Membership In The Local Church

There is no subject in the scripture more misunderstood than that of the church of Christ. This is true among those within the fellowship of local churches as well as those outside of the church. I believe this misunderstanding comes from a failure to properly interpret the way Christians are to accomplish their responsibilities toward God.

The Christian achieves faithfulness by obeying the commands given him in the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). He does this by working as an individual, by working conjointly with other Christians and by working as a member of a local church (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Timothy 5:16).

Commands that involve individual action are usually not disputed. Husbands love your wives and wives be in subjection to your husbands (Ephesians 5:22, 25) are clearly individual by nature.

Working conjointly with other Christians is a different story. Some will argue that when a plurality of Christians work as a group, it is the church working. It is often said that a bus load of Christians on a trip could pull over to the side of the road and have a worship service, take the Lord's Supper, etc. and that would be a local church. When we challenge that perception, they will then refer to Jesus' statement that where two or three are gathered together, I am in the midst (Matthew 18:20). The context of this verse establishes that this promise pertains to the apostles' work and the authority necessary for such work.

The command to take the Lord's Supper necessitates the existence of a local church. Paul's rebuke of the Corinthian church puts the Lord's Supper within the context of the local church assembled together (1 Corinthians 11:17-18, 20, and 33-34). The Hebrew writer commands that we assemble to provoke one another unto love and good works (Hebrews 10:22-25). Paul's admonition for the church in Corinth to take a collection for needy saints in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-3) implies the following. The formation of a treasury, the collection is to be taken in the first day of the week assembly and that the local church would decide who would carry the aid to the needy. All of the above observations necessarily imply the existence of an independent functioning unit, a local church.

The apostasy over the institutional question is a direct result of the failure to observe the independent, autonomous nature of the local church. The proponents of this apostasy violate the independence and autonomy of local churches by collecting them under one organization [orphan homes, sponsoring church arrangement, missionary societies] for doing their work.

The faithful Christian recognizes the necessity of being a member of a local church. Paul, after his conversion, journeyed to Jerusalem and attempted to join the local church in the city (Acts 9:26). Paul understood that he needed to be a member of a local church. Notice, Paul's baptism in water saved him and put him in the universal church (Acts 22:16; 2:47). It did not automatically give him membership in any local church. The idea that one is a member of the local church where he was baptized into Christ or that the Christian holds some kind of membership at large, is patently false.

The local church as an independent functional unit has work to perform. This means that it must have a membership that is aware of its responsibility. The congregation cannot do its work without a commitment that is liberal and continuous. Christians cannot work as instructed by God without being accountable to a local church. I ask that we think on these things least we stray from the Way.

By Glen Young

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