On Placing Membership

By Norman E. Sewell

There was a time when most Christians coming into a new community determined where they wished to worship, and which of the local congregations was worshiping and working in accordance with God’s will, then placed membership with that congregation. The purpose of placing membership was to declare to all that they wanted to be a part of the group, wanted to be called on for participation in the various activities of the local group, and to be under the oversight of the elders. Perhaps explained in the reasons for placing membership are the reasons why many so-called Christians now move into a community, worship from time to time with one congregation or another, but never actually “join” themselves to that or any local group of people. Many times it is because they do not want to be called on for anything, do not want any responsibility, and do not want to be answerable to the elders of any congregation.

I believe the idea of placing membership is a scriptural one. After Saul of Tarsus was converted (Acts 9), he preached in Damascus (Acts 9:19-22), went away into Arabia (Gal. 1:17), returned to Damascus (Gal. 1:17), and finally after three years went up to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18). “And when he was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples” (Acts 9:26). Paul wanted to be counted as a disciple, and apparently wanted to te considered a part of the church which met in Jerusalem. Barnes’ Notes on The New Testament says, “He attempted, he endeavored. . To become connected with them as their fellow Christian.” In the Alexander Campbell Commentary on Acts, Campbell says that Saul attempted to “attach himself” to the disciples in Jerusalem. It seems that the idea of becoming recognized by and attached to a local congregation is an idea plainly taught by scripture.

While some do not wish to actively participate in the worship services, and other activities of the local congregation, it is a thing to be much desired. Many say they do not get anything out of the worship. This is generally because they do not put anything into it. They sit as spectators, possibly not e ‘ ven entering into the singing of praises or partaking of the Lord=s Supper with their hearts. To allow yourself to be called upon to teach a class, to lead in prayer, to help pass the Lord=s Supper to others, or to do the preparing of the Lord=s Supper, or any of many other things to be done by the local congregation is to be made to feel yourself as a real part of the group. Then you stop referring to the congregation as “they,” and start thinking in terms of “us” and “we.”

The idea of being under the oversight of the elders is also a scriptural one. The Hebrew writer urged those Christians to “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them: for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give account; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief. for this were unprofitable for you” (Heb~ 13:17). It is the elders’ duty to oversee the congregation in which they are elders. This means that they cannot very well oversee those who are not a part of the local group. I believe this is surely one reason that many never place membership in a local group. They do not want to be answerable to anyone. Surely every Christian recognizes that he ultimately will be answerable to God, and the elders are doing what God has ordained that they do.

Why not get involved in doing the work of the Lord. You will feel better about your own relationship to God, and you will feel more a part of the local congregation.

Truth Magazine, XVIII:36, p. 2
July 18, 1974