My wife and I used to be members of a small sect which believed that it alone held all biblical truth.
Moreover the group firmly believed that they, and they alone, comprised the Church of God. All others, whether Roman Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian or whatever else, were simply spiritual impostors!
Its now been so long since I ditched such a seriously flawed theology of the Church, that I find it quite amazing that my wife and I could have identified the New Testament Church of God with any particular humanly organised institution!
Of course, as Protestants, we are bound to hold to the concept of the Church being an invisible entity to people on earth at the present time, even if not to God!
There is a very good article authored by William Kilgore elsewhere on this site which one should read if one still has lingerings over the notion of the Church being one humanly organised religious organisation. I give a link to that article at the conclusion of this one.
But just how can one become a 'member' of the Church of God?
Now I think that many would say that the first and most important requirement is that one should 'go to church' every Sunday. However, they would be quite wrong! Actually, one can't 'go to church' at all. I sometimes wish we could alter this language we all fall into. We really should speak of going to our 'meeting place' or 'place of worship' on a Sunday rather than going to church.
The Church is ultimately a spiritual body and Christ has put us in it! This happened when we were convicted by the Holy Spirit right at the beginning of our Christian lives. The Church should be seen as the entire body of true believers of all time who are synonymous with the 'elect' of God. This is really the most scriptural way to describe it. It will be seen, then, that God has either put us into His Church or He has not!; Certainly, it is not something that we can decide to 'go to' once a week on a Sunday!
Some while ago when I was out on a preaching assignment, a deacon took it upon himself to have a rather sarcastic 'dig' at me. He said something like (I can't recall his exact words),
"You might make a good minister for our congregation except for the fact that you are not currently a member of any particular church"
I must admit I was a little incensed by his remark but decided to keep my feelings to myself. Of course, any committed Christian who believes that they are led by God's Spirit and who has travelled around and preached the gospel as much as I have (to say nothing of the hundreds of hours devoted to our internet ministry) should not really be open to this charge.
Now of course what he meant to say was that we were not - at that particular moment - in fellowship with any single, specific local congregation who looked upon us as "members" of their congregation.
That, of course, would have been quite a legitimate observation to make (though surely, little or nothing to do with whether one would make a good pastor; After all, apart from the internet ministry, one has preached quite widely and been invloved in various other things too. We don't boast about such things, of course, but should they not be taken into consideration?).
So in this particular case this deacon's comments were somewhat awry. We really should all make an effort to use our words wisely. For instance, would this man have accepted our credentials if we were long-term "members" of a specific congregation even if we had never done anything for the furtherance of the gospel? Yes, he surely would have!
In fact, it was a conscious decision by my wife and myself that we would not 'join' any specific congregation until the Lord showed us which one. This was after our cult experience followed by two very unfortunate experiences which followed within Baptist congregations. In the second of these incidents we were somewhat affected by the behaviour of a very young 'minister' fresh out of college. Within weeks he was fired, but we learned from it and have decided not to commit ourselves to a specific congregation until the Lord clearly shows us which one. This seems reasonable since, over the years, the Lord has often clearly revealed His will to us.
At present (Mid-July, 2002), when I am not preaching anywhere we are again regular attenders at a specific place. Will we become 'attached'? (I am reluctant to use the word 'members'), We may do should it be the Lord's will, which we wait upon.
I have digressed just a little and need to get back to my main point.
Let us notice two verses in Acts 2;
"Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them"
Now lets notice verse 47;
"...And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved"
It is the Lord who 'adds' to His Church. There is also no doubt that in verse 47 we see the Church described not in the context of the local meeting place but in its more universal and invisible sense (invisible, that is, to us - but not to God).
The Lord was adding 'those who were being saved' this goes beyond the local congregation where, as is clear from other Scriptures, some will sit among us who will apparently not finally be saved. Indeed some of these people - at times - will reject true biblical teaching. (Carefully consider 2 Timothy 1:15, 2 Timothy 4: 3-4 and 1 John 2: 19, for instance).
In our very day there are liberal congregations in which, to be perfectly frank, it is very doubtful whether ANY of that congregation's leaders are converted! Do we begin to see how dubious it is to consider "membership" of a congregation as the same as membership of the Church of God! No; it is God alone who puts us into, and makes us MEMBERS of the Church. It is the work of the Father who draws us to His Son (Matthew 16: 16-17, John 6: 44). Thereafter we are dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit in leading us on the Christian path (John 14: 16-18).
I have little doubt that at this very moment there are some sweet little old ladies sitting every Sunday in some chapel who have not opened a Bible nor offered a prayer outside of their meeting place for many years. Despite this, they feel secure in the knowledge that as long-term "members" of their congregation who, perhaps, have not missed a communion service for years, they are saved. They have 'assurance'. But this is not the biblical teaching of assurance, this is a misplaced confidence due to being exposed to seriously flawed teaching over a period of time. I say that such people are in mortal danger and we don't help their predicament by this confusion as to what constitutes 'membership' of the Church!
I have occasionally accepted preaching dates with congregations which have been woefully affected by liberal preachers; in these places I have preached the biblical gospel undiluted! The result? Interestingly, the congregations very often wanted more, while the leaders were polite but cool and I was never invited back. This is sad and let us all recall that that very great Bible expositor, Henry Halley, was firmly of the opinion that the 'mystery of iniquity' which was to arise is nothing other than the taking over of huge areas of the visible church by unconverted 'leaders'!
So let all of us who are in a position to influence others, strive to continually preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, NOT some 'politically correct' message which is 'relevant for sophisticated 21st century people', not some message about prosperity and well-being in this life and not some message about how we need to be manifesting the more spectacular Gifts, in direct contravention of the advice of the apostle Paul. No, let us preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ unfettered and undiluted. And within that, let us do our utmost to help long-standing congregation members not to trust in congregational longevity for their salvation, but in the boundless grace of God witnessed in their ongoing walk with Jesus Christ!
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