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Is it necessary to be a member of a
particular church to be saved?

No. Becoming a member of a good local church is great, but this in itself doesn't save a person. Salvation is based on a personal faith relationship with Jesus Christ, not whether a name is on a church membership role. The Bible says that "Whoever calls upon the name of the LORD shall be saved" (Rom. 10:13). As a matter of fact, there may be many persons whose names appear on a church membership roster, but who have never experienced a relationship with Christ.

At the moment that a person places their faith in Christ as their Lord and Savior, they instantly become a member of the universal church, the body of Christ (Eph. 5:30). This is not a building or an organization, but is the combination of all true believers throughout the whole world. In this sense, a person cannot be saved without being a member of Christ's church.

After a person receives Christ, and becomes a member of His body, it would be advisable to join a good local church. Every believer needs to be committed to a loving, healthy fellowship where they can receive consistent ministry, and can grow under the preaching of the Bible.

Most churches offer some form of membership, however there are those who question its premise, contending that there was no such official affiliation in the early church. But theologians cite that without local church membership, or something on this order, both the church and the individual believer are challenged from meeting their spiritual obligations.

Consider that God's word instructs every believer to "obey" and "submit" to the "authority" of spiritual leaders. In our modern culture of mavericks, these words are often met with contempt. However, we do not speak of a controlling or oppressive relationship, but one based on mutual love and respect — for the spiritual protection and progress of God's flock. "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you" (Heb. 13:17). It says that our spiritual shepherds, to whom we are voluntarily submitted, "watch" (AGRUPNEO, remain awake) for our souls, and are even charged with the responsibility of giving an account on our behalf.

Logically, if Christians are supposed to submit to spiritual leaders, this necessitates attending a church where such leaders can be found. But how do the spiritual leaders know who are submitted to their authority? Who are the ones for whom they will give an account? Certainly not everyone who merely attends the church services. In my early days of pastoring, I quickly discovered that many who come to church wish to derive benefit from the various ministries, yet remain aloof from any sense of commitment or accountability. And by what means does the flock know if they are submitted, or to whom?

Local church membership is a way to answer these questions. It is the expression of a mutual accountability between a member and their spiritual leaders. It tells the minister that he is "your" pastor, and that "you" are his responsibility. Church membership is a commitment to be accountable, responsible, and to be a participant rather than a spectator. It's a declaration that you can be counted on to be there, to help support the church with your time, labor, and financial support.

How important it is for the church to have people who will commit themselves to its support. Noted church authority, Dr. Bruce L. Shelley, says that some people who attend the church are like a hitchhiker that wants a free ride. "He assumes no responsibility for the money needed to purchase the car, the gas to run it or the cost of maintenance. He expects a comfortable ride and adequate safety. He assumes the driver has insurance covering him in case of an accident. He thinks nothing of requesting that he be taken to a certain place even though it means extra miles or inconvenience to his host... then consider the person who demands all the benefits and privileges of the church without feeling the slightest responsibility for its support in money, time or service. And if he does not get all he thinks is his by some natural right, he is usually demanding and critical. He too is a hitchhiker."

Membership is also a commitment to the body of believers, an expression of your love and devotion to the people of God, something which scripture says is necessary to maintain a right relationship with God. Consistent maintenance of our love and fellowship with God's people is evidence that we're walking in His light, and will prevent us from faltering (1 John 1:7, 1 John 2:10). This is the main reason why the scripture discourages absence from church meetings — "they need our love, and we need the practice" (Heb. 10:25-26).

Another issue that brings credibility to the need for local church membership, is that it may be the only way that certain acts of scriptural discipline can be carried out within the body of Christ. In the unfortunate situation where a believer would resist correction and repentance for certain immoral acts, the scripture authorizes their excommunication from the church (1 Cor. 5:1-13). However, a person could hardly be dismissed from something they were never accepted into. Dr. Shelley writes, "Of all the practices of the apostolic churches, surely discipline argues most convincingly for church membership. How could a brother or sister be expelled from a church fellowship if there were no membership?"

What is the Church?, Bruce L. Shelley

This article is from the book, What People Ask About the Church, authored and copyrighted © by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1990-2015, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA - Nashville, TN. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple permission form. Many of our writings are also available as free pdf tri-fold pamphlets, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us.