The importance of the local church membership
A growing trend in evangelicalism is to consider oneself part of the universal church - but never to be part of a particular church. This has happened for a variety of reasons including bad church experiences, bad pastors, and the American ideal of being completely independent.
But it is important to see that in Scripture there is both membership in the universal (catholic) Church and membership in local bodies. We see this in many ways in the Old Testament but even in the New there are many examples of this.
Most notably are the instances in Acts that have the local body choosing from among themselves. The implication is that they knew and kept record of those who were a part of the local bodies. Acts regularly gives accounts of the "number" of believers in Jerusalem.
Too, there are the lists kept by local churches of subsets of their congregations. Most notably the widows lists mentioned in 1 Timothy and in Acts. The fact that these subset lists existed is evidence that larger groups were also kept track of.
Finally, in Hebrews 13 (and in several other places) congregants are urged to submit themselves to their elders. This means that both the congregations and the elders knew who was a part so that the elders knew for whom they must give account and so that the members knew who to submit to.
Here at First Pres we take membership seriously. We ask each member to take 6 vows. And we honor those vows by giving to them all the love and care due to them as members of Christ's body.
(1) Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord; and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life?
(2) Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His wrath, and without hope apart from His sovereign mercy?
(3) Do you believe the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, to be the infallible Word of God, and its doctrine of salvation to be the perfect and only true doctrine of salvation?
(4) Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?
(5) Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as a faithful follower of Christ?
(6) Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability, to submit yourself to its government and discipline, and to strive for its purity and peace?