As we look back to the beginning of the New Testament Church we find that after Peterís sermon at Pentecost about 3,000 were added to the disciples, of whom there were about 120. "They that gladly received his word were baptized." These converts proved the genuine nature of their repentance and faith first by obedience to the Lordís command of baptism, and then by steadfast continuation in four basic areas of the Christian life:
1) doctrine 2) fellowship 3) breaking of bread 4) prayers
These features might be regarded as the ordinary activities by which church member-ship is sustained. Steadfast continuation in right doctrine, spiritual fellowship, attending the Lordís table, and the prayer meetings should be regarded as normal and binding upon every church member.
This is not only supported by the example of the early Christians but by the exhortations of the apostles (Heb. 10: 24, 25) and elsewhere in the New Testament (Acts 20: 16-32; Rev. 2 and 3; Eph. 4: 1-16).
The Importance of Church Membership
I. There are some who question the validity of church membership.
A. How can we convince them that this concept is important and scriptural?
B. We can, for instance, turn to Matthew 16: 19.
1. What did our Lord mean by "the keys of the kingdom"?
2. He was conferring authority upon His apostles, indicating that discipline in the church would have to be maintained.
3. Keys are used to shut out and to close in.
C. The apostles and their evangelists such as Timothy and Titus used God- given authority to appoint bishops (or pastors) in the churches.
1. Instructions as to the qualifications of bishops are provided and we are left in no doubt as to their authority. cf (I Tim. 3; Titus 2).
2. Believers are exhorted to "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." (Heb 13:17)
3. Now it is obvious that we cannot obey pastors unless they are identified, nor can pastors rule unless there are specific people for whom they are responsible.
4. When it says in Acts 2:47 that people were added to the church it is obvious that they were identifiable individuals.
5. The pastors are responsible for those who are clearly joined to the church.
6. Besides this all the members of a church are involved in the calling of a pastor and in the appointment of deacons.
7. Note how Paul addresses the believers in Philippi. cf Ph. 1:1
II. Consequences of Not Being Obedient in Church Membership.
A. Those believers who cut themselves off from genuine involvement and fellowship "with the body".
1. Are often spiritually sick or stunted in their spiritual growth.
2. God made provision for the believerís growth.
3. Note: Eph. 4:11-12
B. Without church membership the believer fails to progress in grace and knowledge as they should.
1. Because it is within the sphere of the local church that the individual members develop in understanding.
2. It is within the sphere of the local church that believers exercise their gifts, give, receive, and share spiritual life.
3. Failure to join a local New Testament Baptist church results in the believerís spiritual growth being stunted.
C. Questions that need to be addressed.
1. Canít I still attend church? Yes, but attendance is not membership.
2. Canít I still give to the work of God my tithes and faith promise missions? Yes, but membership is more than giving.
3. Do all church members do all that they should? No, but that is no excuse for not becoming a church member.
III. Maintaining An Active Membership.
A. Steadfast Continuation in the Apostlesí Doctrine.
1. The order is important.
a. Ecumenical movements have attempted to destroy the order stated in Acts 2: 42.
b. They err in that fellowship is placed before doctrine.
c. Be careful of any teaching or movement that de-emphasizes doctrine!
2. Doctrine is important.
a. You cannot be a Christian unless you believe the TRUTH.
b. But many seek to unite a large assortment of people; many of whom deny fundamental doctrines and most of whom reject the supreme authority of Holy Scripture.
c. Essential doctrines such as the wrath and justice of God and the substitutionary blood-atonement of Christ are omitted.
B. Steadfast Continuation in Fellowship.
1. The word here means communion, having things in common or sharing.
2. You do not have to be a Christian to have fellowship with others.
a. There are lodges and clubs and all sorts of unorganized groups who fellowship together.
b. Military men have a sense of fellowship with others who have served.
c. Sports enthusiasts have fellowship with each other.
d. Even spectators, fans, have fellowship with each other.
3. But Christians have fellowship of an entirely different kind.
a. We seek to share spiritual life in all its aspects.
b. We have a joy which is imparted by the Holy Spirit.
c. We have our worship, our songs and our activities.
d. Our faith is strengthened as we share our experiences, plans, problems and hopes.
e. If our enthusiasm is not deeper and greater than that of the local lodge or club then something is wrong.
4. Christian fellowship includes the presence of Jesus Christ who said, "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them"
C. Steadfast Continuation in the Breaking of Bread.
1. The presence of all the members of the church is desired at the Lordís Supper.
2. In the Lordís Supper the fellowship of believers takes place in a visible act of communion and union together.
3. Why should Christ command his disciples to celebrate this simple ordinance? "To show forth the Lordís death" (I Cor. 11: 26).
a. Every time the communion supper is held we are reminded of the centrality of the atonement.
b. They remember that their salvation is derived from the Lordís vicarious sufferings.
c. By one offering the Lord has perfected forever them that are sanctified.
4. Authority for the maintenance of the ordinance of the Lordís Supper belongs to the sphere of the local church alone.
a. It is not to be undertaken by any other body or fellowship.
b. There can be no adequate substitute for a local church.
c. While it is commendable that there are other groups for the strength- ening of believers, these fellowships should never take the place nor usurp the ministry of the church.
d. The local church is unique in representing the body of Christ upon earth.
e. It is the duty of every Christian without exception to do all that is humanly possible to contribute to the well-being of the local church.
D. Steadfast Continuation in Prayers.
1. The prayer meeting is a vital part of church life.
2. Every member of the church should attend prayer meeting each week.
3. It by prayer we express our entire dependence upon the Lord to sustain us.
4. We cannot even begin the spiritual warfare without participation in prayer. cf Eph. 6:18
5. The law of Christ is that we should love one another and bear one anotherís burdens. cf Jn. 13:34; Gal. 6:2
6. It is needful to be reminded of those in any need whatsoever.
Speaking generally, five groups of people constitute the average congregation.
There is no such thing as a perfect church, for there are no such things as perfect Christians. It is well to remember, therefore, that in joining a church a believer is not to think in terms of what might receive, but rather of what they might contribute. Where do you fit in?