Some Thoughts about Church Membership – Part 2

02 Sep

The leadership of Cedarcroft Bible Chapel in New Jersey (where I will be preaching September 30 and October 7) has asked me to help them think through a more defined understanding of church membership. The “denomination” to which we belong (the Plymouth Brethren) have traditionally held a low view of formal church membership.  For good reasons.  But I believe there are biblical advantages to a more defined process of becoming a fully-committed member of a local church or assembly.

True, we don’t find such a process of church membership in the New Testament, do we?  Or do we?  We do see wholehearted devotion to the family of God upon conversion and a serious commitment to serving the Body of Christ.  Often followed by martyrdom!

When my wife Linda and I were missionaries in West Berlin, Germany (back when the Berlin wall was still up), we got to visit a small church in communist East Berlin.  Young people who attended that church automatically forfeited the right to attend university because of their connection with a church.  That’s commitment!

Church membership or church commitment involved a core set of beliefs which we find in Acts 2:41-42- “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  These four priorities — the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer — marked the early church and bound them together in their effort to obey the Great Commission.

Let’s notice the early church’s Priority #1: Biblical Doctrine
Imagine the following conversation taking place in the first century:
“Say, Markus, did you know that the Apostle Paul is going to be speaking on the divinity of the Messiah tonight at our local synagogue?”
“Really?”, Markus says. “Do you want to get there early to get a good seat, Philip?”
“Well, I just don’t know. John Mark is over at the public square right now debating with some Stoics. And then Simon Peter is down by the lake (using his own boat as a floating pulpit, if you can believe it!) giving a lecture on the meaning of ‘Upon this rock I will build my church….’”
“So, which apostle are you going to go and listen to, Philip?”
“Oh, I’m not sure, Markus. Maybe I’ll just stay home tonight and read over my copy of Habakkuk again.”

The early Christians had the Old Testament and perhaps some of Paul’s epistles, but they had what we don’t have today: the Apostles themselves! They could sit under the teaching of those who had been discipled by none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself!

When we read that the early Christians were devoted to the apostles’ teaching, we are being reminded that they cared about truth. They wanted to know God’s view of the world, of sin, of judgment, of His love in sending His Son, of His plans for believers and for the world, of the promised coming of the Holy Spirit, of how they ought to behave themselves in a culture which advocated either too many gods or none at all. They wanted to be prepared to be faithful witnesses of the truth in an environment which denied truth’s existence or minimized its importance. In short, they wanted to know and to be what we ought to know and be: wholehearted followers of the Way. (from the book DocWALK: Putting into Practice What You Say You Believe, pp. 166-168). (to be continued)




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Posted by on September 2, 2018 in church membership


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