Must each Christian be a member of a local congregation? Like so many
questions, this one cannot be properly answered either yes or no without
considering existing circumstances. The reason for this is that the
essentialness of local church membership is contingent upon two important
factors: (1) Being where other Christians are and (2) Their walking
according to truth in their congregational practices. I would certainly deny
that one is obligated to be a member of a local church when such is
impossible due to there being no others with whom he could unite or when
those who compose the church are engaged in unauthorized congregational
activities. But granting these two conditions, membership is essential!

The local church of Christ is a relationship (fellowship) between
individuals. This fellowship is designed for those who are partakers of the
common salvation, dedicated to the common service of God, subjects of the
common authority of Jesus Christ, and renderers of common worship. In view
of man's gregarious nature it seems only natural that God would make
provision for Christians to enjoy fellowship (mutual, active participation
in common interest) in the fulfillment of their work and worship. The Lord
has made such provision in His Word. The local church is the result of that
provision. If God gave the local church, membership is necessary. There can
be no church without members thereof. There can be no members thereof
without membership therein.

Those who are to oversee the churches of Christ (elders, pastors, or
bishops) are often mentioned in the New Testament (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:23;
20:17). Their duties are discussed (Acts 20:28-31; 1 Pet 5:1-9). These
scriptures set forth the fact that elders function in the local church. For
them to guide and oversee there must be someone or something or both for
them to oversee. This oversight, then demands a local church, which demands
members, which demands membership.

Christians are to be, not only a part of, but, to some extent, amenable to a
local church. This is seen in the responsibility of local church discipline.
The Lord expects of us purity of life and teaching (Gal 1:6-9; 5:19-23). He
also demands that the congregation exercise corrective discipline in cases
of impurity (2 Thes 3:6,14; Rom 16:17,18; 1 Cor 5). Local church discipline
demands a local church and a local church demands membership.

The example of the early disciples indicates that Christians are to be
members of local congregations. When Paul went to Jerusalem, he "assayed to
join himself to the disciples" and eventually "was with them" (Acts
9:26-28). In Antioch he and Barnabas "assembled themselves with" the church
over a period of one year (Acts 11:25-26). They were "in the church that was
at Antioch" (Acts 13:1). In fact, when Paul and others found no local church
in existence, upon the conversion of souls, they established one (See also
Acts 18:27; Rom 16:1f). Are you a FAITHFUL, active member of the local body
of the Lord's church?

By Roger M. Hendricks

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