f The Wittenberg Door: Members of Christ – Part 4

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Members of Christ – Part 4

Rev. Leach continues from part three:

A third component to this developing New Testament portrait of membership in the body of Christ is the evidence of “additions to” and “subtractions from” the church. The additions are easy!

Read the book of Acts, and you’ll see how Luke telescopes from specific instances of the grace and power of God in the church, out to the many broad summaries, often with numbers to give us a good clear picture of the magnitude of what was going on. Acts 2:41, describing the effect of the preaching of the gospel on the Jewish crowd: “So then, those who received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about 3000 souls.” Six verses later: “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Chapter 4, verse 4: “But many of those who had heard the message believed, and the number of the men [let alone the women!] came to be about 5000.” Neither were women left out of the count. Acts 5:14: “And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number.” A number, apparently, someone was keeping track of! Again, examples abound of “additions to a number” representing demographics that included men, women, Jewish priests, Hebrew widows, Hellenistic widows, Gentiles, jailers, centurions, fabric dealers, people with names and faces and public professions of faith and baptisms and needs that the church does its best to meet in the name of Jesus Christ her Lord.

Subtractions

As for the subtractions, they occur through death, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira. Or through humanly administered discipline and censure, such as not only Diotrephes faced in III John, but also a man well known to the Corinthian church, one of her own number who “had his father’s wife” and was ripe for removal. You see in Acts one Simon of Samaria who seemed to benefit from censure and in II Corinthians a man restored to full fellowship after the exercise of church discipline. Additions are additions to an already existing number. Subtractions are subtractions from that number. It’s a process impossible to calculate or even to conceive of until we understand that one either is, or is not, a member of the body of Christ, the church.

The NT Evidence for Church Rosters, Rolls, and Lists

This evidence is strengthened by the fourth component of the Scriptural argument for membership in the body: the New Testament evidence of church rosters, or rolls, or lists. On the face of it, this sounds, perhaps, boringly unspiritual and administrative. It sounds so “Presbyterian” that anyone would keep lists of members! But consider again the matter of additions and subtractions and numbers we’ve already considered. Consider the frequency of converts mentioned by name, names still remembered and recorded in the Acts, sometimes many years after their deaths.

Consider, too, the implications for elders under the solemn charge to shepherd the flock of God among them. Shepherd whom exactly? Do elders give an account to God of every soul who visits the church from time to time? How often do visitors need to visit before the elders become accountable for their souls? And what about Christ Himself? Did He die for an indeterminate number of people, or for a determinate number? The good Shepherd says in John 10:14, “I know My own, and My own know Me.” He calls us each by name. It’s a number, and they are names, known to Christ and known, in time, to His body the church.

Consider the illumination Acts 1:15 sheds on the matter of church rolls. Here are the early disciples, giving themselves to prayer in those few days between the ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit with power. It seems needful to deal with the loose end of Judas Iscariot and his defection and death. As Luke tells the story, he writes, “And in these days Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about 120 names was there together.) . . . .” Where we’d expect to find psuche (“souls”), for instance, or adelphoi(“brothers”), or something else, we instead find the word onomaton. It’s a gathering of names. In I Timothy 5, the apostle Paul not only takes for granted that the church in Ephesus keeps church rolls but mentions one specific roll, telling Timothy who should and should not be on the “list” of believing widows qualified for church assistance. The cumulative weight of New Testament evidence for a defined church membership is overwhelming—and it’s not all found in one place, which is significant.

Stay tuned for part five!

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