Church Life
Andrew Brown

Fellowship vs. Membership

In the last article I tried to emphasize the difference between fellowship as defined by secular dictionaries and fellowship as defined by scripture.

I set out to see what other evangelical churches talk about concerning fellowship. I googled and found some interesting points. Perhaps these points mirror what you see in your local church. Most use the term membership. A number of sites, started with a definition of membership, then requirements to become a member, and then obligations, what that practically looks like. 

Meaning of membership

One website of a notable denomination wrote:

Becoming a member of a church is a way that we identify with other people who have committed themselves living as a follower of Jesus. It is a way of saying, “This is who I am and this is what matters to me.” It is a commitment to a lifetime of learning and growing in our relationships with God and with one another. Being a part of the church is a way that we witness to our faith in God and open ourselves to relationships that only Christian community can offer.

OK, but what does that mean?

Another wrote:

…that only saved persons should be members of a church…also believe that saved persons ought to be members of a church. While becoming a Christian is an individual response of faith, growing as a Christian is enhanced by fellowship with other Christians. The Christian life was designed not as a solo endeavor but as a fellowship experience, with a church being the primary fellowship.

I would change some of the words, but largely I agree.

I really liked this comment:

this local church is committed to doing Christ’s work, through His Spirit, and according to the will of God the Father. Being a member means joining us in this task.” 

Generally, this is all sounds nice even if it isn’t very clear.

Side note

I’ve been studying what it means to be a man in the eyes of God, in the kingdom of God. The church, perhaps unintentionally, is murdering biblical manhood.  We say to become a member and then tell men that they can sing in the choir or be on a committee. There is too frequently either no acknowledgement of or far too little latitude for the exercise of spiritual gifts.

Requirements of membership

Some of the sites listed requirements, such as: a letter showing membership of another church, a testimony of the saving grace of God, and a membership class, a few talked about financial requirements. *Sigh. 

One really surprised me with the single membership requirement, “all you need to do is participate in our ministries at some level.” Whatever  does that mean? 

Another website wrote:

have the congregation affirm your decision…you don’t have to say anything when we present you for membership… it’s usually meaningful for the individual to be the recipient of this acceptance and affirmation” 

What does the Bible say?

I did a quick search and found that among the word for word translations, between 8-11 uses of the word, “added” in the NT, and from that found 2 Greek verbs.  One of the two verbs means to place a vote among or assign a place among. The other means to add, or to join to, or gather with.  I was thinking of the 3000 added to their number in Acts 2. They made a choice against society, religion, government to join to others. Then I found in Acts 1, Matthias was voted into apostleship.

The more you study fellowship in the NT, several aspects come into view: 

  • Oneness with God and oneness in the body.
  • The act of encouraging and knitting ourselves together. 
  • Sharing.
  • Stirring one another up, even trying to outdo others in acts of love.
  • Having the same mind. 
  • Intimately sharing joys and burdens.
  • Laboring together to make disciples. 
  • Laboring together to preach the gospel.
  • Laboring together to be overcomers.
  • Laboring together to encourage one another in doing good.
  • Loving one another with brotherly love. 
  • Comforting, and restoring when there are offenses.
  • Being charmed or fascinated by each other. 
  • Correcting and exhorting each other. 
  • Confessing faults and zealously praying with and for one another. 

What does it look like?

Well, it’s got to be more than just a letter, a class and being affirmed by others. It has to be more than financial giving and joining in a choir or making food for a pot luck. I would expect more from a divinely mandated organism that will stand and prevail against the gates of hell. 

speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

Ephesians 4:15-16

Fellowship could be an older sister chatting about life experience with younger sisters, or an older saint taking a younger one along to do hospital visitation. I don’t see why it couldn’t include a saint teaching a trade to another saint. 

Fellowship can be a bible study. 

Fellowship can be helping a family move or a brother preach the gospel during an outreach. A group of young believers helping an older believer with daily tasks. Or it could be collecting and giving necessary things to homeless – along with the gospel. 

Easily, one can consider fellowship to be a sharing of goods or finances with a co-laborer in need, be that a widow, a student, a full-time servant, or itinerant gospel preacher or teacher. 

There is in all these a sharing, and because we’re washed in the blood of the lamb a unifying bond a fascination with seeing the other built up.

Andrew Brown
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