Church membership is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, because, for the most part, it is assumed. “We, though, many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:5; cf. Eph. 4:25). Christians are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, the Church.
Every baby is born into a family, whether it’s a broken family or a healthy family, rich family or a poor family, biological family or adoptive family. Likewise, when we are born again by the Spirit of God, we are born into the family of God. There are no exceptions. To belong to Christ means to belong to His family.
To belong to Christ means to belong to His body, and God has designed the body so that each member is indispensable and the whole is interdependent, so “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25).
But isn’t every Christian a member of the universal church? Why is it necessary to be a member of the local church? Until we reach heaven, the universal family of God cannot function like a family, because we are separated by distance, language, and culture. We need brothers and sisters whom we see and know that we can love and be loved by. “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). The test of our love for God whom we do not see is our love for Christian brothers and sisters whom we do see and interact with. If we do not give evidence of our love for Christian brothers and sisters whom we do see, we most likely do not love our Christian brothers and sisters who are out of sight and out of mind. Our membership in the invisible, universal church, must be evidenced by our membership in the visible, local church.
But what about a para-church (e.g. campus ministries, workplace Bible study groups)? Isn’t it enough to be an active member of these Christian groups? The church is the God-ordained local assembly of believers who teach the Word of God, baptize, and share in the body of Christ through communion, discipline their members, establish a biblical structure of leadership, and pray and live together. The para-church, which exists to serve the church, only fulfills a part of the church’s responsibilities and prerogatives. It does not have the accountability afforded by Biblically-sanctioned leadership structure and church discipline, so it cannot properly baptize members or offer communion. It does not feature the broad, diverse assembly of the body of Christ, but a narrower demographic slice, e.g. college students, professionals, men, or women, etc. For these reasons, we must ensure that para-churches supplement, not supplant, the local church.
Perhaps you’re now wondering, “well, I am a faithful participant of a local church, isn’t that good enough? Is formal membership necessary?” Many of you have dated before, and unfortunately, some of you have been in those ambiguous semi-relationships that Facebook classifies as “It’s Complicated.” And, if you have been in those relationships before, you understand the importance of “defining the relationship.” There are few things more relationally frustrating than a somewhat significant other who takes you out on dates, texts you way too late at night, and spends way too much time with you, yet refuses to say whether he or she is actually your boyfriend or girlfriend. That leaves you in a state of insecurity and indecision: “Are you committed to me or not?” “Are you looking only for a no-strings attached relationship, leading me on and using me for your pleasure without any commitment?” In this kind of relationship, that irresponsible semi-significant other can one day simply stop responding to your texts and calls and refuse to acknowledge your presence, and that’s the end of that relationship. There is no accountability, because that person never took responsibility, and your relationship was never official.
This illustrates the importance of church membership. Church membership lets pastors and other members of the church know, whether you’re committed or not, whether you’re official or not. And by defining that relationship, pastors can know whose spiritual care and direction they are responsible for, and other members can know with whom they belong together in Christian community, so that they can fulfill the “one another” commands of Scripture: to greet one another (Rom. 16:16), confess their sins to one another (Jas. 5:16), care for one another (1 Cor. 12:24-25), serve one another (Gal. 5:14), bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), encourage and edify one another (1 Thess. 5:11), exhort one another (Heb. 3:13), stir up one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24-25), be patient with and forgive one another (Eph. 4:2, 32; Col. 3:13), teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16), comfort one another (2 Cor. 13:11), and submit to one another (Eph. 5:21). Our emotional energy, time, and money are all finite, and we can’t realistically fulfill these commands with every single Christian in the world. So church membership helpfully defines who belongs to our local family of God.
For these reasons, we encourage all of our regular attendees to become members of Trinity Cambridge Church. Please fill out the following Membership Questionnaire, then you will receive information about the next Membership Class you can be a part of. After you have gone through the class, new members will be inducted during Sunday Worship by reading the following Membership Covenant out loud together:
Having been brought by God’s sovereign grace into the fellowship of the Spirit through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, and having been baptized upon our profession of faith, we do now, in the presence of God, angels, and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ.
We endeavor, therefore, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength: to strive for the advancement of this church in knowledge, holiness, and peace; to promote the church’s spirituality and fruitfulness; to not neglect assembling together, but to sustain its worship, sacraments, and discipline; to welcome, and test biblically, instruction from the Scriptures by the elders of the church, seeking to grow toward biblical unity in the truth; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the gospel through all nations.
We also endeavor to love one another: to remember one another in prayer; to aid one another in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech; to avoid gossip, backbiting and excessive anger; to be slow to take offense, but quick to seek reconciliation and mindful of the rules of our Savior to secure it without delay; to admonish erring members whose sins require it, and to support the leadership of the elders in corporate discipline to secure their repentance and reconciliation.
We further endeavor to share the love of Christ with others: to educate our children in the Christian faith; to seek the salvation of our kindred and neighbors; to walk circumspectly in the world; to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our deportment.
We moreover endeavor, if we remove from this place, to unite as soon as possible with a like-minded church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant.May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.