Dear Bellefield Family,
If you grew up in the church, especially a church affiliated with a protestant denomination, one of the things that you tend to accept without thinking about it much is the concept of church membership. And because church membership is an often unexamined idea, there are those who ask the question: is church membership biblical (meaning: is it in the Bible)?
The answer, we find, is no: church membership was not practiced in the form that we have today in the early church. The early church used what we know as a parish model. Paul doesn’t address church membership in Philippi, because if you are a Christian in Philippi, you’re a member of the Philippian church. This parish model of church membership continued as the early church grew, eventually moving to neighborhood delineations: are you a Christian in Squirrel Hill? Then you go to church X. Shaydside Christians go to church Y.
Though church membership is not practiced in the New Testament, it’s also not true to say it is unbiblical (meaning: the Bible is opposed to it). In fact, the concept of church membership flows from passages like Hebrews 13:17: “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.”
When the writer of Hebrews wrote that verse, it would have been clear to his listeners who their leaders are and who is part of the church in their city. So a command like “submit to your leaders” and the implied command to the leaders of “keep watch over the church” would be easy to understand. But let’s now imagine “Christian”, a believer in 2022 who moves to Pittsburgh without any church affiliation. How would that person obey this command in Hebrews? Who are the leaders Christian ought to submit to, and which leaders will be asked to give an account for Christian’s soul?
These days, we address these questions through church membership. This involves a commitment from both the church and the individual to say that, while all of us are part of the global body of Christ, we are united to a specific expression of that global body here, at Bellefield. The commitment allows for the sort of spiritual growth the writer of Hebrews has in mind: a community that is joyfully pointing one another towards Christ in all the seasons of life.
Pastor Josh is going to be leading a new members class on October 9th, 23rd, and 30th. If you are not a member, then we invite you to take advantage of the opportunity to join this local expression of the body of Christ. If you are already a member or leader, then I encourage you to use these reflections as a reminder of what we are called to, and lean into that calling once again.