Church Membership and Church Fellowship - Is There a Difference?

There is much said today about church membership or joining the church. Some are inquiring, “What does the Bible teach on this subject?” We would like to point out the difference between church membership and church fellowship.


In the New Testament church membership is associated with the Body of Christ and church fellowship with the local church.

There Is One Body

When a person becomes a Christian, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he is immediately made a member of the Body of Christ, or The Church. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (I Cor. 12:13). “We are members of His body” (Eph. 5:30). All Christians, as believers, have been “called unto the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (I Cor. 1:9). The Epistle to the Ephesians deals with the church as the body of Christ, while the first Corinthian epistle speaks of the local church as “body of Christ.” (See Eph. 4:4 and I Cor. 12:27). They are closely related.

The Local Church

gathers as the body of Christ and is representative of it. They receive one another as Christ also received them to the glory of God the Father (Rom. 15:7). Therefore, only those who are members of Christ’s Body can be scripturally received by the local church.

On the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts chapter two, the Holy Spirit descended and baptized all believers into the Body of Christ. Immediately a local church was formed in Jerusalem, as the believers “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:41-42). The Holy Spirit had made them all ONE in Christ, and this oneness was expressed by their gathering together in the local church. This was the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, into which they had been called. (I Cor. 1:9).

Can We Have Divine Order Today?

How often the question is raised, “Th this divine order, established at the beginning of the church, possible today?” The answer is YES! Wherever believers discard all denominational and group names, and meet in the name of the Lord Jesus alone (Matt. 18:20), seeking to be guided by the Scriptures, and willing to receive the members of Christ’s Body who are not disqualified from fellowship because of sin (I Cor. 5: 1-5) or unsound doctrine (Rom. 14: 1; Titus 3:9-10; II John 10), they ARE a New Testament church!

The Teaching of God’s Word

The Word of God teaches that all Christians are members of Christ’s body. (Eph. 5:30). A local church is two or more of these members gathering together in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Matt. 18:20). Such a company can act as The Church, even without being organized, because it is the Church.

The Promise of the Lord Jesus

The Lord Jesus Christ has promised His presence where two or three are gathered together in His Name. (Matt. 18:20). No sect or particular group has exclusive rights to the name of Christ-that peerless Name belongs to all Christians. Therefore, it is sound advice to direct Christians, young and old, to the fellowship of saints who meet together seeking to carry out the teaching of the Scriptures. The local church is a place of fellowship for those who have been “called unto the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (I Cor. 1:9)

The Historical Record

As one reads the Book of Acts one observes that wherever Paul preached the gospel he left a church. We never read of him organizing a church because the church is not an organization. It is an orgamsm-a body. Paul did, however, gather believers around the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit raised up elders in each place to feed the church. (Acts 20:28, 32; I Cor. 12:28-31).

The nearest thing we have in the New Testament to “joining a church” is Paul’s experience recorded in Acts 9:26, “He assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.” As a Christian he naturally desired to be associated with other Christians and thus sought fellowship in the local church at Jerusalem

The Sovereignty of the Local Church

Each local church is a sovereignty with Christ in the midst, as seen in Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, but each should recognize and seek the fellowship of other churches inasmuch as they are one in Christ. We read of the whole church, “There is one body” (Eph. 4:4), and of the local church, “Ye are body of Christ” (I Cor. 12:27, R. V.).

In conclusion we would say that all true Christians are members of the church which is Christ’s body by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12: 13). They should also be in fellowship in a local church which represents that body (Acts 2:41; I Cor. 1:9). It is in the local church where Christians meet together for worship and to bear collective testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:42, 47; Hebrews 10: 25; 13: 13-16). The Lord has commanded, “Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice” (Psa. 50: 5). “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:25). May He find us ever faithful to His word!

T.B. Gilbert