As we imitate the apostles and hold to the traditions they
established in the church (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; 2 Th. 3:7),
Christians locally assemble to worship God and do the work
He ordained for the church.
The Word "Church"
The Greek word translated "church" is ekklesia, meaning
a called out body. It identifies the body (i.e., assembly)
of people responding to God's call through Jesus Christ
(Matt. 16:18), which He issued through the gospel (2 Th.
2:14; cf. Mk. 16:15; Tit. 2:11-14; Col. 1:6, 23).
People who respond to the call are added to the church
by the Lord (Acts 2:38, 47; 1 Cor. 12:13). In this sense,
the word "church" identifies the universal church, which
is composed of all the saved (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22; 5:23-32;
1 Cor. 11:22; 12:28).
However, the word "church" is also used in another sense,
and denotes a congregation in a specific location (Matt.
18:17; Acts 5:11; 8:1; 14:23, 27; 1 Cor.1:2; 1 Th. 1:1).
Church membership in the body of Christ occurs when someone
obeys Jesus and is baptized, but local church membership
is the joining of oneself to a local group of God's people
for worship and work.
Paul and Peter's Example
Through Paul's example, we learn that local congregations
consist of Christians who join themselves together as God's
people. The churches in Thessalonica and Athens began by
people obeying the gospel and joining themselves to Paul
and the faithful brethren with him (Acts 17:4; 17:34).
Paul and Peter teach us that local congregations are led
by elders, who are members of the congregation they oversee
(Acts 20:28). Peter was an elder and faithful shepherd the
flock of God within the congregation he served (1 Pet. 5:2);
hence, he was a member of a local congregation.
Fellowship In a Local Church
We shouldn't have fellowship with sinful brethren within
a local congregation. Paul commands Timothy, saying, "Do
not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share
responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free
from sin" (1 Tim. 5:22).
We must be careful as to whom we allow into the fellowship
of a local congregation. And certainly, as addressed in
the immediate context of 1 Timothy 5:22, we must be particularly
careful in the selection and ordination of elders, so we
do not share responsibility for their sins.
Process of Extending Fellowship
Within a Local Congregation God allows us to employ an expedient
method of establishing fellowship among members in a local
congregation, just as He allows us to use an expedient method
of selecting and ordaining elders.
A term we employ to identify the process for extending
fellowship in a local congregation is "placing membership."
In our congregation, the process of extending fellowship
involves a person making it known that he wishes to be a
member of the congregation. Usually he'll express his desire
to one of the elders, or the preacher who in turn forwards
his request to the elders.
Then, the elders meet with the person (or family) requesting
membership. This allows the elders to give the future member
more information about the congregation and its inner workings;
and it allows the prospective member to ask questions pertinent
to the congregation and local fellowship.
Often times, a person requesting membership has been assembling
with the group for a few weeks and is acquainted with the
congregation, so meeting with the elders is more like touching
base and coordinating, than anything else.
Sometimes, Fellowship Must Be Withdrawn
Unfortunately, there are times when a local congregation
must withdraw fellowship from a member. God commands us
to "withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly" (2
A congregation must withdraw fellowship whenever a member
refuses to repent of sin. Such was the case in Corinth of
a man who had his father's wife, and refused to repent (1
Cor. 5:4, 9). In such cases, we are to note that person
and not associate with him (2 Th. 3:14; 1 Cor. 5:9), so
he'll be shamed (2 Th. 3:14), and repent to the saving of
his soul (1 Cor. 5:5). But in doing this, we are not to
"regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother"
(2 Th. 3:15).
If we do not withdraw from members who refuse to repent:
- Sin will spread throughout the congregation (1 Cor.
- We will have fellowship with darkness rather than God
(2 Cor. 6:14-18).
The church is composed of local congregations wherein Christians
cooperate for the purpose of worship and work, in addition
to the things God commands us to do as individual Christians.
As a congregation, we should extend fellowship to Christians
who are faithfully serving God, while diligently exercising
discipline within the local body.
When we do these things, as God ordained within the church,
we are the people God purposed before creating the world
(Eph. 1:3-14; 3:10-11), doing the good works He's prepared
for His children (Eph. 2:10).