Over the next week I will be posting a five part interview with Dr. John S. Hammett on the importance of local church membership. I am excited about this interview series not only because the topic is extremely important to the Church, but also because God has used Dr. Hammett notably in my own theological formation.

While working on my master’s degree I had the privilege of sitting under Professor Hammett for several lecture courses and worked with him in one independent study course. His love for the local church was contagious and propelled me to see the importance of ecclesiology in a very deep way. John Hammett is a seasoned, humble, and respectable scholar who loves Christ’s church dearly.

Dr. Hammett earned degrees at Duke University (B.A), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.Div.), Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (D. Min.), and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Ph.D.). Dr. Hammett is currently serving as Professor of Systematic Theology and the Associate Dean of Theological Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.

Hammett’s book Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches has been instrumental in the formation of my own ecclesiology, and naturally I highly recommend it. Hammett also wrote an excellent chapter on “The Doctrine of Humanity” in A Theology for the Church. Dr. Hammett has contributed too many other books, magazines, scholarly journals, and online resources on Theology, Ecclesiology, and Missiology. (Here are a few from 9Marks Ministries) Simply put, he has given much thought to the importance of the local church.

The interview series will be organized under five questions:

  1. Is local church membership really that important, is it even biblical?
  2. In your opinion, what are the requirements one must meet for local church membership?
  3. What are the privileges of being a member of a local church?
  4. What are the responsibilities of being a member of a local church?
  5. What, if any, are valid reasons for parting ways with a local church?

Here are some introductory thoughts from Hammett:

“Church membership is something that can be misunderstood. It’s not the same thing as the gospel, and certainly doesn’t guarantee someone’s place in heaven. But consider this – On a typical Sunday morning, of the more than 16 million members of Southern Baptist churches across the country, more than 10 million will not be present in a local church, that’s less than 40%. Where are they? Some are sick or on vacation, but many simply choose not to come, and have made that choice consistently for years. Somewhere along the line they joined a church, but their life shows no evidence that they know Christ. My fear is that they think somehow their church membership guarantees them access into heaven, but being a church member doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a genuine follower of Jesus. It should, but in many churches it doesn’t.

Not only can church membership be misunderstood, it can also become meaningless. Churches where more than 60% of the members never even come and whose lives shows no sign of Christ’s presence make membership a meaningless mockery and expose such churches to the charge that they are full of hypocrites. All you can say is, “you’re right.” Church membership doesn’t guarantee that someone will live a Christ-honoring life. So some churches have deemphasized church membership. It doesn’t save you, and doesn’t make someone a better person, so what’s the value? While I want to keep the main thing the main thing, there can also be secondary things that have significant value. I think church membership is one of those secondary things.”

I look forward to posting Dr. Hammett’s thoughts on the importance of church membership over the next few weeks.

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