Having grown up in the local church and building my life within the church, there is one thing that I am noticing that is becoming very lax: the local church membership. Is church membership a thing of the past, the good old days? Why do we need church membership? Is church membership really a big deal? Is church membership biblical, a mandate from the Lord himself? These are questions that I have heard over the years within the ministry and being involved in the local church. These questions are ones that I would like to address and focus on because the need to understand the importance of church membership, for the believer, is a valid one that should not be in the shadows of confusion.
Church membership is important to the local church and is a beautiful practice to the believing body. However, the question lies: should the local church be in the practice of implementing church membership or simply allow all to be a part of the body of the local church? First, we must address what is the local church and who makes up the local church. The local church, first and foremost, is the bride of Jesus Christ. The bride of Jesus Christ is not just made up of “whosoever” but is made up of a particular people.
Our confession, the 1689 London Confession of Faith chapter 26 paragraph 1 states “The universal church, which (with respect to the intentional work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that fills all in all”. Here the confession states that Jesus Christ is, not only the Head, but the spouse of the church, the Husband. The spouse would never allow just “someone” to be involved in his marriage. The husband would not allow “whosoever” to be his bride. Scripture tells us who the church is espoused to and who the church belongs to, that is, Jesus Christ! Jesus stated to Peter:
“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you Peter, ‘and upon this rock I will build My church” (Matthew 16:17-18, LSB). Jesus is clearly stating here to Peter that the church will be built (chosen) by him, the church will belong (sealed) to him, and that nothing can destroy (remove) his church, as Jesus is the protector of his church. This is a clear depiction that Jesus, the husband, is choosing his bride, is legally sealing his bride, then as a good husband should be, is protecting his bride, to the degree, that Jesus died for her. There must not be any mistake, the church does not belong to the town, city, community, but only to, Jesus Christ the Son of God. Heaven even declares the church to be the bride of Christ; “The one of the seven angels who had broken the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, ‘Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb’” (Revelation 21:9, NASB). “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7).
There must be a distinguishing between who the bride is and who the bride is not. First, the bride is not “whosoever”. The bride is not built on a group of people that are not named, or not known by Jesus Christ. The bride is not made up of just anyone who says they are a believer or displays some type of works-based merit to gain favor of the Lord. The Scriptures make this point abundantly clear starting in the gospel of Matthew; “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord,’ did we not prophesy (preach/proclaim) in Your name, and in Your name cast out (prayer) demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Also, “He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on his right, and the goats on the left” (Matthew 25:32-33). Therefore, it is clear not everyone is a member of the church, the bride of Jesus Christ. So, who is the bride made of? The bride of Jesus Christ, the church, is only made up of the saints, those elected for salvation, in and through the finished redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Many people have a hard time swallowing that there is such a term called “election”, but the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that there is! Jesus states, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44). Again, Jesus states, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65). You might argue that in these two passages Jesus isn’t referring to election. But I’d beg to differ. If you look at the work “draw” in John 6:44, please note that this word in the Greek is hĕlkuō, meaning to drag. You and I, when we came into this world, we were born into sin (John 3). From that point we are consumed with sin and the desire to sin and want nothing more but sin and the things of this sinful world.
But God, when he intervenes to those, that are his elect, he takes us by the arm and hĕlkuō, he drags us, to the Son for salvation, a work that the Father foreordained before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Why does the Father drag us, you may be asking? Because we do not want God or anything to do with God (Romans 3:10-18). Yet, he wants us because he chose us, in his love and his kind intention, “He chose us in Him” and “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself” (Ephesians 1:4-5), so that, “to the praise of the glory of His grace” we may have “redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1:6-7). Therefore, without being elected to salvation, those who are saved today would still be in a state of eternal damnation and not able to take part of the church, the bride of Christ. But praise be to God, that he chose you and I, therefore becoming the church, the living bride of Christ. The church’s husband, Jesus Christ, knows his bride’s name. So should the local church know who the members are: the elected professing saints.
At the day of Pentecost, Peter stood before many of the Jews who, just a few days earlier, were yelling “crucify Him, crucify Him!” speaking of Jesus on the cross. Peter preached with the power of God and delivered a piercing blow to the hearts of sinful man. God did a mighty work that day, and the church that Jesus promised in Matthew 16 was born. While Peter was preaching, conviction fell on the people listening, all by God’s grace, and God dragged them to salvation. The people interrupted Peter’s sermon and asked “Brethren, what shall we do?” and Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38). It is at this moment we find the church birthed into life and a recording of those saved and baptized into Christ, by the apostles, take place. Notice, the ones that were saved, repented of their sins, were given forgiveness of their sins by God through Jesus, were baptized as a visual act of faith to all, that they were buried and risen in Christ (a picture of the death, burial, resurrection of Jesus Christ), and were added to the church. “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41, 47). This is a clear picture of what the church should be practicing: that professing, repenting, baptized believers, have their name recorded as members of Jesus’ church, His bride.
Another reason that the church must take membership seriously and record actual members, is for the sake of proper discipleship. Can the church disciple a goat? No! Yet, the church is commanded to make disciples, called the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). Sam Waldron states, “Discipleship, baptism and church membership are intimately connected with the Great Commission”. Waldron goes on to say, “Discipleship, therefore, demands baptism, church membership and submission to the elder/teachers of the church”. The church is to follow Christ’s commands and yes, Jesus commanded that his church have order (1 Corinthians 14:40), along with being the people that are separated from the world to handle matters the world has not part in. How can the church handle Christian matters if the church has no idea who the Christians truly are? If the church simply follows this command that Christ gave and his apostles followed and implemented, the church will be on solid footing and not a slippery slope. If we read throughout all the churches formed under the Great Commission the apostles followed, we would easily find the church name, church location, along with names of members of said church.
Lastly, church membership is held within NBRBC church Bylaws, Article 1, as an ordinance to be followed and administered per the commands found in Scripture. We must take church membership seriously and not something that is of old or of the past. Honoring church membership and adhering to church membership keeps the church healthy, mature, actively growing, and I believe, honoring to Christ. Let the worldly church do as they desire, but let us, the true Church and bride of Jesus Christ, stay true to the command of Christ and to what the church fathers passed down as an example.
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