The writers of the New Testament knew nothing about “joining the church of your choice.” Instead, they encouraged people to obey the gospel.
When people obeyed the gospel, they became children of God (cf. Gal. 3:26-27). They were also added by the Lord to His church (cf. Acts 2:38, 41, 47).
The “process” by which these people became children of God and members of the church included —
- Hearing the gospel (Rom. 10:14)
- Believing the gospel (John 8:24)
- Repenting of past sins (Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38)
- Confessing one’s faith in Jesus (Rom. 10:10)
- Baptism (immersion) in water for the remission/forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38, 22:16; Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3)
Sadly, there were those in the days of the apostles who thought they were faithful children of God, but who were not. These would include —
- Those who were still following the Law of God given to Moses. This would include the people who heard the sermon on the Day of Pentecost and many others to whom the apostles preached; especially those to whom Paul preached in various synagogues.
- People who knew only of the teaching of John, the forerunner of Jesus. People like Apollos (Acts 18:24-28) and the people Paul encountered in Acts 19:1ff would be included in this number.
- Good, moral, “religious” people like Cornelius (Acts 10 &11).
It is also sad to notice that there were those who were recognized by others as members of the church, but who were not at all conducting themselves as faithful children of God. We find no joy in reading about such people as —
- Simon the sorcerer, who had a problem in giving up his popularity among the people of Samaria (cf. Acts 8:9ff).
- The unnamed man who was recognized as a member of the church in Corinth, but who was living a sinful lifestyle (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1-13).
- Hymenaeus and Alexander, who had made a shipwreck of their faith (cf. 1 Tim. 1:19-20).
- Diotrophes, who did not acknowledge apostolic authority and loved being in a place of prominence (cf. 2 John 9-10).
What was true in the first century is still true today. There are good, honest, well-intentioned people who sincerely believe that they are children of God. Unfortunately, they have never been taught and/or have never truly obeyed the gospel of our Lord.
There are others, who having done that at some point in the past, are now living a life of disobedience to God. They may be recognized by others as members of various congregations. They may, in fact, be in leadership positions as was the case with Diotrophes.
A faithful child of God is also a member of the Lord’s church.
However, the fact that I may be recognized by others as a member of the church does not necessarily mean that I am a faithful child of God
How important is this? Please read carefully these words from the lips of Jesus:
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matt. 7:21-23, NKJV)