Summary: We may not say there are membership requirements to be a Christian in our churches, but does our behaviour say otherwise? Membership requirements don’t have to be verbally stated, they can be communicated with a look, with avoidance, and so on.
Back in the mid-nineties I was working in the golf business for a couple years. One course I worked at in Vancouver required $75,000 to join and there was about a 3 year waiting list, then it was about $350 a month for monthly dues as well. In the winter I went down to a very exclusive private course in Palm Springs to caddie, and the membership fee was $750,000 to join, and this course was only open from October to April. It’s funny I never saw one famous person that I recognized anyway, just to tell you how many rich, unfamous people there are out there.
Could you imagine if any of us had to pay that kind of membership fee to be part of the family of God? Yet much of the unbelieving world continues to believe that we do have to meet some kind of human requirements to be saved and bound for eternal life with God.
The great apostle Peter struggled with this. Early on it was being a circumcised Jew that constituted membership in the family of God. But through the vision we heard Peter have last time, and his run in here in chapter 10 with Cornelius, Peter says in verse 34, “I see very clearly that God shows no favouritism or partiality.” This wasn’t the end of the struggle for Peter though. One of the things he often struggled with was his reputation. How he would appear to other elite Jewish Christians.
I would suggest that this is something we continue to struggle with in church. We may not say that there are membership requirements to be a Christian in our churches, but does our behaviour say otherwise sometimes? That maybe our reputation does matter a little too much.
What if a person is divorced? What if they have doubts and questions about the Bible? What if they are poor and maybe don’t smell very good? What if they have a mental illness? Membership requirements don’t have to be verbally stated, they can be communicated with a look, with avoidance, and so on.
If we go to the second chapter of Galatians we see that the least of the apostles, Paul, has to rebuke the greatest one, Peter. Let me read it in Galatians chapter 2 beginning in verse 11-16…
Isn’t that interesting, see the bad example and hypocrisy that Peter shows. Its all right to eat with the Gentiles when there are no other Jews around who were still hung up on the membership requirement of circumcision. But as soon as a few of them came to Antioch, Peter was afraid of criticism. And Peter by his example led even the very faithful Barnabas into hypocrisy.
Maybe you have a real heart for the down and out and want to see them get saved and be part of the church. But you are afraid that others might judge you for associating with them, because they may not fit in. I guarantee you there are people out there, who desperately want to know God, but are afraid of the judgment they will get if they are divorced, or living in sin, or like to have a couple glasses of wine on the weekend, or smoke cigarettes, or don’t know what they’re supposed to do in church on Sunday mornings. And somehow, the church has given them the impression that they are not welcome. When these would be the people that Jesus sought out the most.
So Paul straightens Peter out by reminding him of the only membership requirements necessary, and that is by having faith in Jesus Christ, and not by obeying the Law. And I think Paul here is making a statement that refutes the idea some hold, that one day the Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem and the old Jewish worship system will continue. He says,
“If we have faith in Jesus, are we then still guilty if we don’t follow the Law? He says “No, in fact I am sinning if I rebuild the Law that Jesus tore down, represented by the temple. We died to the Law and stopped trying to keep the membership requirements, so that we might truly live for God.”
And let me paraphrase the most important part of that passage in verse 21 of Galatians 2 where he essentially says, “If I try to keep the membership requirements of the Law, then I am degrading, nullifying the work of Jesus Christ. His death becomes meaningless”.
So back to Acts 10, Peter expresses the requirements in verse 35. Now are him and Paul in agreement? Peter says the following before he goes to Antioch and has this run in with Paul. He says, “In every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right, is acceptable to Him.”