Is membership in a local congregation necessary for a Christian?


First of all, I want to say that I do like your site and the good information it provides. However, while reading "Christians Without Churches?" I came across the following statement:

"Is it possible for a Christian to be part of the "universal" church without being identified with a local church? The Scriptures give us no reason to believe that such is possible."

I'm sure the author understands that universal church membership does not automatically make you a member of a local church. I'm also sure that he would not say that the eunuch would have been lost had he been killed on his way back to Ethiopia after having obeyed the gospel, even though he was not yet a member of a local church. Yet, such an admission contradicts the premise that it is impossible to be a part of the "universal" church without being identified with a local church.

I am not one to minimize the importance of 'joining" with the disciples (Acts 9:26) at all. In fact, I think it is sinful not to seek out brethren with whom to worship with where ever you are, but I think the author was a little careless with the way he made his point.


Knowing brother Longhenry, "careless" isn't one of his attributes. If there is a problem it is that the focus of the article is implied and not directly stated. Ethan is addressing the trend of people who think that membership in a local congregation is so unimportant that they can remain unattached permanently or for long periods of time. He is not addressing people on the move or those going to new locations to establish churches.

As you agree, the fact that the Ethiopian eunuch was converted during his travels is not justification for never joining a local congregation. There is of necessity times when people are in transition that membership in a local congregation isn't possible for a short period of time. Such times are the exception and not the general course of a Christian's life.

Careless was a poor choice of words on my part. I did not mean to imply that he wrote this article without care. I was simply trying to say that he overstated his case by stating something which is just not true.  If the purpose of one of my articles was to denounce the trend of instruments in New Testament worship, and I wrote, "You can't find one instrument mentioned from Matthew - Revelation", then I'm inviting people to point them out to me. My focus may be correct, but how I was trying to get there would have been flawed. Or if writing about the gifts of the Spirit I wrote, "The only way any believer ever received the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is by the laying on of the apostles hands," I should not be surprised to hear from someone about Acts 10.

Brother Longhenry made a blanket statement concerning the impossibility of belonging to the universal church without belonging to some local church, and that is wrong, regardless of the focus of the article. Yeah, I realize that Ethan probably knows better, but I think that the issue of church membership is important enough to merit a point of clarification. If you disagree, then I apologize for taking up your time. I just thought you'd want to be aware of it since it is your web site and there may be those who have not yet been grounded in the differences between the church universal and local, and may actually believe what he wrote.

Obviously you are welcome to reply, but please do not feel the need to do so on my account, unless you'd like to do so. I was simply trying to clarify myself, but especially to retract my use of the word "careless".

No problem on my part. I did forward your note to Ethan since I hate talking about someone behind his back. If Ethan can reword the article to make it clearer, that will be great. If not, I might add a comment at the end to make sure people understand the subject being addressed a bit better. I still believe the overall point being addressed -- that a person cannot expect to be a Christian while avoiding membership at a congregation -- was handled well in the article.


The article was written with the audience of people living in their communities in mind. The statement under discussion is made in the context of such an article with that operating assumption. If the reader would feel better with the addition of the exception clause of "unless converted while traveling and still in transit," then so be it. Since that is not an issue for the majority of people who are considering the material, however, let none be deceived: if you live in a particular location and there is an assembly of Christians who are seeking to obey the Lord according to His will with whom you should associate, the New Testament provides no justification for not associating with them.


Ethan R. Longhenry