“Join or Die?” The Necessity and Gift of Church Membership

“What is the relationship between the Christian and the church?”

Sixty percent of Americans who never attend church during the course of a year view themselves as Christians. But a sincere perusal of Scripture shows a much tighter relationship between the Christian and the church. In fact, contrary to the practice of most Americans, God not only calls believers to attend church but to bind themselves to a local, Bible-believing congregation in a visible and vital way.

 

In 1754 Benjamin Franklin published a cartoon called “Join or Die.” It pictured a snake cut into eights representing the British colonies in the New World. Franklin argued that unless the colonies formed one body they would never be able to resist the powerful threat of the French and their Indian allies.

Considering the fierce enemies assaulting believers in every age (1 Pet. 5:8; John 15:19; Gal. 5:19) Franklin’s plea speaks to one of the most basic questions every believer has to answer: “What is the relationship between the Christian and the church?” Increasingly, more people see less of a connection between the two. Sixty percent of Americans who never attend church during the course of a year view themselves as Christians.1 But a sincere perusal of Scripture shows a much tighter relationship between the Christian and the church. In fact, contrary to the practice of most Americans, God not only calls believers to attend church but to bind themselves to a local, Bible-believing congregation in a visible and vital way.

The Question of Attending Church

This question is answered definitively in Hebrews 10:25. “Let us not [forsake] the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but [exhort] one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” This verse requires more than regularly attending worship services, but it doesn’t require less. Believers go to church. In fact, the writer says that church attendance is more important today than it was yesterday!

Salvation is never merely a personal experience. The fall brought individualism; Adam and Eve hid from God and from each other (Gen. 3:7–8). God sought them out to become his worshiping people (v. 9). Redemption creates a new community. The Bible speaks to God’s people in the plural: “Come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Ps. 95:6).

Both Catholics and historic Protestants have maintained that outside of the church there is no salvation. While allowing for exceptions, as a rule the only place God promises to save is in the church (Matt. 16:18–19). No one who disregards the body may claim to be united to the head of the church. At almost no point in the history of the world would someone who neglected corporate worship be regarded as a Christian. Without regular church attendance we cut ourselves off from the means of grace and lose contact with a vital counter-cultural experience.

The more knotty question is, “Must I join a church? Must I pledge to meaningfully belong to a local congregation until for weighty and justifiable reasons I am called elsewhere?”

Necessity of Joining the Church

The difference between attending and joining a church is analogous to the difference between dating and marriage. When it comes to our church life, the Bible clearly steers us toward the latter.

Read More