On Church Membership

John David Clark, Sr. - May, 1989

Living in the Spirit means, among other truths, to live above the religious cliches of our time. The "charismatic" movement, so full of promise at an earlier point, has now in large measure degenerated to a faith of catch phrases, formulas, and gimmicks. This century in particular has been a century marked by the rise of noble sounding, yet patently ungodly slogans. Take for example the oft-heard plea for unbelievers to "make Jesus Christ Lord of your life." That sounds appropriately reverential, but it comes from darkness. Jesus is already Lord of everybody's life. We can't make Jesus anything. The Father Himself made Jesus "both Lord and Christ", and there is nothing we can add to it or take from it. It is done. Jesus is Lord of all. But to hear some Christian ministers talk, one might think that in speaking to sinners we are speaking to people over whom he is not Lord.

My friends, Jesus is Lord even over the devil himself. "All power", Jesus said, "in heaven and in earth is given unto me." For an evangelist to suggest to a sinner that he has the power to "make Jesus Lord" of his life, is deceitful; it appeals to the pride which resides comfortably in human flesh. It attributes to mortals the power of God, Who alone "made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). Amen.

Another of these foolish, unscriptural sayings in vogue with Christians today is "accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior." When I hear words such as these, it causes me to shake my head at man's insatiable appetite for undeserved honor. We accept him??? According to the Bible, the Greater accepts the lesser, as the weary Job asked his proud friends, "Will you accept His person?" (Job 13:8). Doesn't it sound oh, so holy when a minister makes a plea for sinners to "accept the Lord Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?" Can't you just picture the Almighty God on his majestic throne, brushing His brilliant hair back and straightening out His white garment so that we dying mortals will accept Him? Blinded fools! We are the ones commanded to make ready for Him, lest he come suddenly upon us and find us naked and unprepared. We are the ones commanded to make straight paths for His feet. He has no fear of us! And our stupidly cute code words and slogans impress Him not in the least; they only serve to diminish our understanding of His holiness. And in no area is this more tragically true than in the matter of what Christians called "joining the Church."

Recently, I attended the funeral of Brother Leonard, a beloved old saint who had been instrumental in organizing several Church of God churches in this part of North Carolina. As a teenager, I had known this man, a harmless and sincere individual. Also in attendance at the funeral was a high-ranking official of the Church of God denomination, who in his Eulogy noted his church's official statistics on this elder’s ministry. What I heard stunned and saddened me. My recollection of the following numbers is not perfect, but, according to the Church of God official, over the years of the elder’s ministry the official results for Brother Leonard were something like this: 258 "saved", 170 "sanctified", 101 baptized with the holy Ghost, and 121 people taken into the Church by the deceased elder. Taken into the Church? How'd he do that?

It is not intended as a reflection of any sort on the character of the elder whose life's work is now finished, but I beg to differ with the State Overseer whose records show that Brother Leonard took 121 people into the Church. Jesus, the head of the Church (Col. 1:18), said, "I am the door. By ME if any man enter in..." (Jn. 10:9). "Enter in" to what? What is it that Jesus takes us into, when he takes us into himself, if it is not the Church? "Church" is a word coined by Jesus to designate those whom he calls and cleanses by his blood. Then, when he washes away a man’s sins, is that man not in the Church? And if so, isn't that good enough?

Now, the typical Pentecostal doctrine of "saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost" is found nowhere in the Scriptures, and is suggested by nothing in the Scriptures. Trying to defend it is like trying to rescue the Titanic with a row boat. But even if I believed that doctrine, certainly I'd think that if Jesus is the door, and if Jesus "saved" somebody, then that person would be in Jesus’s Church! Right?

And if that were not enough to convince me, surely I'd feel free to consider such a man to be in the Church if Jesus took the additional step of sanctifiying the man. Right?

And if that were not enough for Jesus to do to the man to cause me to consider him a Church member, then surely when Jesus baptized him with the holy Ghost, I would consider him to be a member of the Church. But, not so, according to the Overseer who spoke at Brother Leonard’s funeral. According to him, Jesus "saved" some, "sanctified" some, and baptized some with the holy Ghost, yet they weren't Church members until the dead elder took them in.

All this causes me to wonder what Jesus would have to do to a person before men would acknowledge that Jesus had taken him into God's Church. The Bible is unequivocal and perfectly clear as to how people become members of the Church, the only Church recognized by God:

(1 Corinthians 12:13)

(Romans 8:9)

(1 JOHN 3:24)

"Baptized into Jesus Christ", wrote Paul to the Church at Rome (Rom. 6:3). "Baptized into Christ", wrote Paul to the Churches in the territory of Galatia (Gal. 3:27). Yet, in spite of these simple, open declarations of truth, this generation of Christians, as others before us, stubbornly refuses to confess the sufficiency of the work of Christ in a man's life to make him a member of Christ's Church.

When Jesus washes a man's sins away, that man is at that moment as much a member of the Church as he ever can be, as much a Church member as the Apostle Paul ever was. Then, to teach such a one whom Jesus the Lord has taken into his Church that he or she should "join the church" gives the new convert an altogether twisted picture of what the Church really is. Beyond that, it detracts from the holy work of Jesus and robs him of honor which belongs to no one but him. "I am the door", cried Jesus, "He that...climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber" (Jn 10:1). To claim authority to take people into the Church is a mockery of the Lordship of Jesus.

I believe in government in the body of Christ. I am deeply grateful for the ones who have been my overseers and have submitted myself to them as unto those who must give account to God, "that they may do it with joy, and not with grief" (Heb.13:17). But government is one thing, while organizing to such an extent that we don't even consider a person to be a member of the Church until he or she joins our organization is altogether another. God has heretofore been very kind and patient with us. How much longer will he endure the dishonor brought to His Son by Christianity?

What does the singing of lovely hymns of praise mean to a Lord whose exclusive right to grant membership into the Church is denied by those doing the singing? God has no need of flattery. He demands submission. And submission to Jesus at the very least should include the confession that he, and he alone, has the power to admit human beings into the family of God. Genuine submission to Jesus includes the confession that his method of admission into the Church, and his method ALONE, is the ONLY WAY INTO THE CHURCH. His is the only way because he is the only Lord. That's what confessing Christ means: being a living testimony to his way, being an example of his singular power and authority over the Church.

If you belong to any church other than the one into which he baptizes by his Spirit, you are guilty of sin. It is confusion. In scriptural terms, it is Babylon. And the Spirit is still pleading to God's people, as it has called since men began inventing churches to themselves, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities" (Rev.18:1-4).

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