Friday, January 20, 2017

Testing Our Faith

In James 1:1-12 we read how if we persevere under trials and tribulations that we will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those that love Him. In Hebrews we read that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Yes, it takes a special person, one that really believes in God to be faithful under all circumstances of life. James tells us in verse 2 to “consider it all joy, my brethren when you encounter various trials.” Why joy? Because when our faith is tested it produces endurance. If we overcome today’s trial, then tomorrow’s trial will be easier to overcome and our faith will get stronger day by day!

We read also that if we are lacking wisdom, then we need to ask God for it because “God gives to all men generously and without reproach” (verse 5). But, we must ask in total faith without wavering because if we waiver or doubt that God will give us what we ask for then he will not. “For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (verses 7-8). We are also told that the “brother of humble circumstances glory in his high position; and let the rich man glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away” (verses 9-10). The humble will be blessed and the rich will fade away, he and his beauty! Our faith is tested each and every day and the one that perseveres under these tests or trials will receive the crown of life promised by God. Keep on pressing on day by day for the prize that awaits us!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Is Church Membership Essential to Salvation?

When asked, "Is church membership essential to salvation?", men usually reply that saved persons may join the church of their choice, or they say that there is no need to join a church unless one wishes to do so. Are one of these two alternatives correct, or could it be that God presents another alternative through His word, the Bible? The Bible tells, us in Acts, Chapters 1 and 2, about how (on the day of the beginning of the church) Peter spoke to the multitudes in Jerusalem. He explained to them that Jesus, whom they had crucified, was the Christ and was arisen. Upon believing this, the crowd was exceedingly sorry for their treatment of Jesus, and being convinced that Jesus was the Christ, asked Peter, "What shall we do?".

Peter answered them, saying ". . . repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for  the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). As a result of these teachings, Acts 2:41 records, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls". Acts 2:47 amplifies and clarifies this last verse saying, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved".

The Bible is quite clear that obedient believers in Christ were added to the church by the Lord. The addition of the one being saved to the church is done by the Lord, not by the believer, nor by any other person, nor by any other group of persons. As a result of his repentant, obedient faith in Jesus, the believer becomes a member of the Lord's body, which is the Lord's church (see Ephesians 1:22-23). We can consider this membership a divine, dependable reaction to the believer's obedience. Therefore, all Christians are members of the Lord's church, and there are no Christians who are not members of His church. Remember, it is the Lord and only the Lord who decides on the membership of His church (Read Acts 4:12).

We must be clear, the church does not save one. Christ does that and only Christ. One must be in Christ to be saved and no one can be saved outside of Christ. The New Testament teaches that, "being in Christ", "being in the church", and "being in the Lord's body", equally describe one's condition, that of being saved or that of being a Christian (See Galatians 3: 27; Ephesians 1:22,23; 1 Corinthians 12:13).

Although unsaved persons may meet with the earthly worship of the body of Christ, their presence in the worship does not infer that Christ has accepted them or added them to the church. Faith in Christ and obedience to His will is the only route into the church. Does this membership in the Lord's church commit the believer to meet with an earthly body, to carry out responsibilities to others, and to perform Christian duties which cannot be done alone? To answer this question, we observe that Acts 2:42 records that the very first Christians continued steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine. The teachings, or doctrines, of the apostles are found in the pages of the New Testament: They have been recorded and transmitted to us so that we, also, can live toward God as did the early Christians. To answer this last question, let us search the scriptures to see if  there are things taught by command or example which cannot be done alone, or which must be done in a group.

Our search first reveals a command given by the Apostle Paul, as recorded in Hebrews 10:24-25, "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is: but exhorting one another: and so much more as you see the day approaching". We see here a command directing an earthly meeting together (an assembly) for the purpose of exhorting each other to love and to good works.

A further search of the Bible reveals that the early church, the body of Christ, which worshiped under the direct supervision of the inspired apostles, met together regularly. A few of their activities are listed below; each of which cannot be done alone, that is, they must be done in an earthly assembly or an earthly association of Christians:

Love the brethren. (1 Peter 1:22)
Admonish one another in song. (Colossians 3:16)
Be of the same mind and judgment. (2 Corinthians 13:11)
Pray for one another. (Matthew 5:44)
Submit to church leadership. (Hebrew 13:17)

It is obvious that God both intended and directed his followers to meet together in an earthly assembly. Membership in the local church confers both rights and duties: The right is salvation if, we remain faithful members until death. The duties are those previously mentioned, and others. Some of these other duties are: To obey civil government (Romans 13:1-4); bring forth fruit unto God (John 15:7-8); love and pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44-48). worship in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23-24); remain unspotted by worldly things (James 1:27); glorify God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); and, be faithful until death (Revelation 2:10). These things and others are required.

The Bible answer to the question, "Is church membership essential to salvation?", is "Yes!". Membership in the Lord's church is, for Christians, unavoidable and necessary. Jesus is the Savior of the Body (Ephesians 5:23).