Calvary Road Baptist Church

"THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST: ITS MEMBERSHIP"

 

We learned in the sermon titled "The Church Of Jesus Christ: Its Origin" how the Lord Jesus Christ originally constituted His church. He constituted His church with twelve men, called apostles, who appear to have initially been disciples of John the Baptist who were baptized by him and then at a later time recruited by the Lord Jesus Christ to follow Him.[1] Of course, Matthew was an exception to this generality, having been a publican in Galilee and not a disciple of John the Baptist when called by the Savior to follow Him.[2] I surmise that Matthew was then baptized as the disciples of John had been, in view of the fact that our Lord’s disciples also baptized believers, John 4.1-2. Judas Iscariot is a question mark. We are repeatedly told in the gospels that this only apostle who was not from Galilee betrayed the Lord Jesus Christ, with John's gospel also frequently informing readers that he was the son of a man named Simon.[3] However, we know little else beside the fact that he was selected by the Savior to be an apostle, our Lord informing the twelve in the upper room after washing their feet that His selection of one who would betray Him was to fulfill prophecy, John 13.18 and Psalm 41.9. Therefore, we can only conclude that, like the others, Judas had been baptized, likely by John the Baptist, upon the public confession of his sins after the fashion referred to in Matthew 3.6. If Judas ever had hope, his hope was a false hope.

Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ brought His church into existence by bringing together already existing materials, men who had confessed their sins and submitted to immersion after showing what was taken to be fruits meet for repentance, Matthew 3.8. The question before us, having already established that the church of Jesus Christ is an assembly, is an assembly that is in some ways a mystery, is an assembly that is spiritual in that it affects heaven and eternity, and that it was formed by the Lord Jesus Christ using His twelve apostles during His earthly ministry, is the important matter of church membership.

I am fully aware that most congregations, including most Baptist churches, conduct themselves as though they have full and complete discretion over the matter of how, when, and who they take into their membership. Let me say that I am opposed because of my deeply held Baptist convictions from interfering with any congregation’s exercise of discretion when it comes to matters of membership. However, that said, I am persuaded that God’s Word does not give free reign to congregations to accept or refuse members according to their fancy or their whim. After all, the church of Jesus Christ is His church and not ours, and He is the de jure head of the church and ought to be the de facto head of the church. Meaning? Meaning that churches ought to handle matters of membership according to the dictates of pertinent scripture. Sadly, many churches do not. Allow me to illustrate: There was once upon a time a Baptist pastor who was prayerfully attempting to evangelize an extended family, including the mother, the grown children and their spouses, and the grandchildren. On the occasion of the pastor’s vacation a nearby pastor quickly persuaded the unsaved matriarch of the clan to be immersed after the most perfunctory profession of faith. She clearly was not saved. Upon the vacationing pastor’s return a series of events led to the woman’s desire to return to the first congregation she had been attending, which of course was impossible once she was baptized and a member of another church. Only it turned out that not only was she not genuinely saved, but that other Baptist pastor had baptized her without (according to him in a telephone conversation) being convinced she was truly saved. His words were, “Just because I baptized her doesn’t mean I think she is saved.” Astonishing. As well, even after baptism, that pastor and church did not accept into their church’s membership those professing Christians they had baptized. Again, amazing.

Does that reflect the New Testament on such matters? Has the Savior left it to each congregation to do that which is right in their own eyes? Is it like in the days of the Judges of Israel?[4] I am not so persuaded. As well, others who embrace historical and informed Baptist convictions are likewise not so persuaded.

Shall we now turn to the Word of God for consideration of this matter of church membership? The question before us is by what means the Lord Jesus Christ adds to His church, because Acts 2.47 definitely indicates the Lord adds to His church:

 

"And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved."

 

Three main points for your consideration this evening about membership in the church Jesus Christ:

 

First, LET US ESTABLISH THE EXISTENCE OF CHURCH MEMBERSHIP IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

 

There are at least two ways in which it can be shown that there is a difference between a Christian who is a part of the assembly known as a church of Jesus Christ and a Christian who is not a member of said church:

Membership is a concept that is first shown by discipline. One might think that the matter of discipline in a congregation is settled by our Lord’s instructions in Matthew 18.15-20, where He said,

 

15    Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

16    But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

17    And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

18    Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

19    Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.

20    For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

 

Especially important, one would think, is the phrase in verse 17 where our Lord said, "And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church." The concept of the church advanced in that verse can only be a congregation, with the matter of discipline applying only to one who is part of the congregation. Otherwise, you have a congregation exercising disciplinary authority over someone who happens to be attending when the assembly gathers for worship. That is hardly credible. However, there are those who insist this verse somehow applies to all professing Christians who they maintain are part of a universal invisible body. This whole notion of the church being a universal invisible entity is rightly dispelled by the fact of a congregation’s authority to dismiss a member. After all, if the universal invisible church can exercise authority over a member and remove an unrepentant member, do you then have the universal invisible church removing a member’s salvation? Do Protestants really want to go there? They do not want to go there, therefore they typically bypass this verse and its logical application to real life. Proof positive of membership shown by discipline is found in First Corinthians chapter 5:

 

1      It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.

2      And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.

3      For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,

4      In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,

5      To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

6      Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?

7      Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:

8      Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

9      I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:

10    Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.

11    But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?

13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

 

Peter Masters does a fine job of articulating this point about discipline and membership:

 

First, we learn from 1 Corinthians 5.4-5 that the local church of the first century was a properly constituted community with the power to exercise discipline. (The case in hand was the expulsion of a man for fornication.) In this passage Paul writes:

‘In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.’

This may, at first sight, seem a strange verse to prove the principle of church membership, but it is of great relevance for it describes how a special meeting of believers had the power to exclude from their company and privileges someone guilty of serious sin. This was obviously not merely a gathering, or an open public meeting, held at Corinth, including unbelievers and seekers. (1 Corinthians 14.24-25 shows that unbelievers attended the ordinary public services of the church at Corinth.) It was very specifically a meeting of disciples or believers, concerned to guard the integrity of their association.

The Corinthian sinner was ‘delivered unto Satan’, which meant that he was deprived of the comforts and blessings of spiritual fellowship and made to live outside the community of believers, back in the world, in order to bring him to his senses, and to preserve the purity of the church. In 1 Corinthians 5.12-13 the apostle continues to use the powerful language of belonging, writing:-

‘For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth.’

Insiders? Outsiders? Insiders or outsiders of what? Of a gathering only, or of formal church membership? This kind of language can only refer to a definite church membership of professing Christians, for only such a company would have the authority of the Lord to judge the conduct of other Christians.

It is clear that a church in New Testament times was a defined circle of people that you could be received into, or put out of. The people in this company had voluntarily committed themselves to the mutual fellowship, service and discipline of their Christian community. They were no longer uncommitted individualists.

Christians who do not accept the biblical concept of church membership have to adopt a most improbable position in order to explain the passages just quoted. They have to interpret them as referring to attendance of the Lord’s Supper, saying that the exclusion of the sinful man in Corinth was a ban on his attending the Lord’s Table.

While Paul does mention the Lord’s Supper, this is only part of his command. The instruction to ‘purge out’ (1 Corinthians 5.7) is not primarily a command to exclude someone from the Lord’s Table, but to expel from the body. (The same goes for Paul’s phrase, ‘put away’ (1 Corinthians 5.13) and it is obvious to us that when the apostle uses terms like ‘without’ and ‘within’ (1 Corinthians 5.12) he cannot mean the Lord’s Table, but the membership of the church at Corinth.[5]

 

This matter of church membership is a concept that is also shown by joining.

 

In the Acts of the Apostles we find several key references to joining a church, a significant example being Acts 9.26-28:

‘And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.’

What exactly was Saul trying to join? Was he merely trying to attend the services of the congregation? This is surely wide of the mark, for he would not have been turned away from the preaching. The congregations of New Testament times showed outstanding courage in their public witness, and the sheer size of the Jerusalem gatherings would have made it very easy for anyone to be present at their public preaching services.

The fact that church members were afraid of Saul did not mean that they shut him out of their congregations. They were obviously doubtful of Saul in the context of close spiritual fellowship, and would not let him join them at that deeper level, although he tried to do so. Saul was attempting to join the membership of those who had professed Christ. The words of the record confirm this was the case by saying specifically that he attempted to join ‘the disciples’ - the term for the community of professing believers. It was only when Barnabas spoke for Saul before the leaders of the church that he was able to join them.[6]

 

The reality of New Testament church membership, then, is hereby established in three fashions: First, the Corinthian congregation’s action against the unrepentant church member, as directed by the Apostle Paul, First Corinthians chapter 5, shows the pattern of discipline, second, introduced by the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 18.15-20 applies not to some ethereal and nebulous concept of church consisting of all Christians everywhere but to an actual congregation of Christians addressing a matter of sin within their circle by removing someone from membership. Third, there is the example of the Apostle Paul seeking to join the Jerusalem church in a sense far beyond that of merely attending public services.  Paul wanted to become a part of that congregation, and they at first refused before eventually accepting him.  Thereby is shown that a church does have the authority to govern who is allowed and who is not allowed to join, with the Apostle Paul showing the desirability of even an apostle of Jesus Christ being incorporated into a church congregation’s membership.

Church membership is firmly rooted in New Testament teaching.

 

Next, ESTABLISHING THE METHOD OF BECOMING A CHURCH MEMBER IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

 

“This brings us to a study of a vital term used in this and other passages of Acts -- the word join. The Greek word literally means to glue, stick or cement two things together; and it always signifies a very close dependence or bond.[7] The prodigal son, for example, is said to have joined himself, or glued himself, to a native of a far country for employment. Here the word describes a dependent, needy employee who pledges himself to obey his employer for money.

In 1 Corinthians 6.16 this same word (glued together) is used to describe sexual relationships, even sinful ones, and in 1 Corinthians 6.17 the word is used again to describe the deep bond of total commitment which marks a true Christian (‘He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit’).

In Acts 8.29, Philip is told by the Holy Spirit to join himself (the same glue verb again) to the Ethiopian eunuch’s chariot, which he did in a sense. He embarked on a determined witness and stuck tenaciously to that seeking nobleman until saving light dawned. The glue verb is only used in the New Testament to indicated a close, special obligation or commitment, and in every passage refers to a relationship which is mutual, both parties consenting.

Another example of the use of the glue verb is Acts 5.12-14. Following the judgement of Ananias and Sapphira, many people were put off joining the church. The passage reads:

‘And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them. And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women,)’

The crowds continued to turn out to the open air preaching places, such as Solomon’s porch, but many were frightened of closer involvement after the incident with Ananias and Sapphira. There was a difference between being in the congregation and being glued or joined to the church. Such passages prove beyond doubt that the New Testament churches - our pattern for today - possessed a clear membership structure.[8]

 

That churches are joined is clear. That not all Christians were considered to be part of the church is also clear, thereby showing the concept of any such thing as a universal invisible church to be invalid. It is also seen that membership is the result of the Lord adding to the church, Acts 2.47, and that those thereby added are said by Paul to be “joined to the Lord.[9] Thus, to be a Christian is to be “in Christ.”[10] However, to become a Christian who is a church member is to be “joined to the Lord” in some sense other than being regenerated or justified. So, how does one join a church? The way the process is supposed to happen is as follows:

First, the sinner responds to the gospel of God’s grace and trusts Jesus Christ to the saving of his eternal and undying soul. When that takes place the individual is justified by faith in Christ and for the first time in his existence is at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Romans 5.1.

Next, the hopeful convert to Jesus Christ who is thought to be a qualified candidate for believer baptism is then immersed in accordance with the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1Matthew 28.18-20, to publicly display by means of the ordinance of baptism his newfound relationship with Christ and His saving work, Romans 6.1-6:

 

1      What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?

2      God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

3      Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

4      Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

5      For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:

6      Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.

 

However, immersion in water, the church ordinance of believer baptism, accomplishes far more than a public declaration of one’s new relationship with Jesus Christ on the basis of faith. It also accomplishes the practical result of bringing the believer into close association with other Christians in that church authorizing his baptism as a church member. May I have your permission to not take time at present to verify what I have just stated? May I treat the topic of water baptism as the means by which a convert to Christ becomes a church member more fully in a separate sermon? For now let me clearly state the position I intend to defend: Members are added to the church by the Lord Himself. He does so by the use of means. Therefore, when a sinner hears the gospel and comes to Christ, and then when the new Christian is baptized by a congregation’s authority to undertake the Great Commission, that Christian now baptized is thereby added to the church by the Lord when servants of the Lord are obeying the Lord by doing what He has directed them to do. I have clearly shown the fact of church membership in the New Testament in this message. I have also relied upon the book written by Peter Masters wherein he wonderfully establishes that Christians join churches, though I have not yet taken the time needed to show how the joining of a church to become a member is accomplished. I will save that, Lord willing, for next time. What is left for us this evening are literary devices used in the New Testament to describe the church congregation.

 

Finally, Therefore, EXAMINING SOME REINFORCING PASSAGES

 

Allow me to mention six passages that make little sense outside the understanding that a church is comprised of Christians who are members in a way other Christians are not and in a way unsaved people are not, even if they without joining the church do regularly attend to hear the Word of God preached and taught:

 

Galatians 2.4: “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage.”

 

This verse establishes that there are times the church congregation gathers to address issues that are not public, and therefore Christians who are not members as well as unsaved people are not permitted to observe the goings on. Outsiders wanted to sneak in to observe the private functions of the congregation, according to Paul. Yet we should ask ourselves two questions: First, that such meetings take place is undeniable, as this verse shows. Yet on what basis are some included and others excluded except on the basis of being a member in good standing? Second, if the congregation’s meeting was not exclusive and private why would individuals have tried to sneak in to spy on the Christians who were members?

 

Ephesians 4.11-12: 11  And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

12    For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.

 

It is clear from Ephesians 4.8, which itself is a reference to Psalm 68.18, that the Apostle Paul is declaring that four kinds of gifted men have been given by the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet it must be asked, to whom? Are apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers given to Christianity at large, and they are therefore completely unaccountable for what they say and do? Is that the way God does anything, without responsibility and accountability? No. Those four kinds of gifted men are given to congregations, individual churches of Jesus Christ. That question asked and answered, it must also be asked to whom these gifted men’s ministries and activities are to be directed? All Christians everywhere? If that be so, where is the accountability of those being trained by them? We know from First Corinthians 8.1 that knowledge by itself only puffs the learner up. What must accompany instruction is obedience in response to direction being given, duties to be assigned, and tasks to be performed. Yet how does that happen except within the congregation’s membership? It doesn’t happen apart from church membership, and that is a serious problem in contemporary evangelical Christianity.

 

Ephesians 5.21: “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”

 

This command from the apostle implies that believers should see ourselves as a community rather than an ill-defined gaggle, with the community coming before our individual whims and desires. This verse makes no practical and workable sense apart from church membership.

 

First Timothy 3.1: “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.”

 

You understand that the word here translated bishop comes from a Greek word that means overseer. The question is overseer of what? A gaggle of Christians who come and go without regard for anything except their own convenience? This verse makes no sense apart from church membership.

 

First Timothy 3.5: “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?”

 

Here the church is seen to be parallel to another institution, the family unit here characterized as “his own house.” But what is a family? Is a family unit nothing more than a group of people who decide they want to live together, individuals who just come and go as they please? Some people act like that is what a family is, but we know better. You are either a member of the family or you are not a member of the family, with the bishop required to demonstrate skill in ruling over one situation in order to be qualified to have the opportunity to take care of the other situation, the church of God. Does this comparison between family and church make any sense unless a church is comprised of those who are members, in fashion similar to family members? No, it does not.

 

First Timothy 5.17:  “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.”

 

Once again we must ask, how can there be ‘rule’ in a church which has no constituted membership? There could be no orderly oversight of a nation which had no proper citizens, an army without enlisted soldiers, an industry without employees, or a family without children. The will of God is clearly that there should be a spiritual family in which elders are responsible to nurture and help members, and members are responsible to pool their strengths and concern to the ministry of that family.[11]

 

Understand that the vast majority of a church’s gatherings and functions are open to anyone in the world to attend, to engage in, to involve with, and to freely benefit from. However, the Word of God clearly establishes that there are some things a congregation must do privately, with only certain people being involved. Who are those certain people? Are they the ones with clout who have attended church for the longest time or who have given the most money? Not at all. They are ones who have been added to the church by the Lord. Our understanding is that a person is added to the church by the Lord when he comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ, is then baptized in obedience to Christ’s command, thereby becoming a member of that church. Can a person become a member who was saved somewhere else, and who was baptized somewhere else? You mean like the Apostle Paul? Yes, there is place for that in God’s Word. However a child of God comes to be a member of a New Testament church, be it the church in Corinth, the church in Philippi, or one of the churches in Galatia, membership is very important.

Though I will bring a series of messages directly related to the benefits that derive from membership in a church, keep this in mind: Membership in a church is very important, as evidenced by the fact that the most serious response the Corinthian congregation could possibly do when dealing with a sinning member’s refusal to repent was to deprive him of his membership.

Another matter to consider: If one becomes a member resulting from being added to the church by the Lord, how serious a matter it must be, therefore, to quit the church and go somewhere else. We know the Lord adds membership to His churches. Therefore, this matter of being somehow subtracted from the church of Jesus Christ is a profoundly important matter for prayerful and serious consideration.

 



[1] John 1.35ff

[2] Matthew 9.9

[3] Matthew 10.4; 26.25; 27.3; Mark 3.19; 14.10; 6.16; 22.48; John 6.71; 13.2, 26; 18.2, 5

[4] Judges 17.6; 21.25

[5] Peter Masters, Church Membership In The Bible, (London: The Wakeman Trust, 2008), pages 8-9.

[6] Ibid., pages 10-11.

[7] kollaw - Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 555-556.

[8] Masters, pages 11-12.

[9] 1 Corinthians 6.17

[10] Romans 8.1-2, 16.3, 7, 9, 10; 1 Corinthians 1.2, 30; 3.1; 4.10, 15; 15.18-19, 22, 31; 16.24; 2 Corinthians 1.21; 2.14; 3.14; 5.17, 19-20; 11.3; 12.2, 19; Galatians 1.22; 2.4; 3.17, 26, 28; 6.15; Ephesians 1.1, 3, 10, 12, 20; 2.6, 10, 13; 3.6, 11; Philippians 1.1, 13; 2.1, 5; 3.3, 14; 4.21; Colossians 1.2, 4, 28; 2.5; 1 Thessalonians 2.14, 4.16; 5.18; 1 Timothy 1.14; 2.7; 3.13; 2 Timothy 1.1, 9, 13; 2.1, 10; 3.12, 15; Philemon 6, 8,23; 1 Peter 3.16; 5.14

[11] Masters, page 13.

 

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org