The Church and Me (Placing Membership) – Acts 9:26-28
The Church and Me: Placing Membership
This past Sunday, Irene Henry met with the elders and expressed her desire to “place membership” with the Swartz Creek church of Christ. Irene was here when Rachel and I first moved here, then she moved to NC, and recently returned.
In the passage we have before us: Acts 9:26-28, we see the concept if not the actual words “placing membership.” Saul of Tarsus was already a Christian. He had become a Christian in 9:17-18. Now, he is in Jerusalem and he wants to “join” the church of Christ in Jerusalem. He is meeting with the leaders of the church, if not the apostles, and they are afraid to accept Saul into their fellowship. Why? Because he has a history. Barnabas, on the other hand, trusts Saul and “goes to bat” for him with the church leadership.
This morning, at the request of the eldership here at Swartz Creek, I want us to consider what is involved in “placing membership” and why the SC eldership wants you to place membership, if you have not.
THE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH:
When one obeys the Gospel of Christ, that individual is added to the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). Luke tells us in Acts 2:47 that God adds the saved to His church. Every Christian, then, is a member of the church of Christ in its universal sense. But the “universal church” has no assembly; it has no organization; it has no worship service. The church is embodied only in a local assembly of Christians who honor God in their worship and serve Christ and their fellow man together, in a local body of Christians.
The word “church” is used 114 times in the NT and the most often use of the word refers to the local congregation. The NT does not know of a Christian who is a “Christian-at-large,” who is not associated with a local congregation.
Christians are to be in the assembly of the church on a regular basis: Hebrews 10:25-26.
Christians are to take the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day: Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:18, 20, 33, 34; 16:1; Revelation 1:10.
Christians are responsible to encourage the body of Christ, which you can only do as a part of the local congregation: Ephesians 4:9-16.
Christians are to teach and encourage one another through singing: Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19.
Christians are to be involved together in the “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope” (1 Thess. 1:3). The Hebrew writer talks about the “work and love which Christians show toward Christ in ministering to the saints” (6:10).
Christians are to help evangelize: Matthew 28:18-20.
Christians are to teach: 2 Timothy 2:2; Titus 2:3-5.
Christians are to care for those who are ignored by others: James 1:26-27.
In 2 Corinthians 3:1, we have what appears to be a “letter of commendation” from one congregation to another congregation, in order to encourage fellowship with certain Christians. That is, in principle, the very thing we talk about when we say “placing membership.”
THE SHEPHERDS OF THE CHURCH:
Acts 14:23 - Every congregation is to have its own eldership. That’s autonomy. Every congregation chooses its own leaders and is obligated on its own to stay faithful to Christ.
Acts 20:28 - The eldership is to oversee its own flock and the elders are responsible to Christ for that flock.
The very designation “bishop” means someone who “oversees.” The word is used 5 times in the NT: Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:7. Jesus is the “Shepherd and Guardian of our souls” (1 Peter 2:25). But He has entrusted that act - being a shepherd and guardian (which is the word “bishop”; KJV). If elders have the responsibility to “oversee,” then the church has the responsibility to “be overseen.” That suggests that the elders need to know who will be a part of the local congregation.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
Elders, shepherds, have a responsibility to Jesus Christ to know who you are and where you are spiritually. They have the oversight of the local congregation. How can elders ask you to participate in the work of the church if they don’t know anything about you? Are you a good representative of the church? Of Swartz Creek? Of Christianity?
1 Peter 5:1-4
“ASSOCIATING WITH” / “PLACING MEMBERSHIP”:
“Placing membership” is an act of respect for the elders. It acknowledges the role they have and the responsibility they exercise under the eyes of Jesus Christ. So you are placing your soul in their care and into their prayers. It also lets the congregation know who you are and that you want to be a part of this church family. That way, we know who each other is and we can pray for each other and encourage each other.
The elders cannot extend (in Paul’s words in Galatians 2:9) “the right hand of fellowship” to someone who is not, in fact, in fellowship with Jesus Christ. The elders cannot ask someone to represent the Swartz Creek church of Christ who is not in a relationship with Jesus Christ. The elders cannot ask a man to serve in worship who is not, in fact, a child of God.
There are some questions elders might need to ask. Why? Because Paul warns Christians in 1 Corinthians 5:11 that they cannot have fellowship with those who are immoral, covetous, drunkards, swindlers, etc. In order for elders to save their own souls as they are accountable to God for their obedience to his word, as well as to protect the flock from negative influences from outside, then it is important to “place membership” with the congregation by meeting with the elders and letting them know who you are, where you came from, and what you would like to do.
If you were baptized here at Swartz Creek, then the elders assume that you implicitly acknowledge your submission to their leadership and you consider yourself a member of the Swartz Creek church of Christ. Unless you are, in fact, a member somewhere else and you submit to the leadership of the other congregation. If, however, you have come from somewhere outside, then it is important for you to meet with the elders and get acquainted and let them know what your intentions are.
If one of the elders approaches you and asks you to meet with them, don’t be intimidated or fearful. In fact, it should be considered an honor that the elders want you to be associated with this congregation and put your skills to use here in service to our Lord.
Take home message: If you are not a member at Swartz Creek, set a time with the elders in order to let them know you want to be considered a member here. If the elders ask you to meet with them, don’t be intimidated. Consider it an honor.
Start an evangelism conversation: “Tell me about two of your life-long friends and why they have such an impact on your life. What made you choose them?”