T PIERCE BROWN
As far as I recall, I have never read an article dealing with this subject. Possibly one reason for that is that the Bible does not deal with it directly or use that phrase. It is interesting to note that “placing membership” is about in the same category as “join the church” insofar as being a “scriptural expression” is concerned. It may seem strange to some that most of us who think of ourselves as “conservative” have condemned the expression, “join the church” even though it seems clear that Paul did that in Acts 9:26-27. Yet we generally use the expression, “place membership” without any hesitation. One needs to understand that when a person obeys the gospel, he has membership in the Lord’s church, and his name is enrolled in the Lamb’s book of life. He is a member of the church wherever he goes, and if he is not ashamed of that fact, he should let those with whom he meets know about it, and indicate his willingness to work as well as worship with the local church. So, although neither expression is found in the Bible, there are some principles taught that deal with the subject, some of which we think it proper to examine.
There are those who obey the gospel, but seem to want to “float” or move around from one congregation to another. In most such cases that have come to my attention over the past 65 years, there seems to be two basic reasons for such activity (or lack of it). First, those who do that never seem to find anything significant they can do for the cause of Christ. Those who “float” can’t seem to swim against the tide of indifference, so they sink. They want to have no assigned responsibilities or duties for which they are answerable, although in a few cases, they have felt hurt because no one asked them to lead in prayer or have some prominence in some activity. Second, it seemed evident, in most cases, that those in that category want to be free from any oversight or restrictions from any eldership. If they do anything wrong, they want to be in a position of saying, “You can’t withdraw from me or discipline me, for I am not a member of your congregation.”
Hebrews13:17says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them: for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give account; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief: for this were unprofitable for you.” This alone should enable a person with any reasoning capacity to know that every Christian should deliberately choose to be in a position in which some persons watch in behalf of their souls and will give an account for it. Although it does not mention “placing membership” with any local congregation, those who refuse to do so have no way of which we are aware to obey that command.
Paul told the elders atEphesus, “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood.” (Acts20:28). There is no way elders can do that unless they know the persons who are members of the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made them bishops. Peter wrote to the elders in 1 Peter 5:2-3, “Tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not of constraint, but willingly, according to the will of God; nor yet for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves ensamples to the flock.” No one with any understanding of God’s word (or almost any other word) can find any way that the elders can tend the flock and exercise the oversight of the flock without knowing who is in the flock. If a person does not identify with the congregation in some way (usually spoken of as “placing membership” for want of a better term) there is no way the elders can know who is in the “charge allotted” to them. This makes it necessary for any person who wants to do the will of God to do whatever will allow the elders to do their duty.
After Paul was converted, he attempted to associate with the church inJerusalem(Acts9:22), but they refused to accept him as a member until Barnabas vouched for him. This indicates two things. First, it is appropriate and pleasing to God for a person when he comes into a community where there is a congregation of God’s people to desire membership in that group and be recognized and received by them as a faithful Christian. Second, you may need someone to vouch for you in such a situation. This is further indicated by Paul’s statement in 2 Cor. 3:1, where he says, “Are we beginning again to commend ourselves? Or need we, as do some, epistles of commendation to you or from you?” It seems clear that some persons needed a letter of commendation when they went from some place where they were known and wanted to meet with the church in another locality. Of course Paul did not need it in their case, for many of them had been brought to Christ by his preaching.
In 1 Cor. 5, when Paul is instructing them how to put out from among themselves the wicked man who had been living with his father’s wife, one cannot discover how that could be done if the man had never been identified as a member of that congregation. If he had moved there from another locality and just drifted in and out as the notion struck him, he could not have been counted or recognized as a brother in Christ, but would be in the category of those in verses 9 and 10, among those of the world. So, whatever the action might be called, he had either been converted in that congregation or had “placed membership” in it.
When Paul commends Phoebe, who had been a servant of the church at Cenchreae, to the church atRome, it seems apparent that they were to receive her “as befits the saints” (ROM.16:2). That means that the saints in Rome were accustomed to persons moving into their midst who “placed membership” with them, or were received as a Christian to give and receive whatever help was necessary and appropriate for carrying on the work of the Lord.
We could list other passages, which indicate that every Christian should be recognized as an active part of some congregation where they can serve God and their fellowman, and be served appropriately. However, if these do not suffice, it would probably be vain to hope that a dozen others would. We strongly urge every person to identify himself/herself with a faithful group of Christians, and show your willingness to work with and for them for the glory of God and good of humanity.
T. Pierce Brown
1068 Mitchell Ave.