On the other hand, while mainline and fundamentalist churches are declining, the emerging charismatic one-world church is blooming, with stadiums full of people, numbering in the tens of thousands.
One of the ministries I subscribe to their e-mails believes in the 'local' church, and if it's not the local church, it's not a Biblical New Testament church; that its leaders must be 'appointed' by some -person- of authority. And in keeping with the local church, they also believe in church "membership".
While church membership might be a good thing to guard against outsiders who would seek to infiltrate and subvert [link] is it a 'must' Scripturally? Those who believe this, quote...
They see the word "added" and in their minds tag on the words, "to the membership rolls". After all, in their altar calls, along with salvation and re-dedication, one of the points of invitation is to "join the church". That is... their 'local' church where they are presently sitting in the pews. They also take other NT expressions of "the number" (Ac4:4, 6:1,7, 1Ti5:9) and say that "number" actually means "membership"; a 'list' that has been recorded. We certainly see such lists in the OT related to Israel, its tribes and those of the age to go to war and serve in the temple; but I have never seen such a list related to the Church of Jesus Christ, except for the list that God has in the Book of Life. (Php4:3, Re3:5, 21:27, Ps56:8)
Acts 2:41 is their kingpin verse. However, seeing what the words -say-, what happens when something is "added". Does that not mean that there are now -more-. There were about 120 people in the upper room, the Holy Spirit came, the disciples preached, and 3000 people were saved. Now there were 3120 Believers. 3000 were 'added' to the 120. The number (amount/quantity) of Believers was -growing-.
In Peter's message, anybody please show me where he exhorted the people to "sign their names", or "fill out the card", "go forward" and "join the church" as the choir sang "Just as I am". You won't find it. NOWHERE in Scripture! Also, please tell me -where- their "church" was. Well, they were fellowshipping "from house to house". (Ac2:46) But what happened when the days of Pentecost were over? Remember, they were gathered in Jerusalem from many different regions. (vs9-11) Were they required to -stay- in Jerusalem in that -local- 'church', so as not to be guilty of "forsaking the assembling of themselves"? (Heb10:25) Ridiculous! Even those in Jerusalem would eventually be scattered when persecution arose. (Ac8:4) Those who were "added" to the Church eventually went home, wherever they lived, from where they had come to the Pentecost festivities.
What -is- the Church? Is it the -building- where the doors are unlocked at certain times? Who is "in charge" of the Church? Some -person- who is appointed by another person? Jesus Christ is the -Head- of the Church. (Eph1:22, Col1:18) The relationship of the Church to Christ is like the wife to the husband. (Eph5:23) So, is the wife the "member" of the marriage? Where is their "marriage" building? Marriage is not a building nor a membership; but a union of oneness. (Ge2:24) As Jesus prayed the Father...
"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the authority to become children of God, to those believing into His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (Jn1:12-13)
And so... what about these concerns and questions about people who are -leaving- the 'groups' of people that are claiming to be a "church"?
!! WRONG QUESTION !!
The question should be: Is the group (in question) truly the [C]hurch of Jesus Christ? If a person is leaving a 'group' of people, are they leaving THE CHURCH of Jesus Christ? Like the old Negro spiritual, "Everybody talkin' 'bout Heaven ain't goin' there"... not everything called "church" -is-. There is ONLY ONE Church of Jesus Christ...
Thus, if people are -leaving- 'groups' of people, it is actually a different set of questions:
There are two reasons why people "leave the church".
1) If they are not part of -the- Church of Jesus Christ. Until children reach the age to "reject the evil and choose the good" (Is7:15) while they are under the umbrella of their -saved- parents, they are "holy" (saints) (1Co7:14) But if Salvation is not in their -own- heart/s, and they go to college, and "leave the church"; that "leaving" indicates the true state of their own individual heart before God. They do not know the Lord. For all the years they lived at home, and dutifully went "to church" with their parents, and perhaps even participated in "church activities", and put on their dutiful smiles, and knew how to parrot all the right words and expressions "of salvation"; in truth, in their own true heart-of-hearts, they do not know the Lord. -That- is 'why' they "leave the church". They are not 'part' -of- the Church of Jesus Christ, thus they also leave that which represents the physical appearance of the Church, where it meets. They are not part of God's Kingdom. They are not saved. Thus, why -should- they stick around? They shouldn't. They DON'T BELONG. They left because they never were to begin with. (1Jn2:19)
If such a person "leaves the church", what Believers need to do is not to coerce them to come "back to church" (the meetings); but seek their Salvation! And no! The two are NOT the same thing! They do not need to be up at that (baptist) 'altar' at "invitation" time; they need God's Holy Spirit in their hearts! Not the "circumcision" of the flesh, but "of the heart" (Rom2:28-29)
In both cases, the "leaving" is justified, proper and right. In the one case, because the unbeliever is leaving where Believers meet, and doesn't belong. (2Ch23:19, Ezk22:26,etc) In the other because the one leaving -is- a Believer, but the group is not (2Co6:17)
However, it should not be confused: leaving a 'group' of people is not the same as leaving the church of Jesus Christ. The only way a Believer can -leave- the Church is to "draw back" (Heb10:39); by putting the hand to the plow and "looking back" (Lk9:62); by becoming "partakers of the Holy Spirit" (which is the definition of Salvation Rom8:9) and then to "turn aside". (Heb6:4-6)
Please be clear in this understanding. Leaving the Church of Jesus Christ has NOTHING TO DO WITH -other- PEOPLE, either saved or pagan. It has to do with a person's standing before God. And if a person leaves, it is "impossible" to renew them to repentance. It's not like the group can put the person on their prayer request list and 'pray' for them to come back. Such a person is gone... permanently and forever.
But also, such a person might not be missing from the -physical- meetings. A person who has left the [C]hurch might actually be regularly attending the meetings of the 'church'. So... what does it -look- like? What are the appearances? Jesus said...
If a person leaves the Church of Jesus Christ by "drawing back", that is not necessarily something the other people can 'see'. On the other hand, the person they 'see' who doesn't happen to be meeting WITH 'them' in 'their' meetings might actually be a faithful Servant of the Most High. And in how many cases is it the case that 'they' are the -lost-, and the one they are 'praying' for is actually the True Believer. Again...
If 'they' chide you for not fellowshipping with 'their' -group-, and they do not understand your Scriptural reasonings, do not feel condemned by them. Those who are True Fellow-believers will understand. Those who are not, won't.