Why Declare Membership at a Local Congregation

This question recently came up in some of my Internet studies with online friends. The question centers on whether or not it is necessary to be identified as a member of a local congregation. The Bible doesn’t have a process whereby one may “join” the church such as are followed in the denominational world. However, the Bible does authorize individual Christians to be members of local congregations (1 Corinthians 12:27). So there must be some way for Christians to be members of local congregations. And there is.

Let me state up front that for someone who is not a Christian, to become a member of the church of Christ, one must be added by the Lord to the church (Acts 2:47). Upon baptism, provided the individual lives within the local community, it is right and proper to assume the individual to be a member of the local congregation. This was the general practice within the New Testament (Acts 2:41, 47; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Our question is more appropriately asked when a person moves from his home congregation to another. Must that individual place membership with a local congregation? Let’s note some reasons why the answer to this question should be “yes.”

First, the individual Christian ought to declare membership in a local congregation to assure the leaders that he is subject to their authority. Hebrews 13:17 states, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” The rulers of the local congregation have a responsibility to watch for the souls of individual Christians. Individual Christians have the responsibility to make their job easier by submitting to their judgment. There should be no doubt as to the status of the individual Christian in relationship to the rulers. However, if someone does not declare membership, this creates doubt and uncertainty in the minds of the rulers as to whether they have the appropriate authority. Why? Because rulers only have authority over members of the local congregation; they do not have authority over those who are not members of the local congregation. If the individual Christian seeks to please God in obeying Hebrews 13:17, he will declare membership in a local congregation.

Second, the individual Christian ought to declare membership in a local congregation to let his fellow Christians know that he is there to work with them. The church is to be involved in doing the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). And each individual contributes to that work as he has ability (1 Peter 4:11). The local congregation is thus expected to do the Lord’s work (2 Corinthians 9:8, Colossians 1:10) and the individual is expected to do his work heartily (Colossians 3:23). Without declaring such membership, other members wonder whether or not one has the intentions of involving oneself in the work of the local church, and thus, in the work of the Lord as well. Declaring one’s membership with a local congregation, let’s that congregation know that one is available and ready to do the work that needs to be done in the local church. Declaring membership exhibits the “heartiness” that the Lord desires us to have regarding his work.

Finally, the individual Christian ought to declare membership in a local congregation to indicate his full fellowship with the local congregation. Fellowship isn’t merely having a meal together or playing games together. Fellowship is participation within the activities of the congregation, regardless what those activities may be (Acts 2:42). We have fellowship when we study God’s word together in our Bible classes, when we worship God in our assembly, when we visit the nursing home together, or when we support a particular work with our finances. The individual Christian should want to have full fellowship with other Christians (1 John 1:7). Without declaring membership at a local congregation, an individual’s intentions aren’t fully known. However, when one declares membership one indicates full fellowship with the local congregation.

The individual Christian certainly has the God given right to faithfully congregate with a particular congregation of his choice (Acts 9:26). However, it is also God’s desire for a Christian to be a member of the local church (1 Corinthians 12:18). Combining those two facts together with the above reasons we can conclude that it is biblical and necessary for the individual Christian to declare membership at a local, faithful, congregation of his choice.

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What is Sin?

Author’s note: I received a question on the web site not too long ago from an individual asking why we didn’t have more information on the subject of sin on our web site. I was a little at a loss as to the question because not a single article or outline is posted that doesn’t have something to do with the avoidance of sin in our lives, but then I realized that the individual probably had reference to the generic subject of sin. There are, I believe, a few things dealing with that subject, but I thought that another article wouldn’t hurt.

In 1 John 3:4, John writes, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law”KJV. The American Standard Version reads, “Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” So is sin “the transgression of the law” or is sin “lawlessness”? The answer is that it is both. Imagine if you would a circle. Name this circle, “the law.” Consider one who abides within the circle as one who is remaining within the law. Consider also that the person who steps outside the circle has transgressed the boundary of the law and is now outside the borders of law. Sin is both the transgression of that which is lawful and the exit from law into lawlessness.

In 2 John 9, the apostle writes, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son”KJV. Again, the ASV reads as follows: “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son.” Here is another passage which is parallel with 1 John 3:4. Consider the same circle as in the above paragraph. Instead of writing “law” in the circle, write “doctrine of Christ.” When we step outside the circle, we transgress the doctrine and we go onward outside of Christ’s teaching.

Consider also James 4:17 “To him therefore that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Here we have what many refer to as the sin of “omission” because the sin is committed by not doing something good as opposed to doing something that is right. But if you will once again considered our circle and inside the circle write, “doing that which is good,” you will notice that if you step outside the circle, once again, you have transgressed, gone beyond, and gotten into territory where “good” is not defined, lawlessness. This is yet another passage that sets forth the idea that sin is defined as not doing what God wants us to do.

Finally, consider Colossians 3:17: “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” Here is a passage that is just the opposite of James 4:17. Draw the circle again. Write inside the circle, “that which is in the name of the Lord,” in other words, that which the Lord wants us to do, authorizes us to do. When we step outside of that circle, once again, we transgress, go beyond, and enter into lawlessness.

Our conclusions regarding what sin is must be as follows: sin is going outside of the law of God, the doctrine of Christ, that which is good, and that which is authorized by Christ in our behavior, whether words or deeds. When I go beyond Christ’s authority regardless of what the matter is, I have sinned. Sometimes the Bible tells us where the line is and what not to go beyond. Sometimes the Bible simply says, “this is right behavior” and expects us not to behave in a different way. Regardless of whether the Bible says to avoid certain behavior or behave in a particular way, to go beyond what the Bible says is right is wrong.

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Musings of a Jaw Breaker

Some of you may know that I have a jaw-breaker the size of a billiard ball in my office. The reason for my having this jaw-breaker is another story, but I was looking at it today and thought that it might make for some interesting reading. A jaw-breaker, as we all know, is a piece of candy that is virtually impossible to break with your teeth. So in order to consume it, you must put it into your mouth and let it slowly dissolve away. But, a billiard ball size jaw-breaker is impossible to put into your mouth. If you can’t get it into your mouth, then how can you dissolve it? Seems like a rather difficult dilemma, doesn’t it.

When I bought this particular jaw-breaker, I asked the sales lady, “How do you eat this thing.” She told me there were only two ways that she knew to do that. You could either lick it until it dissolved enough to put into your mouth (I can’t imagine how long that would take) or you could break it with a hammer. Being a man, the second solution appealed greatly to me. However, I have not, as of yet, applied this solution, as I have ulterior motives for the purpose of the jaw-breaker, such as writing this article.

But suppose I were to take a hammer and smash the jaw-breaker; what do you suppose would happen? I would no longer have a jaw-breaker, per se, but a thousand tiny pieces of sugary candy. At that point, no doubt, it would be fit for consumption, but it certainly wouldn’t provide the lasting enjoyment that a jaw-breaker is supposed to provide. Its purpose would basically, be destroyed. Such is, however, what happens when force is brought to bear upon that which is obstinate.

Such reminds me of the Old Testament prophets and the message that they often had to get across to others. They dealt with a people that were very similar to a jaw-breaker. Regardless the amount of scriptural force that was brought to bear upon them, they would not budge. They were obstinate. Isaiah also wrote regarding their condition: “Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass” (Isaiah 48:4). Jeremiah wrote regarding these people: “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring upon this city and upon all her towns all the evil that I have pronounced against it, because they have hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words” (Jeremiah 19:15). In order to break them, God had to bring an irresistible force upon those people; the result was that they crumbled underneath it.

My jaw-breaker also reminds me of the character Haman in the book of Esther. You remember that Haman was promoted to be the number one man next to king Ahasuerus after the king’s other counselors plotted against him. However, when Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman, he decided that Mordecai had to go. Ahasuerus, on the other hand, sought to honor Mordecai. Haman thought Ahasuerus wanted to honor him. He ended up being humiliated in leading Mordecai around the city on a horse. Ultimately he was hung on his own gallows for his plot to kill God’s people. Just as my billiard size jaw-breaker is too big for its own good, so also was Haman. Romans 12:3 says, “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”

Finally, my jaw-breaker reminds me of the task that God has set before each one of us. This jaw-breaker could be consumed by licking it over and over again. But it would take some time to consume a billiard-sized jaw-breaker simply by licking it. How could we accomplish such a task? One lick at a time. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” James 5:11 reads, “Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” If one really wanted to consume this jaw-breaker, it could be done. We have sometimes a seemingly impossible task before us, but it can be done, if we really want to do it. We take it one day at a time (Matthew 6:34).

Who would have thought that a billiard-size jaw-breaker could teach us so much? Let us not be so hard that God has to break us into a thousand pieces in order for us to be useful. Let’s not be so big that we cannot accomplish the purposes for which God made us. Let’s do be patient enough to be able to “lick” those seemingly impossible tasks that are before us. God has given us the tools that we need in order to serve Him appropriately. Let’s do what we can each and every day to keep our spirits pure, humble, and patient as we long for the Lord’s return one day.

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