The Importance of Membership in the Church
It is a sad truth that we are living in a time when many people are disgruntled with what they refer to as “organized religion.” Thus, while they aspire to be “spiritual” (by their own definition), they refuse to investigate any church, much less the church of our Lord. It is amazing the number of people who claim to read, believe and obey the Bible, but are unclear on what God teaches in His word about this important topic. Must one be a member of the church of Christ to go to heaven? Can one be a Christian and not be a faithful member of the church about which we read in the New Testament?
First, let me underscore the fact that we are living in a generation that seeks to move away from the church. As I get older, I see more and more people try to diminish the role of the church in the life of a Christian. Nevertheless, Christ came to establish this very institution: “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). Thus, to diminish this institution is to diminish an aspect of the work of our Savior. How did He build His church? Listen to the apostle Paul: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). In other words, Jesus came to shed His blood in order to purchase this institution. For a follower of Jesus, this sounds very important to me! I cannot diminish the role of the church of my Lord as being unimportant if its establishment cost Him His own life on Calvary!
Second, we must understand the role and purpose of the church. Contrary to a belief that is becoming more and more popular, the role of this valuable institution is not “to collect money and acquire power” (as some allege), although this happens today in pseudo-organizations that pretend to be the church of our Lord. The word “church” in the Greek refers to a group of people whom God calls out of the world and into the body of Christ. In fact, we must remember the important phrase in the New Testament—“in Christ.” The Greek preposition translated “in” refers to Christ as a location. Thus, for one to be in the location of Christ, he is in the body of Christ, or in other words, one is in the church (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18). The New Testament teaches that there is no difference. Thus, let us ask this all-important question: “Can one go to heaven who is not ‘in Christ?’” The authoritative word of God answers this question in the negative—Christ is the Savior of His body (Eph. 5:23).
In conclusion, it is unfortunate that there is so much confusion concerning the church of Christ. While I have never stated, “If you are not a member of the church of Christ, you are going to hell,” I have said, “You must be a member of the church of Christ if you are going to heaven!” I can assure everyone that the church of Christ owes her existence to the Lord and His apostles from the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. Let us be sure that we teach the truth, but do so with tactfulness and love in our hearts and on our lips.