that we are. Before you agree to something, you need to make sure God agrees with it, because His opinion is the only one that matters.
Before joining a church, consider how the congregation treats those who have not yet joined. Is there a clear bias? Are the long term non-members being looked down on? You don’t want to partner yourself with pettiness. We are all God’s kids and any church that feels free to snub those who won’t play by their rules is very immature and probably not a healthy place to be.
Tithing is also something you need to look out for. Regular, percentage tithing is NOT a requirement for Christians. Tithing is an Old Covenant command that was abolished after Jesus, therefore any church which commands you to tithe is totally out of line. Many churches require that their official members support the church financially. Your money is God’s property and He is the only One authorized to direct where you spend it.
If you are clear that your salvation is from Christ, not a membership board, and if you understand that being a member of a local church is a trivial earthly detail that in no way impacts your membership in the Body of Christ, and if your church isn’t requiring that you make inappropriate commitments in order to become a formal member, then God might not have any problems with you signing up or standing up and declaring that you’d like to join. Just make sure you check with Him first. If you’ve already joined somewhere without checking with Him, this is the time to ask Him if He’d like you to make any changes. We want to keep in close contact with our Lord in everything we do, always being willing to make any adjustments He requests, for this is what it means to honor Him.