Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
Recently a question was raised about the standards that are used to determine who can be a part of the church. The point was that, because we maintain certain Biblical standards regarding sin, certain people are not welcome in our church. Actually, we do not have a list of requirements that must be fulfilled in order to participate in the services or ministries of the church. It isn’t up to us to formulate a list of requirements for participation in church because it isn’t our church.
Landstown Community Church is one congregation of believers in Jesus Christ among many thousands of congregations all over the world that make up the Church of Jesus Christ. No matter what membership requirements individual congregations may have, only God knows who is and who isn’t a member of His Church. Since it’s Jesus’ church, He sets the requirements.
I am aware of only two requirements that are referred to in the New Testament for membership in His Body, the Church; and they are so inter-related that I don’t think they can be separated. The first is faith, the second is repentance.
Most religions have converts. If you aren’t born into a religion, you can convert. You can join by subscribing to the the tenets of the particular religion you are choosing. Religious Christianity has the same understanding of conversion. Biblical Christianity does not.
Jesus made statements like “He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:38); and “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27). In fact, when He went back to heaven following His resurrection, He told His followers to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19). He is not looking for adherents to a set of doctrines or converts to a religious system. He is looking for disciples, followers who “come after” Him.
In those final instructions to His followers, He made this statement: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). This is in agreement to what He told Nicodemus, the Jewish teacher, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). So faith in Christ is required to enter into discipleship.
We first find the other requirement in Matthew as Jesus begins His ministry. His first message was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Peter continues this message in Acts 2:38 when he tells the people of Jerusalem after Jesus’ resurrection, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.” Paul tells the philosophers in Athens, “God…now commands everyone everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has appointed” (Acts 17:30-31). Peter later tells us that God is delaying that judgment to give people time to repent. The resurrected and glorified Jesus tells five of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 through the apostle John that they still needed to repent.
Repentance simply means “to change your mind,” or “to turn around and go the other way.” The basic message, consistent throughout the New Testament, is that as fallen human beings, plagued by sin, we need to turn away from the things that God calls sin (repent) and trust in Jesus Christ (believe) as the only God-provided solution for that sin.
In I Corinthians 12:13, Paul says that the Holy Spirit baptizes people into the Body of Christ (the Church). Church leaders cannot decide who is in and who is not. What we can do is consistently declare the Biblical standards of faith and repentance. People will have to decide for themselves whether they want to be part of a church with that message.