by John Ellis
The topic of church membership can be quite contentious. Eschewing organized religion, some professing Christians believe that churches are unnecessary at best and promote hypocrisy and division at worst. Others accept the need for churches but deny that church membership is Biblical. For them, church membership is an extra-Biblical requirement taught by those more concerned about power than about unity and love. “After all,” they protest, “I don’t need to be a member of a church to know that I am a child of God.”
For many Christians, though, church membership is simply white noise; something they dutifully do because it’s what is done. But they do so without giving much thought as to why.
For Christians who recognize that the Bible teaches church membership, there are many worthwhile resources available to help our brothers and sisters in Christ move to a better position, or, rather, and dare I say, a more Biblical position. I’ve read many of those resources and have used and will continue to utilize them. However, Dr. Dennis Bills’ latest book A Church You Can See: Building a Case for Church Membership has moved to the top of that list.
Bills writes with a pastor’s heart and a theologian’s mind. Having earned his DMin from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Dr. Bills doesn’t shy away from taking the contentious nature of the topic head-on, arguing cogently and coherently that membership in a local church is required by Scriptures. Yet, as a long-serving pastor, his humility and his love for the Body of Christ underscores his book’s arguments.
The core of the argument found in A Church You Can See is summed up in chapter 1, “Blueprint: The Pattern for the Church”:
“The Bible does not recognize a category of living, breathing Christians who are not part of the church-you-can-see. It presumes that if you still have a body (just like anyone reading this), you are part of the visible church. This creates a problem for body-having Christians who have little interest in the visible church.”
As Dr. Bills recognizes, church membership is Biblically necessary since unity is next to impossible to achieve without it. Rejecting church membership is an embrace of a contra-Biblical individualist approach to Christianity. But you don’t need to take my word for it since Reverend Dr. Dennis Bills expertly expounds Scripture as he argues for the necessity of church membership.
Helping lift A Church You Can See out of the potential mire of dry theological debates, Dr. Bills frames and presents his arguments using the imagery of construction. In doing so, he’s written a book that will appeal to lay people as well as to pastors. In fact, I encourage pastors to stock their church library or book corner or simply their office with copies of A Church You Can See to hand out to members who are struggling with the question of church membership.
One of the more helpful aspects of the book is how well Dr. Bills grapples with defining both the invisible church and the visible church in light of the Bible. Doing so creates a solid and, frankly, I believe an unassailable platform from which he claims, “I think that it is safe to say that, if it is in any way possible, true believers should participate in the visible church.”
Moving forward, A Church You Can See parses out the Biblically commanded functions of the visible church. While doing so, the book plugs individual believers into those functions, demonstrating why church membership is necessary. As he concludes his book, Dr. Bills provides some useful suggestions for the Christian who is persuaded that church membership is Biblical but has yet to take that step of obedience. And like any good construction project, A Church You Can See wraps up with a punch list and a final inspection.
In the punch list, Dr. Bills expertly and succinctly unpacks and then repacks the notion of disunity created by different denominations. Stressing unity among orthodox, Protestant churches, he humbly and with charity writes, “Since a one-world visible church is not possible this side of eternity … denominationalism is the best, most providential option. A church with many different denominations is more likely to teach, preach, and worship with a high degree of unity within and across those denominations than any amalgam constantly mired in debilitating chaos and division.”
Church membership is an issue that many Christians, and even pastors, struggle to defend its Biblical warrant. A Church You Can See: Building a Case for Church Membership by Dr. Dennis Bills is a needed resource that will aid all Believers in understanding, defending, and applying church membership.
Soli Deo Gloria
You can purchase a copy of A Church You Can See by clicking here.
 Dennis Bills, A Church You Can See: Building a Case for Church Membership (New Martinsville, WV: Reforming West Virginian, 2017), 12.
 Bills, A Church You Can See, 21.
 Bills, A Church You Can See, 85.