Two Prooftexts for Church Membership
In my previous article in this Journal, I noted that not every theological question can be answered with a prooftext. At the same time, as a professor of mine used to say, “there’s nothing wrong with a prooftext… as long as the text proves what you say it does.”
Having a few prooftexts handy for core theological convictions can be an enormously useful pastoral tool. After all, when a church member passes you in the church foyer on his way to lunch after the Sunday service and asks “hey pastor, what does the Bible say about [X],” he’s not wanting a theology lecture, but a few clear verses to guide his thinking. Not having specific Bible texts at the ready for core theological convictions gives the impression we’re leaning on tradition more than on Scripture.
So can we show church membership is biblical in three minutes or less? Are there “prooftexts” for church membership? Let me submit two.
PROOFTEXT 1: 1 CORINTHIANS 5:12
“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?”
The value of this text is twofold. First, Paul clearly draws a boundary between those “inside” the church and those “outside” the church. That boundary is “membership,” it separates the church from the world. Second, Paul indicates that Christians have one set of responsibilities to insiders and another to outsiders. We are to “judge” insiders, which in this context refers to holding one another accountable through the mechanisms of church discipline.
For Paul, then, there are church insiders and outsiders—that’s church membership. Those inside the church have a special obligation to “judge” one another or hold one another accountable—that’s the responsibility of church membership. 1
PROOFTEXT 2: 1 CORINTHIANS 12:21
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’”
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes the church as a body composed of many members. This body is a local congregation—like the Corinthians to whom Paul writes. They eat the same bread (1 Cor. 10:17), share the same sorrows, and partake in the same joys (1 Cor. 12:26). In verse 21, Paul says that the members of the body cannot say they do not “need” one another. By implication, then, they do in fact “need” one another—every believer needs to be incorporated into a body, one member among many. Saying we don’t “need” to join a local church is the very error Paul is correcting in this passage. We “need” to be a “member” of a “body”—that’s church membership.
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1 I’m indebted to Bobby Jamieson for pointing me to 1 Corinthians 5:12 as a prooftext for church membership.