Gallup reported this week that “U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time.” “In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999” (news.gallup.com). New Testament Christians know the spiritual value of being members of a local body of saints (1 Cor. 12:12-27). The Lord arranged local churches for our spiritual edification (which includes worship), the spread of the gospel, and relief of needy Christians (Acts 2:42-45; 4:32-35; 11:22; 20:28-35). Churches of Christ assemble on the first day of the week to offer God worship “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). Scripture shows how true worship honors God and strengthens Christians in the faith (1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 5:19). Therefore, membership in a local church is a responsibility of great importance to Christians (Acts 9:26-28; Rom. 16:2). Being a member of a local church identifies each Christian as part of a working group of believers striving to do God’s will (Rom. 12:4; Eph. 4:16; Rev. 2-3). Christians will be active members of faithful congregations (there is no floating membership or “membership-at-large” in the New Testament). May each Christian be committed to fully participating in assembled worship and the other scriptural work given the local church by the Lord (Heb. 10:24-25).
To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: (1 Corinthians 1:2, NKJV)
This salutation from Paul the apostle and brother Sosthenes gives us a number of insights into the character and purpose of local churches. First, the local church belongs to God, not to us. Culture and consensus do not legitimize rearranging the local church after our image. Next, each local church is identifiable and independent. This church was “at Corinth.” There is no hint of an overarching ecclesiastical and organizational oversight of this (or any other) local church. The centralization of authority over churches is unheard of in the New Testament. Scripture sufficiently organizes local churches to function and fulfill their God-given work. Next, the members of the local church are “sanctified in Christ Jesus” and thus, called “saints” (holy ones). Each Christian is a saint, purified from sins by the blood of Christ (Col. 1:20-22). As such, we are called to live holy lives before God and the world (Rom. 12:1). Finally, the Corinthians needed to know they were not alone. There were other saints “who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” Christians still need the encouragement that comes from knowing others share common faith and fellowship with them in Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 1:9).