I recently read an article by Bart Barber, that I believe is very timely in this age of big I, independence. The article has to do with church membership, and can be read in it’s fullest, here http://praisegodbarebones.blogspot.com/2011/11/gift-of-church-membership.html. It reminded me of a message that I heard preached several years ago, by Dr. Thomas White at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, on the subject of the local church. That sermon may be listened to here, http://www.swbts.edu/dashboard.cfm?audioToPlay=conferences/UponThisRock/BAP_DIS_092608_8_White_fd1.mp3&fdi=_fd1 (I did find it ironic, that in that same conference, Bart Barber also preached on being denominational Baptists; of which I have not heard that message.)
While I am clearly not as astute an intellectual as Dr. Barber, and do not have the brain power as Dr. White, I can and do appreciate their stands on the Biblical essentials of a New Testament Christian being a member of a local church.
This age of big I independence has blinded the minds, and hardened the hearts of many who claim the name Christian, but with either hostility or apathy reject what Christ died for. The Bible tells us in dark black ink on bright white paper, “Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it.” When any man hates what Jesus loves, he knows nothing of the Jesus of the Bible.
Now that being said, there are some bold statements that can be made. They will not be popular at all, but I am convinced that they will withstand the microscope of Biblical scrutiny. In Dr. White’s message a few years ago, he made the statement, and accurately so, that “the New Testament knows nothing of a churchless Christian.” In Dr. Barber’s article, there is a similar conclusion about looking for that “roaming” believer in the New Testament, that you will not find. Church membership has nothing to do with being saved, but it is necessary to rise to the level of a New Testament Christian.
(You would do well to learn the difference between the concepts of being saved, and what it means to be a Christian – they are not synonymous.)
Truth be told, that while church membership has nothing to do with salvation, it has much to do with following Christ! Looking at the first happenings of the church after it was empowered by the Spirit, we see that Christ leads new believers right through the waters of Baptism, and into a covenant relationship with a local assembly. Acts 2:41 and 42 gives us essentially God’s plan for every man.
“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Acts 2:41-42
Without intending to oversimplify things, the example given to us is an easy one to follow. They were saved, (gladly received His word); were baptized (self explanatory), and then “added” to the original number of 120. This picture is not a picture of some “universal, invisible,” body, this is a picture of the men and women, coming to Christ, going through the waters of Baptism, and entering into a “one accord” relationship with the original ecclesia. It is that “one accord” relationship that in our day constitutes “joining.”
When a believer “joins” a church, what they are doing is professing themselves to be saved, having identified with Christ through Baptism, and then “enter the covenant” of this assembly of believers. It is that covenant relationship that separates believers on the “outside” from believers on the “inside.” Now that being said, it is Christ’s expressed example and New Testament pattern for all of His people to enter into “the covenants” of one of His churches.
One reason is the very reason that many people are rejecting it; because of the issue of authority. The local assembly is heaven’s earthly authority. Not the local pastor, but the local assembly. It is the Lord’s will for every believer priest to be under the authority of other believer priests, for accountability in belief and in behavior.
There are liberal messengers today that detest any mention of authority over believers. They have twisted Christ’s message of freedom from the law, to mean freedom from the scriptures, and have believed the lie of Lucifer to fall up into the spiritual stratosphere, and not be subject to anyone.
The reality is that being in submission to Christ means being in submission to the New Testament, and all that the New Testament teaches. One cannot surrender to Christ’s Will and ignore God’s Words at the very same time. Those actions are mutually exclusive. I am very saddened by those who reject what the New Testament teaches about the church. At the same time, my heart is gladdened by the fact that it will never change, and it will never go out of existence. The Bible says, “unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.” Every believer, believing that will be a welcomed change worth making.