Christians are glad to see visitors in Bible classes and worship services.
We want them to feel welcome so hopefully they will come again. Being the friendly
people we are, it is natural to ask visitors about themselves. We inquire if
they are just passing through or if they live in the area. We usually ask if
they are members of the church or if they have visited the church of Christ
before. If they are not members, we try to answer any questions they have about
the Lord’s church.
Sometimes a visitor will say that at one time he worshiped with the church of Christ but has not done so for quite a while. When the person admits he was baptized into Christ he usually feels a bit uncomfortable and tries to justify himself. At that point it is common to hear something like, “Well, I used to be a member of the church of Christ.” The person believes he is no longer a member and thus under no obligation to faithfully attend.
While this thinking is common, it reveals a lack of understanding that needs to be addressed. It is good that the person has resumed attending. However, this person’s concept about membership in the Lord’s church is faulty. Does a Christian cease being a member when he decides to quit attending? Is it as if he let a club membership expire? Let us consider what the scriptures say about this (cf. John 5:39).
Being saved is likened to a new birth (John 3:3-5). A person is born of water and the Spirit when he is baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). When one obeys the Gospel, the Lord adds him to the church (Acts 2:47). The Lord’s church is also called His body (Eph. 1:22-23). Paul taught that the body is composed of many members (Rom. 12:4-5; I Cor. 12:12-28). Therefore, when one is saved, he is born into the family of God which is equivalent to saying he is a member of the church Jesus built (Matt. 16:18). He then has brothers and sisters in Christ.
In the physical realm, a child is part of a family. His relationship with his parents and siblings cannot be erased. Even if a teen moves out of the house and wants nothing to do with his parents he is still a member of that family. When a daughter gets married and takes the name of her husband’s family she is still a member of her father’s family. Once the Lord adds someone to the church, he remains a member of God’s family. If this is not true, then why did God use the family analogy?
In this life, God does not kick unfaithful children out of the church. Otherwise, to be saved, the erring member would need to be born again and again! A backslider may not feel or act like he is part of the local church but this feeling does not mean he stopped being a member of God’s family.
On Judgment Day the Lord will exclude unfaithful members of the church from heaven. At one time these brothers and sisters were joint heirs with us (Rom. 8:17). The Bible promises that “he who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be my son” (Rev. 21:7). However, church members who practice the works of the flesh shall NOT inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21). God will cast out (i.e., disinherit) His unfaithful children (Matt. 8:12; John 15:6). Casting them out does not mean they cease being family. Sarah told Abraham to cast out Ishmael for he would not inherit with Isaac (Gen. 21:10). Hell will be worse for members of God’s family because they once enjoyed the Father’s grace and could have been in heaven (II Peter 2:20-22).
When a member’s love for Christ grows weak, it often shows in sporadic attendance at worship services. Eventually, the weak soul quits coming altogether. Some say he “quit the church.” In one sense this is correct since he no longer assembles with the local congregation. To avoid losing his soul the erring child of God must repent and come back to the Lord just like the prodigal son did (Luke 15:11-32). He was still a son though, living in sin far removed from the Father’s house.
By Douglas Hoff
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