What Does It Mean to Belong?
A Study in the Book of Acts
Monday, May 1, 2006
Review from last month’s study on “joining”: we looked broadly at "cleaving and leaving" (Gen 2:24) and at "clinging" to right things and the wrong things, along with "holding fast." These references were not about "joining the church", but rather God being joined with His people and individuals' participation in that people. An excellent illustration is a husband and wife being joined together.
And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.
Note: “Joining” in the Bible is not an organizational term, even though we use it that way. The Bible does not speak of “joining the church” (at least so far in our study) in a formal way. Rather, it seems to speak of a “mystical” or “organic” union the is created between God and His people, and individuals as “joined” to that people, even as a husband and wife find “oneness” when they become married. It is not organizational; some have said “organic” is a good word.
Definition of a Disciple: (note what is visible, and what is not)
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Repent therefore, and turn again (a changed life?), that your sins may be blotted out,
Acts 11:26 (an interesting combination of terms)
and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
What Kind of Gatherings?
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. (Who else would have even wanted to be there?)
The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. (obviously not just believers)
strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
Note: it seems that there is a very great danger is sharing a message designed for believers with unbelievers, in that it may hide the fact that what is most desperately needed is to be saved in the first place. Encouraging someone to continue in the faith who is not yet even in the faith may be a huge dis-service.
And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
Note: this hits on the aim of our study. Did they know who was part of the church and who was not? Did they tabulate, keep records, develop a system? Does the Bible describe such a system?
So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. (Who did they call? Was their contact list their membership list?)
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.
Note: Were there precautions to be sure that only believers were participating in the Lord’s Supper? I think this would almost amount to “church membership. Are the careful use of the ordinances an appropriate way to oversee the makeup of the congregation: clear testimony that is consistent with Christlike conduct; and regular participation in the Lord’s table? This would be a more “pastoral” type of oversight as opposed to an organizational system or program. Cf. the next reference.
“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
Word Study: “Added”
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (who did the adding? Cf. The next reference.)
praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,
Note: but can we conclude the same thing here, that the congregation or the leaders were not the ones doing the adding? But note that this verb is always passive (were added) as opposed to active (they added) except where it says that “the Lord added” (2:47)
for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.
Word Study: “Number(s)” (Greek word looks like “arithmetic”)
But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. (if they were numbering, weren’t they counting; and if they were counting, isn’t likely that they were writing it down, kind of like a membership list? Or was only God keeping track?)
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. (I guess if you weren’t “of one heart and soul,” you must not have been a believer)
And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
Expectations for Growth:
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
Some thoughts on and quotes from Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, in his chapter on “A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership”
What is the Church? “The church is the body of Christ, the local collection of Christians committed to Christ and to each other?” (p.150)
Why Join a Church? In this section, Dever gives many logical and sensible arguments for being part of a church. But his treatment does not give a Biblical basis for the mechanics of membership. Can you be part of the family with or without the use of an organizational tool?
What Does Church Membership Entail? There is to be both an expression of faith (baptism) and a commitment to “the faith,” that is, an agreement with the doctrine of the church, and further, an agreement to membership responsibilities. These responsibilities are largely Bible-based, but are selective, and codified form. They have become an organizational tool rather than the organic description that we find in the NT.
Note: Dever’s conclusions are based on his study of the whole of Scripture, and then fleshed out practically in organizational terms. I believe that he is godly, wise, and intelligent. He is also a very strong leader, perhaps with a strong bent toward organization. And so I am not saying this is wrong. We are simply involved in an ongoing study of what the Bible clearly presents, and then will strive to adopt a practice the re-presents the Bible’s teaching.