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Why Does a Christian Place Membership with a Local Congregation?
Bible study on fellowship and church membership.

As we imitate the apostles and hold to the traditions they established in the church (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; 2 Th. 3:7), Christians locally assemble to worship God and do the work He ordained for the church.

The Word "Church"
The Greek word translated "church" is ekklesia, meaning a called out body. It identifies the body (i.e., assembly) of people responding to God's call through Jesus Christ (Matt. 16:18), which He issued through the gospel (2 Th. 2:14; cf. Mk. 16:15; Tit. 2:11-14; Col. 1:6, 23).

People who respond to the call are added to the church by the Lord (Acts 2:38, 47; 1 Cor. 12:13). In this sense, the word "church" identifies the universal church, which is composed of all the saved (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22; 5:23-32; 1 Cor. 11:22; 12:28).

However, the word "church" is also used in another sense, and denotes a congregation in a specific location (Matt. 18:17; Acts 5:11; 8:1; 14:23, 27; 1 Cor.1:2; 1 Th. 1:1).

Church membership in the body of Christ occurs when someone obeys Jesus and is baptized, but local church membership is the joining of oneself to a local group of God's people for worship and work.

Paul and Peter's Example
Through Paul's example, we learn that local congregations consist of Christians who join themselves together as God's people. The churches in Thessalonica and Athens began by people obeying the gospel and joining themselves to Paul and the faithful brethren with him (Acts 17:4; 17:34).

Paul and Peter teach us that local congregations are led by elders, who are members of the congregation they oversee (Acts 20:28). Peter was an elder and faithful shepherd the flock of God within the congregation he served (1 Pet. 5:2); hence, he was a member of a local congregation.

Fellowship In a Local Church
We shouldn't have fellowship with sinful brethren within a local congregation. Paul commands Timothy, saying, "Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin" (1 Tim. 5:22).

We must be careful as to whom we allow into the fellowship of a local congregation. And certainly, as addressed in the immediate context of 1 Timothy 5:22, we must be particularly careful in the selection and ordination of elders, so we do not share responsibility for their sins.

Process of Extending Fellowship
Within a Local Congregation God allows us to employ an expedient method of establishing fellowship among members in a local congregation, just as He allows us to use an expedient method of selecting and ordaining elders.

A term we employ to identify the process for extending fellowship in a local congregation is "placing membership."

In our congregation, the process of extending fellowship involves a person making it known that he wishes to be a member of the congregation. Usually he'll express his desire to one of the elders, or the preacher who in turn forwards his request to the elders.

Then, the elders meet with the person (or family) requesting membership. This allows the elders to give the future member more information about the congregation and its inner workings; and it allows the prospective member to ask questions pertinent to the congregation and local fellowship.

Often times, a person requesting membership has been assembling with the group for a few weeks and is acquainted with the congregation, so meeting with the elders is more like touching base and coordinating, than anything else.

Sometimes, Fellowship Must Be Withdrawn
Unfortunately, there are times when a local congregation must withdraw fellowship from a member. God commands us to "withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly" (2 Th. 3:6).

A congregation must withdraw fellowship whenever a member refuses to repent of sin. Such was the case in Corinth of a man who had his father's wife, and refused to repent (1 Cor. 5:4, 9). In such cases, we are to note that person and not associate with him (2 Th. 3:14; 1 Cor. 5:9), so he'll be shamed (2 Th. 3:14), and repent to the saving of his soul (1 Cor. 5:5). But in doing this, we are not to "regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Th. 3:15).

If we do not withdraw from members who refuse to repent:

  • Sin will spread throughout the congregation (1 Cor. 5:6-8).
  • We will have fellowship with darkness rather than God (2 Cor. 6:14-18).

The church is composed of local congregations wherein Christians cooperate for the purpose of worship and work, in addition to the things God commands us to do as individual Christians.

As a congregation, we should extend fellowship to Christians who are faithfully serving God, while diligently exercising discipline within the local body.

When we do these things, as God ordained within the church, we are the people God purposed before creating the world (Eph. 1:3-14; 3:10-11), doing the good works He's prepared for His children (Eph. 2:10).