Being A Member of a Local Church or Not

Jesus, in His sermon on the mount, said this about oaths:

But I tell you, don’t take an oath at all: either by heaven, because it is God’s throne; or by the earth, because it is His footstool; or by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. Neither should you swear by your head, because you cannot make a single hair white or black. But let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one.– Matthew 5:34-37, HCSB

I moved to a different place since December 2017 and I have been attending one local church ever since. I have neither shopped around any other place nor felt led by the Holy Spirit to look elsewhere.

I got acquainted with a few believers including a pastor who gave me a task right away even though I raised a concern to him, “I have not taken a covenant with this denomination yet.” He didn’t care knowing I am a member of the body of Christ.

But last week he asked me if I took classes. I said no. Before I finished a sentence, he told me there is ongoing classes I can jump in. I said yes without thinking or checking with the Spirit of the Lord. Now I am kind breaking my yes. I have not felt by the Spirit to make such decision.

Local church membership has advantages. In fact, true nature of humble submission that God established in the church is before God and men. At the same time, the Bible doesn’t say anything about church membership. Should you be a member of a church or should you not?

Nowadays many churches require that prospective members sign a document referred to as a Membership Contract, a Church Membership Covenant, or simply a Church Covenant.

Make no mistake: whichever term is used for the ‘agreement’ or ‘affirmation’, these signed documents are contracts.

Some of these legal documents appear quite innocent. Others make you sign away certain rights and/or force you into making specific promises. Oaths, in other words.

These promises are usually related to:

a) The church’s authority structure
specifically, your commitment to obeying the leaders
b) Finances
in particular the flow of money from you to the church

To start with Money:
The Bible in the New Testament does not tell us precisely how much to give. Yet more often than not church covenants do stipulate a certain percentage.

Authoritarian Structure:
More dangerous than the financial aspect is the fact that most church membership covenants are designed to protect an authoritarian structure. For instance, many such contracts contain specific instructions on whether and how you may question, criticize, or otherwise share your concerns regarding various issues.

The Bible teaches that Christians should grow in discernment, which naturally includes the need to judge righteously.

But pastors and other leaders in authoritarian churches are very much opposed to Christians who think and act independently of the church’s leadership. They prefer that you ‘come under their spiritual covering.’

A certain amount of structure in a church is necessary for it to function well. But the policies and stipulations in most church covenants can quickly turn abusive in churches where criticism or even questioning is seen as an offense.


  • A church covenant makes the Holy Spirit irrelevant in my life

    We are called in Scripture to be led “by the Spirit.” Though there is counsel in the wisdom of many, when I sign a church covenant I abdicate my right to hear from the Spirit myself.

  • A church covenant replaces my one true Mediator with inferior mediators

    I have only One High Priest who stands between me and God – Jesus, the Son of God – and anyone who comes between me and Jesus as I walk by His counsel and His wisdom is a detriment to my growth.

  • A church covenant makes the institutional church equivalent to the Kingdom of God

    [An] … institutional church plays an important role in the Kingdom of God, but the local church is not the kingdom of God. Anyone who knows history understands that institutional churches who demand spiritual authority over individual believers have wrongly placed their institution on par with God’s Kingdom.

  • A church covenant by its nature is designed to protect an authoritarian structure

    When a Christian signs a church covenant that demands submission to elders/ pastors, he or she is enabling that institutional church to maintain an authoritarian structure. Rather than the weak and wounded sheep being the focus of attention within the church, most modern covenants are written with phrases that seem intent on bringing church members into “submission to church authorities.” Quickly scan any church covenant. If “submission to church elders” is anywhere found, then know the covenant is designed to keep control of members and maintain the authority of the leaders.

  • A church covenant requires something more than a simple “Yes” or “No.”

    Jesus said that anything you have to do that goes beyond your simple words of “Yes” and “No” is from the “evil one” (Matthew 5: 37). When I join a church, I will forever refuse to sign any document, whether it be a “tithing card,” or “a membership covenant,” or any other document that requires a vow from me regarding my future performance or activity. In fact, if I ever attend a church that requires such a thing, I will refuse to join on the basis of a principle.

– Source: Wade Burleson, Fraudulent Authority: Pastors Who Seek To Rule Over Others, Chapter 10.

If you feel in any way pressured into signing any document, you will want to seriously reconsider your involvement with such a church.


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