Core Training 2012 (02): Church Membership in the Bible
Core Training 2012: Membership
Catholic Church and Community Church - The Bible addresses the Church as a whole (the “catholic” or universal church), the People redeemed from all ages (Eph 5:25-27, Mat 8:11, Eph 2:12-22, Heb 11:22-24). However, the Scripture most often speaks of local, gathered assembly of believers in a specific community. The Bible speaks of “the church in Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1) which met in many assemblies from house to house (Acts 2:46), “the church that is in their [Prisca and Aquila’s] house” (Rom 16:5), “church of God which is at Corinth” (1Co 1:2), “the church of the Thessalonians” (1Th 1:1), “the church in your [Archippus] house” (Phm 1:2), etc.
Participation in the Catholic Church - From reading Acts (a history of the apostolic church) and the Epistles, we see the apostolic foundation of the Church and churches. These books teach the blessings of redemption in the one Catholic Church which are to be expressed by faith and life as part of a community church (locally). Leaders in those community churches were trained and appointed to care for people (Acts 14:23, 2Ti 2:2, Tit 1:5). Upon relocation believers engaged in church planting or church “plugging” (into a community church already there). The normative action of believers is that after baptism we are to assemble with others in local church in order to break bread on the first day of week and live out our roles as a new kind of humanity in the world (Acts 20:7, Eph. 2:15).
Plugging into the Community Church - Those in the Church should be “in” churches. God’s people are to be relationally, spiritually, and covenantally connected to a local congregation. a) Relationally - Members of churches should have spiritually vital relationships with others in the local church. We are told to “love one another” (Rom 13:8, 1Pe 1:22, 1Jo 3:11), to “encourage one another” (1Th 5:11 Heb 3:13, 10:25), “admonish one another” (Rom 15:14), to “be devoted to one another” (Rom 12:10), etc. You must have personal relationships to accomplish these commands. b) Spiritually - God calls us to be spiritually accountable within a local church to its leaders and to the “one anothers” of the congregation. “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account” (Heb 13:17, 1Pe 5:2-3). c) Covenantally - Community congregations were bound together sacramentally (1 Cor. 10:17, 11:20ff) which includes vows to Christ and His people. Also, they kept records of participants (Acts 2:41, 2:47, 5:14) and wrote letters of reference for its members in order that churches might receive those who had a credible testimony of faith (Rom 16:1, Phi 2:29). Because of this, under-shepherds knew who was “allotted to your [their own] charge” (1Pe 5:3). Transferring into the care of another congregation was practiced (3 John 10).
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more