Summary: Christians are expected to unite with a congregation of the faithful in order to fulfil the ministry God assigns each follower of Christ.

“Those who received his word were baptised, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

“And 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.” [1]

Believe it or not, there are professing Christians who reject membership in a church. I suppose these saints could give any number of reasons for not joining a local congregation, though I cannot imagine a single excuse for their refusal to unite with a local congregation. Perhaps one of the most common excuses given for refusal to openly unite with a New Testament Church is that one does not believe that the early church kept membership rolls. Such a statement is foolish, to say the least. Even a casual reading of the New Testament reveals that membership is both expected and demanded by the Saviour Who redeems His people. In order to explore this topic more fully, focus with me on the text selected for this day. It is an account of the first evangelistic crusade conducted by members of the New Beginnings Baptist Church of Jerusalem ten days after the Risen Saviour ascended into Heaven.

THOSE BAPTISED WERE ADDED … TO WHAT? Let your mind drift back to the events that marked the beginning of the first assembly arising from the resurrection of the Risen Saviour. The Master, Christ Jesus, the Lord Who Lives Eternally, had ascended into the Glory. Angels had appeared to the disciples, challenging them to do what they had been commanded to do. Together, those who dared identify as followers of The Way gathered in an upper room where they would be safe. There, they devoted themselves to prayer, “together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and His brothers” [ACTS 1:14].

Preparing themselves for promised blessing, the band of disciples continued in prayer for ten days, praying until the Day of Pentecost arrived. What a glorious day that proved to be for those first disciples. It was not that they did not know that the Lord Christ was powerful—they had witnessed His power demonstrated repeatedly through miracles and ultimately through His conquest over death. However, they had not personally experienced the power of the Risen Son of God. With the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, power was demonstrated in each one individually and through them corporately, just as power waits to be demonstrated in us and among us to this day.

Filled with the Spirit, they began to communicate the glory of the Risen Lord to all those in Jerusalem. Peter became spokesman for the nascent church and provided an exposition of Joel’s prophecy. The result of this united revelation of God’s grace and glory among His holy people was that those hearing this message were “cut to the heart” [ACTS 2:37]. It wasn’t simply that those hearing the message were wounded, but they were compelled to ask how their culpability could be assuaged.

Peter’s response is classic, it is the only answer that will lead to life to this day. The Apostle to the Jews thundered, “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself” [ACTS 2:38, 39].

Our text begins with the receipt of the Pentecostal message delivered by the Spirit-filled believers. Peter served as spokesman for those testifying to the grace of God, but all had participated in testifying to the grace of God. When they cried out for mercy, Peter pointed to Christ and open confession. Then, “Those who received his word were baptised, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” [ACTS 2:41]. Throughout the New Testament, those who came to faith were immediately baptised. There was no requirement for a “baptismal class,” no extended period of waiting, no delay until matters could be arranged to make it easy—those saved were baptised. There is no suggestion anywhere in the New Testament that anyone but baptised believers were admitted into the fellowship of the church. No one was regarded as being saved until faith was professed through baptism. This is evident through the following observations.

IT WAS TAKEN FOR GRANTED AMONG THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCHES THAT ALL BELIEVERS WOULD BE BAPTISED. As an example of the veracity of this statement, consider ACTS 8:12. Of those responding to the message Philip preached, we read, “When [the Samaritans] believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women.” At the time they believed, the men and women present were baptised. There was no delay, no hesitation, no waiting until a class could be organised. They were baptised immediately!

We witness a similar response in all those who believed as we read the historical account [see ACTS 8:35-38; ACTS 10:42-48; ACTS 16:29-33; and ACTS 19:4, 5]. The writers of the New Testament letters (Paul, James, Peter, Jude and John) take it for granted that their readers had been baptised. They write of baptism as the time when their readers first experienced the blessings of salvation [e.g. ROMANS 6:1-10; GALATIANS 3:26, 27].

IT IS TAKEN FOR GRANTED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT THAT ONLY BELIEVERS SHOULD BE BAPTISED. There is no command found anywhere in the New Testament to baptise anyone other than a repentant believer. According to MATTHEW 28:19, 20 those who are to be baptised are already disciples. Look at the commission the Son of God delivered to His disciples immediately before He ascended into the heavens. Jesus commanded, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Having been baptised, those who so identified with the Risen Saviour are henceforth expected to live in Christian obedience. The point that must be noted in the accounts provided in the New Testament is that those baptised consist of believers only. Carefully note that the teaching of the passages dealing with baptism in the New Testament exclude the possibility of any other than believers being baptised.

Consider, for example the instruction provided by the Apostle in ROMANS 6:3-11. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

The Apostle rightly assumes that all those to whom he writes will have shared a common experience—all will have received baptism because they are believers; they will have confessed their common faith in the Risen Son of God through their obedience.

THE CHURCHES OF THE NEW TESTAMENT WERE COMPOSED OF BAPTISED BELIEVERS AND ONLY THEY ENJOYED THE PRIVILEGES OF CHURCH MEMBERSHIP. In our text, only those baptised were admitted to the fellowship. All the privileges of church membership, and especially the breaking of bread, were reserved for those who had come to faith as witnessed through baptism. Paul, in 1 CORINTHIANS 10:16, 17, argues that those who eat together of the one loaf at the Lord’s Table do so because they are already one body, united in Christ. In that passage, the Apostle appeals to the experience that had become common among the churches. The Corinthian believers would immediate understand the point Paul was making when he challenged them in this passage of the letter. The Apostle wrote, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Clearly, Paul did not expect that one who had never been added to the church would be eating at the Lord’s Table. The Lord’s Table is for believers, and no one was regarded as a believer who had not been baptised into Christ.

This raises the issue of what is meant by the phrase “there were added.” Perhaps some would argue that this refers to being added to a mystic union of all the saints. If that is argued, then it must be concluded that baptism is required for such addition, and we know that salvation is by faith alone. Underscore in your mind that this entire portion of the Word [ACTS 2:41-47] emphasises the visible relationship of the believers. Hence “there were added” [p??set???sa?] should be understood of their addition to the group of Christians, not of their mystical addition “to the Lord.” [2] To the one hundred twenty Christians who had gathered in the upper room, there was added an additional three thousand individuals who believed and were baptised. Now, the church in Jerusalem consisted of three thousand one hundred twenty baptised believers.

MEMBERSHIP ROLLS WERE KEPT — Turning once more to the text before us today, we read that the three thousand individuals who were baptised were added… to what? Obviously, the three thousand individuals who were baptised were added to the New Beginnings Baptist Church of Jerusalem. There was obviously a known membership of those who had believed and been baptised. As MacArthur notes, “The fact that a precise number is recorded suggests that they kept track of those who were saved and baptised.” [3]

Later, in ACTS 2:47, we read that “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” People were being saved and openly confessing their faith, and thus they were identified with those who had already openly joined the church. Clearly, there was a means of identifying those who were part of “their number.” Later, when we read that “more than ever believers were added” in ACTS 5:14, it must be evident that there was a base to which these new believers were being added. What should be obvious is that the first church knew who the members were. It must follow that they maintained a definable membership. On this basis alone, we should require church membership and maintain a church membership roll.

Following Pentecost, the Apostles established churches in different towns and cities, and each of these churches were guided by elders from those same towns and cities [cf. ACTS 14:21-23; TITUS 1:5; EPHESIANS 4:11, 12; 1 THESSALONIANS 5:12, 13; 1 TIMOTHY 5:17-20]. It was deliberate that these churches had an independent leadership responsible to God [see HEBREWS 13:17]. The leaders pastored an identifiable flock for whom they were responsible and for whom they were accountable [see 1 PETER 5:1-4; ACTS 20:28-31].

It should be abundantly evident to any reasonable person that the earliest followers of Christ eagerly and willingly united with and identified with some local congregation [see ACTS 11:22-26; ACTS 14:21-28; ACTS 15:40, 41; ACTS 16:4, 5; ROMANS 16:1-5; 1 CORINTHIANS 1:2; PHILIPPIANS 1:1; COLOSSIANS 4:15; 1 THESSALONIANS 1:1; PHILEMON 1, 2]. To argue otherwise is to disparage their courage in the face of organised and persistent opposition to their Christian Faith first from Jewish religious leaders and later from the Roman overlords. All that would have been necessary for the first believers to avoid persecution would have been to refuse baptism and to refuse membership in a church.

Those who made no open commitment were not considered to be Christians and thus were not targeted either by religious zealots or by those promoting Roman rule. However, those first believers were of hardy stock that valued identification with the Lord and with His holy people gathered as a congregation more than they valued their personal comfort. Personal and formal identification must be assumed, which is one great reason we place a high value on formal church membership. The model we are provided in the lives of those first believers leads us to insist on church membership.

Here is something worthy of noting. When Paul wrote any of the letters penned to the various churches, he addressed his letters to the saints in such and such church. Clearly, those saints to whom Paul wrote were identifiable and known to one another. Why else would the Apostle instruct Titus and Timothy how to organise and how to care for a congregation if membership was unimportant?

Furthermore, if the members of the church were unknown, how could appropriate care be provided? Elders are to shepherd those who are known to be part of the flock. Deacons are responsible to provide service to those who are known to be part of the flock. Every member is responsible to demonstrate good to those of “the household of faith” [GALATIANS 6:10]. It is self-evident that it is impossible to show special consideration to those of “the household of faith” if they are unknown to the pastors.

When we read in our text that “they devoted themselves” to the various activities of the congregation, it should be apparent that their devotion was observable because those who were saved and subsequently baptised as followers of the Risen Saviour were known to one another by some means. The fact that they shared all things in common clearly excludes those who had no part of their fellowship.

As noted earlier in the message, some individuals have argued that church membership lists are unspiritual. For whatever reason, these dear souls argue that church membership is not found in Scripture, and by implication membership may be ungodly. However, maintaining membership lists is not unspiritual, as some might imagine. Even a casual reading the Word makes it apparent that membership rolls are maintained in Heaven. Have you never read the words which the Master spoke to comfort His disciples?. Jesus encouraged His disciples, “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven” [LUKE 10:20]. It is obvious that anyone whose name is not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life is not a Christian [see REVELATION 20:15]. The fact that God maintains a list of those who are saved is clear indication that membership lists are not unspiritual.

Paul clearly identified the Corinthians to whom he wrote as members of that local congregation when he wrote, “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ… The body does not consist of one member but of many… As it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose… If all were a single member, where would the body be” [1 CORINTHIANS 12:12, 14, 18, 19]?

It is apparent that the Apostle Paul was concerned that “the members” would “have the same care for one another” [1 CORINTHIANS 12:25]. He continued by pointing to the obvious fact that “if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together” [1 CORINTHIANS 12:26]. He concluded with these words that should be imprinted on our hearts. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” [1 CORINTHIANS 12:27].

I am fully aware that the Greek term µ???? speaks of “body parts,” but in the context of Paul’s argument, member is an appropriate translation, even understanding that we are talking about membership in the local church. There is no boundary between figurative and literal understanding when Paul speaks of “the body.” [4] Since there is no “invisible” church in view, the members must be identifiable and known to one another. Otherwise, Paul’s argument pointing to the various parts of the body is rendered meaningless. It is useless for anyone to argue for a church in which it is not known whether those in attendance are members or not.

There is one last point that must be presented in order to round out the argument that the early church maintained membership lists. Writing to the Corinthian church, the Apostle enjoins them to act collectively when discipline was under consideration for a member of the assembly. Paul confronted the congregation, actually rebuking them, by citing a report that was even then being bruited about. The report had actually reached the Apostle as he was prepared to write this letter. Paul wrote these stinging words. “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

“For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” [1 CORINTHIANS 5:1-5].

Later, when the discipline that was imposed by the Corinthians was demonstrated to have been effective in bringing the errant individual back to righteousness in his walk before the Lord, the Apostle again appealed to the assembled congregation to restore the individual, noting that “punishment by the majority” was sufficient to have accomplished the goal of bringing about repentance [see 2 CORINTHIANS 2:6-8]. At the very least, the Apostle’s words suggest recognition of a membership list. Otherwise, how would the church know when the majority had imposed discipline? And how would the majority know to restore one who had repented and turned again to the path of righteousness?

Bear in mind that discipline can only be administered against a church member. God does not spank the devil’s children and the church does not discipline those who do not belong to it. Thus, we must conclude that those who receive the benefits of attendance without membership are seeking essentially a common-law relationship. Long-term attendees are accepting the benefits of association without assuming the responsibility that attends membership. We treat all such people with courtesy and consideration; but the fact remains that such an attitude or action must be recognised as unjustified by Scripture and thus unworthy of Christian Faith and practise.

JOINING THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH — One does not join a New Testament Church so much as one is added to a congregation. It is recognised that the requirements for membership in a New Testament Church are simple—salvation and baptism. We now understand that baptism is identification with Christ by those who have faith in Him as the Risen Lord of Glory. Therefore, one who was “baptised” as an infant has never been baptised according to Scripture. Likewise, an individual who comes to faith after a “baptismal ceremony” was performed has actually never been baptised. When one confesses Christ and is baptised, that one becomes a member of that church which performed the ordinance. Strictly speaking, there is no “voting into membership,” rather those baptised are members of the church that baptised them.

Bill Cram, a former Executive Minister of one Baptist grouping in Canada wrote: “Pastors, church leaders and church members need to rise up in alarm over the emerging practise of baptising people without having them join the local church… new believers need to belong! Leaving the newly baptised believer outside the covenant family of faith only further promotes individualism. It denies the Lordship of Christ over the individual and misrepresents both the ordinance and the nature of the Lord’s Church…

“There is a desperate need for a willingness on the part of individual believers to put the needs and mission of the Lord and His church above the perceived needs and wants we have as individuals.” [5]

His words are perceptive and directly applicable to the condition of our churches. The fact that he found it necessary to speak so pointedly to the assemblies only demonstrates that almost three decades past that particular denomination was drifting toward compromise and accommodation with the prevailing culture—they were forsaking biblical practise. Baptist churches, and especially Baptist churches within that particular Canadian grouping, are in a state of crisis. I can only wonder whether the current leadership of that particular group, or even the majority of churches identifying as Baptist, are willing to obey the clear intent of Scripture, as was once the case.

In our contemporary situation, people must move for a variety of reasons. Perhaps their work requires that they move, or perhaps family responsibilities necessitate a move, or perhaps some other opportunity provides justification for moving from one location to another. In such instances, their new residence will render it impractical or even impossible to continue attendance at the church in which the individual was saved and baptised. Since church membership is important, should an individual be required to move away from the church of which he or she is a member, the individual should as soon as possible unite with a solid, biblical, New Testament church in their new location.

One way in which this may be accomplished is through the transfer of a church letter. In this instance, one New Testament church requests a letter of commendation for those who were formerly members of another New Testament congregation. It is a way of certifying that the individual presenting himself or herself for membership was indeed baptised upon their confession of faith in Christ as Lord and obedience in service.

In Scripture, we see that Phoebe was commended to the Church in Rome when Paul wrote that congregation [ROMANS 16:1, 2]. The word that is translated “commend” is sunistemi [s???st?µ?], made up of histemi [?st?µ?], “to place,” and sun [s??], “with,” thus “to recommend, commend, vouch for.” Denny says, “The technical word for this kind of recommendation, which was equivalent to a certificate of church membership.” [6]

Sometimes, the church in which one was baptised cannot forward a letter of commendation. Perhaps the church no longer exists, in which case they are unable to forward a church letter. Or perhaps the congregation is ignorant of the New Testament practice of providing a church letter, in which case they are unwilling to send a letter. In such instances, the receiving congregation can accept the individual on a statement of Christian experience. In this particular case, the receiving congregation accepts the testimony of the individual seeking to join. The individual attests that she or he has believed in Christ and upon believing they were baptised as taught in God’s Word.

What is important in each of these instances is the recognition that God is directing our steps. Those uniting with a congregation are saying in effect that they believe that God has guided them and thus they give their pledge that they have been obedient to Christ and that they now willingly accept the responsibility of church membership as they unite with the particular congregation where God has brought them.

Among the responsibilities assumed in church membership are those outlined in our own church covenant. Perhaps we would benefit from a review of the church covenant we adopted as a congregation. We read this covenant together as we prepared to observe the Lord’s Table. One great concern I have is that when we do read it, the reading may become a mere formality. Listen and carefully consider the responsibilities imposed and accepted by those who are members of this assembly. Keep in mind that holding oneself aloof from membership is tantamount to accepting the privileges of association with the congregation without accepting the responsibilities of membership.

“Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and on the profession of our faith having been baptised in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we do now in the presence of God, angels, and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ.

“We promise, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this Church in knowledge, holiness, understanding and care; to promote its prosperity and spirituality; and to support its worship, ordinances, discipline and doctrines.

“We promise to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the Church and to its expenses, its commitments to spread the Gospel into all the world and its assistance to those in need.

“We promise to maintain family and private Bible study and prayer; to educate our children in the Christian Faith; and to share our faith with our family and community.

“We promise to walk honestly in the world; to be just in our dealings, faithful to our commitments and honourable in our conduct; to avoid all gossip, malicious talk and excessive anger; and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the Kingdom of our Saviour.

“We further promise to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember each other in prayer; to help each other in times of trouble; to be not easily offended and always ready to forgive and settle differences, remembering Christ's command to do so quickly.

“We moreover promise that when we move from this place, we will as soon as possible unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God's Word.”

Were I to stress but one additional responsibility that should weigh upon those who are members of this, or members of any other congregation, it would be the responsibility to demonstrate a submissive spirit toward Christ and toward His Word. This is nothing less than a plea for the people of God to seek to fulfil the command of God’s Holy Word “submit[] to one another out of reverence for Christ” [EPHESIANS 5:21].

The crying need for Christians in these waning days of the Church Age is that we would renounce the western attitude that has infiltrated the Faith. There is a desperate need for followers of Christ to now demonstrate accountability to one another instead of assuming that we are each rugged individuals. While rugged individualism may appeal to our western mindset, it is antithetical to the spirit of the New Testament. This plea is nothing less than a plea for each follower of Christ, for each of us, to consider others as better than ourselves. It is but a plea for us to do everything possible to maintain the unity of the Spirit and to bring about harmony among the saints of the Most High.

A SUMMATION OF THE REQUIREMENT FOR AND VALUE OF CHURCH MEMBERSHIP — Without question, in this message today I have challenged the spirit of this age. Some among us may consider that I am in full attack mode. I am not attacking anyone, but I am presenting the claims of the Word of God to your heart. I am pressing you to do right as the church moves inexorably toward adopting those standards that are biblical and righteous. Without apology, I call all whom the Lord would send to us, to obey His command. I call on each professing Christian to honour Him both in spirit and in truth by submitting to Him and to His Spirit as revealed through His Word and to this church.

Church membership means commitment. Every professing Christian must have a personal commitment of his or her life to the mastery of Christ the Lord. This commitment, commencing with the New Birth, overflows to touch every aspect of life. Each Christian is responsible to fulfil his or her commitment to Christ’s Kingdom by openly uniting with a local congregation.

We accept and understand that our favourite hockey team has a roster—we know who the team members are. Every company has employees—they do not issue cheques to those who are not employed by them. Every country has citizenship—only citizens are allowed to vote and to enjoy the benefits that go with that citizenship. At least that is the way things once stood, though there are a surprising number of modern thinkers who imagine that residence equates to citizenship. Nevertheless, most sensible people understand that only citizens are permitted to vote in a national election and enjoy the benefits that accompany citizenship. In a similar manner, church membership identifies those upon whom the elders may rely and for whom the elders bear responsibility. Church membership identifies those who are permitted to serve in positions of responsibility within the local congregation. In this we do not emulate the world, but we do recognise a universal wisdom revealed in our world.

Church membership speaks of stewardship. A steward is one who is entrusted with possessions of another. As stewards of the Gospel, we are to be faithful in the investment of our time, our talents, our treasures and our influence. We are to invest our lives in the work of the Kingdom of God, honouring Him in all we do and say. Of course, anyone may contribute moneys to the Kingdom of God, but there is a blessing to those who contribute their talents and their influence to the same congregation to whom they entrust their funds. According to the Word, spiritual growth is hindered when there is a lack of accountability. Have you never read the admonition penned by an unknown writer, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” [HEBREWS 3:12-13]. It is difficult, if not impossible, to be accountable to church leadership when one is not a member of that same church.

Church membership leads to meaningful involvement. We who are Christians are responsible to assume an active role in fulfilling our ministry callings within the Body. Through sharing in the service of the assembly, we become co-labourers with Christ. Because you are born from above, you were entrusted with gifts given by God’s Spirit. Those gifts were entrusted to you for the benefit of others and for the glory of God. Investing your life in the assembly of the righteous, you fulfil the purpose for which God entrusted you with these spiritual gifts.

In the majority of the churches for which I assumed pastoral responsibility, I inherited a situation that can only be described as aberrant, and that is being charitable. Often, individuals who were not church members occupied positions of leadership. In a distressing number of instances, the individuals had not even been scripturally baptised. In one former congregation, the treasurer of the congregation was not a member of the church. Moreover, neither she nor her husband, who served as a deacon for the congregation, had ever been obedient to the command to be baptised.

In every instance I encountered, I chose to address the problems biblically by teaching the Word of God; and in most instances, the issues were resolved within a reasonable period of time as the unbaptised either requested baptism or chose to leave off attending. I would have preferred that all would obey the charge given by the Saviour, but each individual must answer Him according to their own choices. Those who had chosen not to unite with the congregation were, for the most part, shortly obedient to what is taught in the Word.

I recognise that there are some among the churches who resist the teaching of the Word even to this day. However, what is clearly evident from even a casual study of the written Word of God is that church membership is required before church leadership. By using the term “leadership,” I am referring to the eldership, the diaconate, teaching, directing worship. In short, “leadership” refers to any activity that presents or defines in any way doctrine for worshippers. I could wish that all were obedient to the teaching of the Word. I could wish that all provided leadership within the congregation. And I want to encourage full participation by God’s holy people.

Church membership leads to growth. We are responsible to commit ourselves first to spiritual growth on a personal level, and again to collective growth for the assembly. Church membership enables us to lead others into meaningful commitment. Commitment to formal membership is an antidote to chaos. Contemporary culture has so stressed individualism that commitment has become practically meaningless in our world. In this day, too many individuals flit from one church to another without being held accountable for membership. It is far too easy to become offended by someone or by something that may be said, and simply move on to another church which will eagerly receive the disgruntled person. I understand that formal commitment to a local congregation goes against the grain of our contemporary consumer mindset which is antithetical to spiritual character.

I well remember a fellow elder who sat in my office bemoaning a conflict he was experiencing in his church. While starting a congregation in a nearby community, some individuals from another congregation had begun to attend his services, and he eagerly promoted them to positions of leadership. They had become disgruntled in their former congregation, and rather than resolving their issues, they chose to leave. Compounding the sin of divisiveness, this pastor has eagerly accepted them without bothering to encourage them to seek reconciliation with their former assembly. Consequently, shortly after arriving at their new church and assuming a position of leadership, they had rebelled against the pastor. And why not? Rebellion had marked their career!

Church membership is a demonstration of submission. We submit ourselves to Christ as Lord of life. How can we say we are submissive to Him if we hold ourselves aloof from uniting with His holy people openly and formally? It is His Kingdom system of authority and order established in the local congregation to which we are responsible to submit. To refuse membership is to reject the oversight the Lord has established.

The great distinguishing mark of maturity for a Christian is submissiveness. Each of us is called to submit to one another in love. Each of us must submit to Christ as Lord. Likewise, we submit to the collective will of the church. To seek the benefits of membership without accepting the responsibility of membership is to reveal our disdain for the church—it is to reject the leadership and the unity of the Body.

Church membership provides for ministry. In the New Testament sense of the word, ministry means service. We minister to the Lord in praise, worship and obedience. We minister as we exercise our spiritual gifts with which we have been endowed. Practically speaking, when the church is operating properly, there is no place for an outlet for one’s ministry if the individual is not a member. Though much is made of various interdenominational activities, we must confess that such is foreign to the New Testament. God saved people and placed them within a local congregation. There, in the congregation where God has placed one, the ministry He assigned is to be carried out.

All that has been said in the message this day leads to an invitation for you to consider placing your life in the fellowship of this church. If membership within this congregation where God has led you is not an acceptable option, we commend any of a number of other fine churches both within our fair community and nearby. Nevertheless, the biblical demand for full membership in the local church should weigh on each soul, leading each of us to ensure we submit to the will of God and fulfil what is the clear intent of the Master as revealed through His Word.

This leads me to ask those who listen this day, “Isn’t it time that you openly confessed the Risen Christ as Saviour?” Some who have called Him Saviour have denied that He is Lord by refusing to surrender to His command to identify with Him in baptism. Perhaps they are confused because a rite was performed before they had memory. Their parents wanted what was best, and they thought that stealing the responsibility of making a decision was somehow righteous. Thus, some have unknowingly participated in a ritual which is commonly called baptism—but they have never made a personal decision to openly identify with the Master as one who follows Him. Now is the time to stand with Jesus as Master of your life. Others, though they have been baptised, have refused to unite with the church. You have no excuse for your refusal other than aberrant theology or a stubborn will that is not submitted to Christ as Lord. Surrender that will to the Master and this day come, uniting with the congregation where God has placed you. Obey His call and receive His blessing. Do it today. Do it now. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version ? 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] Cf. Homer A Kent, Jr., Jerusalem to Rome [Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI 1972] 34

[3] John MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Acts 1-12 [Moody Press, Chicago, IL 1994] 77

[4] William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1957) 502

[5] William Cram, State of the Union Address, Regina, 1991, cited in James Allan Wells, Your Walk with God (The Evangelism Committee, The Baptist Union of Western Canada, Calgary, AB 1992) 38-9

[6] Cited in Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI 1955) 257