Summary: The congregation of the Lord is to be composed of redeemed individuals.
“Those who received [Peter’s] word were baptised, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
”They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
All Christians are expected to hold membership in a local church. However, not all individuals who are members of a local congregation are Christians. This is not some sort of mystical doublespeak; rather, the statement recognises a sad reality in modern congregational life. Whenever one speaks of membership in the church of the Living God, ideally, he is speaking of a spiritual activity. However, we are a fallen race, and consequently—I might say unfortunately—membership in a local congregation too often carries a political connotation in the minds of church members.
Whenever I speak of membership in the church, I fear that many focus on the political parameter. One can, and should, join a church where he or she can fulfil the ministries God has assigned. However, to speak of “joining” implies that we are in control of our actions instead of demonstrating obedience to the mastery of Christ over our lives. Perhaps it would be better to use biblical language and say that we are “added” to a church. That statement implies that we are seeking the will of the Master and it implies that we have accepted His gracious working in our lives.
Tragically, many professed Christians have seized control over their own lives. Thus, they “join” the church of their choice; and, just as surely, when they are offended by something in that church, they are able to “leave” the church of their choice. They will attend when they feel like attending, and they will stay away when they feel like staying away, thus showing disrespect for the Lord Christ.
Membership in a church is not a requirement for salvation, although those who are saved will demonstrate their salvation through identifying with a local congregation. In the New Testament, there is not found even one unaffiliated Christian; those who were redeemed were always identified with a local congregation. There is no precedence found in Scripture for belonging to an “invisible” church. Those who are born from above demonstrate their relationship to the Master through affiliation with fellow saints. Affiliation with a local congregation demonstrates recognition of God’s appointment. We Baptists hold to the concept of a regenerate church membership. By that statement, I mean that we believe that only Christians should be members of a congregation, and therefore, each congregation is ideally composed of those who are twice born.