Should we have church membership and church membership rolls? Some think this is traditional, outmoded, and/or unscriptural. Is this taught in the Bible? Notice 6 general heads related to this topic.
1. Bible references to Christians as “in” and “of” particular congregations.
Phebe was a servant of the church of Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1). Certain prophets and teachers were in the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1). Saul/Paul attempted to join the disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 9:32). The elders at Ephesus were identified by the church where they had oversight (Acts 20). The saints in Philippi were a church with bishops and deacons, an identifiable people who communicated with Paul “concerning giving and receiving” (Cf. Phil. 1:1; 4:15).
2. Biblical teaching of church discipline.
The biblical authority of church discipline is placed in the hands of the local congregation. The right to discipline indicates the role of relationship between the church and the one disciplined. Matthew 18:17 and 1 Corinthians chapter 5 are good examples of local expressions of discipline of local Christians who were known locally. Their actions or indiscretions are known and the discipline applied was known as well. When certain men “which went out from us (Jerusalem)” sowed discord in the churches, the church at Jerusalem met in counsel to resolve the situation.
3. Biblical role of pastoral leadership.
Hebrews 13:7 and 17 exhorts Christians to remember and obey “them that rule over you.” The exercise of spiritual leadership is localized and carried out in the locality where local Christians are to follow the spiritual leadership. Peter exhorted the scattered elders to whom he wrote to feed the flock of God which is among you – those particular Christians in the particular places they were (I Pet. 5:2). So were the Ephesian elders to feed the flock in a particular place where God had placed them.
4. The exercise of spiritual gifts.
The nature of spiritual gifts localized in the individual Christians who are gifted mandate exercise among “local” Christians. One cannot edify those who lived 100 years past, or are yet 100 years in the future. Those who are afar off can benefit from them only in a minimal way. God’s placement in the body ordains exercise of gifts in that place.
5. The letters to the churches.
In Revelation chapters 1-3, letters are written to seven uniquely identified churches, each of which are addressed, praised, warned and/or reprimanded individually. Other church letters are addressed to specific people in a specific place concerning their specific situation.
6. Final miscellaneous thoughts.
We are to know them that labor among us (1 Thess. 5:12). The number of the names together of the Jerusalem church were mentioned by Luke (Acts 1:15). Those that gladly received the word and were baptized were added to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41).
Much that is "traditional" and unnecessary -- and sometimes unscriptural -- has grown up around the idea of church membership, church rolls and church letters. That is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath-water. A church is an identifiable group of baptized Christians who gather together in one place.