An Argument for Church Membership from a Different Direction

1 Corinthians 6:1-8 – 1 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

Quite often, when I hear any reference made to the above passage, the reference has to do with whether or not a Christian can file a lawsuit against another person, especially another Christian. Of course, that is a fair topic of discussion in the passage. Paul is clear that there should not be a reputation in society of Christians going after one another in courts of law. But I think there is something that we miss if we only think that the question is, “To sue or not to sue?”

Paul’s argument is quite simple, and it speaks to a need that every Christian has. Small matters should be adjudicated in the church. Issues of conflict between members of the church should be brought before church leadership, and godly church leaders should be able to judge well enough to prevent Christians from going to law against one another.

Ask yourself what is implied in this standard. What does the word of God assume? It is almost a throw-away assumption, but it really matters. Assumed in this paragraph in the word of God is that every Christian will be so connected to his or her local church that the ways of God may be followed. It assumes that every local church should have recognized, godly leadership. It assumes that every local church will know who does and who does not belong to that church. It assumes that individuals will have a genuine concern not to go against the decisions handed down by church leaders and affirmed by the body. In short, this passage implies a clear grasp of biblical church membership.

Every Christian should be connected to a local church. Let’s not play the exception game here. We all know that a person providentially hindered by health or inalterable circumstance has to deal with that statement differently. But, given all normal life, every single Christian should be actively connected to a local church. Every local church should know exactly who is and who is not a member of that body. There is no way to follow the commands of God as a church if your church does not keep track of exactly for whom the church is responsible and who has sought to be a part of the body. And, no, attendance in general is not enough. No pastor or group of elders can be held responsible for the souls of every individual who happens to come in on a given Sunday morning. Shepherds have to have a way of identifying which sheep they are caring for and which belong to other flocks.

Are you a Christian? Go to church. Connect to your church. Officially join that church. Let the elders know that you want to be under their care. Let the elders know that you want to be someone they can count on.

Are you part of a church? Urge your leadership to take biblically based church membership seriously. Plead with leaders to know who belongs to the body and who does not. Plead with the body to recognize how important it is that we all know each other and care for one another. Ask for leaders to practice genuine church discipline with a heart for restoring the wayward.

The truth is, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 makes no sense at all for a person who will not join a church. Nor does it make any sense for a church that is not faithful to pay attention to church membership and practice church discipline. Nor does it make sense for a person who says they are connected to a church but who will not connect with the life of that church. The passage only makes sense for a person who actively, joyfully, willingly joins and participates in the life of a local church.