Acts 2:37-47

There is a question asked by many individuals as they think about the place of the church in their lives. The question is this: “Why do I have to join?”

Usually these individuals have a positive belief concerning the person of Jesus. Often there is an acceptance of Christ’s claim on their lives. Typically there is little challenge to the church’s importance or value in society as a whole.
However, the question continues: “How important a role should the institution of the church play in my life?” “How much do I need the church in order to have a meaningful faith?”
Whether you are now part of a church, or have been invited by someone to become a part, you may be wondering: “What does it mean to belong?” Why is it so important to become part of a church?
Many in modern day America insist there is no need to join a local congregation. “I can be a believer,” they say, “and be satisfactory in God’s sight, without coming down an aisle and joining the church.” Others, in explaining their hesitation to place membership in the church, say: “My plans at this point are uncertain. I don’t know how long I am going to live here. And since I may move away before long, I hesitate to become involved as a member in your church.” Another of the more frequent reasons given for a reluctance to join the church would sound something like: “I am a member back home. I feel a loyalty to that former church that I do not want to lose.”
You may have given one or more of these reasons. You may have heard them from a friend or co-worker. Whichever the case may be, there are reasons why you should be part of a local church.
First, the Bible commands it.
It is important to belong and be active in a church because that is what the New Testament urges us to do.
The book of Acts describes one of the first evangelistic efforts of the church. Soon after the resurrection of Jesus, Peter preached a sermon. At the conclusion of his message, the people were “pierced to the heart” with concern. They asked Peter what they should do. Peter’s reply was, “Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). About 3,000 people that day believed and were baptized.
What happened to those 3,000 new Christians? They formed congregations and began to share in worship and growth. They “continually devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). In short, they joined a church! These first churches grew in membership. The Bible reports that the Lord “added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
Thirty years passed and the church had continued its growth. Paul wrote a letter to the congregations in the eastern Mediterranean area. In his letter he identifies the church as the body of believers, and he stresses the importance of being involved with those who have accepted Christ.
In Ephesians 2:19-22, Paul describes what we receive when we accept a relationship with Jesus Christ. He writes: “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling place in which God lives by His Spirit.”
Earlier in this letter, Paul describes the authority of Jesus Christ over all of us. He writes that God made Jesus “head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:22-23).
Why should one become part of a local congregation? Because God declares the local congregation is to be His body on earth. Whatever denominational name we use, and whatever faults our church may possess, we are the body of Christ. Christ is the head, and we — who are the church — live, serve and follow as part of His being.
If the church’s invitation simply was to join, as you might join a social club, you could decide if this is the most enjoyable place to spend your time. However, the church is more than a social club! It is the very body of Jesus Christ on earth. That makes membership in the church a great deal more important than in any other organization around.
Second, uniting with a local church is logical.
When we lived in Oklahoma, my wife and I had a very good friend who owned a grocery store. He and I had gone to college together and often visited in each other’s home. Our families were close. When I would go shopping for groceries in his grocery store, my shopping was more than merely “buying food.” There was also visiting and often drinking a Coke in friendship.
We moved away from Oklahoma and came to Florida. It would have been strange if someone asked my wife, “where do you buy your groceries?” and she had replied, “well, we had this grocer we loved back in Oklahoma, and so each week we get on a plane and fly back ‘home’ to do our shopping.”
Oklahoma wasn’t “home” to the Haun family any more. We lived in Florida. We voted in Florida. We sent our children to school in Florida. What we did, we tended to do in Florida.
Your present residence is your “home.” You may have good memories of where you used to live. You may remember fondly your childhood home, your first school, the “back home” church where you grew up. However, you are not back home any more. “Back home” is where you live right now. Back home for me is here in Fort Lauderdale. That makes logical sense.
That logic is true in our spiritual lives. There is something special for some folk about a name on a church membership roll “back home.” However, fond memories do not build faith.
I remember the church of my baptism in Grafton, West Virginia. I can see the church in my mind’s eye. My parents took me there almost every week, and the church was special for me. I remember the Sunday I responded to the invitation and walked to the front. I became a member of that church. However, I don’t live in Grafton any more, and chances are I will never live there again! It would make little sense for me to have my name on that church roll — I am not there.
God would say to us: “Here is where you are. Here is where I want your life. Here is where I want your service. Here is where you need growth in my body.” When the day comes that you move from “here” to a new home in a new community, that will become your new “here.”
When you move to a new town, there will be a number of steps to take. You will enroll your children in school, locate a grocery store, turn on the electricity, and hook up a telephone. In addition to these steps, there is another equally important step: you will find a place where you can grow in the body of Christ, and unite your life with that congregation. This new town is now “home” and your church membership should go with you.
Some years ago I was serving a congregation in Kansas. We asked a woman in town to become part of our church. Her reply was common: “I don’t know how long I will be here.” I asked how long she had lived in town. She replied, “About eleven years.”
Our new Kansas friend did place her membership in our congregation. I wrote to her church “back home” to let them know she was with us. About four weeks later my letter came back with a note from the postmaster of that community. The note said, “Dear sir, the church to which you wrote burned down four years ago. It never was rebuilt, and there is no church in town by that name.”
Here was a woman who for eleven years had a membership “back home” in a church that had burned down and died. It makes sense to belong where you live, to learn where you live, to grow where you live.
Third, your church membership impacts your witness for Christ.
Let’s suppose that you are not a member in a local church, that you are “alone” out there as a Christian. Even more, let’s assume that your life is so outstanding and your goodness amazes everyone you meet.
The question is this: who will get the credit for that representative life you are leading? The answer is, you will! But it is not the desire of God that you and I receive all the credit for our goodness. The desire of God would be that He would get the praise. Tracing our goodness to our faithfulness for God will make a more powerful witness for Christ, and help the spiritual growth of people around us.
God has a desire for you to be a part of His body where you live for two reasons. First, he wishes you to have a place for your own growth and fellowship. Second, He desires you to be in His church so you can give others an effective example of God’s importance in your own life.
Fourth, church membership expresses commitment.
For many people, this is the “bottom-line” reason for a hesitation to join with a congregation. It is much easier to live life without the demands for lasting commitment. That is one reason so many people today hesitate to get married; they aren’t willing to accept the commitment that marriage and family life bring.
That also is true spiritually. Many, who are considering the possibility of uniting with a church, will say, “if I join the church, they will expect me to become involved and be active. I’d rather not have to make that commitment.”
What would have happened if Jesus, on that last night in the Garden of Gethsemane, had said, “God, I’m willing to teach. I’m willing to witness. I’m willing even to suffer. But God, my commitment doesn’t go as far as dying.” This fact of commitment was the cause of Jesus’ struggle in the garden. The decision Jesus faced was how far He was willing to go for us? The struggle was so fierce that Luke reported the sweat of Jesus was like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). When the inner battle concluded, Jesus accepted the commitment. He prayed, “Father, it’s not what I want. It’s your will I want to be done ….”
God desires that same deep commitment from us. In the New Testament letter of Titus, a statement is made about those who claim a loyalty to Christ: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men…. (It is) Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11-14).
Two words in the original Greek translate into English as “a people that are His very own.” The first Greek word means “to be.” The second implies being “wrapped around and surrounded.” The meaning of the Greek is that God surrounds His people by His Spirit and by His body, much as the seed of a peach is surrounded by the fruit and skin. What a privilege and protection!
Fifth, church membership expresses fulfillment.
A survey among American adults sought to discover where individuals tend to build new friendships. Of the persons interviewed, the largest proportion, 49 percent, indicated they turn to the church to make new friends. Less frequent selections of places to build friendships were work, social or athletic clubs, involvement in community activities, sports, and going to a bar.1
One of the major problems of modern life is loneliness. It appears that one of the first places the fulfillment of friendships can be achieved is within the fellowship of the church.2
I read an account that speaks of the fulfillment the church offers. The account was by the wife of a man tragically killed on a Saturday morning while celebrating a birthday ride in a hot air balloon. His wife stood helpless on the ground and watched as her husband and the others on the ride plummeted to their deaths. Writing of the experience some twelve years later, she remembers how the church rallied around her family.
“We went to church that Sunday morning. I think anyone would have understood if we had not gone; it was only twenty-four hours since we had witnessed my husband’s death. But we longed to go. We wanted to be with those who knew us best and who best understood and grief and joy. Everyone who knew us understood our grief. Only those who knew Jesus understood our joy. That morning we sat among friends and cried and sang and worshiped together. I would not have wanted to be anywhere else.”3
Why join the church? Because it is the best place in town to find fulfillment in our lives and for our needs.
There are many reasons why we should join a church. There is a biblical reason, a logical reason, a reason of witness, a requirement for commitment, and a fulfillment in life.
There is one other reason, the most vital of all. You and I have an undeserved relationship with the God who loves us. We have a Savior who gave His life that we could have that relationship. It is the desire of this loving God that we grow closer to Him. The best way He has chosen for us to grow is by fellowship and involvement within His body, the church. That’s why we join!
1. A study conducted by telephone among a nationally representative sample of 1,052 American adults by the Bama Research Group. Reported in Discipleship Journal (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Navpress, May/June, 1992, Vol. 12, No. 3), p. 15.
2. Stanley Hauerwas, professor of theological studies at Duke University Divinity School, in The Christian Century, October 2, 1991.
3. Lois Mowday Rabey, “Do I Have To Go To Church?” Discipleship Journal (op. cit.), p. 39.

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