Where do we see church membership in the New Testament?

  1. Matthew 18:15-17: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault…if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you…If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” The ability to exclude someone from “the church” presupposes that it’s known who belongs to “the church” as a member in the first place.
  2. Acts 5:12-13: “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.” So, people faced the decision of whether or not they would join the church in Jerusalem. This joining is more public and definite than an informal association.
  3. In 1 Timothy 5:9-12, Paul gives Timothy instructions for enrolling widows on the list of those receiving support from the church. He writes, “Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works…” While this isn’t conclusive evidence for formal church membership, it’s tough to imagine that the church in Ephesus would have kept a list of widows but not have any formal means of identifying everyone who belonged to the church.
  4. 1 Corinthians 5:12-13: “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.” Paul called upon the Corinthian church to judge those who were inside the church, not those who were outside. They were responsible for the testimony of those who belonged to the church, not those who didn’t. This passage makes no sense if the Corinthian church didn’t have some public, formal means by which people identified themselves with the church.
  5. 2 Corinthians 2:6: Paul writes concerning a man the Corinthian church had excommunicated, “For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” This man’s exclusion from the church was a punishment by the majority. You can’t have a majority unless you have a definite set of people from which a majority is constituted.

(Much of this material has been adapted from Michael McKinley’s article, “Church Membership and the NCLHGA)

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