The following is an excerpt from Bethlehem Baptist Church. I do not agree with all of their conclusions, practices and beliefs- thus the greatness of the Independence of a local body of believers, but I do believe the points being made here concerning church membership are accurate. The task becomes coming up with a church covenant that can be agreed to and people are held accountable to what it says by the church.
Is Church Membership Taught in the New Testament?
Membership in a local church involves commitment to worship the Lord corporately, edifying brothers and sisters through mutual exhortation and service, cooperating in mission, and holding each other accountable to walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord as a witness to the truth of Christ in the world.
We believe that covenant church membership is a wise and helpful path for those who desire to walk together in obedience to the Lord and in a manner that is worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). This becomes evident when we consider how the New Testament teaching on church government and church discipline relate to mutual accountability and thus to the concept of covenant membership.
The New Testament teaching about church government and church discipline would be meaningless if some form of commitment to mutual accountability in a body of believers were not expected.
Church Government Implies a Membership of Accountability
The New Testament teaches that the local church has elders or overseers who have special responsibility to equip (Ephesians 4:11) and care for (Acts 20:28) and teach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9) the members. The New Testament teaches that the members are to respect (1 Thess 5:12f.) and be submissive to (Hebrews 13:17) these leaders, but not to treat them as infallible (1 Timothy 5:20) or in the place of Christ (Matthew 23:8-12). They are servants, not masters (Luke 22:26), and their leadership comes from their divine call to serve (Acts 20:28), not from their desire to rule. Their leadership does not replace the congregation of believers as the body with final authority under the Lord (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:4; Acts 6:3; 15:22).
This whole picture of called leaders, and people who affirm that leadership, assumes the existence of “church membership” that consists in a corporate life of mutual accountability. Leadership and submission have no meaning where there is no commitment to accountability (that is, to membership).
Church Discipline Implies a Membership of Accountability
Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17).
What this implies is that Christians are to be members of churches where they are held accountable to walk in a way that pleases the Lord. If there were no relationship of accountability, it would be meaningless to “tell it to the church,” because the offending person would simply say, “That church has no jurisdiction over me.”
The same thing is implied in 1 Corinthians 5. A man in the church is living in blatant immorality and is proudly unrepentant (v. 2). Paul writes, “Let him who has done this be removed from among you” (v. 2). He goes on to say, “When you are assembled . . . you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (vv. 4-5).
None of this would be feasible if the immoral man could simply say, “I am not accountable to you. I can do what I please. You have no authority or rights over me.” In other words, the teaching of the New Testament on church discipline implies that church membership (involving mutual accountability among the members) is the will of God for all Christians.
The Church Covenant
The biblical call for a membership of mutual accountability in a local body of believers suggests the need for believers to make a covenant with one another. This is simply implied in agreeing to hold each other accountable to walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord.
The church covenant is a written summary of biblical practice that a church agrees should be the basis of its accountability. The covenant allows for freedom of conscience in areas where the Bible is not definite in its guidance. The covenant focuses on principles, especially as they relate to our corporate life together.