Recently, in our series through the book of Acts in my local church, I preached about the conversion of the chief of sinners – Saul of Tarsus. God literally took a terrorist and turned him into a passionate preacher of the gospel. As we looked at the section in Acts 9 following Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, we were faced with an extremely important reality – one perhaps often overlooked in the reading of Acts 9. The text of Scripture is Acts 9:19-31. The two verses that are often overlooked are the following:
Acts 9:19 – And taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus.
Acts 9:26 – And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.
Notice that after Saul was converted, he identified himself immediately with the disciples in Damascus. After a bit of study, we learn that he remained there for a period of three years. After being ran out of town for his bold proclamation of Jesus as the Christ of God – he went to Jerusalem. It was there that he immediately tried to join the disciples (followers of Christ). In both cases, we see the converted Saul trying to identify, associate, and join up with the followers of Christ. We see urgency in Saul’s identity with the disciples in these two cities. That urgency and commitment by Saul is often overlooked as it falls in the shadow of his massive conversion.
What can we learn regarding Saul’s commitment and urgency for identifying with a visible group of disciples?
1. Membership Matters
When Jesus died on the cross, the Bible clearly says that He died for the church (Ephesians 5:25). If God places such high focus and priority upon the church, we should do the same! Mark Dever writes, “Jesus said, ‘I will build My church’ (Matt. 16:18). If Jesus is committed to the church, should we be any less committed to it?“1 It was Martyn Lloyd-Jones who once said, “We must grasp once again, the idea of church membership as being the membership of the body of Christ and as the biggest honour which can come a man’s way in this world.”2
2. Membership is God’s Plan
While nothing but Jesus’ blood is sufficient and necessary to save lost sinners, God has never saved one single person and designed them to be a lone-ranger Christian. Membership is essential to spiritual growth, healthy relationships, and spiritual accountability. We should place urgency in our pursuit of a local church. Charles Spurgeon once said, “I well remember how I joined the church after my conversion. I forced myself into it by telling the pastor, who was lax and slow, after I had called four or five times and could not see him, that I had done my duty, and if he did not see me and interview me for church membership, I would call a church meeting myself and tell them I believed in Christ and ask them if they would have me.”3
Spiritual Growth: God has designed His church to operate as a called out assembly who gathers for corporate worship. This assembly submits to the preaching of God’s appointed servants known in the New Testament as elders or pastors (Hebrews 13:17). These elders preach the Word and deacons (the only other office specified for the local church) are set apart for service (1 Timothy 3; Acts 6). The early church was gathered around the preaching of Scripture as the centerpiece of their worship (Acts 2). Therefore, God’s design is for His people to gather for worship as a body and to grow in the knowledge and truth of God’s amazing grace.
Healthy Relationships: At the end of Acts 2, we see the church gathered around the teaching and preaching of the apostles. Beyond that picture, we also see that they enjoyed the fellowship of one another. As my grandmother always taught me when I was a boy, “Birds of a feather flock together.” That is a true statement regarding the people of Christ. We need healthy relationships in order to grow in grace, sharpen one another, and to encourage one another in difficult times. As creatures who are easily influenced, we must make sure we are placing wholesome influences before our eyes and the eyes of our children.
Furthermore, these relationships are not only necessary for spiritual progress, but for times of need. When death comes and visits your home unexpectedly, when the doctors diagnose you with the “C” word (cancer), or when you find out that you have lost your job and you have a family of six to feed and house, you need the church. An old song was once popular back some years ago titled, “People Need The Lord” – and while that is a true statement indeed – we must come to grips with the reality that people need the church! God never intended us to be islands floating around alone in the Christian life.
Spiritual Accountability: Since God never designed His church to operate as lone-ranger believers roaming the earth, we must have firm accountability. In 2 Timothy 4, we see the apostle Paul (the converted terrorist) informing Timothy regarding his role as the pastor of Ephesus. Part of that role involved rebuking those who were living in sin. In Hebrews 13:17, we see that the elders are to provide oversight, guidance, and leadership – even correction. In Matthew 18, we see that the entire church body should be involved in the discipline of one another. Jesus Himself laid out the proper method of church discipline so that the bride of Christ would remain pure. As in all cases of accountability, we should strive to live according to the Word of God rather than legalistic rules of man. However, we should take membership seriously in order to properly submit ourselves to accountability from the Word preached, the leaders who oversee, and faithful loving fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Spiritual Giftedness: God has saved people and called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. The church is the “assembly” of believers. That assembly functions through different gifts of the Spirit of God. Not all are called to preach or serve, but all Christians have a spiritual gift that should be exercised in the life of the church for God’s glory. The apostle Paul properly described this process by using the description of the body in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
To the professing Christian who refuses to assemble and serve, how good is your spiritual giftedness benefiting the cause of Christ on your sofa or at the lake on Sunday? Mark Dever rightly says, “If the church is a building, then we must be bricks in it; if the church is a body, then we are its members; if the church is a household of faith, then we are part of that household. Sheep are in a flock, and branches on a vine. Biblically, if we are Christians we must be members of a church. This membership is not simply the record of a statement we once made or of affection toward a familiar place. It must be the reflection of a living commitment or it is worthless.”4
3. Membership Creates Visible Identity
The invisible church of God around the world is made visible by the local church. Dr. Don Whitney writes, “When you join a church, you make it visible. You give a living demonstration of the spiritual reality of the body of Christ. You show that even though you are an individual, you are a part of the body; you are joined together with others. You take the body of Christ out of the realm of the theoretical (1 Cor. 12:27) and give it a meaning that people can see.”5 This is important for the witness of Christ as the church seeks to reach the neighborhoods and the nations with the gospel of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). Membership also allows you to identify with a group of people who are all different in many ways but centered on the gospel of Christ. The church is made up of a group of diverse people who are imperfect but serving the King who is absolutely perfect and worthy of all worship and praise.
People who refuse to join a local church have missed the plan of God for their lives as Christians. Either they will repent of their stubborn pride, or they will prove themselves to not be genuine believers (1 John 2:19). It is impossible to live the Christian life apart from the church. Those who believe it’s within the framework of God’s will to be “regular attenders” but not members have also refused to submit to biblical leadership. While we should make sure we know what a church believes and how a church seeks to accomplish the mission of God in their local neighborhoods and outward to the nations – it should not be a decision that a person drags their feet in making.
Make your church membership a priority – all for the glory of King Jesus! I leave you with a quote from the “Prince of Preachers” – Charles Spurgeon:
I know there are some who say, “Well, I’ve given myself to the Lord, but I don’t intend to give myself to any church.” I say, “Now why not?” And they answer, “Because I can be just as good a Christian without it.” I say, “Are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient? There’s a brick. What is the brick made for? It’s made to build a house. It is of no use for the brick to tell you that it’s just as good a brick while it’s kicking about on the ground by itself, as it would be as part of a house. Actually, it’s a good-for-nothing brick. So, you rolling stone Christians, I don’t believe that you’re answering the purpose for which Christ saved you. You’re living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live and you are much to blame for the injury you do.”6
Pastor Josh Buice
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1. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2000, p. 145.
2. Knowing the Times, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989, p. 30.
3. Charles Spurgeon at His Best, Compiled by Tom Carter, Baker, 1988, p. 33-34.
4. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2000, p. 148-149.
5. Why Join a Church? Originally written in: Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church, Moody, 1996, www.BiblicalSpirituality.org. Used by Permission.
6. Charles Spurgeon at His Best, Compiled by Tom Carter, Baker, 1988, p. 34.
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The Importance of Church Membership – Sermon by: Pastor Josh Buice
Suppose you were forced to start looking for another church home, where would you start? What factors would weigh upon the decision of where you and your family joined? Do you have a check-list available to evaluate the ministries of churches in your area? With the ever increasingly disorientation of the religious community, many different styles and methods exist. Some major on things such as entertainment while others major on recreation. What are some things that should be considered when searching for a church home? This question hit home for me as my wife and I moved to Louisville in January of 2004 to attend the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. My wife and I searched many churches before finding one small church to be most biblical in their doctrine and approach to ministry. As we prayed about joining the church, God called us to serve at Van Buren Baptist Church, where I continue to serve as Pastor today. Although that frustrating experience of church searching occurred nearly three years ago, it recently hit home again when my family back home in Georgia felt God moving them out of their current church and they started the infamous church search for themselves. As I sought to provide biblical counsel to my family, I found myself evaluating essentials for a truly biblical church. Therefore, it is with this background that I have decided to put together a check-list of essentials for anyone who finds themself searching for a church home in the days to come.Essential Number One: Sound DoctrineIf a church does not preach what is true biblical doctrine, it should not be considered a true church of Jesus Christ. Titus 2:1 says, “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine:” Sound doctrine should begin with a true presentation of the gospel of Christ and should move forward to true teachings regarding salvation, the church, the Scriptures, and various other doctrines contained in the Scriptures. While some things may be open for debate due to obscure passages or lack of passages, the essential doctrines of the faith are never open for debate!Essential Number Two: Expository PreachingCan a preacher effectively teach sound doctrine from Scripture in any other manner outside of expository preaching? I do not believe it is possible. While I do think that some studies or overviews of doctrines may not be truly expository – the overall aim of the pulpit ministry should be centered on expositional preaching. Topical preaching provides open doors for the preacher to evade important issues and doctrines that would not be so easily missed in an expository study. Expository preaching is a method of preaching and teaching that simply starts in the first chapter and verse of a book and moves verse by verse and line upon line through the entire book. During an expository study, the membership will be exposed to biblical doctrine, the history of the happenings in the specific book, and this will be more likely to leave lasting impressions upon the hearts of the church members.Essential Number Three: Biblical EvangelismEvangelism is not an option for Christians. Therefore, all churches should have effective goals for reaching the lost in their community and around the world. Matthew 28:18-20 says, “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” This passage is often called the Great Commission. It is where Christ commanded the disciples to go out into the world and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.As Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:5, he said, “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” Therefore, all pastors and all Christians should be active in evangelism – all for the glory of God. Biblical evangelism is not where we seek to make our name great or grow our churches to earthly empires. Biblical evangelism is where we take the good news of Jesus Christ to spiritually dead people in order that they may live!Essential Number Four: Church DisciplineThe majority of modern church fellowships cannot tell you the last time their church experienced an instance of church discipline. This should not be a shocking statistic as we evaluate the many different health problems with our present churches. In Matthew 18 and other various passages, we see commands to discipline as well as explanations on how to carry out the important task.Dr. Albert Mohler said,
“Without a recovery of functional church discipline – firmly established upon the principles revealed in the Bible – the church will continue its slide into moral dissolution and relativism. Evangelicals have long recognized discipline as the “third mark” of the authentic church (Polity, Mark Dever, ed. pg. 43).”
Albert Mohler is quoting the 1561 Belgic Confession. Church discipline has been around since the days of the early church. We are commanded to carry out church discipline. Therefore, when a “Church” refuses to do so for (1) Numbers or (2) Money – they should be looked upon as a social club rather than a true Church.While most would consider church discipline a heart breaking event, it should always be done for the glory of God, for the purity of the church, and ultimately – for the restoration of the disciplined member. Therefore, it is possible to perform unbiblical discipline, and this should be avoided as much as no discipline at all!Essential Number Five: High View of Church MembershipChurch membership matters! Churches that do not respect the membership of the church become something other than what a true church is over time. The question should be asked, “What is a church?” The “Church” is a called out assembly of born-again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. In Acts 2:47, we see that the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. Therefore, no person should be a member of a church unless they are a genuine Christian.Churches that have a high view of church membership will perform proper counseling before accepting someone into the membership of the church. Furthermore, churches that hold to a high view of church membership will most likely expect members to become active in service to the Lord through the use of their own giftedness. All Christians are gifted with specific spiritual gifts, and they must utilize their giftedness within the local church for the glory of God.A church that holds a high view of church membership will not be involved in a large “church growth” program that seeks to gain numbers rather than true converts. Often church “growth” tactics water down the purity of the church rather than uplifting the standards of church membership. Therefore, a high view of church membership should be an essential aspect of a church body before joining!Conclusion:In conclusion, I will admit that this listing is not a full exhaustive listing of essentials of a biblical church. Many other factors regarding the leadership of the church, church polity, and other areas should be considered when looking to join a church. I would like to suggest three important steps prior to joining a local church.1. Pray. Prayer is essential in looking for a new church home. Therefore, I would suggest gathering the entire family together each evening and making this a point of prayer for your family as you request God to lead your family to a God honoring and worshipping church.2. Request a copy of the church’s constitution and by-laws. Read these official documents of the church and determine where the church stands on these important areas mentioned above and others that I may not have covered.3. Visit www.9marks.com to review a more exhaustive study on the “9 marks” of a healthy church according to Dr. Mark Dever and others in the 9 Marks organization.Additional Church Search Resources——————————————-Southern Baptist Church Searchwww.9marks.comThe below information was taken from: http://www.9marks.org/CC_Content_Page/0,,PTID314526|CHID616736|CIID,00.html [Accessed on 11-19-06 at 4:47 pm.]
The Mission of 9MarksWe believe the local church is the focal point of God’s plan for displaying his glory to the nations. Our vision is simple: Churches that reflect the character of God. Our mission is to cultivate and encourage churches characterized by these nine marks:1. Expositional PreachingThis is preaching which expounds what Scripture says in a particular passage, carefully explaining its meaning and applying it to the congregation. It is a commitment to hearing God’s Word and to recovering the centrality of it in our worship.2. Biblical TheologyPaul charges Titus to “teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Our concern should be not only with how we are taught, but with what we are taught. Biblical theology is a commitment to know the God of the Bible as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.3. Biblical Understanding of the Good NewsThe gospel is the heart of Christianity. But the good news is not that God wants to meet people’s felt needs or help them develop a healthier self-image. We have sinfully rebelled against our Creator and Judge. Yet He has graciously sent His Son to die the death we deserved for our sin, and He has credited Christ’s acquittal to those who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection. That is the good news.4. Biblical Understanding of ConversionThe spiritual change each person needs is so radical, so near the root of us, that only God can do it. We need God to convert us. Conversion need not be an emotionally heated experience, but it must evidence itself in godly fruit if it is to be what the Bible regards as a true conversion.5. Biblical Understanding of EvangelismHow someone shares the gospel is closely related to how he understands the gospel. To present it as an additive that gives non-Christians something they naturally want (i.e. joy or peace) is to present a half-truth, which elicits false conversions. The whole truth is that our deepest need is spiritual life, and that new life only comes by repenting of our sins and believing in Jesus. We present the gospel openly, and leave the converting to God.6. Biblical Understanding of MembershipMembership should reflect a living commitment to a local church in attendance, giving, prayer and service; otherwise it is meaningless, worthless, and even dangerous. We should not allow people to keep their membership in our churches for sentimental reasons or lack of attention. To be a member is knowingly to be traveling together as aliens and strangers in this world as we head to our heavenly home.7. Biblical Church DisciplineChurch discipline gives parameters to church membership. The idea seems negative to people today – “didn’t our Lord forbid judging?” But if we cannot say how a Christian should not live, how can we say how he or she should live? Each local church actually has a biblical responsibility to judge the life and teaching of its leaders, and even of its members, particularly insofar as either could compromise the church’s witness to the gospel.8. Promotion of Christian Discipleship and GrowthA pervasive concern with church growth exists today – not simply with growing numbers, but with growing members. Though many Christians measure other things, the only certain observable sign of growth is a life of increasing holiness, rooted in Christian self-denial. These concepts are nearly extinct in the modern church. Recovering true discipleship for today would build the church and promote a clearer witness to the world.9. Biblical Understanding of LeadershipWhat eighteenth-century Baptists and Presbyterians often agreed upon was that there should be a plurality of elders in each local church. This plurality of elders is not only biblical, but practical — it has the immense benefit of rounding out the pastor’s gifts to ensure the proper shepherding of God’s church.