What are the Requirements for Church Membership?
It wasn’t as popular to join a church in New Testament times as it sometimes is today. Because God judged the sin of Christians, “None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem,” (Acts 5:13).
Because of this judgment, it may have been easier to determine who was a Christian. As the church in Jerusalem grew, the unsaved did not want to be identified with the church but “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,” (Acts 5:14).
The question is asked, “Why be baptized to join a local church?”
First, because of the example of the early Christians. Those who believed were baptized (Acts 2:41).
Second, all who professed faith were considered members of the local church where they served, and all who were baptized were considered part of the local body of Christ.
Since, all who professed Christ were baptized and considered a part of the fellowship, there was a strong tie between baptism and church membership. The third reason is the symbol which baptism gives of the identification in the death, burial, and resurrection, of being with Christ (Rom. 6:4-5).
Therefore, a Christian should give testimony by being placed in water as a sign of being identified in the death and resurrection of Christ.
In the Bible narrative, all of those who professed faith were baptized before they were added to the church. Just as Spirit baptism places us in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), so water baptism identifies us with the local body, the church.
Knowledge and Agreement with Doctrine
There was no written doctrinal statement required for identification with an assembly during the New Testament as far as we can tell. Yet, the necessity of doctrinal purity is self-evident. In the early church the power and reality of the message of Jesus Christ swept the world.
Whereas unbelievers might have doubted the message, Christians experienced the assurance of the indwelling Christ individually (Gal. 2:20) and corporately (Matt. 18:20). Immediately after conversion, a new Christian was taught “the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). Any who rejected the gospel was rejected by the church (Titus 3:10).
While no verse can be found to demand conformity to scriptural teaching for church membership, it can be argued that any cause (doctrinal heresy) that was serious enough to expel a person from the church is also a biblical ground to deny him church membership in the first place.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” (Matt. 5:13). The church ought to represent God’s standard of morality in the life of its members.
While the New Testament church did not give a moral prescription for new members, it was generally accepted that those who had repented of their sins were expected to live for God (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Obviously, a person cannot become perfect at conversion, but he should turn from all known sin in his life. As he grows in biblical knowledge, he will become aware of other sins from which he will also turn.
Since we never become perfect in this life, let us ask the question, “How much moral conformity is required for church membership?” A person must repent of those sins that he knows and must meet the minimum standard of the Christians in his new local assembly.
There is no prescription in Scripture that gives the standard to join a church, but any sin that would be serious enough to cause expulsion from a church, would be serious enough to keep a person from joining its fellowship.