Holy Things: Church Membership
Acts 2:14-47 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them: “Fellow Jews and all you residents of Jerusalem, let me explain this to you and pay attention to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it’s only nine in the morning. On the contrary, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
And it will be in the last days, says God,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all people;
then your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
I will even pour out my Spirit
on my servants in those days, both men and women
and they will prophesy.
I will display wonders in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below:
blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes.
Then everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.
“Fellow Israelites, listen to these words: This Jesus of Nazareth was a man attested to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did among you through him, just as you yourselves know. Though he was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail him to a cross and kill him. God raised him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by death. For David says of him:
I saw the Lord ever before me;
because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad
and my tongue rejoices.
Moreover, my flesh will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me in Hades
or allow your holy one to see decay.
You have revealed the paths of life to me;
you will fill me with gladness
in your presence.
“Brothers and sisters, I can confidently speak to you about the patriarch David: He is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn an oath to him to seat one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke concerning the resurrection of the Messiah: He was not abandoned in Hades, and his flesh did not experience decay.
“God has raised this Jesus; we are all witnesses of this. Therefore, since he has been exalted to the right hand of God and has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, he has poured out what you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into the heavens, but he himself says:
The Lord declared to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies your footstool.’
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
When they heard this, they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what should we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!” So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added to them.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.
Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts,praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
We’re continuing our series today call Holy Things with the topic of Church Membership.
I remember vividly the first church I placed membership at as an adult. I was probably like 22 and they were having a class during Sunday School hour to talk about membership. There were about 10 or so people there and the pastor walked through the churches reasoning for membership. I remember this vividly—I told him afterward, “I figured church membership was about money, so I was ready to sign up.” I didn’t really have a clue what it was really about.
Jami and I placed membership with that church but others in that same class did not. In fact, I have known several people over the years who refused to place membership in a church because they believed it was unbiblical and others who have left churches because they were hindered from serving because of their refusal to place membership. I don’t want to take that lightly, because church membership can be a conscience issue for many people.
It is true that in the scriptures there is no clear command or process laid out for church membership. There is no, ‘Thus saith the Lord’ for membership. But, it’s actually difficult to escape the reality that the early church was practicing church membership. Again, they may not have had a formal process, but it is clear in the New Testament that the early church had a criteria for knowing who was in and who was out. That is, they knew who was a member of the church and who was not.
I think the clearest demonstration of Church Membership shows up in the earliest stages of the church in Acts 2. In our scripture reading you heard the Apostle Peter’s message to the Jews at the feast of Pentecost. He exhorted the people to believe that Jesus was their Messiah, the savior of Israel. And the Jews were responsible for Jesus’s death.
Convinced by Peter that they had killed their own Messiah…
- Acts 2:37–38 (CSB) — …they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…
The disciple of Jesus named Luke, who wrote the book of Acts went on to record,
- Acts 2:41 (CSB) — So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added to them.
- Acts 2:47 (CSB) — …Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
This is very specific language. People were becoming members of the church. And Peter gave them a process for becoming members which was baptism and repentance, when he said, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins”. When they were baptized and repented, then they were added to the number of believers, which sounds an awful lot like they became members of the church. In some fashion, whether there was a list of names or whatever, they knew who was in and who was out. Notice also, the analogy that the Apostle Paul used for the church.
- Romans 12:4-5 (CSB) — Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another.
Paul says that we are all members of one greater unit, that we call the church or figuratively, the body of Christ. Not one of us can be the body of Christ on our own, but like a body needs many members—arms, legs, a head with a brain, a heart, and so on—we are only the church if we are the church together.
For Paul, member means a lot more than identification, like a rewards card at a grocery store or something. A member is an intricate participant in a group.
Paul’s point is that each of us who are members of the church have a function and we all need to carry out that function in order for the church to do what God is calling us to do. So, it follows that, we need to know who our members are so that we know what it is that God is calling us to.
So, what I would like to do today is not just convince you that membership is biblical. What I want to do is synthesize some of the teachings of the New Testament regarding church membership and present to you a standard for membership in the church.
So, with that said, here are the biblical…
…for church membership.
In other words, What do I need to do before becoming a member?
I have three prerequisites for membership: Lordship, baptism, and doctrine.
…means that you choose to serve and obey the Lord Jesus Christ. Listen, You can believe in Jesus without being obedient to Him as Lord. Simple belief is not enough to be a member of the church. Members of Christ’s Church are convicted of their sins and have forsaken their own desires to carry out the desires of Christ. It’s a life that demonstrates the reality of Christ not just a profession of belief.
You can see lordship reflected in Peter’s response to the Jews,
- Acts 2:37 (CSB) — Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
To is to turn around, specifically, to turn away from sin and turn to Christ. Repentance is the heart conviction that God’s ways are better than your ways. Repentance means that you believe following Jesus is more fulfilling, more satisfying, and more joyous than anything you could accomplish on your own. Repentance means that I am no longer my own lord or master, but Jesus is Lord.
That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote,
- Romans 10:9 (CSB) — If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
The question is, Do you claim Jesus as Lord?
And that leads us to our second prerequisite, because, if you follow Jesus as Lord, then that should be reflected in…
Two weeks ago we talked about baptism, so I won’t rehash that all today. You can hear it on the website if you missed it. But, we believe the biblical model of baptism is baptism by full immersion in water after the person comes to faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a physical demonstration of lordship, dying to self and living for Christ.
Now, many churches require that you be baptized in their church or at least in a church that follows their tradition. We do not. We just require baptism by immersion and baptism according to your declaration that Jesus is Lord. Again we see this practice in Acts 2. Peter preached about Jesus. The people believed. Then they were baptized, repented, and they became members of the church.
So, Lordship and Baptism.
And a final prerequisite of church membership is…
Doctrine means teaching. So, sound doctrine just means that you believe right teaching. The entire point of Peter’s message in Acts 2, was to demonstrate that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, or Christ, and that he is Lord. The Jews had a belief or doctrine issue when it came to Jesus.
So, after explaining the significance of Jesus’s death and ressurrection, Peter said,
- Acts 2:36 (CSB) — “Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
Notice, Peter is not concerned about every nuance of doctrine. But, he wants to make sure that they believe the right things, specifically, that Jesus is Lord and Messiah.
Our church uses a lengthy doctrinal statement that you can read that on our website. It’s kind of necessary for us to have that because there are so many different church traditions that we want to be clear about what it is that we believe and teach.
It’s not necessary that you be able to communicate every doctrine on that list, but there are probably 15 or so doctrines that you should have convictions on that would be necessary for membership. A couple quick ones. \
- You should believe in…
• …the divine inspiration of the Bible. — That’s where we get all of our doctrine from.
• …all humans have sinned and deserve to be punished by God, including yourself.
• …Jesus died so that you can escape that punishment through faith in him.
• …good works cannot save you from God’s punishment; likewise sinful works cannot take you out of God’s favor.
• …the doctrine of the trinity, that God is one God, but reveals Himself to us in three ways as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Those are probably the biggest issues, but there are a few others that are necessary to protect the doctrinal purity of the church as well.
So, lordship, baptism, and doctrine. These are the prerequisites.
Once you become a member, however, there are some…
The Bible has expectations, because again, member means participant, not just identity.
The first expectation is
In some ways, I mean personal discipline. Certainly, your personal obedience to God—your effort to pray, read the Bible, worship at church on a regular basis, giving to God’s work—those are all personal disciplines that you should be concerned about as a member.
But, there is a second facet of discipline that occurs when you don’t exercise personal discipline and the rest of the members have to then enact discipline for you. Jesus said this,
- Matthew 18:15–17 (CSB) — “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you.
Jesus laid out this process for when there are conflicts among brothers and sisters. And he means spiritual brothers and sisters, which we call the Church. The idea is that the church should step in to resolve conflict when the conflict is unable to be resolved as individuals. That is, the church comes together to help, when you fall short on your own.
The wisdom of this process is often applied to other situations. For example, when someone is not attending church regularly, this process can be applied. When someone is involved in sin it can be applied. The idea is that in any area that we are called to have personal discipline, the church body is there to support you and keep you accountable.
So, there is an expectation that our members will be disciplined personally, but also respond well to the discipline of the church if that becomes necessary. And again, this isn’t discipline like punishment. It’s more like a gym partner that encourages you and pushes you and keeps you accountable to your plan so that you can do better. That’s what we as the church should do for each other.
Side-note: If you want to know how that process works in greater detail, I spoke on this in a message titled Church Restoration on September 10th of last year. You can find that message on the website, SonrisePalmdale.com.
So, we expect members to be disciplined. And then the second expectation is…
Trust for your leaders
I love people who challenge me and who challenge the status quo. That keeps me sharp as a leader. If you think I need to grow in some way, let’s get coffee and talk about it. If you think the church needs to go in a different direction, let’s get together and talk.
But, there is a mountain of difference between someone who challenges me or the other leaders of the church and someone who defies leaders or works behind someone’s back. That’s not iron sharpening iron. That’s conflict.
The author of Hebrews wrote,
- Hebrews 13:17 (CSB) — Obey [trust] your leaders and submit to them, since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
I want to talk a bit about this word obey. This is a difficult word in the Greek language. It doesn’t mean blind obedience like in a king and servant relationship. In king-servant relationship, a servant has no right to question the king when he gives an order. He simply must obey. That’s not how you are called to operate with your leaders.
This word for obey means something like, ‘allow yourself to be persuaded.’ The author of Hebrews is calling you to humility. He’s saying, “Look, I’m sure there is good reason that you think the way you do, but trust your leaders.” “Don’t fight them.” “Yield to them.” “Don’t be arrogant and stuck in your old ways of thinking, but be humble and allow yourself to be persuaded.”
And I just love the reason he gives. He doesn’t say to trust your leaders because they’re smarter. He doesn’t say to trust your leaders because they are more gifted. He doesn’t say to trust your leaders because God appointed them as leaders—which is true and the Bible teaches that in many places. He doesn’t even say to trust your leaders because they are probably right.
He actually says that your leaders are trying to do what is best for you. They are keeping watch over your souls. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to trust them even if it’s different than what you always have done, even if it doesn’t make sense to you, even if you are more comfortable doing something another way. It is best for you to trust your leaders and so there is an expectation that church members will do so.
So, be disciplined and trust your leaders.
And finally, there is an expectation of
Commitment to the church body
Returning to the body analogy, the Apostle Paul wrote,
- Ephesians 4:11–12 (CSB) — And he [Jesus] himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, [leaders] equipping the saints [members] for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ.
In other words, Jesus gave leaders to the church so that the members would be equipped to carry out the ministry. Notice, the building up of the body is the job of the members.
Is someone among you suffering loss? Let the members come together to care for them.
Is someone among you in need? Let the members come together to provide for the need.
Is someone among you living in sin? Let the members call them to repentance.
The responsibility to build up of the church body has often been given to the pastors, the leaders of the church. But, it’s the leaders job to equip the members, not to do the work for them.
This is true brotherly love that we are called to. In our families we take care of each other. But, how much more should we love our spiritual brothers and sisters and care for them?
There is an expectation of personal discipline, trust for leaders, and commitment to the church body for church members. And finally, there are three…
…for church members to carry out.
Once you have become a member of the church, there are three primary ways that you express your membership. Look at it this way. These are things that express that Sonrise isn’t just the church you attend, but it’s your church. The three things are worship, giving, and service.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote,
- Hebrews 10:24–25 (CSB) — And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.
At a bare minimum this passage is referring to regular worship attendance. The most significant thing we do as a church is gather together to worship Christ.
But, this goes further. Too many of us never make time to be with the church outside Sunday morning. But we ought to. We should make it a point to invite each other to our homes, get together for coffee, go to the park together with our kids and stuff like that. When we gather with other Christians to do and speak of Christian things, that is worship as well.
How are we supposed to encourage each other if we never see each other. So, be committed to Sunday morning, but be committed to meet with others during the week as well.
A second requirement of members is regular giving. We see this all throughout the Bible, that God’s work is funded by God’s people. It’s often taught that it’s a requirement to tithe or give ten percent of your income to the Lord’s work. I personally do that and I think it’s a good practice, but it is not exactly a teaching of the New Testament. It’s an Old Testament practice. New testament teaching on giving focuses on generosity, consistency, and giving joyfully.
So, if you can do 10% or more and just haven’t done that, I’d encourage you to start there.
But, I also realize that there are circumstances that make it hard to make that kind of commitment. So, if that’s where you are at, I think there are two ways to give that can be helpful.
The first is to commit to a flat amount every month. Maybe you can’t commit to a lot right now. That’s OK. It’s a good start and it gets you in the habit of giving. Prayerfully choose an amount and commit it to the Lord. And then be faithful to give that amount every week or every month, whatever it is that you commit to and do so joyfully, knowing that you are supporting the Lord’s work.
Another way, and a way that I think is better, is to commit to a percentage. I like this because it allows the amount to fluctuate with your income. And again, if you can do 10% or more, I think that’s great. But if that’s just not where you are at, then start at 5%, or 2%, or even 1%, and then pray that God would increase your ability to give to His work. Start small, but faithfully pray that God would increase your ability to give.
The prophet Malachi wrote down the words of God,
- Malachi 3:10 (CSB) — “Bring the full tenth into the storehouse so that there may be food in my house. Test me in this way,” says the Lord of Armies. “See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure.”
God says to test him and see if he is faithful. This isn’t a promise that if you give, God will make you rich. Some people have taken advantage of people by claiming this scripture as a promise.
But, notice the principle of the text. When you give your life, your time, your possessions, your wealth in order to do God’s work, that always returns as blessing. It might come as financial blessing. It might come as a blessing of joy and satisfaction in serving the Lord. It might come as eternal blessing. But, this is a promise that in God’s time, blessing will come because of your faithfulness. I’d encourage you as Malachi does, ‘Test God and see if this is not true.’ God will bless the joyful and generous giver.
Jami and I can testify that this is true. In times when finances were too tight to give, we always have given anyway. We give before we even look at the rest of the bills. And God always meets every one of our needs and we have always had the satisfaction of knowing that the Lord is working through our generosity.
I just can’t emphasize this enough. If I read Malachi correctly and I believe I do, you are giving up blessing if you are not giving to the work of the church.
So, there is an expectation that our members will worship together, that they will give to the Lord’s work, and also that you will serve in and out of the church.
Remember, the Apostle Paul wrote,
- Romans 12:4–8 (CSB) — Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: If prophecy, use it according to the proportion of one’s faith; if service, use it in service; if teaching, in teaching; if exhorting, in exhortation; giving, with generosity; leading, with diligence; showing mercy, with cheerfulness.
Paul says that we all have different functions in the church. If you are gifted in declaring God’s Word, then do so in proportion to your faith, that is to say, preach the Word in proportion to your conviction.
If you are a gifted servant, then serve people. If you are a teacher, then teach people. If you are gifted in exhortation—which is the same Greek word as encouragement—then exhort and encourage people. If you are a giver, then give generously. If you are a leader, then lead diligently without getting discouraged, but remaining focused on the goal. And if you are gifted in mercy, then enact mercy with a cheerful heart.
It’s often thought that everything is already being done in a church and so there is nowhere to serve. I show up on Sunday and everything is already done; I guess there’s nothing for me to do. But, that’s backwards of what Paul teaches here. Everything is not being done until every member is serving in the capacity God has called them to serve.
What your leaders do is watch to see who has gifting and then recruit people to serve in various ministries. As the Lead Pastor, I’m always watching for people with leadership gifting to train up into future leaders in the church—to direct ministries, and lead events, and such. And then all of our leaders are watching for people to serve in their respective ministries, whether that’s Talena who is currently recruiting kids ministry workers, or Trey who is currently recruiting volunteers for Sunday Morning teams, or Josue who is always watching for musicians and tech savvy folks, or Theresa who is right now recruiting volunteers for Vacation Bible School this summer.
We are actually very short on volunteers for VBS, but literally, all of our ministries need someone to serve on a regular basis. And if you aren’t serving in one of those ministries, that is probably what God is calling you to do.
Every member has been called to worship together and to give. And every member has been called to serve and so I think this is a good time for you to get out your…
…card. You may already have a good idea what step God is calling you to take this week. Maybe it’s to start serving. Or, you may know in your heart that your habits of getting to church on Sunday are lacking. Or maybe you know the Holy Spirit is challenging you to give or to give more or more consistently. Or maybe repentance is necessary because you fall short on expectations of personal discipline or trust for your leaders. Whatever your next step is, write that on your card and turn it in with our collection in a few minutes.
I do want to emphasize VBS. Vacation Bible School is a great opportunity for you to begin serving. If you can make the time for one week, we need some more workers. You don’t need experience, just a willingness to jump in and help out. Please put VBS on your Next Step card if you can jump in to serve there or if you just need more info before making a commitment.
Write down the next step that is on your heart this morning.
And, I’d like to say a final word as I wrap up. If you meet the requirements for membership and you consider Sonrise to be your church home, then you should officially place membership. In the early church there was an expectation that every Christian was a member. That shouldn’t be different now.
You can let us know you are interested by marking the church membership box on your next step card and I’ll be in contact with you. We are also having a new comers BBQ at our house next week right after church and we would love you to attend even if you aren’t a newcomer. Just come out so we can talk about membership some more with you.
Again, membership is how we know that someone is part of the body. And so, there’s a disconnect, if you meet the requirements—you’ve been baptized, you agree with the doctrine, and you profess Christ as Lord—but you aren’t an official member. You need to take that next step.
But, think about this also. There is also a disconnect if you do not meet the requirements for church membership, but you call yourself a Christian. That probably means that you aren’t aligned with God’s purposes. If you don’t profess Christ as Lord, then scripture is clear that you are still in your sins and you are still under the condemnation of God. If Jesus Christ is not your Lord, then you are an enemy of God, a citizen of the kingdom of the world and not the Kingdom of Heaven. And that’s not a good place to be.
If that’s where you are at and you want to know more about making a proper commitment to Christ as Lord, there’s a box on your card that says Commit to Christ. Mark that box and we will get in touch with you.
Or maybe you haven’t been baptized yet. Again, I’d refer you to the message on baptism from two weeks ago. A follower of Jesus get’s baptized to publicly identify with Jesus and His people, the church. You can mark the box for baptism and we would love to talk to you more about that and get you in the water.
And maybe the issue is doctrine. Either, you don’t know the doctrine of the church. Or maybe you just don’t agree with it. In that case, I would love to pair you up with a member of the church who has a clear grasp on doctrine so that you can study together and prayerfully come to an understanding of the truth. You could write in as your Next Step, Doctrine, and we can make that happen.
So, there really is a Next Step for each of you this week and I encourage you to take that step. Let me pray for you as you commit to a next step this week.
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Service Times and Location
Sunday Service: 10am
Address: 2751 E Ave R, Palmdale, CA 93550 (Click for Directions)
Phone: (661) 878-8316