Bible Answer

Is a church membership process biblical?

My church leadership is pressuring my family to join the church. We've attended for a time, but we don't see any reason to go through a membership process. Aren't all believers part of the church by faith alone? Also, my church pressures people to join the church by claiming that church members possess a higher degree of the spirit.  Is this true? Should I join the church?

First, becoming part of the Body of Christ (i.e., the Church) happens at the moment of faith in Jesus Christ. 

All believers are made part of one Body by faith alone, according to Paul in Ephesians:

Eph. 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 
Eph. 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 
Eph. 4:6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. 

Therefore, no human process is prescribed nor necessary for establishing a believer in the Church. By faith alone, we become part of the Body of Christ, spiritually speaking. 

On the other hand, gaining access to fellowship with other believers depends on a Christian taking a step of obedience in keeping with scripture. Specifically, submission to water baptism is the Bible's requirement for how a Christian may enjoy the fellowship of believers. 

A review of the book of Acts reveals that submitting to water baptism was the expected evidence of faith required for every new believer in the early church. Until a believer agreed to water baptism, the church could deny the person fellowship because the person's commitment to Christ was in doubt until he or she took this necessary first step of faith. Since persecution in the early church often came from spies within the congregation, churches often demanded newcomers submit to Christ's command for a public water baptism as proof of their confession.

Consequently, there is nothing automatically wrong or unbiblical in establishing a formal “membership” process for joining a local congregation, provided the requirements for membership are consistent with the Bible’s teaching concerning entering into the body of Christ. Confession of Christ and submission to water baptism are minimum requirements for joining in fellowship with a local church, and if a membership process focuses on these steps, it can serve a useful purpose in helping establish new believers within a body.

For example, a church membership process could include asking new participants in the church to provide a personal testimony of faith in Christ to confirm their salvation. Likewise, the process could require that newcomers submit to water baptism if the ordinance has not already been performed. 

These steps are in keeping with the Bible's teaching for how believers enter into the fellowship with other saints. In fact, every church should take steps to ensure these requirements for fellowship have been met by all who express an interest in joining with believers in a church. 

Going beyond these two requirements, a membership process might also ask newcomers to make various pledges, including pledging submission to church authority. When a person expresses a desire to congregate with other believers, he implies a willingness to submit to the elders' leadership in that local body, therefore asking the newcomer to acknowledge the spiritual authority of church leaders publicly is reasonable. In return, the leadership might pledge to care for the spiritual needs of the new member. This is a healthy way to establish new relationships in the church.

Apart from these basic requirements, however, a church should avoid instituting other requirements  (e.g., extracting commitments of financial support, etc.). Biblically speaking, the purpose of a membership process should be limited to verifying the spiritual state of newcomers and facilitating entry into the body in a healthy and responsible manner – not to coerce or pressure people into giving money or to place other burdens on them. 

Regarding your specific circumstances, the comments you shared regarding your current church concern us greatly. The leadership in your church appears to be drifting away from sound doctrine and into mystical beliefs or cynical methods of coercing financial giving within your church. In either case, we see good reason to flee from this unhealthy situation, and perhaps the Lord is closing doors to persuade you to make the necessary change.