Is Placing Membership
What is meant by the expression “place membership” as it
pertains to a local congregation? We must admit that we cannot find
that expression in the Bible. It may be for this reason that some
think it an unscriptural concept. Is it?
With A Local Church Necessary?
In Romans 16:1, Paul wrote, “I commend to you Phoebe our
sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea.” The subject
of this verse is Phoebe. Paul identifies her as a Christian by referring
to her as “our sister.” A Christian is one who has been immersed
into Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Her status was
that of “a servant.” The word “servant” comes from the Greek word
and is by some rendered deaconess. That Phoebe served
in whatever capacity women may serve God I have no doubt. That she
served in any capacity of leadership over men I deny (1 Timothy 2:12).
Her sphere of activity was “the church of Cenchrea.” She did not
represent the “church at large” or “the church universal.” The church
in Cenchrea was a congregation of God’s people in a specific locality,
being a harbor town nine miles west of Corinth.
Sometimes brethren question whether placing membership
in a local congregation is either necessary or scriptural. People
have said to me, “I am a member of the church wherever I go.” I would
not deny that statement, but I suggest that opponents to the idea of placing
church membership need to carefully consider the New Testament teaching
on this subject. Placing membership with a local church is essential
for the following reasons.
For Reasons of Church Organization
The church of Christ, in its universal sense, is the general
spiritual body over which Jesus Christ is the head and every Christian
is a member (Matthew 16:18; Colossians 1:18, 24; Ephesians 1:22).
There is no such thing in the Bible as becoming a Christian and “joining”
the church later. The Lord adds the saved to the church (Acts 2:47).
There are times, in the New Testament, when the word church
indicates a congregation of the disciples which comes together on the first
day of the week to observe the Lord’s Supper and engage in other acts of
public worship (Acts 20:7; Romans 16:5). Each congregation is independent.
Paul addressed the church at Philippi saying, “Paul and Timothy, servants
of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi,
with the bishops and deacons” (1:1). Saints are members who
work together in that given locality. Bishops are elders
or overseers of that local church (1 Timothy 3:1-7). Deacons
are qualified servants in that congregation (1 Timothy 3:8-10). The
New Testament knows nothing of any organization either larger or smaller
than the local congregation in doing the Lord’s work.
For Reasons of Involvement
If someone feels that he has no scriptural reason to identify
himself with a local congregation, it is well to ask how he can contribute
to the work of that church. There is no obligation that he feels
to be involved in the work. There is no accountability to a group
of elders. There is no loyalty to a home congregation. There
is no joint participation when everyone is disjointed! Remember that
Phoebe was involved with the church in Cenchrea as one of its members.
For Reasons of Oversight
Churches of Christ who have qualified men should have a plurality
of elders overseeing the work of that congregation (Acts 1:23; Titus 1:5).
These bishops are to shepherd the local flock. They do not have jurisdiction
over any other congregation (Acts 20:28).
Picture, if you will, the following scenario. Mr.
Jones moves from one community (town or city) to another. He was
laboring under the oversight of the elders of congregation “A” where he
lived formerly. Since he no longer lives in that town, it is not
possible that the elders of congregation “A” can continue to watch in behalf
of his soul, as they are obligated to do (Hebrews 13:17). Mr. Jones
needs to find another faithful congregation (congregation “B”) and let
his desire to work and worship with them be known. This is what we
mean by the expression “place membership.” Actually, brother Jones
is a member of the body of Christ wherever he may go. Yet, he cannot
function under the oversight of two congregations at once, or of all congregations
(such as “the church at large” idea would suggest). It is amazing
how some brethren fail to understand this elementary principle of Scripture.
In a church bulletin not long ago I read of a deacon and his family leaving
one congregation and going to another in the same city. The announcement
said, “There is no other reason other than we both feel this is what we
need and what we want to do. ________________ will always be our
‘Church Home’ . . . It’s just worshipping at a different location of the
Brethren need to identify themselves with a local congregation
and work specifically under the oversight of those elders. How can
elders watch for the souls of persons without knowing those who are committed
to their care? Also, how can elders exercise the divinely given function
of oversight unless persons submit to that oversight? Those brethren
who prate against the idea of placing membership in a local congregation
actually oppose the Lord’s design.
For Reasons of Apostolic Example
Soon after his conversion, Saul (Paul) worked with the church
“And when he had received food he was strengthened.
Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. Immediately
he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
Then all who heard were amazed, and said, ‘Is this not he who destroyed
those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that
purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?’ But Saul
increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in
Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 9:18-22).
From there he seeks to identify himself with the church in
“And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried
to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe
that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to
the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on
the road, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly
at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem,
coming in and going out” (Vss. 26-28).
The disciples comprised the church in Jerusalem.
To “join” them in their meetings, to work and be recognized as a member
among them is like our “placing membership” with a local congregation today.
To “join the disciples” is not the same as becoming a Christian.
That occurred when Saul was immersed into Christ for the remission of sins
(Acts 9:17-18; 22:16). To “join the disciples” is not the same as
“joining a denomination,” since Protestant denominations did not exist
in New Testament times (1 Corinthians 12:13, 27).
Is placing membership in a local church necessary?
It is indeed! Is it scriptural? Absolutely! The New Testament
teaches that we are to be in a congregation, subject to the leadership
of the elders, involved in that work and supportive of the Lord’s cause
in that place.