I want us to talk about church membership.
What do we mean by church membership.
I didn’t grow up in a place where people spoke all kinds of different languages. Where I grew up, most people basically only spoke English. And I guess, some people would say, they didn’t even speak very good English.
Instead, they spoke American.
And one of the things I have learned since coming to a country where there are so many different languages being spoken all the time, like South Africa, is that even when you do find someone with whom you can speak the same language, there still is a great deal of opportunity for confusion.
If you don’t speak the same language, it’s hard to communicate.
But even if you do speak the same language, it’s still a challenge, because while you may be using the same words, you don’t always mean the same thing by the words you are using.
And this is silly, but in America ‘just now; means literally right now, at this moment, and when we first moved here, I had the hardest time understanding why someone was taking so long when they told me they were going to do something just now.
Communicating well involves more than just using the same words.
It is not that simple.
You have to mean the same things when you use those words, and that’s part of why, honestly, we are taking some time, and going through this whole long series on the church and on church membership.
When we say church and when we say church member we want to mean the same thing.
And so over the past number of posts we’ve been going back to the Scriptures, and laying down some basic fundamental kinds of propositions.
At the start.
Like the church is about God.
That’s where we started.
That’s why we exist.
And the church is here specifically, to promote and protect the truth. And the church’s primary responsibility is on a week in week out basis to teach you the gospel and to help you see the beauty of Jesus.
And so, when we say church, that’s basically, what we want you to think about.
We want you to think about a group of people who are seeking to be God-centered, truth driven, and gospel focused.
But what do we mean by membership?
That’s kind of the next question.
What do we mean by church?
What do we mean by church membership?
Because, if you remember.
This whole series is supposed to be basically a reminder of the importance of church membership and so, I am going to be talking a lot about being a member of the church, you are going to hear me say that over and over, and so, it’s important to me, as we talk about being a member of the church, that you understand what we even mean by that.
Why is this an issue?
Why is church membership important?
Why is church membership something we are even talking about?
And then, what does it actually mean to be a church member?
Because, this certainly isn’t something I want to assume that we are all thinking the same way about, I want us all to be thinking the way Scripture does, and so, I thought today, while there might be a number of passages we might go to in order to answer those kinds of questions, I thought, one of the best places we could go is just back to what was happening when the church first got started.
Because, that’s the context.
For Acts chapter 2.
This is the beginning of the church.
And we are going to be looking at verses 37 through 47, mostly probably, verses 42-47, but still, you know I think, you are probably, pretty familiar, with what is leading up to this.
As Acts begins.
Jesus has risen from the dead.
Not too long before.
And he’s met with them apostles.
And he’s given them this mission.
Promising them the Holy Spirit, and calling on them to be his witnesses, literally all over the world. And so after he ascended to heaven, they all went back to Jerusalem, and about 120 of Jesus’ followers got together, and they started praying. And trying to get ready, to do what Jesus had called them to do, when the Holy Spirit came upon with them with power.
And he did, in Acts 2.
On the day of Pentecost.
It says, there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and tongues of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they were enabled to speak in all these different languages, and this caused the people who were around them, obviously, to start asking questions, and so when they did, Peter stood up, and preached.
And after he preached, this amazing message about Jesus, and the way in which he fulfilled all the promises of the Old Testament, there were these people there that day, who started asking them questions.
Like, what do we do?
They were convicted, verse 37 says, they were, ‘cut to the heart’ and so they said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’
Which is pretty good question, I think.
It’s one you want to ask an apostle.
After he preaches.
And it’s important even for us, because, here are these people who want to follow Jesus. The gospel’s been preached, they’ve understood it, and they’ve been convicted it, and they want to know, now, what does God want from us, and I think, you need to see the way Peter answers.
Because, obviously, that’s why Luke records this here.
He’s not just writing history.
He’s writing history in order to teach. And I think one of the main things he wants to teach us has to do with the way the apostles thought about the Christian life.
What does someone who wants to become a Christian do?
Peter makes it clear.
First, he repents.
In other words, it’s not enough to simply hear the good news, you have to personally respond to it. And the word, Peter uses, to describe that response is repent, which of course, includes, or you could say assumes, faith and trust in Jesus.
The person who trusts in Jesus, actually does something, he turns from his sin.
And in the early church, when a person turned from his sin, like that, everyone knew it, because he went on and made a very public display of his new commitment to following Jesus, by getting immersed in water, or as Peter puts it here, by being baptized.
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
Which I know maybe sounds a little confusing because it almost sounds like being baptized is the way you are forgiven, but we know from other clearer passages of Scripture, that’s not what Peter means, you are not saved by being baptized, but in Peter’s mind, he just couldn’t really conceive of someone who truly had believed in Jesus and who repented of his sins, not getting baptized.
It all went together.
Usually very quickly.
That’s just the way it worked in the early church.
If you heard the gospel and you wanted to be saved, you responded by putting your trust in Christ and turning from your sins, and then you let everyone know that by publicly identifying with Jesus through baptism, and Luke goes on to show us, also somehow publicly identifying with God’s people by becoming members of the church.
This is verses 40 and 41.
“And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
In other words.
As Peter’s looking at these people who are being convicted of their sins, he’s saying if you want to know what you need to do, you need to separate yourselves from this generation of people who have rejected Jesus, by repenting, by being baptized, and by becoming part of a whole new community.
This is what you do, if you want to follow Jesus.
And many did.
As Luke explains in verse 41,
“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
The original 120 back there in Acts chapter 1.
The local congregation of believers there in Jerusalem.
And I am saying, this is just the basic pattern the Bible presents .
When it talks about the everyday Christian life.
And it’s the answer to the first question about why are we even talking about church membership?
We are talking about church membership, as one writer explains, because, “Luke” and I think, really, every other writer of the New Testament as well, just “could not have imagined someone following Jesus apart from a commitment to doing so with other believers in the church.”
Saying, I love Jesus by myself.
Without going on to clearly being added to a congregation of other believers, wouldn’t have made sense to the writers of the New Testament.
It would be a little like a brick, you know a brick you use when you are building a house, a brick saying, you know I don’t want to connect with other bricks.
I am fine here lying on the ground by myself.
No, that’s not what bricks are actually for.
Bricks are for putting with other bricks and actually building something, which is how actually God describes what is happening in the church.
In 1 Peter 2, verse 4 and 5.
“As you come to him, a living stone, rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
The word spiritual house means a temple. The glory of God inhabits the church. As we come to Jesus the living stone, we become living stones, and God’s glory comes down and inhabits us. And obviously here, Peter’s talking collectively, he’s talking about us as a group.
It’s not just you by yourself are being made into a temple.
You are being picked up by God and connected to other living stones to become this temple, and obviously just like a brick, that’s being used in a building, that brick has bricks above it and bricks below it, that are dependent on it, that’s just the nature of being a brick or a living stone or a Christian.
I mean, another illustration the Bible gives for what happens when you become a Christian, has to do with a body.
Can you imagine someone looking at say, a hand, and saying that hand could be as good a hand if it were separated from the rest of the body as it could be, when it is joined to it.
That doesn’t even make sense.
You see a hand by itself and you know something is funny. Something has gone wrong. This isn’t the way it is supposed to be. And the same is true with us as Christians.
When we are saved, God makes us part of a body and we see in the early church, that reality had practical implications, back to Acts 2, those who received Peter’s word, and repented of their sins, and were baptized, were added to the congregation of believers, that existed there in Jerusalem.
In other words, they became church members.
That’s why we are talking about this.
We believe that individuals who have repented of their sins and are baptized should identify themselves with a local group of believers in such a way that people know.
“We know how many make up this church.
And these people are being added now, to our number, they are now recognized as one of us.”
This is just the basic biblical pattern for how the Christian life is supposed to be lived out.
If you are going to live for Jesus, you are going to need to live for Jesus, as part of a local church.
That’s why we think membership is important.