This is a question that deserves as much time as you have to give it. But you are reading a blog, so it is likely you don’t want a lengthy dissertation. Allow me to point to a few passages of Scripture, and in this way provide you with an introductory answer to the question.
Matthew 18:15-20. In this passage, the church/assembly is defined by:
- “brother” (a designation often referring to “brother in faith”) in close relationship with “brother” (v15)
- accountability regarding sin and striving towards holiness (v16)
- the requirement of ongoing repentance in the lives of sinners (v15)
- communal care and concern for consistent living (v16-17)
- a weighty responsibility to make serious judgments about who is in and who is out of the fellowship (v18)
- Christ’s presence and authority (v20)
Colossians 3:1-17. This passage is found in the midst of a letter from the Apostle Paul to the “saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae” (1:2). While Paul does not explicitly call the Colossian Christians a “church,” the designation is implied by the way he closes the letter (4:15-16). In chapter 3, Paul defines their relationship as one in which:
- all worldly designations are obliterated (v11)
- all worldly living is to be renounced and resisted (v5-8)
- the Christians are to be patient and bear with one another in love (v13-14)
- the Christians are also responsible to actively teach and admonish (i.e. correct or rebuke) one another according to the Scripture (v16)
Hebrews 13:17. This passage is one of the most terrifying in all of Scripture to me as a pastor. Church membership is more defined in this passage by answering the questions that anyone should ask when they read it.
- Which leaders should I obey?
- Whose souls are those leaders keeping watch over?
- Which leaders will Christ call to account, and for whom will those leaders give an account?
Much more could be said about each of these passages, and many more passages should be able to weigh in on our understanding of church membership. My hope is that anyone who reads this will at least recognize that the Bible does, in fact, say quite a bit about church membership. Furthermore, I pray that God will help local churches become healthier as they seek to be more faithful to the words of Christ.