By Jim Sparks
What about church membership in today’s churches? I believe this is another tradition in the churches that has no basis at all in the Scriptures. Now, remember, God does not mind tradition in the church as long as it does not become doctrinal. The question is has “membership into the church” become a commandment of men? It sure seems like it. Most would agree that it has no Scriptural basis, that it is not all that important, so God doesn’t mind. Remember again, that Jesus condemned the Pharisees for putting great importance on man- made religious inventions and passing them off as something you have to do. He condemned them for it. The fact of the matter is, you cannot be a member of most local churches unless you become a “member” and placed on their membership roll by a vote of the church. Where is this in Scripture? There is no command for that. But, if you are not on their roll, then you are not a member of their church. Now, the whole thing sounds silly. How could anyone ever come up with such a crazy idea, and even worse, how could everyone be so naive to fall for it? I’ll tell you why; because of double talk. Today when someone gets saved they are told to “join the church.” Where is that in the Bible? The Scriptures plainly teach that when a person is saved he becomes part of the church immediately, because God “joins” him to the body of Christ, or the church. “….. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47b). That doesn’t say anything about the new convert asking the church if he could “join” their membership, nor does it say that the church voted to accept him into their membership. This is one of the problems that you get into when you say that only a local church exists, and that there is no universal church. As I said before, they both have to exist to prevent inconsistencies, and the Scriptures teach that they both do exist. You say, “Well the Lord was adding daily to that local church in Jerusalem such as should be saved.” So? That’s true, but God “joined” them to that local church in Jerusalem. They didn’t have to be voted on to become a member of the church in Jerusalem. God made them a member.
You say that it is not that important, that I am making a big deal out of nothing. Then, why won’t your church accept a saved person as part of your church unless he “joins”? You are the one making a big deal out of it. Jesus did not say, “Where two or three are “joined” together on a membership role, there am I in the midst of them.” He said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). Listen friend, I already belong to Christ and I am a part of his body. I don’t have to join anything. I am already “joined” to him. I was joined to him when I got saved, and God did the “joining”. Alleluia. You see, the devil is a master of “double talk”, deceit, hypocrisy, and developing counterfeits and imitations. All his works are designed to take away from God’s works. “Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth” (Titus 1:14). The church is the body of Christ; it is not some kind of a club that you join. But, then, many professing churches today are just that, “clubs”. We are first a “member” of the Body of Christ, then we become in “fellowship” with a local church. “Fellowship,” not “membership”. We can be in “fellowship” with a local church or we can be put out of it, but you can’t be put out of “membership” from the Body of Christ. Let’s use the terms properly.
Now, there is probably a great deal more wrong with this idea of a “church membership roll” than what we think. With anything that you join, you are making a pact, an agreement, or commitment to abide by certain rules, conduct, and to take on certain responsibilities. You commit yourself to follow a church constitution and a set of by-laws. It could be to bind or “monopolize” individuals into a group, taking away liberties which we have in Christ, and thus making us more of a servant to the church, and less of a servant to Him. But the Scriptures say: “…. and where the Spirit of the Lord [is], there [is] liberty” (II Cor 3:17b). Not liberty to do what you want, but liberty to do what the Scriptures teach. That’s why we came to this country in the first place; to have liberty to serve Christ. The devil wants to take away this liberty any way he can, so we can’t have the freedom to do what the Bible says. “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” (Gal 2:4). You say, “What bondage?” Well, as long as a person is “joined” to a group or organization by some kind of an “official” action, that person is bound to that group. But, we are supposed to be bound to Christ, and we already are if we’re saved. The above verse applies to men who were trying to bring Christians under bondage by saying if you weren’t circumcised, then, you were not saved. And, today, you are told, “If you are not on our “membership roll” then you are not a member of our church.” Does that mean you are not saved? They reply, “Yes, if you are not a member of the church, then you are not saved, because the church is the body of Christ, and if you are not a member of the church, then you are not a member of His body.”
In 1Corinthians, Chapter 5, the church wasn’t told to “vote” the fornicator out of the church, but to mourn to God, and God would take care of him, the hard way if he didn’t change. If a brother fails to cooperate with the church, is the church to vote him out, drop him from the membership role, and that will take care of it? No, the Scriptures teach, “but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matt. 18:17). You follow this third step after steps one and two fail, then consider him a lost man, but there is no mention of kicking him out or dropping him from some membership roll of church members. You treat him as a lost man, pray for him, and try to get him either saved or back in “fellowship” with the church. So, friend, when you were saved, you became a “member” of His body, the Church. God “joined” you to the church of the redeemed. You became a “member” of the “general assembly and the church of the firstborn”. However, when you assemble with brothers and sisters in a local area, you are already “members” together of the same Body. Now, you are to give expression of that One Body by being in “fellowship” with your brothers and sisters in Christ, with Him in the midst. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt 18:20). If you are saved and you are there, then you are a member of that local church. Simple as that. “Fellowship” is altogether a different topic. The difference of Membership and Fellowship have to do with the difference between His Body, Universal, and His Body, Local. There are many similarities, but there are a few distinctions.
The Universal Church, or The Body of Christ has: membership in the Body, entered at conversion, one cannot be disciplined or put out of it, has neither male nor female distinction, is a spiritual body and truths are positional, Satan cannot prevail against it, is pure without spot or blemish, has perfect unity, is the eternal Bride of Christ, will never be together at one place until we meet the Lord in the air, and Christ is its only builder, from Pentecost to the Rapture.
The Local Church however differs in that it has: fellowship not membership, entering fellowship after baptism, one can be disciplined or put out, has male and female distinctions, is a geographical body and truths are practical, wolves can enter in, Satan can corrupt it, the lampstand can be removed, can be torn by division and schisms, continues only until He comes, should meet regularly together, and men assist in the building of it while it is in that local area.
Interesting Note: Have you noticed that the things of God are very SIMPLE? Salvation. The church. Leadership in the church. Giving. Membership in the church. Baptism. Etc. God made it all so simple. It is man and the Devil who like to make things complicated and difficult. They like to make salvation a real task. Add lots of things to it. They like to make the church difficult. They like to add lots of things to it, too. Everything is so hard. But Jesus said, “For my yoke [is] easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:30). Hey, Jesus did all the hard work, and God has made things so simple, that man has trouble finding out how God works. The Lord said, “For my thoughts [are] not your thoughts, neither [are] your ways my ways, saith the LORD” (Is 55:8). God has chosen to work in simple ways. “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;…….” WHY? The answer is in the next verse, “That no flesh should glory in his presence” (II Cor 1:27-29). So, God has chosen to work in very simple ways, so that man will not have opportunity to glory. But, man does it his way, and makes everything difficult so he can glory anyway. God has chosen to do all things in a very simple manner. Jesus was born in a stable, not a fine house. Later, when He was an adult, He said, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air [ have ] nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay [his] head” (Matt. 8:20). Hey, this is God’s son, and God chose to give Him a life of simplicity while on earth. God’s ways are simple ways. “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (II Cor. 11:3). Man and the Devil have chosen to make things complicated. But, God made salvation very simple. He made the church very simple. His ways are very simple. Let’s not complicate them. “Father, thanks for making things so simple, that I can’t take the glory, but have to give You the glory.”……… “AMEN”