|Volume 21 Number 8 August 2019||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Some accommodative language doesn’t appear in Scripture despite corresponding to biblical topics. For instance, though the word “trinity” doesn’t appear in the Bible, what it represents is certainly taught in the Holy Writ—God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:32-33; 1 Peter 1:2). The phrase “youth ministry” isn’t in the Bible either, but many passages in both testaments address youth (Deuteronomy 6:2, 5-9; 1 Timothy 4:12; 2 Timothy 2:22; Ephesians 6:4)—their responsibilities and especially parental responsibilities toward them.
“Placing membership” is another phrase that simply is absent from the pages of inspiration. Yet, it is apparent that each Christian has an obligation to a local congregation, as we will see. Someone converted by the Gospel might be assumed to be a new member of a local congregation of the Lord’s church with which he or she has had contact leading up to his or her baptism. However, such an assumption or even knowledge of a member of the church moving into a community is not automatically acknowledged by either the individual or the local church.
It seems that some members of the church desire to get lost in the crowd and conceal themselves in anonymity when relocating to a new area of the country. Perhaps they want to be amenable to no eldership. They may consider themselves members at large—whatever that may be—but it is not a biblically defensible position. Maybe this sort of Christian does not want to shoulder any responsibility that would be associated with a congregation. Brother Wayne Price refers to such ones as “suitcase Christians” (3), while brother Gus Nichols calls them “driftwood” (14).
Placing membership “…means to identify oneself with a/the local congregation. The phrase, of course, is not found in God’s Holy and Divine Word, but the principle is certainly there” (Miller 4). In times past, the churches of Christ in America gave letters of recommendation to its members moving out of their communities, and churches of Christ entertaining the extension of membership to a new arrival from elsewhere would inquire of one’s previous congregation. That was not only a prudent practice for those religiously enthusiastic about the practice of Christianity, but it was a biblically substantiated practice. We should be doing those things now, too.
If all members would follow such a policy, the first eldership would know that they were no longer responsible for these sheep, while the second eldership would know that their job of watching after the welfare of their sheep was greater now. But at least both would know which sheep were in their flock! (Price 3)
In the first century, “often the disciples carried letters of commendation (Acts 18:27)” (Miller 4). “…Paul declared that some people need letters of commendation (2 Corinthians 3:1-3)” (Nichols 14). The apostle Paul, upon his first visit to Jerusalem following his conversion, needed a recommendation to the Jerusalem church. He found it in the person of Barnabas (Acts 9:26-27).
The apostle Paul was essentially attempting to place membership with the local congregation in Jerusalem. “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26 NKJV). “It is interesting that the word used in the original for ‘cleave’ in Matthew 19:5 is the same word used for ‘to join’ in Acts 9:26 and it means to ‘become glued.’ If Paul desired to ‘become glued’ to the local congregation, shouldn’t we, as well?” (Miller 4). Regarding Acts 9:26, brother Dub McClish noted, “This passage describes the attempt by Saul of Tarsus to “place membership” with the Jerusalem Church…” (677).
There are numerous additional biblical principles from which we can know that Christians ought to place membership with a local congregation. Brother Dennis Gulledge notices some of these in this following excerpt.
What is meant by the expression “place membership” as it pertains to a local congregation? We must admit that we cannot find that expression in the Bible. It may be for this reason that some think it an unscriptural concept. Is it? In Romans 16:1, Paul wrote, “I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea.” …Her sphere of activity was “the church of Cenchrea.” She did not represent the “church at large” or “the church universal.” The church in Cenchrea was a congregation of God’s people in a specific locality, being a harbor town nine miles west of Corinth. …Paul addressed the church at Philippi saying, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (1:1). Saints are members who work together in that given locality. Bishops are elders or overseers of that local church (1 Timothy 3:1-7). Deacons are qualified servants in that congregation (1 Timothy 3:8-10). …Churches of Christ who have qualified men should have a plurality of elders overseeing the work of that congregation (Acts 1:23; Titus 1:5). These bishops are to shepherd the local flock. They do not have jurisdiction over any other congregation (Acts 20:28). …Is placing membership in a local church necessary? It is indeed! Is it scriptural? Absolutely! The New Testament teaches that we are to be in a congregation, subject to the leadership of the elders, involved in that work and supportive of the Lord’s cause in that place. (4-5)
Acts 20:28 instructs elders to shepherd the flock that is among them, but how can they do that if they are unsure who are the sheep for which they are responsible to God? The sheep have a responsibility to their elders (Hebrews 13:7), and the shepherds have a responsibility to give an account for those sheep (Hebrews 13:17) to the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). “…It’s hard at times for them [elders] to even figure out WHO is in their flock, and who isn’t” (Price 3).
Furthermore, “if there isn’t some way of identifying who’s in the local family and who is not, how can we appoint elders and deacons, select teachers…?” (Futrell 2). Afterall, church leaders and workers are supposed to be selected from among the members of a local congregation (Acts 6:3).
Placing membership, though the specific phrase is not in Scripture, is nevertheless most assuredly taught directly and indirectly. Placing membership is taught in so many words as well as in principle so that no Christian ought to be without membership in one of the churches of Christ.
Futrell, Mel. “Thoughts on Placing Membership.” Power September 1998: 2.
Gulledge, Dennis. “Is Placing Membership with a Local Church Necessary?” Gospel Gleaner July 1999: 4-5.
McClish, Dub. “One Congregation May Withdraw from Another Congregation.” God Hath Spoken, Affirming Truth and Reproving Error. Memphis: Memphis School of Preaching, 1999, 665-690.
Miller, Doug. “Placing Membership.” Upon the Rock February 1998: 4.
Nichols, Gus. “Placing Membership.” In Word and Doctrine Jul-Dec 1994: 12-14.
Price, Wayne. “Why Should I Place Membership?” Power December 1997: 3.