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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15


In the Church...Out of the Church

Norman H. Wells

From The Church That Jesus Loved, 1973 (Chapter 13)

There are those religious groups and organizations that try to play down the importance of local church membership. Some will even deny that the New Testament teaches that Christians should belong to a local church. They teach here is no formal membership in the churches.


Most so-called interdenominational groups give great emphasis to this kind of teaching. To gain support these groups minimize or deny the responsibility of the Christian to belong to and support a local church. The common appeal that these groups make is that local churches divide God's people. They assert that it is only important to belong to THE church, meaning a universal, invisible, church composed of all believers.


There are those Christians who excuse themselves from the responsibilities of belonging to a local church by saying they belong to this universal, invisible, church.


It will not be our purpose in this article to show the errors of the teachings of these groups concerning the church but to establish that Christians in the New Testament were members of individual, local churches. This will establish that all Christians have the responsibility of having definite membership in a local church.


Let us start out by saying that any Christian that reads the New Testament with an open heart will readily see that it was an accepted fact that Christians belonged to and were identified with local churches.


Let us look at the New Testament!


CHURCHES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT HAD A MEMBERSHIP


The local churches named in the New Testament had a definite membership.


"And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (THE NUMBER OF NAMES TOGETHER were about an hundred and twenty,)" (Acts 1:15)


This was an assembly of the church of Jerusalem in the upper room. (Acts 1:13) Notice that a record was kept of those who were present. The fact that the word "names" is used instead of "people" certainly suggests that some kind of record was kept of those present.


"HE WAS NUMBERED WITH US"


"For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry."(Acts 1:17) The expression, "he was numbered with us" shows that this church had a recognized membership.


IN THE CHURCH


Christians in the New Testament were members of local churches and were spoken of as being in these churches.


"Now there were IN THE CHURCH THAT WAS AT ANTIOCH certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul." (Acts 13:1) That this was a local church cannot be denied. It was the "church that was at Antioch." The people who are named are spoken of as being "In the church that was at Antioch." These people were recognized as being part of the church at Antioch and were spoken of as being "in" that church.


It will be easily recognized that this church, as did all the other local churches, had a definite membership. They were spoken of as being in that particular church. The same expression is used in I Cor. 12:28.


CHURCHES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT EXERCISED DISCIPLINE OVER THEIR MEMBERS


It is only plain logic to accept the fact that only a local church with a definite membership could exercise.


Let us look at what the New Testament says about church discipline.


"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. But if he shall neglect to hear them, TELL IT UNTO THE CHURCH: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." (Matt. 18:15-17)


Notice the order that is given here:


1. The one who had been offended was to try and settle the matter between just the two that were involved.


2. If this failed the offended brother was to take along witnesses and try to get the matter settled.


3. If this failed he was to "TELL IT UNTO THE CHURCH" and the church was to take action.


It is ridiculous to think of this being an invisible, universal, church. It had to be a local, definite body. We can easily see that Christ placed the authority of exercising discipline in the local church.


Notice these other expressions concerning discipline. Paul advised the church at Corinth to exclude a member from their church. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person." (I Cor. 5:13) After this wicked person had repented Paul advised that they receive him back. (II Cor. 2) The final punishment in discipline was to exclude the individual from church membership.


The churches were admonished to "Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly" (II Thess. 3:6)


"A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject." (Titus 3:10)


OUT OF THE CHURCH


In III John 10 the exercising of church discipline (even though abused) was spoken of as "casteth them out of the church."


Now notice what this establishes:


A CHRISTIAN COULD BE "IN THE CHURCH." (Acts 13:1; I Cor. 12:28)


A CHRISTIAN COULD BE "OUT OF THE CHURCH." (III John 10)


A CHRISTIAN COULD BE PUT OUT OF THE CHURCH AND RECEIVED BACK INTO THE CHURCH. (I Cor. 5 and II Cor. 2)


This certainly establishes that Christians in the New Testament were identified with local churches and were under the discipline of that church. They were spoken of as being in these churches. They were members of these churches.


CHURCH ELECTIONS


In the first chapter of Acts we have the record of an election of officers that took place in a local church. "And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias." (Acts 1:26)


Judas, the treasurer, had turned traitor and had committed suicide. This is the account of the church meeting together to elect a successor to Judas. This certainly means there was a definite membership composed of those who had a right to vote in this election. The fact that they had a treasurer suggests the organization they had in collecting and distributing money in the name of the church.