To Join the Disciples
Bryan Matthew Dockens
Many members of the body of Christ are under the false impression that by regularly attending a church they are automatically inducted into the membership of the same. This incorrect notion is often perpetuated in practice among churches that lack understanding. While it is not this writer's intention to defend the vocabulary of "placing membership", the concept is very much a scriptural one and worthy of our attention.
Three years after he was converted (Galatians 1:15-19), "...when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out" (Acts 9:26-28).
Notice that Saul attempted "to join the disciples", but before he would be considered "with them" Barnabas had to vouch for him, confirming that he was, in fact, a faithful Christian. This was not a display of merciless hostility on the part of the church in Jerusalem, but sincere adherence to the will of God, for it is written, "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him, for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 John 10-11).
There must, therefore, be a process by which those who desire to be recognized as members of a particular congregation are verified to be worthy of acceptance. In the case of Saul, Barnabas was present to give assurance to the apostles. In other cases, letters of commendation would be appropriate. After he was converted in Ephesus, Apollos moved to Corinth and "the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him" (Acts 18:27). Paul implied that letters are not necessary where the individual is previously known to the congregation (for example, in Paul’s own case, he was the one who taught them the gospel -- 2 Corinthians 3:1); otherwise, he implied that such letters or other forms of recommendation are useful.
Considering that "a little leaven leavens the whole lump" (Galatians 5:9; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8), churches are well advised to exercise caution in who they accept as members.