When asked, "Is church membership essential to salvation?", men usually reply that saved persons may join the church of their choice, or they say that there is no need to join a church unless one so wishes. Since you have visited this website, you want to know the Bible answer to this question; you want to know which of the forgoing alternatives is correct, or if God presents another alternative through His word, the Bible. The Bible tells, us in Acts, Chapters I and 2, about how (on the day of the beginning of the church) Peter spoke to the multitudes in Jerusalem. He explained to them that Jesus, whom they had crucified, was the Christ and was arisen. Upon believing this, the crowd was exceedingly sorry for their treatment of Jesus, and being convinced that Jesus was the Christ, asked Peter, "What shall we do?".
Peter answered them, saying ". . . repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" Acts 2:38. As a result of these teachings, Acts 2:41 records, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls". Acts 2:47 amplifies and clarifies this last verse saying, And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved".
The Bible is quite clear that obedient believers in Christ were added to the church by the Lord. The addition of the one being saved to the church is done by the Lord, not by the believer, nor by any other person, nor by any other group of persons. As a result of his repentant, obedient faith in Jesus, the believer becomes a member of the Lord's body, which is the Lord's church (see Eph. 1:22-23). We can consider this membership a divine, dependable reaction to the believer's obedience. Thus, all Christians are members of the Lord's church, and there are no Christians who are not members of His church. Remember, it is the Lord and only the Lord who decides on the membership of His church. (Read Acts 4:12)
We must be crystal clear here; the church does not save. Christ does that and only Christ. One must be in Christ to be saved and no one can be saved outside of Christ. Thus, the New Testament terms, "being in Christ", "being in the church", and "being in the Lord's body", equally describe one condition, that of being saved or that of being a Christian (Refer to Gal. 3: 27; Eph. 1:22,23; 1 Cor. 12:13).
Although unsaved persons may meet with the earthly worship of the body of Christ, their presence in the worship does not infer that Christ has accepted them or added them to the church. Faith in Christ and obedience to His will is the only route into the church. Study Bible Research Library message, "The New Testament Church - It's Terms of Entrance".
As discussed earlier, membership in the church results as the believer obeys God's will: Thus we must ask, "But does this membership in the Lord's church commit the believer to meet with an earthly body, to carry out responsibilities to others, and to perform Christian duties which cannot be done alone?". To answer this question, we observe that Acts 2:42 records that the very first Christians continued steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine. The teachings, or doctrines, of the apostles are found in the Pages of the New Testament: They have been recorded and transmitted to us so that we, also, can live toward God as did the early Christians. To answer this last question, let us search the scriptures to see if there are things taught by command or example which cannot be done alone, or which must be done in a group.
The search first reveals a command given by the Apostle Paul, as recorded in Hebrews 10: 24,25, "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is: but exhorting one another: and so much more as you see the day approaching". Thus, here is a command directing an earthly meeting together (an assembly) for the purpose of exhorting each other to love and to good works.
Further search reveals that the early church, that body of Christ, which worshipped under the direct supervision of the inspired apostles, met together regularly. A few of their activities are listed below; each of which cannot be done alone, that is, they must be done in an earthly assembly or an earthly association of Christians:
1. Love the brethren. (I Peter 1:22) 2. Admonish one another in song. (Col. 3:16) 3. Be of the same mind and judgement. (II Cor. 13:11) 4. Pray for one another. (Matthew 5:44) 5. Submit to church leadership. (Hebrew 13:17) (Study also the message, "The Government of the New Testament Church.")
It is obvious that God both intended and directed his followers to meet together in earthly assembly. If one believes in Christ and is obedient unto salvation he becomes, mandatory, a member of the Lord's church. This membership confers both rights and duties: The right is salvation if, we remain faithful members until death. The duties are those previously mentioned, and others. Some of these other duties are: Obey civil government (Rom. 13:1-4); bring forth fruit unto God (John 15:7-8); love and pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44-48). worship in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23,24); remain unspotted by worldly things (Jas. 1:27); glorify God (I Cor. 6:19,20); and, be faithful until death (Rev. 2:10). These things and others are required.
Thus, the Bible answer to the question, "Is church membership essential to salvation?", is "Yes!". Indeed, membership in the Lord's church is, for Christians, unavoidable.