A Healthy Church Member is a Committed Member (Part2)
June 29, 2014 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos
Biblical Support for Church Membership
One Sunday morning, a first time visitor in a church service was asked by the pastor, “What church are you a member of?” The visitor answered, “The universal body of Christ.”
Technically, what that visitor said is right. Every genuine Christian does belong to the invisible universal body of Christ. The Bible teaches that once a person repents of his sin and trusts in Christ as Lord and Savior he is not only saved but also becomes part of the universal body of Christ.
Gal 3:25-28 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
1Co 12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
And so, yes, it is right to say that all genuine Christians belong to the universal body of Christ.
However,anyone who claims to be saved and does not formally join and commit to a local church, a visible, tangible, real-world expression of the body of Christ, is disobeying Christ.
Chuck Colson writes: “Of course every believer is part of the universal church, but for any Christian who has a choice in the matter, failure to cleave to a particular church is failure to obey Christ.”
In the NT the word church basically means an assembly or congregation of Christians.
Church is used in the Bible in two ways: in the sense of (1) universal
church and (2) local
The UNIVERSAL CHURCH
refers to the whole body of Christians scattered all over the world and already with the Lord in heaven. This is composed of all born-again Jews and Gentiles who have repented of their sins and put their trust Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice and surrendered to Him as their Lord. Whatever race you are or whatever may be your social status, if you have trusted Christ as Savior then you are a member of the Body of Christ.
The term “church” is also used in the sense of a local church
. The local church
is a group of believers in Christ, whether small or large in number who are in covenant relationship with one another, who subscribe to the essential doctrines of Christianity, who meet regularly at a specific location for worship, fellowship and ministry, and who manage their own affairs in an orderly way.
From the beginning of Christianity, the New Testament records that men and women gathered in local churches.
As I mentioned last week, out of the 110 times the Greek word ekklesia
is translated “church,” only 17 are clear references to the invisible universal church; 90 refer the local church.
Active local church membership was essential to living the Christian life. A believer is not left alone to look after and provide for himself, without any help from others just as a family member is not left alone to grow on his own. The Bible is not simply about “Me and Jesus,” doing our devotions, praying, reading the Bible, etc. These are all good but they are not sufficient.
Here are questions I want us to think about seriously?
- If a Christian who is not a member of the church comes and worships as often as the official members, if he fellowships with these believers as much as anyone else, if he profits from the teaching and other ministries of the church, why should he formally join the church?
- Isn’t church membership nothing more than an unchallenged, but unbiblical tradition and an unnecessary formality?
- Did the Christians in New Testament times formally join churches, or did they have more of an informal relationship?
- Is there Biblical support to the concept of formalized church membership?
Today I want to focus our study in answering only the last question, “Is there Biblical or New Testament support to the concept of formal church membership?”
You will never find the phrase “formal church membership” or any term to that effect in the NT, just as you will never find the word Trinity in the Bible. But the absence of the term does not mean absence of concept. It is difficult to imagine how the early church could have accomplished many of the things they did if there was no formal organization among the churches.
When John MacArthur first addressed the issue of Membership in his church, it was a time when half of his congregation were not members. MacArthur said that some of the things that caused others not to want to be members were the following: Ignorance, indifference, fear of being exposed or some sin in your life, reluctance of being given any form of ministry responsibility.
Let me just try to elaborate on the ignorance issue. People are reacting negatively when we start to introduce the subject of formally joining a church and being committed to it perhaps because of ignorance.
They object to it strongly because they think that there is no Biblical support that tells us that membership was formalized.
There is no verse that says, “And the apostles gathered all of those who attended their worship services and announced that from that moment on they were going to undergo a process to identify who were the formal members of the church etc.”
However, there is too much circumstantial evidence to deny that. If the church membership was formalized, what would we expect to read in the Bible.
- It would have a founder.
- It would have a foundation day.
- There would be qualification for members.
- There would be an initiation process for membership.
- They would have a list and know how many members they had.
- The local churches would be in recognizable groups.
- They would have recognizable leaders to whom the flock submitted to.
- They would have a process of appointing their leaders.
- They would have regular meetings for worship and fellowship.
- They would have a mission statement.
- They would have their articles of faith or something to that effect.
- They would have their church manual or at least something to that effect.
- They would have a process of recruitment.
- They would have some system of collecting funds to support their workers and their work.
- We would expect that they had basic officers like secretary and treasurer.
- They would have official representatives recognized by other organizations.
- We would find formal correspondences between established local assemblies.
- They would have a process for their transferring members.
- They would have church discipline.
As in any good and well-established organization, you would expect its members to manifest certain distinguishing character. They know what their mission is. They are able to tell you how they are different from other organizations. They would know if another person belonged to their organization or not. They lived to a certain standard. They had a way of removing those who did not live up to that standard.
Now when we turn to the Bible, what do we see?
Reading the book of Acts and the epistles, you will assume that the believers were gathered into communities and not running around loose. The NT clearly indicates that believers were baptized, and assembled and they gathered in recognizable groups, their names were put on a list, they were identified as the flock, and the shepherds knew who they were. And when they moved from one place to another, some letter went along with them in order that a transfer might be effected to another local assembly of believers. Letters of the NT were written to those gathered believers. There was never any assumption that some Christian would be floating around loose all by himself. There was a real spiritual unity of saved souls. And that real spiritual unity was manifest in local groups of believers gathered together for the purpose of sanctification, and worship and witness. It’s a biblical pattern.
Let us look at some of these in detail. For the rest of our time this morning, I would like to present to you 19 Biblical proofs for a formalized church membership.
- Christ is the founder.
If the church membership was formal, we would expect to see this religious assembly to have a founder.
- Mt 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
- 1Co 3:11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ
- It had a foundation day.
When Peter explained to the Jewish Christians why he went to the Gentiles to share the gospel with them he explained that it was God Himself who revealed to him that he should not consider them unclean but that he should go and minister to them. What is interesting is how he described what happened to them.
Ac 11:15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning
In other words the birth of the church was on the day of Pentecost as described in Acts 2:1-4:
Ac 2:1-4 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
- There was more or less a formal ceremony to identify those who would belong to the church.
They could not be considered as part of the church if they did not submit to the following requirements:(1) They had to accept the gospel, (2) be serious about living holy lives, and (3) be baptized before they could be added to the church(Acts 2:36-41):
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls
The first thing you will note in that verse is that Peter warns and pleads with them to save themselves from this corrupt generation. You cannot be part of the church if you do not desire to live a holy life. You would be removed from the church if you persist in your sin.
The next thing you see here is the practice of baptizing all of those were saved. Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, instituted by Jesus Christ (Mt 28:19) to be the visible and external sign to the baptized of his identification with Christ, in his death, and burial, and resurrection (Ro 6:3 Col 2:12), of remission of sins (Mk 1:4 Ac 22:16), of his giving up himself to God through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life (Ro 6:4,5), and of his being included into the body of Christ. (1Co 12:13--For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.)
This is the reason why it is by this ordinance that believers are received into the local church.
Acts 1:15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120)
Ac 2:41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
- They knew how many members they had.
Someone was taking a note of how many were added to the flock. They must have at least a secretary who took the number and perhaps even the names of these people who were added to the church.
- The local churcheswere recognizable groups.
- Ac 5:13 - None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.
- Ac 9:1-2 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way,men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
- Ac 14:23 - And when they had appointed elders for them in every church…
- Gal 6:10 - So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
- 1Co 5:12-13 - For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.
- The final greetings of Paul in his letters to the churches implies clear membership
- 1Co 16:19-20 - The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. 20 All the brothers send you greetings
- Phil 4:21-22 - Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.
- Romans 16: (exx: Ro 16:4-5 all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house…)
- There were recognizable church leaders to whom the flock submitted.
- Ac 14:23 - And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed
- Php 1:1 - To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
- 1Th 5:12-13 - We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.
- 1Ti 5:17 - Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
- 1Th 5:19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
- Heb 13:17 - Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you
- Heb 13:24 - Greet all your leaders and all the saints. …
- Likewise, there were identifiable members the leaders watched over.
The opening statements in many of the epistles showed that the believers were identifiable.
- Ro 1:7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.
- 1Co 1:2 To the church of God that is in Corinth.
- Gal 1:2 To the churches of Galatia
- Eph 1:1 To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus
- Phil 1:1 - To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
- Col 1:2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae
- 1Th 1:1 - To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
It would have been very difficult for the leader of a local church to obey Acts 20:28 if he did not know who his flock is.
Acts 20:28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
How can a pastor shepherd a flock to which he must give an account to God if he doesn’t even know where the sheep are or who they are?
Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.
- There was a process of appointing their leaders.
- 1Ti 3:1-7 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober- minded, self- controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
- Tit 1:5-9 - This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick- tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self- controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
- 1Ti 3:8-13 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double- tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober- minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Rev 1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet...
Acts 20:7 - On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread
Heb 10:24-25 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles ' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
- They had regular set times of meetings for worship and fellowship.
Mt 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
- They had a mission statement.
Eph 4:4-5 - There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith
- They had their articles of faith or something to that effect.
(i.e., the doctrinal truths Christians commonly confess.)
Gal 1:8-9 - But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again:If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to theone you received, let him be accursed.
Jude 3 - Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
2Jn 9-10 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting.
2Ti 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
1Ti 3:14-15 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
- They had a church manual or something to that effect.
Mk 16:15-16 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
- They had a process of recruitment for membership.
1Co 16:2 - On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.
2Co 9:7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
- They had some system of collecting funds to support their work and their workers.
Ac 15:22-23 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: …
2Co 8:23 - As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ.
- There were authorized messengers to represent churches.
- They had formal correspondences between established local assemblies.
- 2Co 3:1 - Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you.
- Ro 16:1-2 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.
- Ac 18:27 And when [Apollos] wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him.
- 1Co 16:3 - And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.
- There was church discipline.
This could not be administered properly without clear membership.
Mt 18:15-17 - “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
1Co 5:9-13 - I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
1Ti 5:9 - Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works:if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.
- A list of beneficiaries of special support and privileges implies clear membership.
1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 … Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church,…
4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.
5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.
7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, … 12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written… 19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”
22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.
They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter:
“The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements:29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words.
33 And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them.
- Acts 15 is a test case. It had many of the ingredients of a formal organization. There were formal correspondences to other organizations. It had representatives. It had an official decisions to be passed on to other churches. Other churches acknowledged the legitimacy of that council.
There is no way the church today can apply the commands or principles found in the NT if the local church did not have any clearly identified membership.
In NT times coming to Christ meant coming to a local church. Any idea of coming to Christ without commitment to the church is totally foreign to Scriptures. Any idea of experiencing salvation without belonging to the church is totally foreign to the New Testament.
Let us pray that many who see themselves to be Christians would see that formally joining a church and being committed to it is biblical.
For those who are not yet members of any local church and you are not committed, consider the things I just shared with you and pray for grace that you may respond in obedience to God’s call.
- Though not explicitly taught in Scripture, do you agree that a formalized membership is biblical?
- What might be some reasons that are holding back a Christian from joining a church even if he knew that church membership is biblical?
- Without condemning or judging one another, pray for Christian who are not yet members to join a church and be committed to it. (It does not have to be SDG!)