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Importance of Active Involvement in a Local Church

Involvement in a local churchDoes the Bible teach Christians to be identified with a specific local church? When they move, should we seek to be recognized as part of a church in their new location? 

Should we attend the meetings of a congregation, participate in its work, submit to its leadership, and participate in its discipline? Should a local church check to be sure people are faithful Christians before receiving them as members?

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Many principles teach the importance of the church in general.

People often fail to appreciate the importance of the church. But consider:

The church was purposed by God from eternity - Ephesians 3:10,11.
The church was built by Jesus - Matthew 16:18.
The church was purchased by Jesus' blood - Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:23,25.
The church is the household/family over which God is the Father - Ephesians 2:16,19; 1 Timothy 3:15.
The church is the body over which Christ is head - Ephesians 1:22,23. [Colossians 1:18,24]
The church is the kingdom over which Christ rules - Matthew 16:18,19; Colossians 1:13.
All saved people are added by Jesus to the church - Acts 2:47; Colossians 1:13,14. It follows that church membership is essential to salvation.

But note that the church is important because of its relationship to God. The church was purposed by God, built by Jesus, and purchased by the blood of Jesus. It is the family of God, the body and kingdom of Christ. Christ adds people to it.

We do not claim that the church is important because of our choice or who the members are. The church is important because God determined to make it important and because of the ties the church has to God. It follows that failure to appreciate the church is not simply a rejection of the people in the church; it is a rejection of God and His will.

The purpose of this study is to emphasize the need for every Christian to form a bond with a specific local church and become actively involved in its work.

Christians sometimes fail to see the need to be active in a specific local church.

Many passages refer to local churches (congregations) in particular localities (Acts 8:1; 13:1; Romans 16:1; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Colossians 4:16; etc.).

The question to consider is: How important is membership in a local church? May we please God just by being part of the church in general without recognizing any responsibility to a particular local church?

Consider some comparisons.

In order to really be a business administrator, is it enough just to be part of the "business community" in general? Or do we need to form a tie and be active in a particular company?

In order to be a major league baseball player, is it enough just to be part of "baseball" in general? Doesn't a player need a contractual tie to actively participate with a particular team?

In order to be a college student, is it enough to profess to be part of the "educational community," or do we need to enroll in a particular college or university?

In order to be a soldier, is it enough to profess to be part of "the military establishment," or does a person need to join a particular military branch of a specific country?

In many activities, we cannot succeed as "floating members" who refuse to be part of any team or company or school or program. To receive the recognition and rewards of the activity, we must make a commitment to a particular group. Under certain circumstances, one may change from one company or team or college to another, but doesn't there have to be affiliation in order to really be a college student, actor, etc.?

The application to Christians

Likewise, the Bible teaches that service to God requires "team" activity as well as individual activity. We do have individual responsibilities, yet each Christian must also identify himself as part of a faithful local church and then actively involve himself in the work of that church.

This is sometimes called "placing membership," but we do not intend here to emphasize any specific terminology. Nor do we insist on any particular formal method for doing this (such as walking to the front during the invitation song).

Rather, our intent is simply to show that God does intend for Christians to express intent to be part of a specific local church and then work actively with that group. No Christian can really succeed a "floating member" who perpetually visits local churches but refuses to identify himself with any particular local church.

Consider the following evidence that this concept is taught in the scriptures.

I. Each Christian Should Be Part of a Faithful Local Church.

Each local church in the New Testament consisted of individual disciples who were identified or recognized as part of that congregation. Note the following:

A. Disciples in an Area Were Addressed Interchangeably with the Local Church.

When speaking about a baseball team, one might interchangeably use terms that refer to the group or that refer to the players. One might say the White Sox won a game because "the team played well," or one might say, "the players played well." These expressions can be used interchangeably because the players are all members of the team.

Likewise, when inspired writers addressed Christians in an area, they sometimes addressed them as the church, but other times they addressed them as the members of the church. These terms are used interchangeably because all disciples were members of a local church.

Consider some examples:

1 Corinthians 1:2,10

When Paul wrote to "the church of God which is at Corinth," he was addressing "those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints" (v2). In v10 he addressed them as "brethren."

So, to address the local church was to address the saints or brethren in that locality.

1 Thessalonians 1:1,4 (2 Thessalonians 1:1,3)

Paul wrote to "the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 1:1). But in v4 he addressed them as "beloved brethren," elect of God. He does the same thing in 2 Thessalonians 1:1,3.

So to address the local church is to address the saints in the area and vice-versa, because it is understood that all faithful disciples should be identified or recognized as part of the local church. There was no such thing as faithful Christians who were members of the local church and other faithful Christians in that area who were not members of the local church.

Philippians 1:1; 4:15

Paul addressed "all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi with the bishops and deacons"(1:1). But in 4:15 he said, "no church shared with me ... but you only." Obviously, he is here referring to them as a church.

This is the reverse of the above cases. He first addresses them as saints, but later addresses them as a church. So the saints in Philippi constituted the church in Philippi, again because it is understood that every faithful Christian should be a member of a local church.

Further, note that this is true of "all the saints ... who are in Philippi" (1:1). So "all" saints in a locality should be part of a local church.

Colossians 4:15,16

Paul greeted the "brethren" at Laodicea, then said the letter should be read to "the church of the Laodiceans." Surely these are interchangeable expressions for the same group. The "brethren" at Laodicea constituted the "church" at Laodicea, because all "brethren" should be members of a local church.

[This does not deny that letters sometimes discuss work that the church should do as a church and sometimes discuss work the members should do as individuals, apart from the work of the local church. The point is that by addressing the local church, Paul was addressing all the Christians and vice-versa, because it is understood that Christians should be part of a local church.] 

B. Specific Disciples Were Members of Local Churches.

Acts 13:1

Paul, Barnabas, and other teachers were "in the church that was at Antioch." They were not here identified as part of a church elsewhere (Jerusalem, Samaria, etc.). So, individual disciples should be recognized or considered to be part of a specific local church.

3 John 10

Diotrophes sinned in that he not only refused to receive those who ought to have been received, but also put others "out of the church." If he put them out of the church, then it necessarily follows that previously they were recognized as being in the church.

Revelation 1:4,11; 2:10,23; etc.

Revelation is addressed to "the seven churches ... in Asia" (1:4,11). In chap. 2 & 3 Jesus addressed each of the churches individually, showing that the local churches were distinct from one another. But note how, in addressing each church, He was also addressing the members:

2:8ff addresses the church at Smyrna, but v10 said the devil would throw some "of you" into prison, etc.

2:18ff was written to the church at Thyatira. But in v23 the Lord said, "I will give to each one of you according to your works."

3:1ff addresses the church at Sardis, but v4 says, "You have a few names even in Sardis who ... shall walk with me in white..."

When He addressed the "some of you" in Smyrna, was He speaking then of Christians in Thyatira? When he addressed those in Thyatira, was He speaking then of Christians in Sardis?

Certain individuals were considered to make up each local church, and other Christians were considered to make up other local churches. The "some of you" at Smyrna described different disciples from the "each one of you" at Thyatira. But each Christian was identified or recognized as being part of some specific local church.

Compare this to the connection between elders and local churches.

Each elder is identified as working with a particular local church.

Acts 14:23 - They appointed elders "in every church." So, the elders of each church were "in" that church.

Acts 20:17 - Paul sent to Ephesus and called for the elders "of the church." The elders were part of the church and their work pertained to that local church (cf. v28).

Each elder is identified as belonging to a particular local church and having a responsibility to the work of that specific church. This is expressed by saying they are "in" or "of" that church.

[Acts 16:4; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-3]

Likewise, each member should be identified with a particular local church.

Acts 13:1 - The teachers listed here were "in the church" at Antioch, just as elders were "in" the church which they served. To be "in" a local church implies being identified as part of it and being actively involved in its work.

Philippians 1:1 - Note that Paul addressed the bishops, deacons, and all the saints in Philippi. But the bishops and deacons are identified as working with a particular local church, so listing the saints along with them would indicate that "all the saints" should likewise be identified as working with a particular local church.

Philippians 3:17; 4:9 - We should imitate the examples of these brethren and churches. They are a pattern for us. If each individual Christian was expected to be identified as part of a local church in the first century, why would it not be the same today?

Where is the Bible authority for a Christian to refuse on an ongoing basis to be identified as part of a local church? How can any Christian properly live indefinitely in an area where there is a church while making no serious attempt to be recognized as part of that church?

Just as a person must be part of a team to be a major league baseball player or must enroll in a particular school in order to be a college student, so faithful Christians must identify themselves as part of a local church.

C. When Disciples Moved to a New Locality, They Took Steps to Be Recognized as Part of a Local Church There.

Consider the following examples.

The case of Saul

The facts

Acts 9:17-20 - Saul was converted after seeing Jesus on the road to Damascus. He spent some time with the "disciples at Damascus" (the local church). He preached Jesus, but fled when Jews threatened his life (9:23-25).

Acts 9:26-29 - When Saul then came to Jerusalem, he sought to "join himself to the disciples" there. This does not mean that he sought to become a Christian - he had already done that. Rather, he wanted to become part of the local church in Jerusalem.

The disciples were afraid of him because, due to his past history, they feared that he was not really a disciple. Barnabas explained about Saul's conversion in Damascus. After that he was "with them" coming in and going out, working among them preaching and teaching God's word. When a threat was again made against his life, he left town.

Acts 11:25,26; 13:1-3 - After Barnabas was sent to Antioch, he found Saul and together they worked with the church in Antioch teaching many people. Along with other teachers, they were said to be "in the church that was at Antioch."

Observations and conclusions

(1) First Saul was part of the church in Damascus. When he moved to Jerusalem, he sought to join the disciples there. Later he moved to Antioch and was "in the church" there. Wherever he moved, he became identified as part of the local church in that area.

(2) Saul took the initiative to be recognized as part of the local congregation. He did not "float" or perpetually visit from congregation to congregation. He "tried to join the disciples."

(3) "Join" means: "to glue or cement together ... to unite, to join firmly" (Vine; cf. Thayer). It implies a firm bond. When involving people, it generally implies purpose, intent, and commitment. [For examples, see Luke 15:15; Rom. 12:9; Acts 5:13; 17:34; 1 Cor. 6:17. See sermon on Local Church Commitment for more details.]

(4) Saul determined to attend and actively work with the church. Having been received, he was "with them coming in and going out" (attendance), and was involved in the teaching.

(5) At first the church did not receive him, because they had reason to doubt his conversion. So, the church had the right to investigate whether or not he was a faithful disciple and to refuse him if he was not. Barnabas testified on Saul's behalf, but he never denied the church's right to question Saul's conversion.

The church is not obligated to just automatically accept anybody who requests membership. But when the evidence indicates a person is a faithful disciple, and there is no proof of sin, then the church must receive the individual.

Other examples


Acts 4:32,34-37 - The "multitude of those who believed" (the local church) shared with members in need. Barnabas was part of the work of the church in Jerusalem, selling a parcel of land and giving the money.

Acts 9:27 - When Saul wanted to be part of the disciples, Barnabas was still involved in the work of the church in Jerusalem.

Acts 11:22-26 - The church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to the new church in Antioch. There he encouraged them and assembled with the church teaching many people.

Acts 13:1-3 - He and other teachers were "in the church that was in Antioch."

So, while he was living in Jerusalem, Barnabas was actively committed and involved in the work of that local church. When he was sent to Antioch, he became part of that local church, actively involved in its work.


Acts 18:27,28 - Apollos learned the truth in Ephesus. When he determined to go to Achaia, the church in Ephesus sent a letter exhorting the brethren there to receive him. He then worked diligently among them, helping those who believed and publicly teaching Jesus.

Note again that, when a Christian moved from one area to a new area, he found the church there and sought to be "received" by them. Then he was actively involved in the work.

Note also that churches have a right to communicate with one another about whether or not a person is worthy to be "received." This implies that the church would have the right to refuse to accept someone who was not faithful. What good was the letter, if a church is obligated to accept everyone who requests to be accepted?

2 Corinthians 3:1

Paul said he did not need letters of commendation to or from the church in Corinth, because he was already known there. Nevertheless, he stated that some people do need letters of commendation. He did not, but "some others" do need them. When people move to a new area and are unknown to the church, then the church has every right to communicate to know if a member is "commendable."

What purpose would such a letter serve unless it is understood that members should become part of the church where they move? If they do not intend to become part of the church, they would not need a letter anyway.

[Romans 16:1,2]


So the New Testament pattern is that Christians should be identified or become part of a faithful local congregation in the area where they live. When they move to a new area, they should seek out a faithful congregation in that area and become recognized as part of it.

There may be some variation in the method by which a Christian makes known this intent. Apollos had a letter sent from the church he previously worked with. Saul received a personal commendation. So, the particular method is not binding. Nevertheless, each individual should make known in some manner that he does want to be considered part of the local church.

Remember, we are taught to imitate such examples (Phil. 3:17; 4:9). What Bible passage would authorize a person to move to an area and then make no effort to become part of a local church? Where is the Bible authority for a Christian to move to an area where there is a faithful church, yet they continue to claim membership of the church "back home," even though they are too far from the church back home to attend and be part of its work?

Under certain conditions, a ball player may move from one team to another or a student may transfer from one college to another. But a player must affiliate with a team and a student must enroll in a college. Likewise, a faithful Christian may move from one local church to another but he must commit himself to be part of a faithful local church.

Since God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34,35), if one person may refuse to be part of a local church, then all may refuse. But if all refuse to be part of a local church, how would any church function?

Note carefully that one must identify with a faithful local church - not just any church. Just as the church must be careful to accept only faithful Christians, so a Christian must take care to become part of a faithful church.

And remember, all of this is important because it is God's will and because of the church's connection to God. To sever our connection with the church is to sever our connection with God!

II. Disciples Should Attend the Meetings of the Local Church.

A ball player affiliates with a team, not just so he can be on the roster, but so he can be an active player. A student should enroll in a college so he can study and learn. Likewise, Christians should identify themselves with a local church for a purpose. It is not just to have their names on a church roll, but to be involved in the work of that church. This includes attending the assemblies of that local church.

Acts 9:28

When Saul had joined himself to the church in Jerusalem, "he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out." When the church met, he attended and participated.

Acts 11:22-26

Barnabas and Saul were "in the church that was at Antioch" (13:1). They assembled with the church and taught people (11:26). Note: They "assembled with the church" they were "in."

1 Corinthians 11:18

The "brethren" in the local church at Corinth (1:2,10; 11:33) assembled "as a church" (11:18). This included meeting for the Lord's Supper (vv 20-26,33).

1 Corinthians 14:23,26

The "brethren" (who constituted the church - 1:2,10) would "come together" to sing, pray, and edify one another (vv 26,15). At times "the whole church comes together in one place" (v23).

These brethren constituted a local church even when they were not assembled. But when they did assemble, they assembled with the church of which they were a part.

Acts 20:7

In Troas (v6) "the disciples came together to break bread." "Disciples" here refers to the local church, as in other examples above and as in 1 Cor. 11.

It is true that sometimes Christians may visit meetings of local congregations other than the one where they are identified as members. Paul often did so on his journeys as he passed through (Acts 20:7-11). But when Paul intended to remain in an area, he made known to the local church that he wanted to join himself to that group and then he attended there.

Where is the Bible authority for a Christian, who is part of one local church, to habitually attend the assemblies of a different local church in that area, neglecting to attend the church where they are members and yet refusing to become recognized as part of the church where they are attending? Does this fit the Bible pattern?

Since God is not partial, if some members may refuse to accept the responsibility to identify with a particular local church and then attend there, then everyone could do the same. If so, how could the church function? How could the church know who to expect to be present or who would be responsible to conduct and lead the meetings? No one could ever know.

So have we accepted the responsibility to be recognized as part of a local church and do we regularly attend the meetings of that church?

III. Disciples Should Actively Participate in Local Church Work.

When major league ball players commit themselves to a local team, they must attend team meetings. But much more than that is required of ball players. When students enroll in a college, they are expected to attend classes; but much more than that is required. Likewise, local churches function in other ways in addition to assembling as a congregation. There is other work to do, and members should accept their responsibility to participate in that work.

Acts 9:26-29

After Saul had been received as part of the church in Jerusalem, he not only attended "with them coming in and going out," he also actively participated in the work of teaching.

Acts 13:1-3; 11:22-26

Likewise Paul and Barnabas were teachers "in the church that was at Antioch." They not only attended with the church, they also taught many people and encouraged the disciples (11:23,26). Again note that the work they participated in was the work of the church there were "in."

Acts 18:27,28

Likewise Apollos, after he had been "received" by the brethren in Achaia, greatly helped them by his teaching.

1 Corinthians 16:1,2

Local churches obtain their funds by taking collections (v1). So Paul instructed the "brethren" that "each one of you" should lay by in store as you have prospered. Each member should accept the responsibility to give financially to accomplish the work of the church.

And note that members should give to support the church they are part of: "each one of you" refers to the brethren in the church at Corinth. The obligation is not to support churches elsewhere, but to support the church they are members of. [Phil. 4:13-18]

If one member may refuse to give as prospered, all may do so. But if all do so, how would the church accomplish its work?

Ephesians 4:10-16

The work Paul describes includes the work of "pastors" (v11). But the work of pastors is to lead a local church in its work. So Eph. 4 describes (or at least includes) the work of local churches.

The work done includes perfecting the saints, ministering, building up the body (v12), and helping members to grow up in Christ and avoid error (vv 13,14). We do this by speaking the truth in love (v15). But "every part" of the body should be involved in this work (v16).

Our work as Christians includes various individual responsibilities, but it also includes work we must do as part of the local church. Every part of the body must be involved in that work.


Local churches are working units, each one having work that the Lord expects it to do. But each church can accomplish its work only to the extent that the members participate. Christians should identify themselves with a local church, so they can be part of its work. The church accomplishes its work only to the extent that the members are actively involved.

Again, individual Christians may visit other congregations and may be invited to participate in its work, as Paul preached in Troas (Acts 20:7). But the general pattern is that Christians work in the local church where they are members.

Just as a ballplayer has responsibilities to the team, so a faithful Christian must be actively involved in attending the meetings and participating in the work of a local church.

But remember that this is true because this is the will of the Lord. Why would any Christian, who has devoted himself to serve the Lord, refuse to commit himself to the work of a local church? How could local churches function if the members do not get involved?

So, how actively involved are you and I in the work of this local church?

IV. Disciples Should Submit to Local Church Leadership.

Every group needs leaders in order to function effectively. When a major league baseball player becomes part of a team, he must submit to the team leaders: manager, coaches, etc. So a faithful Christian must be part of a local church and must submit to that church's leadership.

A. Each Eldership Supervises the Congregation Where They Have Been Appointed.

Acts 14:23 - As each congregation matures, it should appoint its own elders [Titus 1:5].

1 Peter 5:2,3 - Elders tend and oversee "the flock" (singular) that is "among you." This "flock" is the local church, since each church has its own elders. The jurisdiction of elders is local in nature, and is expressly limited to the local church where they are appointed. [Acts 20:17,28]

Hebrews 13:17 - Like shepherds care for their own flock of sheep, so elders watch on behalf of the souls of those in the local church. Surely every Christian should desire to have such men watching for their souls.

In the absence of qualified elders, the women still should submit to the leadership of the men (1 Timothy 2:11,12; 1 Corinthians 14:34,35).

But the responsibility of those who lead extends only to the members of one local flock.

B. Members Should Identify Themselves with a Local Church to Have the Benefit of Spiritual Leadership.

In every group, leaders must know whom they are responsible to supervise, and followers must know whom they are responsible to follow.

Ephesians 5:22-24 - In the home, a husband is head of his own wife (not some other man's wife), and a wife submits to her own husband (not some other woman's husband). This requires a commitment - an agreement - as to who is or is not husband and wife.

Ephesians 6:1-4 - Likewise parents have authority over their own children and children submit to their own parents. Each must understand which children go with which parents.

The same principle applies to the leadership of civil rulers over their citizens, employers over their employees, etc. That is why every institution has some means to determine exactly who is or is not affiliated with that institution: who is a citizen of that country and who is an employee of that company, etc.

Every leader must know whom to lead and every follower must know whom to follow.

The same applies in each local church.

Acts 20:28-31 - Elders "take heed" and shepherd that flock (church) where they, according to the teaching of the Holy Spirit, have been made elders - "the flock which is among" them - 1 Peter 5:2. This includes the responsibility to "watch" on behalf of the members (Hebrews 13:17), especially to make sure no false teachers lead the members astray (vv 29-31).

Likewise, members are commanded to "obey" and "submit" to "those who rule over" them (Hebrews 13:17). Since each eldership supervises one local church, they need to know which Christians are part of their flock, and each Christian needs to know which shepherds to follow.

Consider the conclusions that follow:

Every local church needs good leadership, and every member needs the benefit of leaders watching for his soul. This is another reason why members should identify themselves as part of a local church: so they have a congregation with its leaders who are responsible to lead and watch for them spiritually, and so they know which leaders they should follow.

Imagine a baseball league in which no one knows which players are on which team: players just "float" around with no commitment to any team. No manager or coach would know what players to manage, and no players would know which manager or coaches to listen to. The team does not function well, the coaches do not function well, and the players do not function well.

That is exactly the problem that occurs when members refuse to identify with a local church, or if they habitually visit around "floating" from congregation to congregation. How can the leaders of any church supervise them, and how can the members function effectively?

Why would any faithful Christian not want to be identified with the leadership of a particular local church? If a person persistently refuses to do so, would this not be a form of rebellion against God's plan for the care of souls and the spiritual supervision of God's people?

Have we accepted the responsibility to work actively with the leadership of a local church?

V. Disciples Should Participate in Local Church Discipline.

When major league ballplayers violate team rules or when a soldier violates rules, they are subject to penalties. Likewise, God has a pattern for discipline within a local church.

A. Each Local Church Should Exercise Scriptural Chastisement.

Matthew 18:15-17

When a brother is confronted for a sin (as described in context) but refuses to repent, the matter should be taken before "the church." This must refer to the local church, since there is no other way to take a matter before the church. So, this discipline is a function of the local church.

1 Corinthians chapter 5

The church in Corinth had a man guilty of sin in their midst. Paul commanded them to "put away" this brother, "purge out the old leaven," and "not keep company" with him (vv 13,7,11). But this was to be done "when you are gathered together" (v4). Again, them must refer to a gathering of the local church, so this was a local church function.

Note that the church in Corinth was commanded to deal with the member there who sinned. Surely in both these passages, the local church that exercises the discipline is the church the sinner was a member of. Just as discipline of a child is especially the responsibility of that child's family, so discipline of an erring member is especially the responsibility of the local church.

[2 Thessalonians 3:6,14,15; Titus 3:10,11; Romans 16:17; 1 Timothy 1:3-11,19,20]

B. To Participate in Church Discipline, a Disciple Must Be Part of a Local Church.

Remember that discipline in a local church is for the benefit of the members. It is an act of love to help members be saved, just as with all other forms of teaching and edification. But since it is administered by the local church, it requires that members be identified with a local church.

One who refuses to be part of a local church cannot do this work to help others who go into sin. Nor does he have a congregation to help him in this way if he goes into sin. Nor does he have a congregation to help when other members sin against him (Matt. 18:15-17).

Disciplining a child is unpleasant, but it is Scripturally required and it benefits the child. So church discipline is difficult in several ways. I fear that one reason some people don't want to associate with a local church is that they don't want to be subject to discipline and may even be unwilling to discipline others. But like a family that refuses to discipline its children, such a view is unscriptural and deprives members of a valuable benefit in God's service.

Major league baseball players must submit to the rules and discipline of their team. These rules include conditions under which players may leave the team or join some other team. Those who leave in violation of the rules are subject to penalties.

A soldier is subject to the rules and discipline of his military unit. These rules include conditions under which he may leave the military. Those who leave in violation of the rules are subject to penalties. He is not free to just quit in order to avoid discipline.

Likewise, faithful Christians must submit to local church discipline. This includes rules about how they may leave the church and become part of a different church. Those who attempt to quit or leave in violation of the rules or to go into error are subject to discipline.

This discipline is actually both a responsibility and a benefit of membership in a local church. It helps maintain purity in the church and in the lives of the members.

VI. Local Churches Should Receive Only "Faithful" Christians.

Major league teams, colleges, etc., do not accept just anybody. They have standards whereby they determine who can join the team or enroll in the school. Likewise, local churches should not accept just anyone as members.

A. Churches Should Not Fellowship Those Who Are in Sin.

1 John 1:7 - We have fellowship with one another if we walk in the light. We should not have fellowship with those who walk in darkness (v5).

2 John 9-11 - We must not receive those who do not abide in the doctrine of Christ. Surely this includes not receiving them into the church.

1 Corinthians 5; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14,15 - We have already learned that the church should exclude those who sin and refuse to repent. It follows that the church should refuse to receive from the outset those who are known to be in sin. [Rom. 16:17; Tit. 3:10,11]

[Ephesians 5:7,11]

B. Churches Should Investigate the "Faithfulness" of New Members.

("Faithful" is in quotation marks, since no human can know another's heart. But we must make a reasonable effort to investigate what we can know.)

1 John 4:1 - Because of false prophets, we are commanded to test the spirits. Specifically, we should test those who seek to become part of the church to be sure they are not false teachers.

Acts 20:28-30 - This testing is included in the duty of elders to "watch" and "take heed" to protect the flock from wolves. [Heb. 13:17; Titus 1:9-13]

Revelation 2:2 - Jesus commended the church in Ephesus because it tested those who falsely claimed to be apostles, and because it would not bear with those who are evil. Some today criticize churches for examining the faithfulness of people who seek to be part of the church. The Lord praised churches for it!

Acts 9:26-29 - The church in Jerusalem was justified in questioning whether or not to accept Saul, because they did not believe he was a disciple.

Acts 18:27,28; 2 Corinthians 3:1 - This is also helps explain why churches may communicate regarding those who move from one congregation to another. They need to protect the flock from those who are not Christians or who have uncorrected sin in their lives.

We teach Christians to check a church out carefully before becoming members. Likewise, churches carefully check out a preacher before asking him to work with the local church. For all the same reasons churches should check out any members before accepting them.

C. Churches Must Receive Those Who Are Faithful.

Acts 9:26-29 - Having found Saul to be a true Christian, the Jerusalem church received him.

Acts 18:27,28 - Achaia accepted Apollos, having received a letter of commendation.

3 John 8-10 - We "ought to receive" men who come to us who are faithful. People like Diotrophes are in error if they refuse to receive faithful brethren.

This decision is not a matter of personal preference or majority vote. It is a matter of applying and obeying Bible principles. We may compare it to the case of someone wants to be baptized. We should seek to be sure they have followed the Bible prerequisites to baptism. If not, we must refuse to baptize them. But if they have followed the Bible requirements, we have no right to refuse to baptize them.

So when people seek to identify with the church, we should make sure they are sound in the faith, and this includes the right to contact their former congregation. But in the absence of evidence of sin, we have no right to refuse to receive those who are faithful.


As in many areas, some particular aspects of carrying out this subject may not be specified in Scripture and therefore must be decided by the local church. This includes details about how the individual may indicate his desire to be part of the church and details about how the church may investigate his faithfulness. There may also be some variation in how long these decisions take in specific cases. Nevertheless, we must respect the Bible principles we have learned.

A Christian is responsible to affiliate with a faithful local church, so he can meet and work with them, submit to their leadership, and participate in their discipline.

Likewise, a local church is responsible to examine those who seek to become part of the local church to be sure they are faithful Christians.

Have you fulfilled your responsibility to become a Christian? Are you living faithfully, including fulfilling your responsibilities in the local church?

(C) Copyright 2012,David E. Pratte;
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Topics for further Bible study

The Importance of Jesus' Church
Divine Authority vs. Human Authority in Religion
Why So Much Religious Confusion and Disagreement?
How to Study the Bible
The Bible vs. Denominational Creeds
Does the End Justify the Means?
Are Bible Examples Binding Authority?
Necessary Inference/Conclusions as Authority
The Nature and Meaning of the Church
How Can You Find & Identify Jesus' Church?

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