Membership in a local church is a Biblical concept. In the earliest days of the church in Acts the spiritual leadership had a count of “the number” who had become Christians, and a special obligation to spiritually and physically care for those in “that number.” The office of “deacon,” those especially set apart to care for the physical needs of the church, was created in Acts 6 because some “in the number” were not receiving proper care.
Furthermore, many of the commands of the New Testament presume clarity on who and who isn’t numbered among that people of God. Consider, for example, 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.” Spiritual leaders need clarity on whose souls they will and will not have to give an account. Likewise those in the church cannot keep this command without some clarity on who their leaders are and are not. Spiritual care depends on this kind of clarity. Physical care does as well. In 1 Timothy 5 Paul commands the care of widows, but lays down restrictions on who and who does not qualify for that care. Clarity on who is, and who isn’t, numbered in that local congregation is crucial to the physical care some need and others are called to give.
Because spiritual and physical care is connected to being “in the number,” we encourage attendees and guests to pursue church membership. Membership looks different and may be called by a different name in other churches, but in our denomination membership consists of meeting with the session, sharing your testimony of saving faith in Christ, your willingness to follow Him with us and taking membership vows which break down what saving faith is and what it means to follow Him with us. The elders will then vote and receive you into membership.
The first three vows for church membership are vows that every believer should be able to affirm. The first is this 1) Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving his displeasure, and without hope save in his sovereign mercy? To put it in slightly different way, do you understand that unless Jesus died for your sin, you have no hope of salvation? Are you a hell-bound sinner in need of saving? 2) 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? It is one thing to intellectually concede that Jesus came to save sinners and it is another to say that you believe He is your Savior, that you’ve placed your trust and faith in Him as your Savior and your King. 3) Do you now resolved and promise, in humble reliance on the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ? There is no such thing as someone who will have Jesus as Savior and not as Lord. He is not offered to us in pieces like that. So, do you hear his call to take up your cross and follow him?
As I said, these first three vows are vows every believer should be able to affirm. The last two relate specifically to following Christ with us at EPC. 4) Do you promise to support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability? The pattern we see in the New Testament is that when we’re united to Christ we’ve also united to his body, his bride, his church and that the church is God’s plan A for building his people and reaching the lost. We expect our members to live as though this is the case, making corporate worship their highest priority and giving regularly, as they are able, of their time, talent, and treasure out of love for Christ’s body and love for the lost. 5) Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the church and promise to study its purity and peace? In other words, do you place yourself under the spiritual care and oversight of the elders of our church? Will you give these men permission to know you and speak truth in love to you? If you stray from Christ, are these the men who you want to lovingly pursue you? To study its purity and peace simply means to devote yourself to seeing our church live in holiness and in a spirit of unity under the leadership of the elders.