Church: 9 Marks: Membership

Can we find church membership in the Bible?

We are going to study the Bible and deduce some truths from our text about church membership. 

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

In this passage, there are 3 “asks” and 15 commands. 

“Asks” TO THE MEMBERSHIP OF THE CHURCH are not merely optional behaviors. 

  • Rather they are “asks” that are to be born out of love not cold adherence to an apostolic command. 
  • Paul could have commanded what he “asks”, but God inspired these three things to come from loving honor. 
  • These “asks” are like the character qualifications of an elder in 1 Timothy 3 in that all of these characteristics apply to everyone especially the elder. 
  1. Paul “asks” that the church “respect” (perfect active indicative…the perfect tense indicates the depth of the requested respect) those who labor among you, are over you, and admonish you…esteem them highly. V. 12-13
    1. Admonishing stinks…This is a correction. Those who correct just get anger from people. Someone makes a mess, the admonition comes, and then they get criticized for how they performed the admonition. 
  2. Urge you (THE CHURCH MEMBERS NOT THE ONES THEY ARE TO ESTEEM WHO LEAD) to communicate and uphold the following commands. V. 14
  3. I put you under oath to have this letter read before all. V. 27

Commands FOR THE MEMBERSHIP OF THE CHURCH related to the kingdom of God ARE ALL about spiritual survival and are not “asks” related to relational honor. 

  • Commands in Scripture are life and death for the soul. 
  • This does not mean that commands are unloving. 
  • It does mean that love that looks like God’s love is a holy and jealous love. 
  • Holy love breaks into the curse with command because life and death are the stakes. 
  1. Be at peace among yourselves. V. 13
  2. Admonish the idle. V. 14
    1. It may be that Paul had in mind those who had ceased to work because they were convinced that Christ’s return was imminent. Loafers who live at the expense of others are to be corrected.
    2. Consumption of spiritual goods is not the way. 
  3. Encourage the fainthearted. V. 14
    1. The Greek noun “oligopsuchos” occurs only here in the New Testament and it refers to those who feel inadequate, sad, fearful, and timid.
  4. Help the weak. V. 14
    1. Physical weakness. Weakness of faith. Moral weakness.
      1. Shore up places that are not strong. 
  5. Be patient with them all. V. 14
    1. Galatians 5:22 Patience is a fruit of the Spirit. 
  6. See (perceive and act on the perception) that no one repays evil for evil and that good is done to everyone. V. 15
    1. They are to have an active eye on the congregation.. 
  7. Rejoice always. V. 16
    1. A refrain of PTL coming from God’s people is glorious. 
  8. Pray without ceasing. V. 17
    1. The entire life of the Christian is lived in dependence on God. 
  9. Give thanks in all circumstances…for this is God’s will in Christ. V. 18
    1. One of the places the will of God is explicitly stated is right here…Give thanks in all things. 
  10. Do not quench (hinder) the Spirit. V. 19
    1. Do not restrict the work of the Spirit.
  11. Do not despise prophecies. V. 20
    1. Prophecy in the Bible is speaking the word of the Lord not a foretelling. 
  12. Test everything. V. 21
    1. We should have discerning eyes on “words” from the Lord that we can’t locate in the Bible. 
  13. Hold fast to what is good. V. 21
  14. Abstain from every form of evil. V. 22
  15. Brothers, pray for us. V. 25
    1. Pray for the frontier team that was sent out from them. 


  1. Remember the entire context of the New Testament is the local church. 
    1. This passage is located inside of a people in a place and to be heard by every individual in that specific people in that specific place. Local Church!
      1. Matthew 16:18 (ESV) And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
      2. Ephesians 5:31-32 (ESV) “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 
  2. These “asks” of love and honor and “commands” to preserve spiritual vitality can only be done:
    1. Within a distinct group of people who are in covenantal and relational proximity to one another.
      1. Covenant – We agree to these truths with personal and corporate consequences.
      2. Relational – We agree to these truths and consequences together.
  3. How can “asks” and commands be expected to be done if there was no method of commitment to some oversight ensuring that the instructions are followed?
    1. It is not possible unless a body of overseeing leaders labor, oversee and admonish as their work to see that these things are done by everyone. 
      1. This is the role of biblical leadership (elders). 
  4. If church membership can be so fluid that folks can just move into and out of local churches with no covenantal and relational consequences then we have lost the Bible’s view of the church and our role in it. 
  5. Local, covenantal, relational church membership is evidence of membership in Jesus Christ through repentance and faith. 

The challenge for us is not so much defending the biblical reality of church membership. Rather its membership that has no meaning to it other than mere formality. 

Cultural Christianity/nominal Christianity “thrives where church membership means nothing and is available to all, without anything changing the day after you sign up.” (Inserra, p. 74)

What should we do?

  1. Review our membership covenant if you are a member of TRC. 
  2. If you are not a member of a local church:
    1. Make sure you have believed the good news and followed the Lord Jesus in baptism. 
    2. Find a local church that believes the Bible, preaches from the Bible, makes church membership substantive, and then follow the process of becoming a member of that church. 
  3. As members, teach and practice 1 Thess. 5:12-28.
    1. The next time you gather in covenantal and personal fellowship in all its forms from one on one to RL group, teach and expect this passage to be reality. 
  4. Worship the Lord for adopting us into his family as the church of Jesus Christ. 


Membership in the people of God is built into the nature of God. God is Trinity. 

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit belong in and with one another. The criteria for being part of the one God in three distinct persons of the same essence and absolutely holy is mysterious and glorious. 

But God shows us what its like when he creates us. 

God creates mankind in his image, male and female he made man. 

  • Male and female are joined in marriage to one another and the criteria for that union is male joined to female, leaving father and mother, and being joined to one another as one flesh. 
  • Male and female multiply and have children creating a family unit.
  • Father and mother and children belong together in a family. 

Sin wrecks the family unit and membership in that family unit is breached by murder and expulsion from the family (Genesis 4).

  • There are standards of holiness that are necessary to be part of the family. 

God creates a people for himself who are to be comprised of all nations, and that people have criteria for being God’s people. 

  • They are marked from birth or enter through circumcision, cleansing with water (baptism), justification by faith displayed through obedience to the law. 

Fast forward to the New Testament. God completes his people by keeping the law for them when Jesus, the Son, comes and obeys the law perfectly, is put on the cross by the Father as the payment for sin, is buried, rises, and ascends to present himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin, so that now through repentance and faith people become part of God’s family.

These people are the church that Jesus is constructing.  

  • Identity as the family of God (the church) is manifested by the outward ordinances of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and holiness displayed through obeying all he taught us to obey. 

Being the church has tactical implications because it has to be manifested in the earth in diverse locations. 

These implications are why church membership is important and clearly biblical. 

Church membership / being part of the family of God, is so implicit in the text that if we don’t pay attention to it we will miss this truth. 

Here is an example of how it shows up in the text when you begin to ask questions of meaning from the Scriptures. 

Hebrews 13:17 (ESV) Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

We have to ask some questions about this text. 

  1. If there is no membership in a local church, then which leaders should an individual Christian obey and submit to? 
  2. Fearfully for your elders, who will we give an account for?

For question 1, the Bible commands Christians to follow and honor an elder body (Heb. 13:17; 1 Tim. 5:17). 

  • If there is no understanding of local church membership, then who are we to follow? 
  • Are we to follow anyone with the title “elder” from any church? 
  • Who are we to honor vocationally if it’s not to someone specific inside a people?

For question 2, the Scriptures command an elder body to care for specific people (1 Pet. 5:1-5; Acts 20:29-30). 

  • Will I as an elder be held accountable for all the Christians in Rome, GA? 
    • There are many churches in Rome, GA that I have strong theological and philosophical differences with. Will we be accountable for what people in those churches believe because of what they are taught?
    • Will we give account for what they teach in their small groups, how they spend money, and what they do about global disciple-making?

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