Local Church Membership

By Bill Robinson, Jr.

Local church membership is not an end within itself. However, that does not preclude its relevance to the need and goal of every faithful Christian. Extremism often begets extremism. We cannot “throw the baby out with the bath water” when it comes to local church membership because it has been misunderstood or abused. We must strive to understand from the Scriptures its significance in the life of a faithful Christian. We should not make more or less out of it than the Bible does.

It is understood, at least we hope it is, one is making more out of it if he thinks having his “name on the roll” establishes faithfulness before God.

A local congregation is a relationship among saints who adhere together to do the will of the Lord. When the disciples “were scattered abroad upon the tribulation that arose about Stephen ” some of the disciples went to Antioch “. . preaching the Lord Jesus. . . and a great number that believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:19-21). Up to this time, there was no record of a local church in Antioch. When the Jerusalem church heard of the progress of the gospel in Antioch, they sent Barnabas (v. 22). When he arrived “and had seen the grace of God … he exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord” (w. 23-24). Barnabas then brought Saul to Antioch “. . . that even for a whole year they were gathered together with the church, and taught much people; and that the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (v. 26).

It should be obvious that the local church is not some affectation of the wisdom of man, or even of God, to harness disciples into a feigned holiness. It is a relationship among those who “gather together” (“assemble”) and out of a “purpose of heart they . . . cleave unto the Lord” (vv. 23-24). Such truths make us wonder why some disregard in their teaching and/or lives the significance and necessity of the local church. It is certainly not out of a “purpose of heart to cleave unto the Lord” because those with such a purpose are “gathered together with the church.”

The Hebrew writer exhorts “. . . not forsaking our own assembling together” (Heb. 10:25). Many things (good and bad) have been written from this passage concerning the word “forsaking.” What is often overlooked, or at least seldom discussed, is the phrase “our own. “The word “our” is a personal plural possessive pronoun. It is personal because it includes me; plural because it involves you and me; possessive because it belongs to us together. What belongs to “us” together? The responsibility of “our own assembling together.”

In the physical realm, as responsible adults, we care for and protect that which is our own. In fact, we are quick to identify with that which belongs to us. Why should we not have the same attitude in the spiritual realm? If the Bible refers to the assembling of saints as “our own, ” shouldn’t we seek to be identified with them? The Bible clearly teaches “. . . so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another” (Rom. 12:5; Eph. 4:25). If I am about to swing a hammer to drive a nail which my fingers are holding in place, those fingers want to be identified with the rest of the body and its purpose not with the nail and its purpose. Perhaps it is an oversimplification but the point can be seen. Collectively, as a congregation, those who do not identify with our purpose are not availing themselves to the care and protection of the rest of the body.

In Acts 9:26 the Bible says, “Paul assayed to join himself to the disciples” in Jerusalem. That is, Paul sought to be identified with the purpose of faithful brethren to cleave unto the Lord. The faithful brethren, exercising care and protection for one another, refused to accept him at first. “They were all qfraid of him, not believing he was a disciple” (v. 26). When evidence was given to show that Paul’s “purpose of heart was to cleave unto the Lord, ” the Bible says, from that point “. . . he was with them going in and going out . . . preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. ” If we note the phrase “with them,” we recognize that it indicates the brethren’s acceptance of him in their purpose. Even more than that, from the account which follows it demonstrates their desire to care for and protect one who is “with them.” Paul made enemies in Jerusalem among the Grecian Jews because of his preaching in the name of the Lord. In fact, the Bible tells us these Jews “were seeking to kill him. And when the brethren knew it, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus” (vv. 29-30). Paul was “with them” after his intentions were known and verified. Paul identifying “with them” (the local church) availed himself to the care and protection of brethren.

A passage of Scripture in 1 John 2, emphasizes the points we have been trying to make regarding this relationship among saints (viz. the local church). “They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be manifest that they are not of us” (1 Jn. 2:19). A careful consideration of this passage shows one’s mere physical presence, or “showing up,” in the assembly does not make one “of us” or “with us.” W.E. Vine notes on the phrase “with us” in this text, “The preposition meta: ‘with,’ implies not merely that they would have company with (sun) the believers, but that they would have actual fellowship with them” (The Epistles of John, p. 36). The local church, then, is a fellowship (with us) stemming from a common origin and likeness in a purpose of heart to cleave to the Lord. Fellowship makes each member of the local congregation “of us,” “from us,” and “with us.” In view of this, can someone tell us how they expect to have such fellowship in the local church if they never identify “with us”?

Like Christians in the First Century, faithful Christians today will seek to identify with other faithful brethren in a local church. For, they recognize its purpose as an integral means of fulfilling their spiritual needs in helping them to reach their blessed and eternal goal of heaven.

Guardian of Truth XXX: 18, pp. 563, 569
September 18, 1986