The sacrifice of selfish privacy which is daily demanded of us is daily repaid a hundredfold in the true growth of personality which the life of the Body encourages. Those who are members of one another become as diverse as the hand and the ear. That is why the worldlings are so monotonously alike compared with the almost fantastic variety of the saints. Obedience is the road to freedom, humility the road to pleasure, unity the road to personality.
If there is anything in today’s church scene that has fallen on hard times it is the validity of local church membership. In our town the local paper ran a full length article, on Easter Sunday morning, extoling the merits of fast-growing churches that have done away with their membership rolls. One was a nondenominational group meeting in temporary facilities and the other (sadly) was the Unity group which has its own building. Unity, of course, though the paper called them a “church” doesn’t believe in a personal God nor in any orthodox Christian doctrine. But methodology is methodology, and though faith can be controlled by methodology, methodology can’t produce faith.
This modern day phenomenon of discarding local church membership is neither biblical nor historical. One doesn’t have to read very far back into church history to find churches holding firm to regenerate church memberships and the right to “ban” those members who had begun walking contrary to the biblical pattern.
Neither is the modern individualism found in the New Testament. James R. White aptly said, “There is no warrant for the ‘Lone Ranger Christian Syndrome’ so popular in Protestant circles these days.”2 Although the biblical data could be multiplied beyond what can be placed in this article, here are six prerequisites for local church membership.
We are stewards of our biblical beliefs
Our doctrine is the glue that binds believers together. G.K. Chesterton wrote, “In truth, this vividly illuminates the provincial stupidity of those who object to what they call ‘creeds and dogmas.’ It was precisely the creed and dogma that saved the sanity of the world.”3 In the early church, the Apostles suggested creating the office of deacon so that they would not have to surrender studying scripture (Acts 6:1-4). Paul pointedly told the Ephesian Elders that he did not shun his duty of declaring all of God’s counsel (Acts 20:27-30).
The Lord Himself rebuked the Asian churches for not clinging more closely to sound doctrine (Rev 2:2, 14-15). We fulfill this biblical stewardship by preaching, teaching and studying the Word of God together in our assemblies. Paul was distinct with young Timothy to take heed to doctrine, “for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee” (1 Tim 4:16).
We are stewards of our human needs
In the early church, we also find unusual effort to meet the physical needs of members, even to the point of some selling everything they had in order to help others in need (Acts 4:31-37). Paul instructed the churches on how to help widows who had been left alone (1 Tim 5:9) and James identifies pure religion as that which helps orphans and widows (Jas 1:27). Contrast that with one article that describes generation Xers as “detached and cynical, growing up in a culture of AIDS, violence and shattered families.”4 Now we are shattering the church for them as well!
Vance Havner said, “In this age, all too often, the church is but a mutual congratulation society.”5 How we need to heed the writer of Hebrews, “and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works. Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” (Heb 10:24-25).
We are stewards of our sinful failures
Perhaps the most startling evidence for local church membership is the biblical command to put those out who have sinned. Out of What? Jesus commanded the whole church to participate in this action (Matt 18:15-17). Paul told the Corinthians to carry out this procedure even in his absence, seeing it is their biblical duty (1 Cor 5:1-5). When God personally took Ananias and Sapphira out of the church by sudden death, the community was afraid and “no man [would] join himself to them” (Acts 5:13). It is too bad that today believers see this as a negative to church membership. It may be the very thing that saves a man or his family!
We are stewards of our giving
Paul commanded the church to come together to store their funds in a common pool (1 Cor 16:1-2). He admonished the Corinthians not to fall behind other churches in this grace (2 Cor 8:1-4). Timothy was instructed not to neglect instructing his church to do this also (1 Tim 6:18-19). Our money goes everywhere these days except to church. We always have enough for ourselves, but we are the first to criticize the church for not providing what it should.
We are stewards of our prayers
Jonathan Edwards said, “Prayer is as natural an expression of faith as breathing is of life.”6 Peter wrote that believers are a “Holy Priesthood” and a “Royal Priesthood” (1 Pet 2:5,9). A priest’s duty is to enter the presence of God to represent his people before Him. We must have been to the altar and gotten blood, and passed by the laver and been washed, but if we have not entered on behalf of our people, we have failed as priests. “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb 13:15).
We are stewards of our evangelism
The Thessalonians spread the Word all over Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thes 1:8) and all that dwelt in Asia heard the Word from the Ephesians (Acts 19:10). Paul wrote to churches and Christ spoke to churches (Rev 2-3) to do this as good stewards of the faith.Notes: 1. C. S. Lewis, The Weight Of Glory (New York: Collier Books, 1980) 113. 2. James R. White, The Roman Catholic Controversy (Minneapolis: Behtany House Publishers, 1996) 58. 3. G. K. Chesterton, St Thomas Aquinas (New York: Doubleday, 1956) 110. 4. “Generation Xers go for the answer to Y” Rocky Mountain News 3/30/97. 5. Vance Havner, Rest Awhile (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1941) 62. 6. Ralph Turnbull, Jonathan Edwards The Preacher (Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1958) 67.