Acts: 2:36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 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. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…47…And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Seems like the order here for church membership is 1. Knowing for certain that God made Jesus Lord and Christ. 2. Asking a believer what your response should be. 3. Repent. 4. Be baptized. 5. Receive the Holy Spirit. 6. Be added to the church after being saved according to the LORD’S recognizing you as being saved.
At a supervisor’s meetings several months ago, my pastor said something very interesting. He said it was his job to pastor sheep, but instead, he’s been feeling like he’s supposed to be a zookeeper. How profound! The Bible often uses shepherding terminology when referring to God’s people. So the pastor is supposed to shepherd the sheep of his pasture. But instead of him tending to docile sheep, pastors lately appear to be shepherding a bunch of wild animals! Must be hard! Especially since we know that pastors are not qualified to keep zoo animals.
But WHY are all these zebras, lions, giraffes, apes, snakes, and etc. found in churches so much nowadays? Sure, the churches of the New Testament contained their share of a wild one, but it was not characteristic of the church to be FULL of them to the point that they outnumbered the sheep!
I hadn’t thought of the reason why until one of my seminary professors talked about the topic. The truth was so common sense, but it was so unlike how I had been raised to believe. So it was shocking to me when I first heard what he had to say about people joining churches. A few of my seminarian classmates disagreed, but what my professor said made so much sense. He said that at his church, they did not extend the “right hand of fellowship” to just any ole’ body.
You mean to tell me that if at a Sunday morning service someone were to walk down the corridor and ask to join the church that you would turn them away? Sounds pretty harsh, wouldn’t you agree? But that harsh response would actually be the most appropriate response. Why on earth would you grant a total stranger total access to all the precious members of your church? Why would you allow a person you know absolutely nothing about to be considered a member who is allowed to join whichever ministry or auxiliary s/he chooses so that they can unleash whatever they please?
Would you employ this method of giving a stranger access to your home? To your job? To your car? To your children? To your husband? Wouldn’t you want to at least know an adequate amount of information about a person before you give them the keys to your apartment or vehicle? Wouldn’t you want to know something about the lady you just hired as your babysitter or the teen you just hired as your dog sitter? Wouldn’t you want to know something about the sexy lady your husband is considering hiring as his secretary? Wouldn’t you want to know something about the roommate you chose from Craigslist? Most certainly!
However, we are much more lax about who we let join our churches. We figure, “I caught them, and I’ll let God skin them!” (Thinking of them as fish.) We figure that regardless of who or what they are, if we get them to come to biweekly services, that God will fix whatever issues they have. Unfortunately, God has not promised us that in His word. He did not say to let any and every one who walks down the aisle and who fills out a membership form with their name, address, email, phone number, etc. and that He will some day make them sheep regardless of whatever kind of snake, wolf, or dog they came in as.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely know that God can change a person’s nature. He changed mine! But what I am saying is that we should take some time to see who we are granting access to in our churches. Be careful not to be letting a lifelong pedophile to join the children’s ministry. Be careful not to let an undelivered homosexual, adulterer, whoremonger sign-up to do independent counseling for people struggling with the same issues. Be mindful not to let a liar and a thief work in the finance department. I don’t care how full of tears their eyes are when they come to join the church, GIVE THEM TIME TO SHOW WHO THEY REALLY ARE! Because after the tears dry, their true nature will come out and wreak havoc in your church.
Remember the order of being BIBLICALLY saved according to this passage in Acts 2. It didn’t say 1. Here a vague, incomplete mention of Jesus. 2. Agree that as your grandmother said, you ought to be going to church regularly. 3. Go the altar to publically acknowledge you are joining the church for whatever reason. 4. Fill out the church’s paperwork. Now if you already KNOW the person who is coming up to join, that’s fine because they know what your church is about and what your church is against, so they will have no surprises and neither will you. But if you let a stranger join, they will have joined prematurely only to regret it because they know nothing of your church’s practices or doctrines. And they on week three of being a member, they are upset because they don’t believe women should have to wear dresses or that men can’t marry other men or that they have to give 10% of their paycheck to your church. Let them go to your church’s orientation first so that they can make sure that this is the fellowship they want to join.
I notice in the Acts 2 order that God did not add any to their group any who were not saved. Any who did not show evidence of belief. But even this detailed account does not give enough information about the significance of what occurred the day of Pentecost. There were many Jews who traveled back to Jerusalem for the holy day/holiday known as Pentecost. They had come from many different nations. And when they arrived, they encountered this Christian sect of about 120 members. And they overheard Galileans speaking in their 17 different languages. They were amazed. So they were all ears when their “main guy” began to preach about Jesus Christ. And they were so impressed that 3,000 believed that the same Jesus that the Jews had crucified was in fact the Messiah about whom the Old Testament had prophesied. So they asked what should they do in appropriate response. Let’s revisit the passage to see if he gave them a brief, incomplete gospel message or an adequate amount of information to prove to them that Jesus was indeed the Christ:
Here are a few observations I gleaned from these passages about church membership/qualifications: 1. It must be based on a true, biblical belief in Jesus Christ. If your view of Jesus or gospel of Jesus is not biblically sound, then it cannot save anybody, let alone put them into God’s true church. 2. This biblical gospel will lead to conviction in one’s heart. It cannot just be head knowledge; it must be acknowledged in one’s heart of hearts which only the Holy Spirit can do because only He can convict. 3. This heart conviction will inevitably lead to an immediate response of asking what one should do which the answer is repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit because the Lord has indeed called them to Himself. 4. Once that happens, one should – as Peter did – “with MANY other words bore witness and CONTINUED to exhort them”. This says to me that we should not give some perfunctory introduction to Jesus and expect people to truly understand what they should know because they commit the rest of their lives and indeed their eternities to Him. 5. Once and only after the words of the gospel are received should the listener be baptized because baptism represents a public acknowledgment of a personal belief and transaction with God. Because first a personal transaction has occurred (conversion of one’s soul), then a person can be considered as being a member of Christ’s body, the church. AFTERWARDS, these persons should be devoting themselves to the apostles’ teachings and fellowship with the other true believers. And as verse 47 says, people were only being added to their number as they were saved (and might I add BIBLICALLY saved).
Enough is enough! We ought to stop granting people membership in our churches just to get them on the roster so that we can brag to other churches about how many hundreds of members we have. So what if you have the fewest members of your friends’ churches? I’d rather have 200 sheep than 1,000 wolves in sheep’s clothing raising hell in God’s church. Be content with your faithful few. And why do you want so many members anyway? Do you just want them for bragging rights? Do you want to be considered a mega-church pastor? Do you want their tithes and offerings? Many churches will only ask for a person’s tithes after they have been added to the church membership roll. So is that why you want them? Certainly one can pay a mortgage off faster with 1,000 tithers than 200 tithers. But will it be worth it? All the heartache, all the low retention rate, all the scandal? Do you want to be known as the church full of fools wherein “ain’t nobody saved in that church” or the church where “all the members sleep around”? So when you attend these church growth seminars, just know that it’s not God adding to His church, rather it is you adding to YOUR church. It’s not God adding saved sheep, but rather it’s YOU adding a bunch of “zoo animals”.
I don’t see a problem with these wanna-be/future members visiting however often they please, but just let them visit until they get saved for real. THEN add to them to your church.