Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Local Church Membership

Many have asked the question, "Is the organization we have in the church today similar to the Biblical standard?" If we use the commands, examples, and inferences found in the New Testament, it certainly is. One of the side questions of this matter is that of local congregational membership. Some have said that there is no "placing membership" example. Others don't see a need for it. But what does the Bible give to us as we look at the church?
1. It tells us we are born into a family. "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free--and have all been made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13). It is not when a person says, "I believe in God" that they join God's family. Jesus said, as per any family, one must be born to enter it (Jn. 3:3, 5). In the first century, when people were born again in baptism, God added them to the church universal. It seemed a very simple conclusion that these individuals identified with local Christians. They became a member of the congregation where they obeyed the gospel.
2. It tells us fellowship begins with responsibility. "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). Being brought into the fellowship inherently involves the idea of each one doing his/her own part (Eph. 4:16). While many today first offer that the idea of fellowship has to do with social interaction, the orignial idea in Scripture is that it was "joint participation." Fellowship meant sharing the gospel and the responsibilities of belonging to Christ and the church. The acts of worship were considered acts of fellowship. Benevolence, another responsibility, was fellowship (Acts 6:1-7). Paul considered the money he received from the saints at Philippi "fellowship" (Phil. 4:15). This was because they had done their part in the spreading of the gospel and meeting the needs of the brethren. We do not get baptized, and then just punch our ticket every Sunday morning! Joint participation includes involvement in all of the things the church is doing. How can a person be so involved without identifying with a local body?
3. It tells us we are accountable. "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Heb. 13:17). Each local congregation had elders and deacons (Phil. 1:1). The elders were shepherds, overseers, men who had an obligation to every Christian within the congregation concerning spiritual matters. The members, in turn, were to obey these men. One can only be submissive by recognizing a relationship with the one to whom they must submit. Christians "at large" do not have the accountability that God designed for their spiritual lives. The church was comprised of the saved (Acts 2:47) - thus those who are saved need the church.
If you are a Christian, you should be involved in the work of the church, both universal and local.

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