The Book of Matthew

Wednesday: Truth, Communion, and Church Membership

Matthew 7:6 In this week’s lessons, we learn that we are to show discrimination in our Gospel witness, making a distinction between those who are mere unbelievers and in need of our message, versus those unbelievers who scorn the Gospel and make a mockery of Christ.
Theme
Truth, Communion, and Church Membership

We said yesterday that the only prayer God will ever hear from an unbeliever is the prayer that asks for salvation. Moreover, isn’t this precisely what we have in the example of the Lord Jesus Christ? There are persons who think of Jesus as going about the countryside preaching the Gospel to everyone who would listen and telling them all about His kingdom. However, this is inaccurate. It is probably closer to the truth to say that Jesus was the most discriminating of all preachers in terms of what He taught and to whom He taught it.

Take the case of the woman of Samaria, which John records in his gospel. Here was a woman who had a keen interest in religious questions. Jesus could have spoken to her either on the basis of her theological understanding or of her ethics.

Instead, He resisted her efforts to turn the conversation to those things and constantly redirected her thoughts to Himself. He offered to give her spiritual water, and she asked whether He was greater than her great ancestor, Jacob. Jesus directed her back to the spiritual nature of that which He was giving. She wanted to talk about the proper place for worship. We might call it liturgics. Jesus pointed to the fact that salvation was of the Jews and that the Messiah was to come through Judaism. Finally, when she began to debate about the coming of the Messiah, Jesus said firmly, “I that speak unto thee am he.” For this woman, as for all unbelievers, there was to be no solution to religious or theological questions until there was an acceptance of Christ and a true understanding of His person.

There is an important application of this in light of current practice within most of the Christian churches. If it is true, as I have just indicated, that not all of the truths of the Bible are for the unbeliever, then it is readily apparent that church membership is not for him either. For membership in the local church implies membership in the body of Christ. And one becomes a member of Christ’s body only by believing in the Gospel.

Unfortunately, there are thousands of persons in the Church of Jesus Christ today who have been received by letter of transfer, but without a clear statement of faith, or by committees who were more interested in the applicant’s social position than in his position before Almighty God. These ought never to have been admitted to church membership. It is a scandal. It is a great weakness, also. For such persons and for the churches that permit it, church membership has become a partial fulfillment of Malachi 2:1-2, which says, “And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you. If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings; yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart.” In such cases membership in the Church of Jesus Christ, which should be a thing of great blessing, has become a curse under which many a church and many a denomination labor.

Study Questions
  1. How did Jesus deal with the Samaritan woman? What did she want to talk about, and what did Jesus want to talk about?
  2. What are your church’s requirements for membership?
Application

Reflection: What are some different ideas people have about church membership? How do membership committees at times differ in what the requirements for membership are? How do members themselves view membership and what their obligations are?

For Further Study: Download and listen for free to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “Spiritual Discernment.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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