Are Church Membership Agreements Biblical?

Are Church Membership Agreements Biblical?

Signing a church membership agreement and agreeing to abide by it’s requirements is the usual way to become a member in most North American churches (I say North American because that is the only type of Christian Church I am personally familiar with though the failures of the North American churches are likely to be found in most modern day Christian churches all over the world).

But are such agreements biblical? In other words does the Bible support the supposed need for such agreements? Should a Christian ever be required to sign them as a condition of Church membership? Should a Christian ever sign such agreements?

First off I would like to say this. Every single Christian must make up their mind that they are going to follow the Lord’s revealed will in the Word no matter what the cost. The Lord will test every Christian’s heart in this regard.

At some point in your life you will come face to face with the need to follow God through His Word even if none go with you. Alone. Unsupported. Misunderstood. And misjudged. Even by brethren who should know better. If you are following in the Lord’s footsteps that is part of your calling. To suffer as He did.

You and I don’t need to go find suffering. It will come to us in due time all on it’s own as a result of living for Christ in the midst of a perverse and crooked generation.

1 Peter 2:20-21

But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps…

Matthew 10:24-25

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!

You must come to a place in your life of being willing to follow God even if the church you are a member of turns it’s back on God in some way. Even if you must leave that church.

We do not follow a church. We follow God.

If you are not willing to follow the Lord according to the dictates of your conscience and to live by His truth as contained in the Word you will not be able to see clearly to whatever truth I may share in this article. Instead you will justify yourself, your church leaders, and whoever else you are with to condone church traditions that have been the norm in church practice since the Reformation.

If you are not willing to follow God no matter what the cost to you personally the old wine of church tradition will be good enough for you and what I have to say is not for you. You may as well stop reading and forget anything I have said as it will do you no good.

But if you who are reading this are willing to follow the Lord wholeheartedly and to seek for His greater glory and honor within the Body come what may…then please, read on with an open heart asking the Lord to show you whatever He might want you to pick up from what I share.

So are church membership agreements biblical? If they are not should they be used at all?

To answer these questions we must first look at what causes one to become a member of His Body.

Ephesians 5:29

…for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.

1 Corinthians 12:27

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.

Ephesians 3:6

…the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel…

To become a member of His Body one must accept the promise of Jesus Christ through the Gospel. That is to say that they must become a Christian and be born again (John 3). To become a member of His Body is to become a member of His Church.

Based on the above it is clear that signing or not signing a church membership agreement does not change whether you are a member of His Body (or Church) at all since you do not become a Christian by becoming a member of a local church.

If I come into an assembly of Christians, in Christ, I am as much a part of that assembly as a member of the one Body as I will ever be. Let me say that again…it’s that important.

I am as much a part of any Christian assembly as a fellow member of the one Body as I will ever be!

And so are you (if you are a real Christian).

Did you know that Christians are likewise as forgiven and as full of the Holy Spirit as they will ever be?

What I mean by that is that a Christian cannot be more forgiven than they already have been (past tense) through the death of Jesus Christ and acceptance of what He did for them. A Christian also has the Holy Spirit fully living inside of them such that He cannot come to dwell in them more fully than He already does.

The Spirit either lives inside you fully or He does not. There is no such thing biblically as a Holy Spirit that is only partially there in the life of the believer (in the sense of having one foot in and one foot out type of thing).

It’s the same with being a member of His Body. You either are or you are not. There is no gray about it.

Now that is not to say that you will always experience forgiveness as a present possession in your life. In the here and now you may forget the greatness of the forgiveness you have been given. You may not feel very forgiven at any point in time. You may even go out and sin it up at times and cast aside your state of forgiveness (until the Lord breaks you through His discipline or you come to your senses, repent and rest under the shadow of His wings again). But through acceptance of the Gospel you have been, that is HAVE BEEN, forgiven. You are not about to be forgiven. You do not have to work to be forgiven. You are already forgiven. Jesus paid for all your sins when He died for you. All you can do is repent, believe, and get up to live for God again.

Nor am I saying that as a result of having as much of the Holy Spirit living inside of you that you will always walk around filled with the fruit of the Spirit. Full of joy, peace, love, self-control and all the other fruits of the Spirit. Though Christians have the fullness of the Spirit within them they must make choices to walk in line with the Spirit’s leading. They must obey the promptings of God through His Spirit and deny self to live for Him. As imperfect beings who live in a body of flesh they will fail at times to manifest the presence of the Spirit within them but that does not mean the Spirit does not live inside them as fully as He is ever going to live. That just means that we Christians are still learning to walk in the Spirit and to be filled up to the brim with the fullness of His Presence.

There is certainly a sense in which we can be filled with the Spirit (a perfectly biblical concept) but that sense has to do with being filled with His influence and not a sense of getting more of Him to come live inside of us. He is in us as much as He is ever going to be.

What I am saying is that like with forgiveness and the Presence of His Spirit one cannot become more of a member of His Body by signing a church membership agreement.

We have forgiveness. All the forgiveness we will ever have.

We have the Holy Spirit living inside of us. Fully as much as He will ever live in us (though we will certainly come to experience Him more fully as we continue in the Christian life).

And we are as much of a member of His Body as we will ever be through the new birth (though we will certainly come to experience that membership more fully as God intended as we draw close to Him by drawing close to members of the Body).

There isn’t a single solitary verse that even implies that membership agreements are necessary. Indeed I would go so far as to say that they are downright unbiblical and that any church leader who insists on Christians signing such agreements as a condition of local church membership is practicing lordship over members of His Body (if not intentionally then unintentionally) in that God Himself already has declared said Christian as much a member of His Body as they are ever going to be.

We cannot become more forgiven than we are.

We cannot get more of the Holy Spirit to dwell in us than He already is.

And we cannot do anything to become more a member of His Body than we already are.

In one sense, membership in the Body is like membership to a gym that has facilities around the country. Once we are a member we can then enjoy the benefits of that membership in whatever facility that gym has. Throughout the country. We don’t have to become a new member at every different facility of this gym that we might want to exercise at. We are already members. Membership is a one time deal. We never have to sign up for membership again.

Likewise with the Church.

Now I recognize that many of you might object on the grounds that such is just not practical (or seemingly so). What about church discipline? I mean if we can just vamoose to a different church when we get into trouble at one church, discipline isn’t very effective is it?

What about the need to learn submission and the need to be accountable? If we can leave a local body at will when we become uncomfortable in something the Lord is working out in our lives through our interaction with other members of the Body locally then how are we ever going to learn submission or be accountable to anyone?

Well…I got news for you. Membership agreements or not…we can all leave whatever local body of believers we associate with any time we want. We can turn around and walk into any number of different churches locally and start all over again or go only to that point of fellowship that we are comfortable with…any time we want.

Membership agreements do not guarantee that members of the flock will stick around and learn the submissiveness they need to learn. Or that any required church discipline (as regrettable as that may be) will be respected by all other local churches, or that we will indeed become vulnerable to the point of being accountable to change in deeply rooted areas of sin in our lives.

More importantly church membership agreements superimpose on Christians requirements that not even God Himself places on them!

Most church membership agreements have something that I call “vision supportedness” in them. That is to say that to become a member Christians must “…agree to uphold and encourage the vision of (name of church left out) at all times…”.

Here are a couple of other statements I found on some membership agreements available on-line (italicized words in parenthesis and words not in quotation marks are mine, non-italicized words and words in quotation marks are part of the membership agreement)…

“Having received Christ as my Lord and Savior and been baptized, and being in agreement with the beliefs, strategy, structure, and mission of the church, I commit myself to God and to the other members of the church to do the following:” which precedes practical requirements of how that looks in their particular church.

“Becoming a member requires…(among other things)…Affirmation of the (name of church omitted) SOS Church’s statement of faith, philosophy of ministry, and position papers. (Exceptions may be made by elder approval.)” With this particular church one cannot “be eligible for leadership positions (such as elder or deacon).” unless one agrees to become a member by signing the membership agreement. Furthermore this church will “consider granting dual membership” with another church under certain circumstances.

One of the most fundamental problems with such membership agreements is that they do not recognize the work of God within non-member Christians who have become members of His one Body through the new birth. Instead they withhold such recognition until and if a prospective member signs on the dotted line.

Worse they withhold their all out love from non-members and express it mainly to those who have signed the membership agreement.

They withhold deep fellowship from those whom Christ died for and who were bought by His precious blood to become members of the one Body.

Membership agreements promote division within the one Body in that Christians come to see each other as members of this or that church body when in fact we are (all of us who are Christians) members one of another no matter what Sunday building we meet in.

Membership agreements set up artificial, human orchestrated, barriers to fellowship as God intended for the members of His one Body to enjoy.

If you stop and think about it membership agreements express lordship over the flock in that church leaders see fit to add to those requirements that the Lord places on members of His Body and to superimpose requirements on them that God Himself does not place on them.

Take the part of the one membership agreement quoted above where a Christian cannot be eligible for leadership positions within the church until and if they agree to the membership agreement. The New Testament makes no such distinction. Leadership positions for elder and deacons are wide open to any man who has the character and the desire to shepherd the flock of God.

To add anything to the qualifications listed in Titus and Timothy as a condition of becoming a church leader is to add something to what God has decreed as a sufficient qualification to become a leader. Such is arrogance by any other name but of course we do not accuse church leaders of being arrogant in the creation and promotion of such a membership agreement.

Which ties into another problem in the church at large.

We put leaders up on pedestals when in fact they are but men. As prone to falling into sin and error as any other man. As much in need of being accountable to abide by what God requires in the Word as any other man. Church leaders are not above the Word. They do not have the authority to add to what God requires of Christians. God does not give them such authority over their fellow believers.

This is not to say that they do not have authority. Any church leader qualified by Titus and Timothy to be a leader by their character is to be respected and submitted to. I do not for one minute advocate rebellion or rebellious attitudes.

But at the same time we as Christians desperately need to recognize that church leaders are not God. While we may acknowledge that in word we all but treat them as God in the way many of us follow their every whim. Even if their leadership involves placing on our backs membership agreement requirements that God Himself does not place on us.

We Christians are members of the one Body. The indivisible Body. We can no more become a member of that one Body by signing membership agreements than we can become Christians by getting a driver’s license. No Christian leader has the right or the authority to require any other Christian to agree to a man-made membership agreement, no matter how well intentioned it is, that adds to what God requires of any other member of His Body.

If we have liberty before God to not sign such membership agreements, and we do have such liberty, then we also have liberty to engage in as much fellowship as any Christian around us wants to have with us. Deep oneness of fellowship. Irrespective of whether or not that fellowship happens within the confines of any particular group of Christians that meet in one particular building on Sundays.

God would have us break down barriers that keep us divided. We are one in Him and we need to openly acknowledge that by allowing and indeed encouraging Christians to fellowship wherever they want to fellowship or even across normal church boundary lines (established by man and church tradition).

We should not tie up heavy burdens and require Christians to sign membership agreements (which often add to what God requires) when the truth is that every Christians is already a member of His one Body and is accepted by God as such into the fullness of all the fellowship with Him and with their brothers and sisters in Christ that they could possibly want.

God says to open our mouth and feed on His Presence within the Body. It is His Body. No Christian has the right to keep that from any other Christian based solely on a lack of willingness to sign a membership agreement.

We as Christians need to start questioning the basis for many of our church traditions. Traditions that on the whole have contributed to the mess the church is in.



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