Local Church Membership
“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. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out” (Acts 9:26-28).
The group of “disciples” referred to in this passage, earlier were identified as “the church which was at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1). While we find some today who are reluctant to “join” a local church, Saul (later known as Paul) saw the need to try to join with the disciples, join the church, at Jerusalem. Paul was already a member of the body of Christ (the church in general; the body of the saved—Ephesians 5:23), due to his obedience to the gospel of Christ, but he still recognized his responsibility to become an active member in the local church at Jerusalem. This passage provides us with a Scriptural “definition” of what is involved in being a member of a local church.
Defining Membership in a Local Church
After Barnabas explained that Saul had become a believer in Christ, Saul did “join the disciples” because the text says “he was with them at Jerusalem” (Acts 9:28). Joining the disciples and being with them is what local church membership is all about. What were the disciples at Jerusalem doing that Paul joined with them in doing? They were continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, jointly participating in worship and praise to God, observing the Lord’s Supper, praying to God, giving of their means to help fellow saints, enjoying one another’s company on a daily basis (Acts 2:42-47), and “teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42). Some years later when Barnabas brought Saul to Antioch, the record states “that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people” (Acts 11:25-26). It should be the most natural and desirable thing for a disciple of Christ to want to join with, and assemble with, other disciples for these same purposes.
An additional phrase defines Saul’s involvement with the church at Jerusalem: “coming in and going out” (Acts 9:28). Based on this passage, is it too much to expect to see members of a local church “coming in and going out” on a regular basis; or is this an integral part of being a member of a local church? When we look at some of Paul’s writings addressed to local churches, we learn some of what would have been involved in this action of “coming in and going out.” Paul would have been “coming in” to worship God and to do his part to edify his fellow disciples. He instructed the disciples at Corinth (1 Corinthians 14) that when “the whole church comes together in one place” (vs. 23) they were “to excel” in “the edification of the church” (vs. 12) and “let all things be done for edification” (vs. 26). Paul wanted their worship in song, prayer and teaching God’s word to be understandable (vs. 15-19) and “done decently and in order” (vs. 40) so that the “uniformed or unbelievers” might be motivated to “worship God and report that God is truly among you” (vs. 23-25). In his letters to the saints at Rome and Ephesus, Paul admonished the local church members to use their individual gifts, abilities and functions (Romans 12:4-8) “for the edifying of the body of Christ;” when everyone was doing their share it would cause “growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16). I am assuming that Paul “practiced what he preached” and was himself doing his part as he was “coming in” as a member at Jerusalem and Antioch, and elsewhere.
Paul would have been “going out” from the local church to live as a Christian and serve the cause of the Lord’s kingdom. Again, we see this from admonitions we find in some of his letters to local churches and individual saints. Paul would have been “going out” to offer himself as a “living sacrifice” because he knew this was his reasonable service in showing appreciation for God’s blessings of salvation (Romans 12:1-2). Paul would have been “going out” not walking as the Gentiles (people of the world) walk, but living in the way that he had learned from Christ (Ephesians 4:17-32). Paul would have been serving as a good example to other believers, and unbelievers, as he was “going out” to imitate Christ (1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Corinthians 11:1). Paul would have been “going out” preaching about Christ, “warning every man and teaching every man,” trying to “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28-29).
It is our appeal that all disciples of Christ would see their need to be active members of a local church. The local church here is always ready to help you in your desire to join us and be with us, “coming in and going out.” We can find places for you to use your talents and qualifications in the service of the Lord, and in serving the needs of the saints here. This local church is always needing, and looking for, people who are asking: “What can I do to help the cause of Christ . . . how can I serve the needs of the church?” This local church, and all local churches, need and are looking for disciples like those of the “household of Stephanas;” Paul describes them, saying: “they have devoted (lit.–“addicted”) themselves to the ministry of the saints” (1 Corinthians 16:15-16). We are looking for people with good and honest hearts who want to hear God’s word, “accept it, and bear fruit; some thirty-fold, some sixty, and some a hundred” (Mark 4:20; Luke 8:15)). Unfortunately, it is not unusual for those who see little importance in being a member of a local church, “when they have heard (God’s word), go out and are choked with cares, riches and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14). We are looking for people who want to do their part to promote the growth of this local body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16).