Note: We’ve recently begun a Sunday School series, entitled, “The Local Church.” These articles are intended to provide some additional insight.
“For the body is not one member, but many…Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:14;27)
This morning in Sunday School, we began to discuss the Biblical foundation for church membership. Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Church membership is in the Bible”? It’s a good question to ask. And the answer is both “no” and “yes”. You see, the words, “church membership”, never actually appear anywhere in the New Testament. There is no “address” that you can to and definitively say, “the Bible says in (book, chapter, verse) about church membership.” That’s the “no” portion of the answer.
Remember, though, I said that church membership is in the Bible. Now, you may be thinking, “Pastor Will has lost his mind. One minute he says it’s not in the Bible, and the next he says that it is!” Bear with me, as we take a short detour. If you were to look in the Bible for the word, “trinity”, you will come up empty. That word is nowhere to be found in Scripture, but the idea is found all over, both in the Old and New Testaments. And while we often look for specific words, Scripture often gives us specific patterns.
So, while the words, church membership, are nowhere to be found, the idea is found throughout the New Testament. In fact, the evidence is both implicit and explicit. This week, we will look at the implicit evidence. Consider a few basic truths:
Matthew 16: Jesus tells Peter that he will build his church on the rock.
· Matthew 18: Jesus gives instructions on how to practice church discipline.
· Matthew 28: Jesus commissions the disciples (who would become the Apostles, or early church leaders).
· Acts 1: Jesus repeats His commission to the disciples—telling them they would be His witnesses throughout the world.
Why are these portions of Scripture fascinating? Because in these passages, and many others, Jesus speaks of the church prior to its existence! These portions of the Gospel help lay the foundation for the rest of the New Testament teaching concerning the church and its members. Jesus tells the disciples, and by extension us, that His people will assemble as the church, and that they would function in specific ways for specific purposes.
Still not convinced? That’s okay. Let’s continue our journey through the New Testament. Consider this:
· 13 (possibly 14) New Testament letters were written to local churches, with each letter giving specific instructions to the respective congregation.
When you open your Bible and read from Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, etc. you are reading a letter written to a specific local church (or local churches), addressing specific issues, correcting specific errors, and directed to specific people. In Philippians, when Paul writes about Epaphroditus, the church knew exactly who was he was.
Each of the New Testament letters are unique; however, the beauty of Scripture is its unity. Even though Romans and Ephesians were written to different local churches, the content of the letters are cohesive. In other words, Paul’s command to obey government authorities (Romans 13), was applicable to the Ephesians. Likewise, his exhortation to pursue church unity (Ephesians 4), was equally important to the Romans. The New Testament letters, written to a local church, and then circulated among other local churches, makes a compelling case for church membership.
By now, I’m hoping that you can see a pattern starting to emerge. But, if you’re like me, you need to be thoroughly convinced. There’s some more evidence I want you to consider:
· There are 59 “one another” passages in the New Testament. And, they are not limited to just the church letters. You will find these “one another” passages in the Gospels and book of Acts.
There are some who wrongly assume that Christianity is merely “my personal walk with Jesus.” That’s only partly correct. Every person must trust Christ for the forgiveness of sins on their own. Once a person becomes a Christ follower, he or she has a call to commitment and community. You see, the New Testament doesn’t teach a “lone wolf” Christianity. We exist to be in relationship with God AND His people.
Here’s a fun Bible-reading fact: repetition is important.
If God tells us something in His word just once, it should be important to us. If He tells us twice, we should take note. But, when He tells us 59 times, then we better snap to attention.
Here’s the truth of it: you simply cannot be obedient to God’s Word apart from committing to a local church. I’ll anticipate a question that some will inevitably ask: “Do I need to join a church in order to be obedient? What if I just attend every week? I’ll answer those questions in the coming weeks—stay tuned!