Why Church Membership?


“If there was any escape for one who was outside the ark of Noah, there will be as much for one who is found to be outside the Church.” 
-Cyprian, a third century church father

The church is the only institution ordained by Jesus for making His Person and work known to the ends of the earth. The church is even more foundational than the family because only the church has the keys of the kingdom. Families fill the earth through natural means, but the church extends to the ends of the earth through supernatural means. The Spiritual family will remain throughout eternity (Ephesians 1:5;3:15), whereas the societal family will not (Matthew 12:46-50).

In ancient times, kings would take up building projects to demonstrate their earthly glory, power and splendor:

  • The Pharaoh’s left behind pyramids.
  • Nebuchadnezzar built a magnificent palace with the famous Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
  • Darius the Great built large palace cities.
  • Alexander the Great built the city of Alexandria.
  • The Romans built magnificent structures such as the Coliseum and Pantheon.
  • Herod the Great, who died shortly after Jesus was born, was known for his building projects, especially Caesarea (the very place Jesus took his disciples in Matthew 16:13).

King Jesus’ building project is the church (Matthew 16:18). If you want to see the glory, splendor, and riches of the Master Carpenter you must look at the living stones (1 Peter 2:4-8). There you will see the glory of Christ’s bride loving one another, you will hear about the glory of God in the church’s praise, you will hear the voice of the Bridegroom speaking to you as His Word is read and preached, and you will taste that the Lord is good at the King’s Table. All this and much more is to be found in the church!

Confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God and incorporation into His “building” through baptism (Galatians 3:26-29) and church membership (Galatians 1:2) go hand in hand.

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. (Matthew 16:16)

I also say to you that you are Peter (Rock), and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. (Matthew 16:18)

In ordinary circumstances (extraordinary circumstances might include persecution, disability or sickness) a person who professes faith in Jesus but chooses to neglect baptism/membership within the church is not a member of Christ’s body.1 

Augustine, a 5th century bishop and the greatest of the Latin Church fathers, agreed with Cyprian:

He cannot have God for his Father who refuses to have the church for his mother.

The Protestant Reformer John Calvin added:

For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother [the church] conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels [Matt.22:30]. It is always disastrous to leave the church” (Institutes of the Christian Religion IV.1.4).

 

See also:

Michael Horton, Finding a Church

Jim Eliff, Why Should I Join a Church?

Footnotes
  1. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Faith alone is the instrument of our justification.  The Scriptures also teach that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26).  While we do not believe baptism is a work meriting our justification; we do believe that Jesus Christ requires we receive baptism as the sign of covenant membership (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:37-39; Romans 4:10-11).  []