A Guide to Church Membership
by Roy G. Sapp
Gospel Publishing Company
Your interest in a church relationship has prompted you to consider church membership, or a uniting of your faith and works with other believers. This information has been provided to further acquaint you with the Assemblies of God and to help prepare you for membership and ministry in the church. You will find the pastor ready to talk with you and answer any questions you might have concerning the church and membership.
As a believer you are already a member of the Lord's body, which is His church. When you were born of the Spirit, you became a part of the family of God and now have a relationship with all other Christians; they are your brothers and sisters in the Lord. "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body" (1 Corinthians 12:13). The Lord's church is often referred to as the "invisible church." Jesus spoke of this body when he said, "I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18). It transcends all human relationships and denominational boundaries.
Another use of the word "church" in the New Testament is in reference to local congregations of believers. Of the 117 times the word appears in the New Testament, 95 times are in reference to the local congregation. This is the "visible church." The New Testament pattern was to establish local churches whenever people responded to the gospel and were converted. This is the divine order for today. You have become acquainted with this part of the great body of Christ in your association with a local community of believers affiliated with the Assemblies of God. Because of your relationship to Christ, you are in fellowship with us. Your next important step, then, is to consider membership with us as a part of your development as a born-again believer in accord with the teachings of the New Testament. Two important facts will come into focus as we share the purpose of the church as it developed under the Spirit-guided leadership of the apostles. One is that you need the ministry of the church, which can fully come to you only as you become identified with it through church membership. The second fact is that the church, to carry out its divine commission, needs you.
The local church is a vital element in the kingdom of
God. The Bible gives us the reason for being of a local church such as our
own. Let us look at some of the Biblical reasons for establishing and
maintaining local churches.
1. The local church, through the preaching of the gospel, is a place for salvation of the unbeliever and for nurturing the new believer.
In writing to the church at Corinth, Paul said, "I have begotton you through the gospel" (1 Corrinthians 4:15). Here is the place where the gospel can be proclaimed and the sinner can be converted. Then Paul wrote of the second purpose of the local church, that of "feeding" the the believers. "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual (mature believers), but ... as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat" (1 Corinthians 3:1,2; see also Peter's comments in 1 Peter 2:2). Nobody but the mentally disturbed would abandon a baby at birth. He needs shelter, nourishment, love, and care. In a spiritual sense, this is what the local church provides for new converts.
2. The church provides teaching and stability, which is a strong defense against error.
Paul knew the danger of believers falling into error. His writings and example in the New Testament underscore this fact. To Timothy he wrote, "The things that thou hast heard of me... the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others" (2 Timothy 2:2). And he wrote to Titus, "There are many... deceivers... whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they sharply that they may be sound in faith" (Titus 1:10, 11, 13). Paul charged the elders of the church at Ephesus to carefully guard their church. "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers (pastors), to feed the church of God... after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things (distorted doctrines), to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remenber" (Acts 20:28-31). It was written of the first believers in Jerusalem that "they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship" (Acts 2:42). The local church today must follow this example, and thus throw up the strongest defense against error.
3. The church provides a place to receive power for service.
It never intended that the church be a place into which believers retreated when the going got tough and there wait for the needy to come for help. Rather, it is a place where believers can receive power that they might be fully equipped to mount an offensive against the "gates of hell." What folly it is to attempt an offensive without the power of the Holy Spirit. At an Early Church prayer meeting, recorded in Acts 4:23-33, the Christians reported on the fierce opposition of the unbelievers and then they united in prayer. The writer of Acts tells what follows: "When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness... And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 4:31,33).
4. The church is a fellowship of believers to whom we can turn in times of sorrow, sickness, or discouragement.
Funeral services and other times of crisis become a means of great witness to the world as the church stands together (John 13:35; Acts 2:42-47; 4:23). Every family faces times of sorrow, sickness, and discouragement. What a great joy it is to receive comfort and encouragement from fellow believers. "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). Of course, the church gladly ministers to those who have no "church home," but the non-member misses much when he neglects to unite with fellow believers. Unfortunately, it often takes a family crisis to show him what he is missing.
5. The church provides a way to sustain a missions program in unevangelized lands (Acts 13:1-3; Philippians 4:16-18).
The New Testament example and our own experiences teach us that world evangelization can be accomplished only when believers unite. Scattered prayer bands can send up needed prayer and do much good. However, collecting and disbursing funds in the tremendous proportions needed for recruiting and sending out workers, and building and supporting the work of God in the nations of the earth requires uniting our hearts, energies, and resources in the pattern established in the New Testament church. As a result of the total team involvement, the Assemblies of God has one of the largest foreign missions programs in Protestant Christianity. The program provides a means whereby men, women, youth, and children can participate in fulfilling 'the Great Commission.".
6. The New Testament church pattern provides for other benefits, including the following..
a. Systematic care for the material needs of the destitute when no other means is available (Acts 2:45; 4:34,35; 6:1-3; James 1:27).
b. True worship in the Spirit as "the whole church ... comes together into one place (1 Corinthians 14:23).
c. Creating and maintaining proper attitudes and relationships among believers (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 6:1-3; Galatians 6:1).
d. A means of properly receiving and disbursing funds for God's work (1 Corinthians 16:1-4). This is expecially important in light of laws that govern the collection and use of public funds.
e. Determining who is to receive fellowship in the company of believers which is the church 1 Corinthians 5:4,13; 1 Timothy 1:20); and providing for the selection of scripturally qualified leaders over the church (Acts 6:23; 1 Timothy 3:1-10). Both are important safeguards in the preservation and continued ministry of the church.
f. The local church is God's means through which the ordinances of water baptism and communion are ministered (Acts 8:12; 1 Corinthians 11:33).
As a believer whose desire is to become spiritually strong and mature, you need the church and its various ministries. Likewise, the local church needs you to help it fulfill its God-given mission in the world.
We believe the Bible is God's inspired Word, a revelation from God to man. We accept it as our all-sufficient rule for faith and practice. What we believe has been set forth in a "Statement of Fundamental Truths" - an expression of the truths generally taught throughout the Assemblies of God. The following is a condensed form of the statement. Click on the links for the complete text of the statements, ask your pastor, or write to the General Secretary of the Assemblies of God, Springfield, MO 65802.
- WE BELIEVE...The Scriptures are Inspired by God and declare His design and plan for mankind.
- WE BELIEVE...There is only One True God–revealed in three persons...Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (commonly known as the Trinity).
- WE BELIEVE...In the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. As God's son Jesus was both human and divine.
- WE BELIEVE...though originally good, Man Willingly Fell to Sin–ushering evil and death, both physical and spiritual, into the world.
- WE BELIEVE...Every Person Can Have Restored Fellowship with God Through 'Salvation' (accepting Christ's offer of forgiveness for sin). [1 of 4 cardinal doctrines of the A/G]
- WE BELIEVE...and practice two ordinances—(1) Water Baptism by Immersion after repenting of one's sins and receiving Christ's gift of salvation, and (2) Holy Communion (the Lord's Supper) as a symbolic remembrance of Christ's suffering and death for our salvation.
- WE BELIEVE...the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a Special Experience Following Salvation that empowers believers for witnessing and effective service, just as it did in New Testament times. [1 of 4 cardinal doctrines of the A/G]
- WE BELIEVE... The Initial Physical Evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is ‘Speaking in Tongues,’ as experienced on the Day of Pentecost and referenced throughout Acts and the Epistles.
- WE BELIEVE...Sanctification Initially Occurs at Salvation and is not only a declaration that a believer is holy, but also a progressive lifelong process of separating from evil as believers continually draw closer to God and become more Christlike.
- WE BELIEVE...The Church has a Mission to seek and save all who are lost in sin. We believe 'the Church' is the Body of Christ and consists of the people who, throughout time, have accepted God's offer of redemption (regardless of religious denomination) through the sacrificial death of His son Jesus Christ.
- WE BELIEVE...A Divinely Called and Scripturally Ordained Leadership Ministry Serves the Church. The Bible teaches that each of us under leadership must commit ourselves to reach others for Christ, to worship Him with other believers, and to build up or edify the body of believers–the Church.
- WE BELIEVE...Divine Healing of the Sick is a Privilege for Christians Today and is provided for in Christ's atonement (His sacrificial death on the cross for our sins). [1 of 4 cardinal doctrines of the A/G]
- WE BELIEVE...in The Blessed Hope—When Jesus Raptures His Church Prior to His Return to Earth (the second coming). At this future moment in time all believers who have died will rise from their graves and will meet the Lord in the air, and Christians who are alive will be caught up with them, to be with the Lord forever. [1 of 4 cardinal doctrines of the A/G]
- WE BELIEVE...in The Millennial Reign of Christ when Jesus returns with His saints at His second coming and begins His benevolent rule over earth for 1,000 years. At that time many in the nation of Israel will recognize and accept Him as the Messiah, the Savior who died for them and all mankind.
- WE BELIEVE...A Final Judgment Will Take Place for those who have rejected Christ. They will be judged for their sin and consigned to eternal punishment in a punishing lake of fire.
- WE BELIEVE...and look forward to the perfect New Heavens and a New Earth that Christ is preparing for all people, of all time, who have accepted Him. We will live and dwell with Him there forever following His millennial reign on Earth. 'And so shall we forever be with the Lord!'
Types of Church Membership
Many Assemblies of God churches offer three types of membership (the pastor will be happy to inform you of what is provided in our church bylaws).
Adult Membership. The conditions for adult membership are:
1. Evidence of a genuine experience of regeneration, the new birth (John 1:12,13; 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:18-25).
2. Evidence of a consistent Christian life (Romans 6:4; 13:13,14; Ephesians 4:17-32; 5:1,2,15; 1 John 1:6,7).
3. Baptism in water (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16; Romans 6:3-5).
4. Baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4) or the diligent seeking for the baptism in the Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4).
5. To fully subscribe to the "Statement of Fundamental Truths."
6. Assuming of stewardship responsibilities by attendance, by service, and by willingness to contribute regularly to the support of the church as God prospers you (Proverbs 3:9; 1 Corinthians 4:2; Hebrews 10:25).
Associate Membership. This membership is open to persons meeting the conditions of adult membership and who desire to become a part of the church, but who wish to maintain membership in their home church. Associate membership lists usually include college students, members of the military, or any other persons who are temporarily living in the area. The list also youth of the church who do not meet the minimum age requirement for adult membership (as established in the bylaws of the local church). Associate members do not qualify to vote, nor do they hold offices.
Junior Membership. Junior Membership is provided for children who are born again, but are not of the age required for associate or adult membership (age set by local church).
Maintaining Church Membership
Each member should understand that the same standard for becoming a member must be the standard for maintaining church membership. There must be an indication of spiritual growth and development in each member. Membership is more than a certificate or card. It is a treasured fellowship with believers of like precious faith. It is a mutual sharing of joyous privileges and responsibilities with other believers.
How to Become a Member
Make your desire known and request an application for church membership from the pastor. Complete the application, answering all questions honestly and as completely as possible. Comply with any request for an interview by the pastor. (Some local churches conduct new member training, which offers more information concerning doctrine, the operation of the local church, and the opportunities available for service.) After your application is reviewed and accepted by the pastor and the church board, you will be notified of a public service in which members will be received.
There are many philosophical and practical reasons for church membership. Here we have tried to give you a simple scriptural basis for the organized church and your participation in its ministries. As a member of the Assemblies of God, you become aware that this is but a part of the body of Christ and that each believer and corporate group have vital contributing functions in the total body. "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:12). Let us work together for unity, purity of doctrine, true spiritual worship, and the proclaiming of the "good news" until Jesus Christ returns.