Is it scriptural to "join" a church?

Question:

I have a question about joining a church. I'm a bit at a loss to know how to go forward. This is all rather new to me as my family left "going to church" decades ago and have since worshiped with other Christians in homes or fellowships.

One of the church leaders asked me if I was interested in joining, and I didn't know how to respond as I've just been visiting now for several months. I don't know exactly what it means to "join a church" instead of just worshiping together. Why and what does it mean, and how is it scriptural? I've been reading in the Bible several areas that discuss the church and body of Christ among them I Corinthians 12-14. Part of my problem may be that when I hear the words "join" and "membership" it reminds me of a club. I would appreciate any advice.

Also, how and what do I ask to learn more about their doctrine? I've been listening very closely to what being said during the Bible study and preaching and it's been strictly scriptural based; I guess I'm just really cautious, I have some friends who said they didn't think church membership was scriptural and I didn't know how to respond.

Thanks again for your encouragement and advice!


Answer:

I'm glad you are being cautious, but it sounds to me you are checking and comparing what you hear with what you find in the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). That is how you decide if a church is following the teachings of Christ or not.

In order to answer your question better, you need to realize that the word "church" is used in two different senses in the New Testament. One sense refers to all followers of Christ -- past, present, and future -- all around the world. It is in this "universal" sense that Christ said, "on this rock I will build My church" (Matthew 16:18). He wasn't referring to a group in a single location, he was talking about all his followers. Jesus is the Savior of this body and its ruler (Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23-27). To become a part of Christ's church, you have to become a Christian in the way that Christ specified. See: How to Become a Christian and What Must I Do to be Saved? When you truly become a Christian, you become a part of the church. "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47).

The second sense of the word "church" refers to a group of Christians who live in an area, worshiping together and working together. Often when the Bible speaks of a church in this second sense, it will indicate that it is a church in some location, such as Antioch or Thessalonica (Acts 13:1; I Thessalonians 1:1). Christians are commanded to be a part of a local church for doing things like partaking of the Lord's Supper. I Corinthians 11:18-22 is an example of where this coming together was being abused.

When a church started up in Antioch, Barnabas needed help and he fetched Saul (later known as Paul) to come. Saul and Barnabas worked with this local church for a year (Acts 11:25-26). However, there was an earlier time when Saul had gone to Jerusalem and he was refused membership there at first because the brethren in Jerusalem were afraid he was not a Christian and was trying to infiltrate the church in order to persecute it. It took Barnabas to convince them that Saul really had become a Christian. "And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out" (Acts 9:26-28). Notice that Saul tried to join the church. That is where the term comes from. When you are in a location, you join yourself with the local church to worship and work with them. It isn't a club, it is an organization established by Christ to do his will in an area.

But we learn that a local church has control over its local membership. Since people are involved, they aren't always perfect. Sometimes they let people be a part of the congregation who because of sin should not be there (I Corinthians 5). Sometimes they exclude people who should be allowed to be a part of the local church (III John 9-10). These types of problems have to be straightened out; yet, for the moment let us note that local churches have a membership which is controlled by the local group. Thus, it is appropriate to speak of joining a local church.

I Corinthians 12:12-26 is an important passage to show that all Christians are needed to work together both in local churches and in the church across the world.