Watch this video from John Piper on “membership”. Dr. Piper admits that there is no explicit command or example of membership in the local church but he defends it as implied. I don’t find his line of reasoning very convincing, especially given how big Bethlehem Baptist Church is.
Here is my problem with this. If you need a system of formal church membership to know who the “members” of the local church are, that is indicative of a problem. When there were discipline problems in the early church (for example 1 Corinthians 5: 9-13), they stopped being in fellowship with the unrepentant transgressor. They didn’t remove his name from a written list; they had nothing to do with him, refusing to even eat with him.
The key here is all about demonstrating a tangible commitment to the Body of Christ, to live out in deed and not just in words the command to “love one another”. I get that. I just don’t agree that it is represented by declaring “this is my church” and therefore “that church over there is NOT my church”. The traditional formal membership system divides the Body into fiefdoms and inhibits Christian unity by turning groups of believers into competitors for members (and their offerings).
How did the New Testament church show their dedication and commitment to one another? Walking an aisle? Signing a piece of paper? Attending the requisite number of “membership” classes? Of course not.
The early church showed commitment to one another in lives lived together, with complete sacrifice. Sacrifice of time, sacrifice of self, sacrifice of rights, sacrifice of property and counted all of it as nothing compared to the joy of community in the covenant Body of Christ.
If you want to show faithfulness to Christ lived out in community with the Body, skip the formalism. Skip the membership classes. Skip the miserly “tithe” envelope. Give yourselves to one another as the church. Take everything the world tells you us important and set it aside as meaningless. That is the path I am seeking for our family, carving out the unimportant and worldly to live in community. I am not sure how that is going to look yet but I am certain that if we focus on loving others more than ourselves and unraveling the love of worldliness, community will naturally result.