Biblical Church Membership Explained:
We believe that local church membership is a concept derived from Scripture, and thus we at COTR have a biblical church membership. It is true that each person who has been converted by the grace of God through faith in the gospel of Jesus, from an enemy of God to a follower of the Lord Jesus, is part of Christ’s universal body. But yet, the vast majority of the usages of the word “church” in the NT refer to the local church. Each local church assembly is and functions as one body with many members. We are in an individual relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and an interdependent relationship with the local body of the Lord Jesus, the church. It is a both and all the time. Biblically, it is hard to see how a person could say they love Jesus and believe in Jesus, the head of the church, but not be part of a local church where the body of Jesus is found (Acts 20.28; 1 Cor 1.2; 12.4-27; Eph 5.25; 1 John 4.19-5.3).
Biblical church membership has many benefits for the whole church and the individual member.
• First, it provides needed clarity about who is truly part of Christ Jesus through the gospel and who is not. In order to be part of a local assembly one has to be united to Christ the head through repentance and faith in the gospel of Jesus first. Only those who’ve been made new creatures by the grace of God through the work of the Holy Spirit are truly part of Christ and thus of His bride, the church.
Furthermore, recognizable fruit will accompany a credible profession of faith in Christ Jesus, in godly character and in good works. This fruit is first exhibited in the act of believer’s baptism in the local church assembly, which outwardly demonstrates that a person is a follower of Christ and has been given new life in Christ. Therefore, in order for a person to be received into our local church membership, they must have a credible profession of faith in Jesus alone, and have been baptized as a believer. So first, the concept of biblical church membership helps to clarify who is truly part of Christ through belief in the gospel and shown in believer’s baptism, and the church testifies to the validity of one’s profession of faith in Christ when a person is received into church membership.
• Second, it provides needed clarity about who is part of our local body of believers. As mentioned above, the NT clearly shows that believers are identified and connected with one local church congregation. Believers in the Lord Jesus have a specific place within a local assembly in distinction from the world and from other true local churches. Also, biblical church membership protects the church from receiving people into body life who come to us from elsewhere who are remaining in unrepentant sin and under biblical church discipline. We do this by checking to see that they are in good standing with their former local church before receiving them into our church family. Today there are many who go from church to church, and sadly sometimes leave a church under church discipline or without reconciling with their previous local church, and then easily enter into another local assembly. This is to the detriment of the local church and to the holiness of Christ’s body. Thus biblical church membership helps us maintain the clear line drawn in the text of Scripture between those who are included within our local body of believers and those who are not.
• Third, since clarity is given about who is part of Christ and His church in distinction from the world, those under church discipline, and other true local churches, what results from this is mutual desired accountability from member to member and between pastors and members. All Christians are to be active members in loving service in the local body for the benefit of the whole church. We have a responsibility toward the other members in the church, which is illustrated by the numerous “one another” commands found throughout the NT. The passages are too numerous to list, but one example found on our membership covenant form is Hebrews 10.24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We as members of the church are responsible for the care and growth of the other members of our church family, and accountable to them as well, to encourage, reprove, and rebuke as needed.
It is further important for pastor-elders to know who is under their charge and for whom they will give an account to the Lord in the end. Hebrews 13.17 illustrates this, “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.” It is essential that pastors know who is in their local flock and under their shepherding, and that the members declare that they are voluntarily under the pastoral care and oversight of identifiable local under-shepherds to Christ the Chief Shepherd. The members as well are important agents of accountability for the pastors, as seen in 1 Timothy 5.17-22. If a church member or leader is engaged in unrepentant sin that becomes known, then biblical church membership provides a healthy context for accountability from which to proceed in calling a brother or sister to repentance, and if they refuse, in removing them from the local assembly, in accordance with Jesus’ words in Matthew 18.15-20, for the health and holiness of God’s church, and prayerfully for the individual in unrepentant sin to be restored to right fellowship with Christ and the local church body.
Ultimately, biblical church membership should not be seen as burdensome, restrictive, or optional, but as something beautiful and profitable for the individual believer, and even more importantly for the health of the whole local church body and for Christ’s glory in the proper functioning of His bride, the church.
The Membership Process at COTR:
We the pastor-elders desire that all those who regularly attend COTR move towards and become active and recognizable members of our local body. Our membership process is as follows:
A person must have a credible profession of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is assessed in a person’s verbal testimony in informal meetings with the pastors and with members, and by their godly living. A credible profession of faith is also outwardly demonstrated in obedience to Christ’s command of believer’s baptism.
After a person has faithfully attended COTR for some time and makes known their desire of becoming a member at COTR, then there is a formal meeting between the potential member and pastors to hear their testimony of how they were brought to believe and follow Jesus, and of their believer’s baptism. At this time as well, any other matters needing to be clarified about our local church will be addressed.
If after this formal meeting the pastor-elders believe the person has a credible profession of faith, has been baptized as a believer, and left in good standing from their former church (if applicable), and the potential member joyously desires to come into church membership at COTR, then we will set a date for them to be received and recognized as members during our Sunday morning corporate worship service. At this formal meeting or earlier, COTR’s church membership covenant form is given to the potential member to review, pray over, and sign before they are received into membership on a particular Sunday.
At the end of our corporate worship service on Sunday morning, we have those being received into church membership come forward to take part in a covenant ceremony. One pastor-elder reads the membership covenant form out loud, to which those being received into membership verbally agree before the whole church assembly. There are also responsibilities listed that the pastor-elders affirm verbally in caring for the new members. The reason we do this is so that the existing members and new members clearly know for whom they are joyfully responsible in the local church membership. After the covenant form is read and agreement is expressed, one pastor-elder then prays for the new members and for our local church. This also serves as a good reminder to existing members of our covenant responsibilities to one another in our local church body.