Is Church Membership Biblical?

Ryan M. McGraw and Ryan Speck

Ordained Servant: March 2015

Church Membership

Also in this issue

Calvin’s Company of Pastors by Scott M. Manetsch: A Review Article

Ordinary by Michael Horton

On the Brink by Clay Werner

The Psalter Reclaimed by Gordon Wenham

The Common Offering


How many membership cards are you carrying currently? Do you have a library membership, a grocery store “preferred customer” card, a gym membership, and perhaps others? We have so many memberships that we can become weary of them, which leads some people to groan when the church, which is a spiritual institution, requires official membership. Thus, it is increasingly common for Christians to question whether church membership is a biblical practice.

As Bereans, Christians ask rightly, “Is church membership biblical?” No one can cite chapter and verse to prove a multi-step process for joining the church and being counted on her rolls. So, then, why do some churches insist on an official process to join their membership, while others do not? The biblical answer to this question is not direct, but indirect. Just as a canvas provides a necessary backdrop for a work of art, so the Bible assumes the necessity of formal church membership in order to fulfill the commands and to apply the promises of Scripture with regard to the church.

We define formal membership as a covenant bond made by a public vow by which a person commits him or herself to a local body of believers, under the authority of a well-defined group of church leaders. This results in an official record of members who belong to a local church. We will demonstrate the requirement for formal church membership by proving from Scripture that the church is a visible community, that every Christian must be a member of this community, and that such membership necessitates vows and rolls.

I. The Foundations of Church Membership: The Church as a Community

1. The Analogy of Citizenship

Throughout Scripture, God describes his people as a city or a nation: a gathered, defined group of people living together (e.g., Pss. 46; 48; 87; Matt. 21:43; Phil. 3:20; Heb. 12:22–24; Rev. 21). He depicts heaven itself as the City of God (Rev. 21:2) and Christians as “citizens” of a heavenly city (Phil. 3:20; Heb. 11:10). While foreigners may reside in a city or nation, citizens alone constitute its true membership. They have birth certificates, pay taxes, and obtain passports and other licenses. In other words, they have recognized privileges and responsibilities that non-citizens do not and should not have. The nature of any society includes official citizens belonging to it by open and clear declaration.

When someone is caught in a criminal act, one of the first points in processing his case is to determine whether or not he is a citizen of that society. In the United States of America, arrested citizens must be read their rights and treated with a measure of respect and dignity. The laws of other countries may affect the treatment of those who are not citizens.

Official status as a citizen and the rights and privileges that attend this status are not peculiar to any country or time. This principle was true in biblical times as well. The Apostle Paul, for example, appealed to his Roman citizenship for similar rights and privileges (e.g., Acts 22:29). When Paul referred to citizenship in the kingdom of God (e.g., Phil. 3:20), he understood citizenship much as we do today. Being a citizen entails having official, publicly recognized membership in a community. This status brings particular rights and privileges within that community. To be a citizen of a country is to be an official member of its society, a subject of its laws, and a beneficiary of its government. As citizens of the kingdom of God, Christians enjoy all the rights and privileges of living under Christ’s rule and government.

Even Christ recorded the names of his citizens in his book (Rev. 13:8; 21:27). As it is in every other respect, the church militant (on earth) is a dim reflection of the church triumphant (in glory). Paul prized his citizenship in heaven at great personal cost. He declared it publicly through his open commitment to Christ (Acts 9:18–20; 13:1; 15:2; etc.). Did he not join with God’s people in a public and official manner in the presence of many witnesses? Timothy, his friend and fellow minister, did the same (1 Tim. 6:12). We have the documents to prove it (his writings and what others wrote about him). Since he used this language of citizenship to describe our status in the courts of heaven, would an official public commitment to the church on earth be out of place?

The church is both visible and invisible. In its visible aspect, we identify the members of the church through their profession of faith in Christ and obedience to him. In its invisible character, God alone knows who his elect are and who are truly born of the Spirit. The visible church is made in the image of the invisible church and, as such, reflects its character. Those who belong to the invisible church are citizens of a heavenly kingdom. Is it not appropriate for the members of this invisible society to express their citizenship by belonging to its visible and earthly expression?

Some consider “citizenship” to be a cold and lifeless concept. Is belonging to the “Kingdom of God” merely a matter of having the “right papers”? This was not the apostle’s inspired opinion. He held citizenship in this kingdom as his highest privilege in life and in death. He understood that this citizenship entails being members of the household of God (Eph. 2:19), part of Christ’s body (Col. 1:18), and belonging to the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16). The citizens of this kingdom are the saving objects of the work of the triune God, into whose name they are baptized (Matt. 28:19).

Even in regard to earthly citizenship, the Roman centurion in Acts 22:28 told Paul that he had purchased his citizenship “with a great sum.” If he set such great value on his Roman citizenship, how much more should we value our membership in the church, which is the kingdom of Christ? Our heavenly citizenship is analogous to the citizenship and memberships we sustain on this earth. In placing church membership in opposition to the nature of a warm loving society, Christians can unintentionally neglect the full teaching of God’s Word. In Scripture, official, public, formal vows are not at variance with living, warm, organic fellowship with other believers and with true, heartfelt, spontaneous devotion to God. Citizenship necessarily involves records of citizens.

What nation has citizens with no official documentation? As the members of the invisible church are recorded in heaven, so should the members of the visible church be recorded on earth.[1] Government is not possible without a record of citizenship. We must be members of the church even as we are members of other societies.

2. The Analogy of a Family

Membership in an earthly family is analogous to membership in the church. The Scriptures describe God’s people (the church) as a family (e.g., Luke 8:21; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 5:25–28; Col. 3:20–21; Heb. 2:11; 1 John 3:1ff). Though families can be less loving and cohesive than they should be, they are definite units of people living together in close relations. These relations should, and often do, produce warm relationships. As such, they are the building blocks of society. Intimate love is God’s intention within the family, which is his institution (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5; Eph. 5:31). Such love is also Christ’s intention for his church. It is the love he has shown to the church (Eph. 5:23), and it is the love he intends for us to show to one another (1 John 4:11).

This description of the church as the family of God helps us understand (by analogy) what our personal conduct ought to be, both in the family and in the church. The husband should love his wife and give himself for her (Eph. 5:25), just as Christ did for the church. Wives must submit to their own husbands and respect them (Eph. 5:22, 33), just as the church loves and respects Christ. Children are obligated to obey their parents in the Lord (Eph. 6:1). Fathers must beware of provoking their children to wrath (Eph. 6:4). They do so by reflecting the just and wise government of the Lord as they (along with their wives) rear their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

Being a member of a family is a legal matter. While it is popular to speak of “starting a family” when couples have children, according to Scripture, a family begins with and is constituted by a marriage covenant (Gen. 2:24; Mal. 2:14). The intimacy and unity that should exist between members of a family begins with a husband and wife joined together by covenant in the sight of God through vows. The marriage covenant is a legal contract, involving officially recorded and publicly taken vows (Ruth 4:10–11; Mal. 2:14; Matt. 21:1ff; Rev. 19:9).

This is true in civil society as well as in Scripture. Contractual agreements mean nothing legally unless they are established as a matter of public record with witnesses (Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16). For this reason, the Scriptures repeatedly affirm that a marriage can be dissolved only through a certificate of divorce (Deut. 24:1, 3; Isa. 50:1; Mark 10:4). The commitment a man and woman make to each other excludes all other people from the rights, privileges, and duties of that marriage. All others should know that these two people belong to one another; they are “off limits” to all outsiders. This is why we wear marriage rings—they commemorate publicly our marriage vows.

When we come to Christ, we become part of his church, which is his bride. Because we are born again by the Spirit’s power, we are children of God and belong to his family. We are children of God through adoption by the Father, through marriage to Christ, and by being born of the Spirit. Moreover, much like our public commitments in marriage, he commands us to confess him before men (Matt. 10:32–33; Luke 12:8–9; Rom. 10:9–10).

Do public vows and official records make marriage a dry, cold, dusty relationship? On the contrary, publicly and officially declaring their love for and commitment to one another should deepen a couple’s love. A couple with no public commitment to one another always has an uncertain and undefined relationship. They have no privileges and no binding responsibilities to one another. This is often why men who will not commit to a woman in marriage often speak of not wanting to be “tied down” and why the women who are with them are often insecure.

We could argue similarly in relation to having children (who then receive birth certificates) and adopting children (another prominent theme in the Scriptures to describe God’s people). Official commitments do not contradict the free, vibrant, organic nature of Christianity. They are part and parcel with it throughout the Bible. We are related to the triune God and to one another, and we must dwell together as a loving family.

A Practical Observation

These biblical concepts apply to the “church-hopper” in our day: the person who jumps from church to church, never settling anywhere. When something happens that irritates him slightly, he jumps to another church. Does this reflect the importance that the triune God places upon the church? How can such a person be vitally connected to God’s people in any meaningful sense of the term? To borrow an analogy from James, as death is separation of the spirit from the body, so those who claim to have the spirit of Christianity without expressing spiritual vitality in the body of the church act dead instead of alive. The spirit expresses life through the physical body. The members of the invisible church express their life through commitment to the visible church.

Have you experienced a time when you were, practically speaking, cut off from weekly and intimate fellowship with other believers? Perhaps you travelled to a foreign country. Perhaps you moved somewhere without a church nearby. If so, then was this not a difficult, waning time for you spiritually? Did you miss the sweet fellowship and mutual love and concern that you experienced with your brethren previously as a society, family, and body?

Such times drive the value of committed fellowship and true community home to our hearts. God established the community of believers for our good. It is necessary for our spiritual growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ. The nature of the church as a divinely ordained community does not prove the case for formal church membership, but it is the necessary backdrop for it. Defective views of church membership often reflect defective views of the church itself.

II. The Duty of Church Membership: We Must Join This Community

The biblical description of the church as a community implies that we should join this community. This is true for at least two reasons, both of which highlight the fact that, ordinarily, it is neither desirable nor possible to live the Christian life alone.

1. The Interdependence of Believers

The community of the church is vitally important because we need each other. The Apostle Paul drives this point home in 1 Corinthians 12:21. The eye cannot say to the hand that it does not need it. The head cannot say to the feet that it does not require them. It would be absurd to treat our physical bodies this way. Yet Paul indicates that this is precisely how Christians often treat the church. He wrote about the interdependence between Christians, not the independence of Christians. We are differing members of the same body.

We all have the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22ff) in greater or lesser measure. Yet the Spirit has gifted each of us in various ways in order to complement each other’s faith and service. Some of us are called to be teachers and preachers. Some of us are specially equipped to administrate. Some are gifted for mercy ministries above others. Some have a remarkable ability to encourage others. Why has Christ distributed such gifts among his people? It is for the edifying of his body (Eph. 4:8ff). Our fellowship with one another is necessary in order to live the Christian life and to express the life of Christ’s body.

The Simon and Garfunkel song, “I am a rock; I am an island,” is not sound theology. No one can live well alone. People, made in the image of the triune God, need fellowship. God needs no one. The communion of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is a fellowship that accepts no supplement and requires no complement. Yet man is needy. He needs God. The God whom he needs and reflects is a being in communion. Part of man’s renewal in God’s image consists in his communion with God and with God’s church. Man was created for fellowship with God and with others in submission to God. The two tables of the Ten Commandments reflect this order and relationship. The new man in Christ is part of the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). The Christian is created for Christian fellowship, with God and with those who are in fellowship with God.

2. The Mutual Responsibilities of Believers

Believers not only need one another; they have duties to perform toward one another. The necessity of Christian fellowship and the responsibilities resulting from that fellowship are joined inseparably by God; let no man rend them asunder. If God created us to be a body of believers needing fellowship and equipped us to help one another in the faith, then we must exercise our gifts to bless fellow believers rather than for our private benefit. God commands us not to withhold from one another what the other needs. When you read Scripture, you find multiple “one-another” commands. Wayne Mack notes fifty-eight such commands.[2] He writes:

All these commands are written in the present tense. This means we’re to be constantly doing these things. The lives of every believer should be characterized by the fulfillment of these commands toward other believers. We’re to be constantly devoted to one another, praying for one another, honoring one another, greeting one another, and motivating one another to love and good works. If this is true, then it also follows that we must be physically present with other people in order to do these things. . . . We cannot possibly fulfill these kinds of commands to every person in the world. We do not have the time or the resources to do it, no matter how much we would like to. We have to be selective about the people with whom we’re going to work in fulfilling these commands.[3]

We have the clear responsibility to love one another, but we have limited resources to do so as individuals. The gifts of the Spirit and the community of the church highlight the fact that we exercise Christian love concretely in relation to a specific group of people. God in his Word forbids us from living the Christian life without fellow Christians. He commands us to walk in fellowship with them.

Many believe that they can do all of these things without formal church membership. Some will say, “Can’t we be a community without belonging officially to a church? Can’t we fulfill these commands and needs outside of the church as an institution through para-church organizations? Should we not be free to fellowship with whatever group we want, whenever we want, without officially belonging to a specific church?” Many professing believers have no official relation to any church, but they regularly attend or even minister in churches or in informal Christian groups. Some churches forbid membership and ordination. Do such people fail to fulfill Christ’s commands to the church through his apostles?

The next section builds a case for formal membership in the local church from scriptural principles by drawing implications from the church as a community and the duties attached to communion with her.

III. The Form and Means of Church Membership: Membership Rolls and Membership Vows

In addition to what has already been said, at least three practical reasons solidify the need for membership rolls and formal membership vows: the relationship between church members and church officers, the process of church discipline, and the right of the congregation to elect her own officers. The preceding material highlighted the need for formal church membership in terms of the nature of the church and the duty to join her. Part two below shows the form membership should take.

1. The Relationship between Church Members and Church Officers

The relationship and responsibilities between church officers and church members necessitates formal church membership. From the beginning, God instituted various means of governance for his people. He made Adam Eve’s head before the Fall (1 Tim. 2:11–13). Thus, God provided human leadership even in a perfect world with perfect people. A necessary implication of this fact is that human governance is not a necessary evil, but a necessary good. Even in a sin-cursed world, human governance continues to be a necessary good supplied by God to bless his people. Our Lord called Abraham to be the head of his household, who were the people of God at that time (Gen. 18:19). God provided priests, prophets, and kings to be over his people (Lev. 9; 1 Chron. 23:13; Amos 2:11; 1 Sam. 3:20; 16:13; etc.). He called apostles to lead the church under the New Testament (Matt. 10:1–8; Acts 1:24–25; Eph. 2:20; 3:5; 4:11). He set forth the eldership as a perpetual office in the church (1 Tim. 3:1–7; 5:17; Tit. 1:5–9; etc.). God has always made it clear that he intended men to be ruled by other men according to the authority structures of his choosing and his designation. In fact, Jesus gave church leaders as part of the gifts he purchased by his own blood for the good of his church (Eph. 4:8, 11–16). The church is the authority structure under which God has placed all Christians in order to bless them. God places Christians under church leaders for their benefit. Sometimes it is difficult to see how such men are a blessing to Christ’s church. Most church leaders themselves are bewildered at times as to why God called them and how he could use them. Nonetheless, to the glory of his grace alone, he uses men with clay feet to help his people in various ways.

Regardless of how we understand the biblical form of church government, all should be able to affirm that the church is a body of believers under divinely sanctioned officers. For example, Acts 15 describes what is known as the Jerusalem Council. A troublesome teaching arose amongst God’s people regarding circumcision and importing Jewish rites into the Gentile church. In response, the apostles and elders gathered together in Jerusalem to address the problem through the use of Scripture, debate, and prayer. The delegates sent to this council reflected the authority structure that God had appointed in the church through his Word. They were not leaders of parachurch organizations. They were extraordinary (apostles) and ordinary (elders) church officers. The elders were the elected leaders of local churches who led the people and under whose authority the people submitted themselves.[4] The council arrived at its decision by appealing to Scripture rather than to apostolic authority, even though the apostles were present. The decision was nonetheless ascribed to the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28). The apostles and elders sent this decision to local churches in many regions with the expectation that all follow their directions (Acts 16:4).

Hebrews 13:17 further highlights the mutual responsibilities God enjoins, both on church officers and on church members. The writer commands his audience to submit to those who rule over them on the grounds that such rulers must give an account to God for their souls. The Lord here assumes that there will be shepherds over his people. He holds those shepherds accountable for how they rule his people. How can they be responsible for a definite body of Christians if they cannot define the parameters of that body? Are they accountable for those souls who come and go as they please? Can such people obey the command of the text, when they have no commitment to the local body or to its officers? How can they fulfill these mutual responsibilities without formal commitments from both parties (vows) and membership rolls of some kind?

The Word of God does not denigrate authority. Men may abuse the power of church government through their sin, but this does not mean that the government that Christ instituted in his church is evil. This passage commands us to embrace this authority structure as part of our duty and love to God. When forced to choose between the two, we must obey God and not men (e.g., Acts 5:29). We must submit to our elders only insofar as they minister according to God’s Word. Nonetheless, elders remain God’s authority structure for his church today. The church ruled by elders is one means by which Christ exercises his authority, not merely through men in office, but through men in office ministering the Word of God.

If God has given an official authority structure to govern his church, then why do many Christians today believe that they can fulfill their responsibilities to the church with no tangible commitment to a local congregation and to her officers? Could it be, at least for some, that the objection is really against the divine mandate to submit to church authority? Could it be that the spirit of radical individualism that pervades our culture has jaded our view of church membership? How do you respond to the language of Hebrews 13:17, “obey” or “submit” to those who “rule over you”? How can you apply this without membership?

Our Lord Jesus Christ instituted local authorities to rule over his bride. These governing authorities exercise spiritual power only. Church power is ministerial and declarative, not magisterial and legislative. Church power is not carnal or coercive; it is not by the sword. However, this does not mean that church officers do not exercise genuine authority under Christ their head.

In 1 Timothy, the Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to exercise his ministry faithfully (e.g., 1 Tim. 1:18). Among other things, Paul taught Timothy about the requirements of elders (1 Tim. 3). The language of overseer, ruler, and shepherd involves ruling over a particular body of believers. These elders govern local congregations. For example, in Acts 20:17 Paul assembled the elders of Ephesus. They were elders of this church and of no other. Throughout the Scriptures, elders govern local bodies of believers—just as it was in the synagogues (Matt. 5:22; Acts 13:15; Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; etc.).

What if a group of church leaders from a church down the street came to your building and declared that your church service will start an hour later than usual next week? Would you submit to their decision? Or, do you not recognize clearly that such a declaration cannot have authority in your church. Those leaders cannot make the decisions for your church; your leaders alone can. The same is true in every other realm of authority.

Without membership, you are no more committed to the church and to her officers than a man is to a woman to whom he is not married. How can a woman submit to a husband unless she has a husband? How can a man become a husband without a vow before God that constitutes a new family? Should every man, who happens to be a husband of a woman, be able to call every other wife to submit to him as a husband? Unless the woman vows to submit to the man, he has no such authority over her.

Likewise, in the local church, membership vows are necessary, in part, for you to promise to obey the command contained in Hebrews 13:17 (to submit to your specific, local “rulers”). Membership rolls are necessary to keep record of who has taken these vows and to know to whom the officers must keep their vows in service to God. Is it not possible that the strenuous objections to official church membership really stem from an unwillingness to submit to those God has called to be leaders of his people? Public vows and membership rolls are necessary in order to fulfill the responsibilities of church members to their officers (and vice versa).

2. Christ’s Discipline Process Outlined in Matthew 18:15–20 Reinforces the Need for Formal Church Membership

Christ told his disciples that they must deal with unrepentant sin in their brethren specifically and concretely. If such people do not hear us after private admonition and after brining one or two witnesses, then we must “tell it to the church.” Whether you regard this as an official church court or the membership at large, Christ assumes that the body of the church is both recognizable and definable.[5] Our Lord makes no provision in this process for dealing with church-less Christians.

The primary reason why churches do not follow through with excommunications (in our experience) is that the unrepentant person stops coming to church. Many are accustomed to refer to this as a person “excommunicating himself.” Yet putting the offender out of the church is an act of the church, not an act of the offender. It is a public declaration that this person no longer has any public official relation to the church because his or her life and profession of Christ are no longer credible. How could the church do this if the person was not a member but only a casual attendee?

This is a negative corollary to the vows taken upon joining the church. If a person can come and go from the local congregation as that person pleases with no official commitment to that congregation, then how is it possible to obey Christ’s command to excommunicate the unrepentant? This places many in the absurd position of exercising this sanction only when the offender consents to the process. Yet do we not know by experience that such a scenario is rare? Defective views of excommunication go hand in hand with defective views of church membership. Without membership vows and membership rolls, we will inevitably reduce excommunication to an act of the individual rather than to an act of Christ through the church.

Putting someone out of the church for unrepentant sin is an exercise of the keys of the kingdom (Matt. 16:19). Membership rolls are necessary in order to exercise the power of the keys, which is through the ministry of God’s Word. However, this implies the oft-overlooked corollary that entrance into the church is an exercise of the keys of the kingdom just as much as exclusion from the church is. The authority symbolized by the imagery of keys is that of both opening and closing doors. While the sword is the symbol of the state’s authority (Rom. 13:4, a symbol of the death penalty), and the rod is the symbol of parental authority (Prov. 13:24; 22:15, a symbol of physical discipline), opening and closing is the symbol of the church’s authority.

In Matthew 16:19, Jesus committed the keys to Peter (and spoke to Peter in the singular, “you”). However, in Matthew 18:18 (using the same language of “binding” and “loosing” as in Matthew 16:19), Jesus addressed the disciples in the plural (“y’all”). There is now a plurality of leaders who hold the authority to bind or loose, as symbolized in the keys. This group consists in the elders of the church. Admitting members to the church that have a credible and biblical profession of faith is a public declaration that their sins are remitted on account of their faith in Christ. This is a positive act of church discipline that should strengthen the faith of believers. It is also a commitment. Just as you enter the church through the ministerial application of the Word, so you must voluntarily place yourself under the exercise of the power of the keys. The only way to exercise discipline, both for edification and for correction, is for members to join the church through a public commitment and to be counted on her rolls.

3. Membership Rolls are Essential in the Election of Church Officers

The election of church officers is both a right and a privilege of church members. In Acts the congregation participated in the election of an apostle (Acts 1:21–23), the first deacons (Acts 6:3–6), and elders (Acts 14:23). It is impossible to elect officers justly without a well-defined membership in the local congregation. Membership rolls necessarily determine who has the right to vote for new officers. These membership rolls should consist of those who have promised their commitment to the local church. Such public commitments are what we call vows.

Without membership rolls constituted by vows, it is impossible to preserve the biblical right of church members to elect their own officers. Several problems arise, for example, when a church without membership attempts to elect a new minister. The church has two options. In the first, it is left at the mercy of whoever shows up on the day of the election, whether they attend the church regularly or not. In such cases, it is not uncommon for attendance to double or triple on the day on which elections are held. Yet what right do those who have made no commitment to the officers and members of that congregation have to elect the future officers of the congregation? If the church has no membership, then how does anyone present have a sure right to participate in electing officers? In fact, what if the much larger church down the street decided to swarm into your building and vote for your officers? How could you prevent them from doing so, unless you recognized that only members of your particular church could vote on your officers?

The alternative to allowing anyone present to vote is that the current leadership bypasses the election process entirely and chooses their own successors. The former option deprives church members of the right to elect a man who ministers regularly to them by making them subject to people who may not even attend the church regularly. The second option obliterates the New Testament example of the people electing their own officers and gives the current leadership tyrannical authority over the church. Membership rolls are necessary in order to protect the rights of God’s people in the local church.


Have you become a member of a local congregation? Have you resisted having your name added to the rolls? How can you keep Christ’s commands in relation to the local church without doing so? To which elders do you actively submit? Which congregation are you committed to? You cannot adequately express your membership in the church invisible without doing so through the church visible and local.

Have you resisted taking membership vows? Recognize that good vows only require you to promise to do what Scripture requires of you already. Must you not be subject to the discipline and government of the church? Should you not support the local church in its worship and work to the best of your ability? No local church is perfect and no church needs to be in order for you to join it. Join that church that best reflects your understanding of Scripture, honors Christ, and will feed your soul. Take your vows freely and without coercion. Take them wisely. Take them prayerfully and seriously. But, by all means, take them.

Everything that the triune God commands you to do is for your good. Will his promises fail you as you seek to honor him in his church? We should always be thankful that Christ did not call us to live the Christian life alone. He went to the cross alone. He tread the winepress of God’s wrath alone. Yet he redeemed a community of sinners. The church is his body. Belonging to her is belonging to the Father’s household. She is the temple of the Holy Spirit. In spite of the faults of the church militant on earth, she is inhabited by many who shall be part of the church triumphant in heaven.

Are you citizens of this heavenly kingdom? Then reflect your membership in this heavenly society by becoming members of the earthly society that reflects it. As William Perkins wrote, the church is “the suburbs of the city of God, and the gate of heaven; and therefore entrance must be made into heaven in and by the church.”[6] Let us dwell with her and in her so that we might be near to God through her.


[1] Gregory Reynolds, “Membership Rolls and the Book of Life,” Ordained Servant 16 (2007): 39.

[2] Wayne Mack, To Be or Not to Be a Church Member? That Is the Question! (Merrick, NY: Calvary, 2004), 26. Consider: Rom. 12:16; Gal. 6:1–2; 1 Cor. 12:25–26; Heb. 3:13; 10:24; Col. 3:16; James 5:16.

[3] Mack, Church Member, 29

[4] In Acts 14:23, the Greek verb is χειροτονέω (cheirotoneo), which lexicons universally recognize to mean choose or elect, likely by raising the hand.

[5] “The church” here likely follows Jewish use in the Old Testament and the synagogue. This referred to the eldership as the governing body that represented the church.

[6] William Perkins, A Warning Against the Idolatrie of the Last Times and an Instruction Touching Religious, or Divine Worship (Cambridge: Printed by John Legat, 1601), 145.

Ryan McGraw is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church serving in First Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Sunnyvale, California. He is an adjunct professor of systematic theology in Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Ryan Speck is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, serving at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Columbia, Missouri. Ordained Servant Online, March 2015.

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Ordained Servant: March 2015

Church Membership

Also in this issue

Calvin’s Company of Pastors by Scott M. Manetsch: A Review Article

Ordinary by Michael Horton

On the Brink by Clay Werner

The Psalter Reclaimed by Gordon Wenham

The Common Offering


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