Here are the highlights of what we have seen in our six-part study of church membership.
1. We have seen that God added new believers to the family of God in the book of Acts and they joined together to practice certain priorities.
2. Although we have no formal document detailing the process of new believers’ becoming “members” of a local church, the Bible is clear that conversion and baptism were integral steps to joining God’s community.
3. They are, indeed, specific steps that must be taken to remove someone from a local church (Matthew 5, Matthew 18, and I Corinthian 5 detail some of the process of having to expel another believer from God’s people). So if there was a process of exclusion, it is reasonable that there was a process of inclusion.
4. We have no early church “covenant” (that I am aware of), although unbelievers testify as to the practices of the early Christians. For example, Pliny the Younger asked Emperor Trajan how to deal with Christians in the 2nd century and Pliny the Younger’s letter gives us great insight into the life of the early church. Here’s what Pliny wrote (this is a bit long, but well worth reading over):
1. Pliny is asking for persecution advice. Should all Christians (young, old, sick, healthy) be interrogated the same?
2. He describes the process he has been following, giving the Christian three chances to turn away from the faith. Capital punishment is the reward for those refusing to recant.
3. Those who renounced their faith (and cursed Christ) were let go.
4. Notice the amazing statement about “the sum of their guilt or error”:
a. on an appointed day (Sunday?) they were accustomed to meet before sunrise —
b. to recite a hymn antiphonally to Christ, as to a god —
c. and to bind themselves by an oath to abstain from certain behaviors —
d. they would then have an ordinary meal together (not cannibalism, as some had interpreted Jesus’ words “eat my body and drink my blood”) —
e. they stopped their meetings after his order against secret societies.
Pliny goes on to describe his interrogation (by means of torture) of two maidservants, finding nothing in them but “a depraved and extravagant superstition.”
Wow! What an amazing source of information from an enemy of the gospel! The early believers met together (before daybreak — that would test the saints today, wouldn’t it?), worshiped Christ as a god (an early indication that Christians held to the deity of Christ contra the opinion of liberal theologians), committed themselves to a moral lifestyle, and enjoyed a potluck together (probably followed by a celebration of the Lord’s Supper)!
May God, by His grace, give us such committed church members that joyfully, and at great risk to themselves, proclaim this “depraved and extravagant superstition” that saves men and women from the wrath of God!