The church of our Lord is not the creation of men, but an institution designed and built be God. Jesus Himself purposed to build His church (cf. Matthew 16:18), and following His resurrection, He did so through the preaching and work of the apostles and early Christians.
The church, thus divinely conceived, is holy to God and precious. Furthermore, as we have discussed in our previous articles in this series, God has a plan for His church and He expects that plan to be carried out. Thus Paul told Timothy, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:13)
Those who do damage to that which God has ordained and set in motion can expect judgment. We read in Scripture: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy.” (1 Corinthians 3:17a)
In our previous articles, we briefly examined what the Bible has to say about the leadership and activities of the church Christ established. There is much more that could be said on those subjects, but we want to look in this article at membership in the body of Christ.
When the church was established, on the Day of Pentecost following the Passover during which the Lord was crucified and subsequently resurrected, the apostles preached to the gathered Jews. Peter and his companions convicted the crowd of the crucifixion of Jesus, telling them that God had made Jesus whom they had crucified, both Lord and Christ.
Those in the crowd who were mindful of their crime asked Peter what they should do about their guilt, to which Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:38) After, this we read “with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:40-41) Luke, the author of Acts, then spends several verses describing the activities of the church before telling us, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)
There are two things that the above verses make obvious. The first is that membership in the church was the Lord’s doing and the second is that one had to be saved by Christ in order to be a part of the Church. Those lost in sins cannot be a member of the Lord’s body of believers, and when a man is saved, the Lord Himself writes His name in the Book of Life, marking that man as a member in the Lord’s church. This means that no man can vote another man into the church, nor can a man prevent one who has been saved from being added to the church. Indeed, it behooves the faithful to accept the Lord’s will in this matter. Christians have no business adding extra requirements for membership into the church, nor should the faithful ever accept one who has not been saved if the Lord has yet to add such a soul into His kingdom.
Which raises a third observation. Luke, through inspiration links membership in the church to baptism. Peter taught baptism for the remission of sins, with the understanding that once a man’s sins were forgiven in baptism, that man was saved. And one a man was saved, he was counted as a member of the church.
This is in agreement with what Christ himself had taught during His earthly preaching. We read that the Lord was approached one night by a Pharisee named Nicodemus who had some questions about the kingdom God was going to establish. Jesus taught Nicodemus saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” and “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3, 5) The apostle Paul identifies Baptism, being immersed in water according to the commands of the Holy Spirit, as a new birth (cf. Romans 6)
In regards to membership in the church then, the Scriptures make the design of Christ clear. When a person is baptized in the name of Christ, God forgives their sins in His grace, and the saved is added to the church. We should be content with this design, neither adding to it, nor taking from it, but accepting God’s will in this matter.
If you have a desire to learn more about the Lord’s church, we invite you to worship and study with us