EDITOR'S NOTE:
The following is an excerpt from
 What Is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile (Crossway). This book is the third item in the IXMark series.

As a young man, Joshua Harris's attitude toward the church reflected that of many people today. Harris writes:

"When I graduated from my church's high school youth group, I started visiting around. I loved God and had big dreams for how I wanted to serve Him, but I didn't see any reason to get too involved in one church. By then, I thought I knew all there was to know about church, and I wasn't impressed. Most churches struck me as out-of-date and out-of-touch. There had to be better, more efficient ways to accomplish great things for God."

He considered the church secondary, outmoded, inefficient, and a hindrance. It wasn't that he didn't love God or God's people. He just didn't think that belonging to a particular church was important, and might even be a hindrance.

Joshua is not alone. Many people think that church— especially church membership, that is, actually signing up and joining—is a spiritual relic destined to hinder spiritual freedom and fruitfulness.

The reasons for this view of church membership are many. Some Christians are just plain indifferent to church membership. They can take it or leave it; they're neither excited nor negative toward the church. It just doesn't matter to them.

Others are ignorant. They are uninformed. They've never considered the Bible's view of the local church.

Still others are indecisive. They can't make up their minds about joining. Perhaps they're the kind of people who never really make decisions; decisions tend to happen to them.

And there are the independent types. They are "Lone Ranger Christians" who don't want to be saddled with the burdens of church membership. They don't want people "in their business." They want to come into a church, consume what they need, and leave unattached.

Finally, there are those who are slow to commit to a local church because their affections are inverted. They have strong attachments to a "home church" in the town they grew up in, and yet their bodies are hundreds of miles away. They can't bring themselves to join a church where they live because they've never emotionally left a church from their past.

At root, all of these perspectives on the local church stem from the same problem: a failure to understand or take seriously God's intent that the local church be central to the life of his people. People don't become committed church members—and therefore healthy Christians—because they don't understand that such a commitment is precisely how God intends his people to live out the faith and experience Christian love.

Is "Church Membership" a Biblical Idea?

When people who encounter for the first time the idea that church membership is necessary and important, many want to know, "Is the idea of church membership important? Where can I find it in the Bible?"

As with so many things, you can't turn in the Bible to "the Book of Church Membership" or to a chapter conveniently labeled by Bible publishers, "On Becoming a Member." The biblical data isn't as obvious as that, yet the idea of membership is nearly everywhere in Scripture.

Have you ever considered how many practices and commands given to the New Testament church lose all their meaning if membership is not practiced, visibly identifiable, and important? Here are a few essential things commanded in Scripture for the local church that would lose their meaning without an operational concept of membership.

CHURCH LEADERSHIP

Two classic passages in Scripture outline for the church the qualifications its leaders must have (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). In addition to these qualifications, there are explicit commands for leaders to shepherd the flock and for Christians to submit to their leaders (Heb. 13:17). Yet if there is no identifiable membership, there is no one for leaders to lead. Submission to their authority as Hebrews 13:17 requires becomes nonsense if the leaders are not responsible for a group, and that group is not attached to them in some way.