Vol. 3, No. 6
[Power (Southaven, MS: Southaven church
of Christ) Vol. 9, No. 2, February 2000, p. 3.]
A common expression in religious circles is that of "joining the church" (whatever church that might be). It is so common, it is assumed to be correct. Therefore, when it is learned that one does not "join" the Lord's church, but is added to it by the Lord himself (Acts 2:47), many are surprised and confused. The phrase "joining a church" places all religious groups on equal ground, making one as good as the next. It suggests that one may simply take his choice, as he would a civic club. Both the terminology and concept involved in "joining the church" are foreign to the New Testament. The church in the New Testament is the one body of Christ (Ephesians 4:5).
How does one enter the church of Christ mentioned in the New Testament? Religious groups have their various ways of entering their churches, whether it is relating a convincing "salvation experience," being voted on as a candidate for membership, being baptized to enter a denomination or "getting saved" at the mourner's bench. In these groups, "getting saved" is one thing and church membership is something else. Many say church membership is not essential to be saved, but they recommend it, and if you want to join their church, you must do one of the things suggested.
In Acts 2, we see God's way as opposed to man's way. In this chapter, we find two things: (1) people being saved in obedience to the Gospel, and (2) these same people being "added" by the Lord to his church. They were instructed to "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38). When they obeyed, they were added to the Lord's church. "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41). "Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47). "And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women" (Acts 5:14). "For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord" (Acts 11:24).
All of these people were added by the Lord to his church. What did they do to be added? They obeyed Christ by confessing their faith in Christ, repenting of their sins and being baptized into Christ for the remission of their sins, and the Lord then added them to his church. But what about relating an experience, being voted on, being baptized into a human denomination or crying at the altar? All of these things are missing from the inspired record of Acts. The Lord does the adding when people do the obeying!
According to the New Testament, what a person does to be saved, he does to obtain membership in the Lord's church. They are synonymous. The saved are added by the Lord to his church. "Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47). His church is his body. "And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:18). Christians constitute the body or church of the Lord. "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body…" (1 Corinthians 12-14).
Becoming a member of the Lord's church or body is not a matter of comparing several religious groups, deciding which suits one best and then applying for membership or "joining up." Rather, it is a matter of obeying the Gospel of Christ, at which time the Lord himself adds one to his body, the church.
When we comply with the conditions of the Gospel, we are then added to the body of the saved. Ephesians 5:23 says that, "Christ is the head of the church: and he is the Saviour of the body." He adds the saved to his church (Acts 2:47) which is his body (Ephesians 1:23). This is the only means of entering the church of Christ.
Of course, the word "church" is also used in a local sense and refers to Christians of the body of Christ who assemble and work together in a local community. A Christian is a member of Christ's body, but he is not a member of every local congregation around the world. For example, when Paul, who was then called Saul, assayed to join the disciples at Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-28), he was simply seeking to become identified for the time being with the Jerusalem church. He had already been added by the Lord to his church, but he was seeking to work and worship with the local congregation in Jerusalem.
Likewise, when we obey the Gospel and are added by the Lord to his church universal, we need to assemble and work with a local, faithful, congregation of God's people and submit ourselves to that eldership (Hebrews 13:17).
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