Church Membership

I’ve been studying up a little bit on Jonathan Edwards, and although I haven’t read his article “The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God,” I did learn that he was very concerned that church membership was afforded liberally to people regardless of their demonstration or exhibition of the work of the Spirit of God in their lives. I read that he was concerned that membership to the church was offered to everyone. Obviously, he was in favor of church attendance for everyone, but he thought that actual membership with the church should be limited to those that demonstrated the presence of Christ in their life. I know that there are some churches that definitely hold to what Edwards was passionate about, however, my assumption is that most churches nowadays are very liberal with their membership as well.

Independently, I met with a friend of mine who is still a member of a mega church. He shared with me a concern that he has that a large number of the congregation that were members of the church are not actually believers. It was very troubling to him.

So, my question to you: is your thought process regarding church membership aligned with Edwards’. I’m curious to know your mind on the subject of church membership, and what you might be able to tell me about what the Bible says on this matter.


In the early days of the church majority of those who were Christians meant it because you risk being persecuted for it. While no one likes suffering it does have its purpose by weeding out the ones who aren’t as serious about the faith.

Peronally I don’t mind non-believers being members of a local church but they shouldn’t be involved in the inner works, such as media, music, leading worship, leading prayer, etc.

Ultimately you can’t judge a person’s heart. Some will say they are Christians but aren’t while others are but are still babes in Christ. I think it’s best to allow people to join but not allow them to take on any responsibility until it’s for certain of what their relationship with Christ is.


Good day Jeff, in my denomination (Methodist) we have “members” and “adherents”. As Luna is suggesting, the “adherents” may not hold any office within the church. But they are welcome to participate in all activities.
We hope (and pray) that some time the Holy Spirit will rub off on them and they will become “members”.
Stay blessed


Thank you Luna!

Thank you Bill. How does the church determine where someone is “spiritually?” I assume it is a self-assessment, but this is another issue for the seeker…they don’t know what they don’t know, so to speak. What if someone wants to become a “member,” but has no grasp on assessing their own spiritual condition? Its a sticky subject, I know, but I’m just very curious about Edwards’ empathy that he had for the church body and how adamant he was that people exhibited Christ in their life prior to becoming a “member.” How is that assessed? Who should assess it? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? I read that Edwards’ somewhat unpopular pressing-in on this topic was one of the early markers for the Great Awakening, if I’m not mistaken. So it appears that his firm stance had a profound and positive impact. Thoughts?

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Alas Jeff, how does one measure the level of spirituality? We can’t stick a dip-stick in the ear and read it off.
To be a member or an adherent is a choice that the person makes.
A member commits to attending a weekly 'class meeting [cell group]. They commit to given X amount of money.
So the criteria for membership is not spiritually based, but rather commitment.

Many consider Edwards to be America’s greatest theologian so I think anything he writes must be carefully considered.

I think there can be legitimate requirements for Church membership probably beyond just being a basic believer as long as they don’t contradict essential Biblical truths.

Church officers at my church interview potential members before they join to make sure they understand what it is to be a Christian and a member. You must have belief in Christ and agree to support the Church and be subject to the oversight of the Elders. You are expected to serve the church, regularly attend, and make financial contributions. To be sure no one checks up on this. There is no worksheet, etc. Everything is voluntary and you can remain a member and not do anything and not contribute unless you begin to live in open and public sin which leads to the next paragraph.

You can’t live in open sin and rebellion and remain a member of my denomination. You would be placed under church discipline if you chose to openly sin. After a period of time under discipline, and, if you do not repent, you would be excommunicated. Discipline is a slow process. Excommunication very, very rarely happens. The goal in any discipline is restoration to fellowship.

Additionally officers of my church have to express belief in the denomination specific beliefs.

All that being said about church membership…Christianity is about belief, not doing things. To be sure your beliefs should influence your actions, but the core is belief. “…Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Acts 16:31 KJV.

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