When I think about the topic of church membership, I assume that many people have had an experience similar to mine.
When I was about 12 or 13 years old, I attended a church service where the Holy Spirit clearly showed me that I needed salvation from my sins. I went forward, along with some other young people, seeking prayer. However, at that time, no one pointed us to salvation as they tried to help us pray. Instead, we were kindly received into their fellowship as members. Through a process, common in that particular denomination, we became members of their community.
Although I had become a member of the church at that time, I soon realized that no change had occurred in my life, and I still lived in my sins. How disheartening and discouraging that was to me. Since I had acted according to the best of my knowledge and the teachings of my spiritual advisors, I finally consoled myself with the thought that I should not expect more. This state of mind lasted for several years, and it alienated me more and more from religion. The desire, however, for a satisfying spiritual experience was still alive in me. I longed for peace in my soul.
At the age of 19, I became seriously ill. After long, unsuccessful efforts of many doctors, I was at death’s door. Unless you’ve been in a similar situation, it is difficult to grasp what I felt as I faced death. I had no certainty whether or not I was right with God.
One night, I awoke and felt God speaking to me as He had seven years earlier. I knew it was God’s Spirit convicting me of my sins. I got up, knelt down in front of my bed, and prayed. No one else was there to instruct me, but the Spirit of God guided me and helped me to obtain salvation. I had been suffering deeply because of my sins. I had a strong desire for forgiveness as I promised never to sin again. Once I had reached this point in my commitment, I was finally able to grasp that God truly had saved me.
After this experience, I began to read the Bible. I read how Jesus healed the sick and of the power that Jesus gave to His disciples to heal. My faith was greatly encouraged by what I read. Through personal and corporate prayer and faith, God, in His grace, also healed my body.
After that, I began to search the New Testament for statements regarding the church. The first thing I came across was Christ’s statement to Peter in Matthew 16:18: “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” It occurred to me that if Jesus put such great emphasis on His words about the church, they must have a greater meaning than I had previously assumed. It struck me that Jesus spoke of the church as something to come: “I will build.” Therefore, I was greatly interested to know if this announcement ever found its fulfillment, that is, if “His church” ever became a reality.
I discovered that the word “church” is not mentioned often in the Gospels, but I had not gotten far in the book of Acts when I discovered the account of the New Testament church. I found that the church announced by Jesus had not only become a reality but had also experienced its great day of manifestation by the addition of 3000 souls at Pentecost. By listening to Peter’s preaching, the crowds were convicted and asked for salvation. They repented joyfully and in this way became members of the church (see Acts 2).
Let us remember that this occurred only ten days after Christ’s ascension! What Jesus had told them with such conviction came to pass. Although He was no longer with His disciples in visible form, He certainly had a great part in that event. In fact, He was preeminent in the building of His church. Peter did indeed preach the sermon on that memorable day, but the fact that it was Jesus Himself who installed the members into the church remains an irrefutable truth. Acts 2:47 literally says, “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
As I read this, new light dawned on me, and I realized that something fundamental was stated about church connection and church membership. If the Lord accepted people into the church through redemption back then, why would He have a different method today? I was redeemed, I knew that. Based on this and other scriptures, I believed that the Lord had also accepted me into His church at my conversion.
To this day, I have not joined any denomination. God called me into His service at that time, and I pastored several local churches. During that time, I witnessed many conversions but have never attempted to open the “church door” and accept members. The preacher’s job is to preach the gospel in such a way that people are converted and reconciled to God. The Lord’s job is then to add them to His church. “And He is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18).
Adding people to the early church was God’s business. “But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased” (1 Corinthians 12:18). The standard of the first church was that of the New Testament, which the Lord desires to be the standard for all time. The teaching of His Word on salvation and the church are unchanging.
By being born again, the Holy Spirit places members into the church. Just as by natural birth we become a member of a family, likewise, spiritual birth makes us members of the family of God. “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
Many years before the birth of Jesus, the psalmist David wrote about the glory of the church: “And of Zion it will be said, ‘This one and that one were born in her; and the Most High Himself shall establish her.’ The LORD will record, when He registers the peoples: ‘This one was born there’” (Psalm 87:5-6).
The question arises: Is it possible to lose our membership in the church? We become a member through salvation; however, sin causes one to lose that membership. In Exodus 32:33. we read, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.’” Clearly, we see that it is God who adds members to the church and that it is likewise He who rejects them from the church.