Question #282

Where are we commanded to place membership?

Why is it that most churches of Christ in different towns where I've attended want you to place membership with them before you can serve in any manner. This restriction to me almost seems like what the Pharisees would do in the Old Testament. I've never read in the Bible where you have to place membership to serve in the church. You become a member of the church when you hear the Word, believe in Jesus Christ, repent, and are baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, not when you place membership with a congregation. Any input on this would be much appreciated.

The Answer:

You are correct that there is no passage of scripture that commands that a person place membership with a local congregation. You are mistaken when comparing it with that which is necessary to become a Christian. It is having been added to the church (universal) by God upon your obedience to the gospel that enables you to be a member of the church (local) or, put differently, a local congregation of the universal church.

Local congregations are entitled to know such matters as who you are, why you are there, what your background is, and with what congregations you have worshipped. The elders of a local congregation are charged with the oversight and spiritual care of those who are a part of a local congregation. How can they ask you to teach or lead prayer if they know nothing about you? As a member of a local congregation you are to be subject to the elders. Hebrews 13:17. Placing membership, sometimes referred to as identifying yourself as willing to be under the oversight of the elders, lets them know that you are placing your soul in their care and keeping. Further, it lets the members of the congregation know who you are and that you want to be a part of the local church family, thus enabling them to better know you and care for your spiritual needs and, if necessary, your physical needs. It is hard to believe that a Christian who wants to be a working, loving part of a local congregation would find such a practice distasteful or, worse yet, Pharisaic.

On the other hand, it could be that some who protest against “placing membership” have something that they do not wish to disclose. After all, the request to place membership usually has the prepositional phrase, “if you are a faithful Christian,” attached to it. If one has not been and is not a faithful Christian, he or she may need to do more than place membership. Beyond that, there have been occasions where one who has had fellowship withdrawn by one congregation has simply gone to another congregation and “placed membership.” Such a person is not entitled to fellowship. For that reason, and other reasons as well, some practice follow the wise practice of sending a letter to the congregation from which a person comes to inquire concerning their history. Some may call it meddling. It fits better within the category of caring for your soul.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)