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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
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."¹
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
¹ What is the Church?, Bruce L. Shelley