The universal church consists exclusively of true Christians. Since local churches are manifestations of the universal church upon the earth they too should consist exclusively of true Christians as well. For this reason, when a person becomes a Christian they have a responsibility to be baptized and join a local church (Acts 2:41). But local churches also have a responsibility to evaluate to the best of their ability whether people who desire to join their church truly are Christians (Acts 9:26-27). This requires a membership process in which people expresses their desire to join a local church and the local church evaluates the credibility of their profession of faith. At Cow Creek this process involves attending a new member’s class, filling out a membership application, and having a membership interview with one of the elders, before being formally received into the church.
Having a defined membership is important for every local church for a number of reasons. It clarifies who the pastors are responsible to pastor. It clarifies who is subject to the discipline of the church. It clarifies who should attend the business meetings of the church and participate in the congregational elements of church government. And it clarifies who the ‘others’ are to whom we are obligated to fulfill all the ‘one another’ commands of Scripture (i.e. ‘love one another’).
Jesus never intended His people to live out their Christian life in isolation from others. Rather He has intended them to live out their lives as Christians within the context of local churches. The local church is Christ’s chosen means to bless His people with the preaching and teaching of His word, the pastoral care and oversight, the corporate accountability and discipline, and the rich fellowship and encouragement they need to be spiritually healthy. In addition to this God has given spiritual gifts to each member of His body which he intends for them to employ in the context of local churches for the building up of the church as a whole (Ephesians 4:11-16). Thus upon being saved every Christian ought to become an active member of a local church. Doing so will be challenging since members of churches will sin against one another in various ways. Yet any cost we might incur by being an active member in a local church is not worth comparing to the ways God will bless us in the process.
Next Topic: The Christian Life