Maybe you have heard preachers stress the difference between “joining” the church and being “added” to the church. When speaking of the church of Christ as a whole, one can only be “added” to that organization; he possesses no power by which he can “join” it on his own. The Lord controls who belongs in His church, and it is He who “adds” them to it (cf. Acts 2:41, 47).
However, when it comes to the local congregation, there is a sense in which one may “join” the church. Consider what Luke writes concerning Saul’s association with the brethren in Jerusalem:
And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus (Acts 9:26-27, emphasis added).
Notice that, when he arrived in Jerusalem, Saul tried to “join” the disciples. What can we learn from this information?
First of all, this passage clearly authorizes the practice of “placing membership” in a local congregation. When a Christian moves into a new community, it is important that he attempt to join the brethren there in their Christian service. This identifies him as a “member” of that particular local congregation. The term “member” is derived from passages like Romans 12:4-5 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, which describe the church in terms of a body with different parts, all working together in perfect harmony. When a person places membership, he is not getting his name on the roll. He is identifying himself as a functioning part of the congregation. Saul wanted to join the brethren in Jerusalem because he wanted to get involved. We should follow his example today.
Saul also knew that he had a responsibility to submit himself under the authority of an eldership comprised of qualified men. Hebrews 13:17 reads, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” The practice of placing membership helps an eldership identify the “flock” over which they must rule.
The first thing Saul did when he arrived at Jerusalem was find a faithful congregation of the Lord’s people and attempt to join their efforts. Have you placed membership with your local church? Are you involved in the work of the Lord? If not, what is holding you back?