There are at least three good (biblical) reasons why I believe that all Christians should joyfully submit themselves to the official membership process of their local church:
1. Identity and Affirmation
To be sure, the New Testament does not overemphasize "formality" when it comes to the life of the local church. Membership in the body of Christ is, first and foremost, a spiritual reality. However, neither does the Bible teach us that the church should be a completely informal, unstructured community. The Bible indicates that church leadership should be identified and officially appointed (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). It is important, likewise, for all those who are members of the body of Christ be known and cared for by their own local church leaders (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17) . The New Testament shows that the earliest churches kept track of their numbers (Acts 1:15) and even maintained special lists to keep track of those members who needed special care (1 Tim 5:9). By having a clear process for identifying and affirming new church members (at Bethesda this includes attending the new members information class), church members and leaders are enabled to become clearly and mutually identified and affirmed in relation to one another.
2. Responsibility and Accountability
Biblically speaking, to become mature members of the body of Christ we must acknowledge our mutual responsibility and accountability towards one another (See Romans 12:4ff). The local congregation needs to be able to identify who is "inside" vs. "outside" the church if the way of Christ is going to be upheld over time (See 1 Cor 5; Matthew 18:15-20). By having classes for new members, and by having a clear process for official church membership, church members and leaders are enabled to become more clear with one another about our mutual responsibility and accountability as people who are committed to living together in the way of Jesus.
3. Strengthening our Unity and Witness
God calls for local churches to be united in their understanding, faith and practice – to have “the same mind” with one another (1 Cor 1:10), and to be protected from the influences of people who would harm the church's unity or purity (Romans 16:17-18). By having classes for new members, and by having a clear process for official church membership, church members and leaders are enabled to come together and take steps towards better congregational unity in our understanding, faith and practice.
For all of these reasons (above), if you are a Christian and if you care about the well-being of this congregation known as Bethesda — and especially if you are not yet “officially” a member — I encourage you to join with me in attending our next New Members and Information Class.