One of the foremost reasons we ought to pursue membership in the church is so that the body of Christ can perform its God-given task. Succinctly, the church is tasked with reflecting the glory of the Trinity through the bond of love (Hebrews 13:1; Romans 12:10; 1 Peter 1:22; John 13:34-35). Though a Christian may experience some of the love of Christ through attending church and having general relationships with the body of Christ – they are meant to be in the body of Christ. What this means is that the local body of Christ is not able to perform its proper function in the life of one refusing membership.
If we refuse the local church, we are refusing to allow anyone to get to know us – the real us. We are refusing to allow anyone to speak wisdom into our lives, to bring us to an abiding faith in Christ, and to confront sin. In looking at Hebrews 10:23-31, this can be an extremely dangerous thing for the person claiming to be in Christ. Why not allow there to be someone who can pull you back, hating even the garments tainted in your rebellion so that you might be saved?
For the man who refuses membership, he does not even allow himself to be exposed enough to be on the receiving end of the principles outlined in Matthew 18:15-20 for church discipline. Furthermore, he reveals that he does not buy into the need for some to be excommunicated by the church because of their sin (1 Cor. 5:12-13), or genuine accountability, or in seeking wisdom (Proverbs 12:15, 17:28, 18:1-2).
Of 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, John Piper excellently observes:
“There are two implications here: One is that there is an ‘in the church’ group and an ‘outside the church’ group. Being in the church is definable. The other implication is that a person can be removed from being ‘in the church.’ Such a formal removal would not be possible if there were no such thing as a clear membership—who is an accountable part of this body, and who is not?”
The goal in church membership isn’t simply to rebuke one another, though this plays a large role within the church if we hold to the scriptures. We can follow the same logic of Piper above in respect to James 5:14 regarding one who is near death and calling upon the elders to minister to him by interceding upon his behalf. Who, if not the local church elders, would be able to fulfill this need? In similar aspects we can ask – who is able to guard us as the under-shepherd; to whom do we submit; with whom do we join in the functioning body of Christ?
Nowhere in scripture will you find the idea of remaining separate from the local church; the only ones who are outside of the local church, scripturally, are unbelievers, and those to be treated as unbelievers through excommunication. This post is by no means an exhaustive list of the biblical reasons why one should become a member of their church. Rather, it keys in on one important aspect in the life of a believer: their own sinfulness and the need for the church to correct them in love. Yet one of the greatest things that stems from confronting sins in love is that the church can then exhort, encourage, and help us to walk in obedience to Christ.
Without being part of a local church, one is left to think more highly of themselves than they ought to; they are left to think they are wise, without understanding the fullness and the depth of their own sin, without the need for repentance, without the need for encouragement, and much more. The church serves as the instrument through which the righteous judgment of Christ can be observed in a believer’s life through the faithful proclamation of the Word. The church connects the Christian to Christ through other Christians; this is specifically why we are called the body of Christ.