Who Invented “Church Membership” anyway?

Is church membership a manmade idea or is it really biblical?

In this short post, we’ll consider just one text. Peter told pastors in his first epistle to “shepherd the flock of God that is *among you*.” (1 Peter 5:2)

There is a lot there we could unpack but let me make one observation. Either a.) Peter just means this as a catchy cute Christianese saying to stitch on a pillow and give to your pastor for pastor appreciation month or b.) formal church membership is an absolutely necessary part of New Testament Christianity.

Let me explain…

How can a pastor fulfill this task of shepherding the flock if he doesn’t know what constitutes “the flock”? Does Peter mean that pastors are to just shepherd every person they come across? If so, why does he say *among you*?

Ah, but the flock is just everyone who shows up on Sunday then, right? No. Because it is the ‘flock of God’, i.e. those who’ve trusted Christ as their only suitable and all-sufficient Savior. Furthermore, Peter has just finished explaining to us the importance of baptism in chapter 3. That is, there is a connection between the flock of God and believer’s baptism. Not that baptism brings someone into God’s fold, but it is what publicly identifies one as part of the local flock.

Now, since Peter says the flock of God among you and not simply the entire flock of God, he must mean that pastors have a particular responsibility to those in their care. But how do they know who is in their care unless there is a formal demarcation of who is in and who is out? (i.e. Church Membership). But you say ‘well whatever Christian shows up that day is who you are to shepherd’. So the flock is an amorphous group? This misunderstands the analogy of sheep altogether!

Furthermore, it downplays the role of shepherding as true shepherding cannot be done merely on Sundays. It is impossible for a pastor to fulfill this verse if Peter’s idea of the church is just come and go as you please and don’t worry about formal commitments.

Therefore, it is my conclusion from this text (and many others!) that we can’t really understand New Testament Christianity apart from committed, formal, local church membership.

A few applications:

  1. If you’re a Christian but not a member of a local church, why? And not just “my name is on the roll” because membership is more than that. Church rolls ARE a biblical practice but to say that’s ALL membership is, is not biblical. If you’re not a formal member of a local church, this is a precarious situation for you, and I would implore you to correct it.
  2. If you’re a pastor, one of the ways to shepherd the flock is to teach on the importance of church membership.
  3. If you attend a church that doesn’t prize membership, talk to the leadership about that. Do so lovingly and humbly.
  4. If you’re not a Christian, only one pastor can save you: the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). Church membership can’t do it. You must first bow the knee to Christ in repentance and faith trusting Him as King and Savior.
  5. Don’t think that you can go through life without being shepherded. That’s a lie we believe in America because of our individualistic society. You weren’t made for that. Join a bible believing gospel-saturated local church

Leave a Comment