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Are Church Membership and Participation Essential to Salvation?

Importance of Church MembershipAre membership and active participation in Jesus' church essential in order to please God? Can we be saved without "organized religion"? 

What is the relationship between the church, salvation from sin, and the blood (death) of Christ? What is the role of the church in God's eternal purpose, in prophecy, in worship, and in evangelism by means of the gospel?

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Many people do not see membership or participation in the church as very important.

* Some say, "The church cannot save you. Christ saves you. We need Christianity, not churchianity." That is true, but what is usually meant by folks who say this is that one can please God and be saved without being a member of the church. The question is: Will Christ save people outside the church?

* Others say, "I'm a good moral person. I believe in God and treat my family and neighbors right. Why do I need church membership?"

* Many young people especially have rejected "organized religion." They may claim to accept Jesus, but want nothing to do with the church.

* Even some church members say, "We should preach Christ, not the church." They think we should teach unsaved people about forgiveness and salvation, but should not teach about the church till after they are saved. It might drive people away, etc.

* Other members show by their lack of attendance and involvement that they don't consider church participation to be essential.

Such ideas are primarily caused by denominationalism.

* People see denominational division or hypocrisy in the church or churches not following the Bible, and they want no part of it. So they reject the whole idea of the church.

* Denominations deliberately belittle church membership in order to justify their division. They say, "It doesn't matter which church you attend, as long as you believe in Jesus." So people conclude you don't need to be a member of any church at all, as long as you believe in Jesus.

* The premillennial concept says Jesus came to set up His kingdom but failed because people rejected Him. So He changed His plan and set up the church. This makes the church an unplanned stop-gap substitute, which God never really wanted to set up. That does not make it very important.

The purpose of this study is to consider the importance of the church membership and participation according to the Bible.

We do not claim that any denomination is important. Denominations are not found in the New Testament and were never part of God's plan. They were added by men hundreds of years after Jesus' church began. We can and should be saved without joining a modern denomination.

Nor are we saying that the people in the church make the church important. We will see that the church is essential because of its relationship to God and its role in the plan of God.

The gospel clearly shows that the church is part of God's eternal purpose and Old Testament prophecy. Jesus planned and built His church, and all saved people in the New Testament were members of that church. The New Testament church was a vital part of worship to God and evangelism. What about that church? How essential is it to our salvation?


I. The Terms Used to Describe the Church

Various terms are used for the church.

A. The House (Family) of God

The church is called the house(hold) of God.

Ephesians 2:16,19 - Jesus reconciled Jew and Gentile to God in one body through the cross. Therefore, we are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

1 Timothy 3:15 - Paul wrote so we may know how to conduct ourselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God.

[2 Cor. 6:18; 1 John 3:1,2; Gal. 6:10]

Why is it important to be in the house of God?

Children of God are those who are "born again."

1 Peter 1:22,23 - When we obey God's word, we purify our souls and are born again. But the new birth makes us children of God, and children of God are members of His family, the church. What does that mean about those who are not members of the church?

Galatians 3:26,27 - We are children of God by faith, because we were baptized into Christ. Baptism puts us into the church (1 Cor. 12:13), but it also makes us children of God.

Many people agree that we must be "born again," but they often think church membership does not matter. These folks need to consider the fact that being born again makes us members of the family of God and that the church is the family of God.

Only children of God will receive God's eternal inheritance.

Romans 8:16,17 - If we are children of God, then we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.

1 Peter 1:3,4 - God has begotten us to an inheritance reserved for us in heaven.

This does not say that the church itself gives us the inheritance. God gives the inheritance. But to whom does He give it? To His children, members of His family. But His family is the church.

If it is important to be born again and be children of God and to receive the inheritance of children of God, then church membership is likewise important, because the church is the family of God.

B. The Body of Christ

The church is the body of Christ.

Ephesians 1:22,23 - Christ is head of the church, which is His body.

[Colossians 1:18,24]

Why do we need to be members of Christ's body?

Christ is Head of the body (Eph. 1:22,23) [Col. 1:18]

Christ is the Head of no other institution. There is one body (Eph. 4:4-6), just as there is only one God and Father.

Is Christ the Head of an unimportant, non-essential institution? To belittle the body is to belittle its Head!

Christ is Savior of the body.

Ephesians 5:23 - Christ is head of the church, being the Savior of the body.

Ephesians 5:25 - He loved the church and gave Himself for it.

The church is the body of Christ, and Christ is the Savior of the body. What does that mean about people who are not in the body (church)?

We do not claim that the church saves us. Christ saves us. But whom does He save? The church! The church is the body of all people who have been saved by the blood of Jesus. [Acts 2:47; Eph. 2:16; Col. 3:15]

C. The Kingdom of Christ

Members of the church are citizens in Christ's kingdom.

Matthew 16:18,19 - Jesus promised to build the church and give Peter the keys of the kingdom. The terms are used interchangeably.

Colossians 1:13 - God translated us out of the power of darkness and into the kingdom of His dear Son.

[Revelation 1:8; Hebrews 12:23,28]

Why is the kingdom important?

The kingdom is a fundamental part of the gospel.

Matthew 3:2; 4:23 - Both John and Jesus emphasized preaching the gospel of the kingdom.

Acts 8:12; 19:8 - Philip and Paul also preached about the kingdom when they preached the gospel. People who say we should preach Christ, not the church, need to consider these passages. [20:25; 28:23,31]

We cannot preach the gospel of Christ without preaching about the kingdom (church). To attempt to preach the gospel without preaching the church would be to preach a different gospel (Gal. 1:8).

The kingdom consists of those who have been delivered from the power of darkness - Colossians 1:12-14.

Darkness is a symbol of evil. In the kingdom we are qualified to partake of the inheritance of the saints, because Christ redeemed and forgave us.

The kingdom now exists. It is the church. And all who have been saved from the power of darkness are citizens in it.

[See also Matt. 6:33; 13:44f]

When we understand the terms used to describe the church, we will understand that all saved people are in the church. The church is absolutely essential to salvation.

II. The Plans Laid for the Church

The church is part of the eternal purpose of God.

A. The Church Was Purposed by God from Eternity.

Ephesians 3:10,11 - The church played a major role in the eternal purpose of God, thereby demonstrating God's wisdom. The church is not a last-minute substitute.

A beautiful painting reveals the skill of the artist. A powerful rocket reveals the wisdom of its makers. So the church reveals the wisdom of God as part of His eternal purpose.

To say the church is not essential is to say that the eternal purpose of God is not essential.

B. It Was Prophesied in the Old Testament.

Isaiah 2:2,3 - The Lord's house would be established in the last days, when the law went forth from Jerusalem. Remember that the church is God's house.

Daniel 2:31-45 - Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of an image. It prophesied that the kingdom (church) would begin during the Roman Empire.

God planned the church centuries before it began. Would the Creator and Ruler of the Universe go to such trouble for an insignificant institution?

[Zech. 6:12,13; 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor 6:16; etc.]

C. Jesus Promised to Build It.

Matthew 16:18 - Jesus promised to build His church.

[Cf. 4:23 & other references to the kingdom cited above]

People put great effort into planning something only if it is important to them.

If they consider their wedding ceremony to be important, a bride and groom make many plans.

Auto makers spend much time and effort in planning new models.

So Jesus put much effort into planning the church. Clearly it was important to Him.

In particular, He came to save men from sin - Luke 19:10. [5:32; Matt. 20:28]

But while here He carefully prepared people for the church/kingdom.

God's plan was a plan to save men from sin, and Jesus came to work that plan. The church is an essential part of that plan. Therefore, the church is essential to our salvation.

III. The Price Paid for the Church

A. The Church Was Purchased by Jesus' Blood

Acts 20:28 - He purchased the church with His blood.

Ephesians 5:23,25 - He is Savior of the body (church), because He gave Himself for it.

Matthew 16:18 - For this reason it is His church, belonging to Him.

[Rom. 16:16; Col. 1:13; 1 Cor. 6:19,20]

B. How Important Is Jesus' Death?

The price someone is willing to pay for something shows its value to him.

* Where food is scarce, people work most of their time to provide it.

* A person would pay almost any price for an operation that would save his life.

* But we would pay little for something of little value to us. Some people pay a fortune for "modern art," but I wouldn't pay a dime!

The highest price anyone can pay for anything is his life.

When a soldier or policeman dies in the line of duty, people say he paid "the supreme price."

If a father dies trying to rescue his family, he paid the highest price he could pay.

So Jesus bought the church by paying the highest price anyone could pay.

The importance of a death is determined by the importance of the person.

All souls are of equal value to God, but some deaths are more important because of the serious consequences.

* To an army, the death of a general is more important than that of a private.

* To a nation, the death of a king would be a greater price to pay than the death of a beggar or criminal.

Consider then the death of Jesus. He was not just the greatest man that ever lived, he was more than a man. He was God in the flesh, the only-begotten Son of God. If He died to purchase the church, consider how valuable and important He must consider the church!

The purpose of Jesus' death, stated in other ways, shows the importance of the church.

Note why Jesus' death is important:

Ephesians 1:7 - We have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.

Matthew 26:28 - He shed His blood for many for remission of sins. [1 Peter 2:24]

Jesus died to save us, but He died to purchase the church.

Surely this makes the church essential to salvation.

This is why Ephesians 5 says He is Savior of the body.

Acts 2:47 - The Lord adds the saved to the church. When one is forgiven of sins by Jesus' blood, Jesus puts him in the church. Hence the church is the body of people who have been saved and purchased by Jesus' death.

People who say the church is not essential to salvation are unintentionally saying that Jesus' death is not essential. How dare anyone say that that Jesus' death is important but the church is not important, when Jesus died to purchase the church!

IV. The Work Done by the Church

The main work of the church is spiritual, to help people have a right relationship with God.

A. Worship

The church conducts worship assemblies where people gather to worship God.

We partake of the Lord's supper in the church.

1 Corinthians 10:16,17 - Those who partake of the bread are members of Christ's body. [Luke 22:29,30]

We also sing and pray in the church assemblies.

This can be done outside the assemblies, but should also be done when the church meets.

1 Corinthians 14:15 - Referring to the church assembly, Paul taught us to sing and pray. [v19; Heb. 2:12]

How important is this worship?

John 4:23,24 - God seeks people to worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Hebrews 10:25 - We are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. [1 Cor. 11:23-26]

To receive our Father's inheritance, we must serve Him faithfully. This includes group responsibilities. It is not enough just to live good lives and worship God at home. We cannot receive eternal life without fulfilling our God-given work in the church.

B. Preaching the Gospel

The church is the only institution formed by God primarily as a means of preaching the gospel.

1 Timothy 3:15 - The church is the pillar and ground of the truth.

2 Corinthians 11:8; Philippians 4:15,16 - Churches sent funds to support preachers.

[Acts 11:26; Heb. 10:24,25; 1 Cor. 14]

How important is the preaching of the gospel?

Romans 10:17 - Faith comes by hearing the gospel.

Mark 16:15,16 - Men must hear to believe and be baptized.

Matthew 28:20 - Men must be taught to observe all Jesus' commands.

[Rom. 1:16; John 6:44,45; 8:32]

No work that anyone could do for another would ever be more important than helping him save his soul. And there is nothing we can do to help someone save his soul except teaching him (by word and example). This is the primary work of the church. It is the most important work any institution can do.


Again, we are not saying that membership in some denomination is essential to salvation.

On the contrary, denominations are no part of the plan of God. The church we are talking about is the body of all saved people which God planned and Jesus built. It is the kingdom of Christ, the family of God.

Rather, the church is important because God chose to make it important.

* If it is important to be children of God and to be saved from sin, then the church is important, for these are in the church.

* If the purpose of God is important, then the church is important, because the church is a fundamental part of God's eternal purpose.

* If Jesus' death is important, then the church is important, because Jesus died for the church.

* If worship and gospel preaching are important, then the church is important, because these are what the Lord established the church to accomplish.

All these points show that the church is important because of its relationship to God and to Jesus.

* The church is the family of God, the body and kingdom of Christ.

* The church fulfills the purpose of God.

* The church was purchased by the blood of Jesus.

* The church exists to worship God and preach His message.

Again, the church is not important because of the people in the church. It is important because the Father and Son are important and the church sustains an essential relationship to Them. To exalt the church is not to belittle God but to exalt God and respect His will.

Note: If you would like help in finding a faithful local church in your area or a Christian in your area to study the Bible personally with you, please click on the link at the end of this message to email us. You will be given an opportunity to inform us of your desire. Depending on where you live, we may or may not be able to help in these ways.

(C) Copyright 1999,David E. Pratte;
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Topics for further Bible study

Why So Much Religious Confusion and Disagreement?
The Bible vs. Denominational Creeds
Origin of Jesus' Church & Denominations
How Many True Churches Are There?
Name of Jesus' Church
What Does God Think about Denominationalism?
The Nature and Meaning of the Church
How Can You Find & Identify Jesus' Church?
Local Church Responsibilities - Return to the Gospel Way home page.

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