Becoming A Member Of His Church
There is nothing to which one should belong that is more important than belonging to His church. We are studying a series of lessons centered around Jesus’ own words, “Upon this rock I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18). Our emphasis is on His declaration that the church He built belongs only to Him. And, to be a member of it is of the utmost importance. But have you heard statements like, “It doesn’t matter what church you belong to -- the church doesn’t save anyone.” Keep that in your mind, and let’s study that in this article.
Jesus did build His church Matt. 16:18 are the words of the Savior. He promised, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.” It was established in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost following His resurrection from the dead. The first mention of it as an existing reality is Acts 2:47. There the record says that the Lord “was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” It grew to a very large number within just a few years. Those of the first century who were members of it, made up the church -- the called out. But just what did they do in order to be members of His church? Did they “join the church” of their own choice? Did it make a difference if they were members of that church, or could they have pleased the Lord by being members of some other kind of church? Let’s study.
It may surprise you, but there is nothing in the Bible that gives instructions for joining that church. In fact, people did not join it, in the sense of becoming members of it. Acts 2, the chapter telling us of the events that took place as the church came into being, has Peter’s sermon, the audience response, and the divine results. You see, Peter preached that Jesus was no longer dead -- He was risen and sitting at the right hand of the Almighty. There was a general outcry, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Verse 37). Peter told them to “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Verse 38). Verse 41 reads, “They then that received his word were baptized and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls.” Verse 47 tells to what they were added. It reads, “Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved.” This was the church Jesus built. And it was the only church in existence.
The people did not “join” that church nor any other church -- they were added to it by the Lord. They were never offered the pious platitude, “join the church of your choice.” The Lord settled their church membership by selectively adding the saved to the church of Christ. Those who were “being saved” were added to it. Those who were being lost, who refused to obey what Peter preached, were not added. That is the way it was in the very beginning of Christianity and unless the New Testament has been revised, it is still the Lord’s way. To this, nearly everyone who has studied the Bible with any profit at all will readily agree. But it is inevitable that things were changed. There are churches you may join. It is like becoming a member of some club, or some organization. There are certain requirements you must meet and then be accepted by the club. But that is not the way it was in becoming a member of the church Jesus build.
With all genuine respect, let me read to you what is required of some today who would be members of the Baptist Denomination. Reading from A Standard Manual for Baptist Churches, by Edward T. Hiscox, page 22, “It is most likely that in the Apostolic age when there was but ‘one Lord, one faith, and one baptism,’ and no differing denominations existed, the baptism of a convert by that very act constituted him a member of the church, and at once endowed him with all the rights and privileges of full membership. In that sense, ‘baptism was the door into the church.’ Now, it is different; and while the churches are desirous of receiving members, they are wary and cautious that they do not receive unworthy persons. The churches therefore have candidates come before them, make their statement, give their ‘experience,’ and then their reception is decided by a vote of the members. And while they cannot become members without baptism, yet it is the vote of the body which admits them to its fellowship on receiving baptism.”
Please understand, dear friend, this is an official statement from the Baptist church as to how to become a member of their denomination. And, their candid admission “now it is different” is very revealing. The difference in now and the apostolic age is that then people simply obeyed Christ’s gospel and were added to the church. Today, people are called upon to give their statement, their “experience” and then are voted into fellowship with the Baptist church. The dangerous difference is that voting is never mentioned anywhere in the Bible as a means of receiving people into the fellowship of the church. This is clearly an unscriptural, anti-biblical procedure.
Here is another example of modern procedures for church membership that are not found anywhere in scripture. From the Methodist Discipline, Chapter II, paragraph 107, I read, “All persons seeking to be saved from their sins and sincerely desiring to be Christian in faith and practice are proper candidates for membership in The Methodist Church. When such persons offer themselves for membership, it shall be the duty of the pastor, or of proper persons appointed by him, to instruct them in the meaning of the Christian faith and the history, organization and teaching of The Methodist Church; to explain to them the baptismal and membership vows and to lead them to commit themselves to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. When they shall have given proof of the genuineness of their faith in Christ and of their desire to assume the obligations and become faithful members of The Methodist Church, and after the rite of baptism has been administered to those who have not been previously baptized, he shall bring them before the congregation, administer the vows and receive them into the fellowship of the Church, and duly enroll them as members.”
Again, the difference between those on the day of Pentecost, and the procedural requirements for membership in The Methodist Church is very evident. In the first century, no one ever dreamed of learning of the doctrines, history, organization, and policies of any church. Faith in Christ as the Lord, that led sincere believers to repent and be baptized made them automatically members of Christ’s church. Please notice very carefully, that both these denominations mentioned, and all others (with which I am acquainted) require baptism in order to be in their fellowship. But each and every one of them deny that baptism has anything to do with salvation from sin. They affirm that one can be a Christian, die and go to heaven, and never be a member of their particular fellowship or church. The irresistible conclusion is that they require more of one to be members of their denominations than the Lord does for them to go to heaven.
No, dear friends, voting people in or out of the church based on their statement or “experience” is not taught in the Bible. Indoctrination of candidates into the doctrinal views, the history, and organization of The Methodist Church is not taught in the Bible. In fact, there is nothing in the Bible that tells one how to join the church. The reason for that is simple. Dr. Hiscox was right. “...in the apostolic age ... the baptism of a convert by that very act constituted him a member of the church.”
We have established previously that the church is the kingdom of God on earth. Entering the church is entering the kingdom. And one is made a member of Christ’s kingdom by being born of “water and the spirit” (John 3:5). Jesus said, “Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” By baptism in water, in obedience to what the Holy Spirit has revealed through the inspired apostles, one is then born again. No one joins the kingdom of Christ. It would be as sensible to speak of a child “joining” its family as it would be to speak of joining God’s family. You become a member of Christ’s kingdom, the family of God, by birth -- a new birth of water and spirit.
The process of conversion puts one in the church of Christ. Jesus said, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Conversion is the change that occurs in one who leaves sin and enters salvation. But notice that this is the procedure by which one enters the kingdom, and simultaneously becomes a member of the church Jesus said was His own.
This has very serious implications. It implies that anyone who is not a member of the church Jesus called His own is not saved. Being saved is the means by which He adds one to His church. So, to be a member of His church, is to be saved from past sins. But how is one saved? If we are to be saved it will be only on the Lord’s terms. Listen carefully. Jesus, just prior to His ascension, said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. He who disbelieves will be damned” (Mark 16:15-16). Salvation is placed after belief and baptism. The passage is often twisted to read, “He who believes is saved, and then should be baptized to join the church.” But that is not the way Jesus gave it. He put two conditions between the lost person and salvation, and membership in His church.
It has not gone unnoticed that Jesus said, “He that disbelieveth shall be damned..” with the erroneous conclusion that had baptism been essential, he would have said, “He that disbelieveth and is not baptized shall be damned.” The truth is simple. He put two conditions between damnation and salvation and only one for those who are lost.
Are you a member of His church? Have you obeyed His gospel? Have you been immersed for the remission of sins, like those on the Day of Pentecost were required to do? If so, the Lord has added you to His church. If not, please carefully consider how you are now in God’s thinking. I pray that you will accept the truth of God’s word, obey it from your heard, be saved from your past sins, and added to His church today.
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