About Membership

The reason we have official church membership is that it is required by law and is also supportive of the Biblical emphasis of commitment and service within a local body of believers. Christ expects us to be subject to the laws of the land as long as they are not in direct opposition to his command. God puts a lot of emphasis in Scripture on believers being in a body that meets weekly and is committed to functioning as a body. That is, the Bible teaches that Christians should be part of a local church. Becoming an official member rather that simply being someone who attends EDAC means that you have a legal right to vote at the Church’s General Meetings or hold certain elected positions in the church. EDAC also restricts important team leader positions and ministries to members. Membership in the local church also includes the option of becoming a member of the C&MA of Australia Inc. Membership in the C&MA is open to everyone fulfilling certain basic requirements (except for minors by law) and enables participation in the national ministry of the C&MA. But there is much more we should understand about membership.

Understanding Membership
Membership in a local church assumes a few ideas that are not always accepted.
1. Being a Christian is different from being a member.
There are denominations and cults which proudly and wrongly believe that they are the only ones. These groups may believe it is possible to be saved outside their church, but they usually believe that it is not proper – hence the Catholic Church sees non-Catholics as “estranged brethren”. The C&MA however recognizes that the Kingdom of God is far bigger than itself. We recognize that people are born into the Kingdom of God in other denominations and groups, and that these are just as precious in God’s eyes as a person in the Alliance. Thus a person becomes a member of The Church (universal) by faith in Christ, and is expected to openly proclaim this through Baptism. People baptized in Alliance Churches have become open members of the universal Church, but HAVE NOT automatically become members of the C&MA. Being a member in the C&MA is not the same as being a Christian, nor is it becoming some kind of “super saint”. Membership in the C&MA means that we are an official member of a Christian organization.

2. The Body of Christ IS one.
Along with most Christian groups, the C&MA believes that Christ appointed the Apostles to lay the foundation of the Church (Eph. 4:11; 3:20-21). They laid the basic teachings of the Church, passing on the teaching of Jesus and the meaning of his life, death and resurrection. Their teaching is preserved in written form for us in the NEW TESTAMENT, and it is this, together with the OLD TESTAMENT, which is the only authoritative guide to what Christians do and believe. Therefore we believe that Christ exercises his authority in the Church through the Bible as well as the Holy Spirit within each believer. Because of this there is only one body (the universal church in which the Holy Spirit lives), one Lord (Jesus), one faith (Bible), one baptism (in water), and one God. Therefore all true Christians are united into one body already and must make every effort to live with one another peacefully (Eph. 4:3).

3. Denominations are a necessary part of the Church.
But this body has many parts just like our physical body. There are millions of individual local congregations, in different cultures, languages, nations etc. Thus there is great diversity in this Spiritually unified body. These churches are usually connected with other churches of a similar character to form denominations.

4. Christians must be committed to a local Church.
To say that you can be committed to Jesus Christ and yet not be committed to a local church is a fallacy. It is clear from Acts that a certain order marked the church. Each believer baptized (2:41), membership was recorded (2:41; 4:4), specific doctrinal beliefs outlined (2:42), and they met for prayer (2:42) and public worship (Acts 2:46). In the New Testament it is a clear teaching that Christians should be committed and accountable to a local group of Christians who meet together at least weekly and who use their gifts, talents, money, and possessions to contribute to the building up of the believers in the faith, and to win others to Christ. Immediately after the day of Pentecost the local church was in operation. There is no place for spiritual gypsies in the New Testament (Eph. 4:8, 11). This is seen in Christ’s command for us to love one another. Hebrews 10:25 says we need to fellowship together. The New Testament actually had its origin in the Apostle’s care and concern for these local gatherings of Christians. A “solo Christian” is unknown in the New Testament.

Reasons for Joining a Local Church.
The reasons why it is necessary for any Christian to join a specific local church are:
1. Going in the same direction as the local church – goals and purposes.
2. Commitment to the local body is proclaiming to the rest of the fellowship that you are prepared to serve (Eph. 2:10; 4:8, 11).
3. Accepting of voting rights. Membership gives a person the right to vote on the decisions that are made in church business meetings.
4. Opportunity for involvement in the major teaching and administrative positions of the church. These are only open to qualified people who have shown their commitment to the local membership.
5. Official membership provides an ordered structure for sound government and discipline and pastoral care. We all need to care for each other – none of us are supposed to be islands, being individualists.

Reasons for Denominations
In the past, people in different denominations were very segregated and there were often strong sectarian feelings. Some groups sought to emphasise the unity of the body of Christ and spurn the traditions and organizations which divided the universal Church. These effectively became denominations themselves. Others have observed that sometimes the early churches met in homes and established loosely connected (or strongly connected) home churches. In recent times there has been quite a bit of anti-denominational sentiment. The C&MA was itself influenced by this and refused the title of ‘denomination’ for 70 years! Many think that we should abolish all denominations and just live as one Church. Those who advocate this teach that the early Church was like this. Such teaching often includes a spurning of any idea of membership in the local church as well as in denominations. Actually, it can be seen that the early Church was filled with divisions, co-operating but distinct groups of churches, doctrinally different and culturally different churches.

Denominations have arisen because of both good and bad reasons:

1. The Necessity of Organisation.
There must be organisation. God is a God of order and organisation, and he expects churches to be also (1 Cor. 14:33, 40).

2. Natural factors
There has always been organisation amongst separate local churches, but history, culture, geography and language have caused a number of organisations (denominations) to develop. For instance, the Anglican Church is English in origin whereas the Presbyterian Church is Scottish.

3. Need to Accept Disagreements
Disagreements over what the Bible teaches and the way churches organise themselves have produced more groups than are warranted. To this can be added disagreements over what should be done, what is most important, and so on. In Acts Paul had a disagreement with Barnabas over Mark and so they went in separate directions. False teachers usually say their teaching comes from the Bible. Large denominations have often been infected with deadness and/or heresy, which have forced many out of them so that they could be free to serve Christ. We can’t be forced to agree. So it is necessary that Christians be allowed to express their differences and organise themselves accordingly. Obviously this will lead to many groups which are formed because of silly or sinful disagreements. But the only alternative is to try to force people to be united. When this has happened it has led to the worst episodes in the history of the church. We would be just as successful trying to force all Christians never to sin! For these, and many other reasons, it is necessary until Christ returns that the Church is not represented on Earth by one single organisation. It is very similar to the division of the world into nations. Ideally it would be best if the whole world were one, but practically this would cause problems, and because of sin in the heart of man it is very undesirable. Power tends to corrupt men and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.

4. Local churches had links with Overseers, Apostles and one another. The word ‘church’ means ‘assembly’, and usually refers to a local group of Christians who gathered together regularly. Over 90% of the uses of “church” in the Bible refer to a group of believers in a specific congregation! The New Testament also shows that the early churches were not completely autonomous. Paul and the other Apostles exercised authority over the churches they started, and came together to discuss problems affecting them all (see Acts 15). Paul gave oversight of Churches in regions to reliable men such as Timothy and Titus. John had oversight over the churches of Asia Minor and wrote Revelation to them. Various churches supported Paul in his missionary work and he returned to them and was answerable to them (Acts 13:1-2). For these reasons the C&MA sees that local churches are not to be fully autonomous. They need to work with other churches and under the authority of church leadership to provide external support, help, discipline, instruction and cooperation in larger tasks.

Reasons for Church Membership.
Church membership is not taught in the Bible. Along with many other churches, the Alliance has church membership for practical reasons with biblical precedent.

1. Need to do things in an orderly way.
The bible is FULL of Holy Spirit inspired order and organisation. When God worked in the seven days of creation, he brought ORDER out of CHAOS. Many people have believed that something is from the Holy Spirit only if it is spontaneous, unplanned, sudden. But though this may sometimes be the case, it is certainly not a rule. Jesus, Moses, Joseph, Paul, David, Solomon and many of the Bible greats were careful and prayerful planners and organisers (see 1 Cor. 14:33, 40). The Bible gives general principles and broad instruction on how to conduct a church and run the legal and business or organisational aspects of church life. When it comes to practice, however, many of these things need to be spelled out. Different groups of Christians spell this out differently – usually in a constitution as required by law for bodies which collect and distribute funds. Even in the New Testament the manner of organisation of the Churches was not constant – it varied as the needs expanded or changed. Basic principles are given as well as general features of organisation. Churches, including the C&MA use these, their interpretations, tradition, societal requirements, wisdom and personal preference to embellish these. The C&MA has constitutions for each aspect of its work including a base constitution for local churches to which by-laws can be added by the local church. The constitution was formed and is amended by the members through the Annual General Council of the C&MA of Australia. This constitution differs from that of other churches. It is not a matter of right and wrong, it is simply that a clear, ordered approach to church function needs to be set out to guide people in the way things are to be carried out.

2. Need to do things in a legal way.
The Apostles taught that as far as possible we must obey the laws of the land and do things in a way which brings no disrespect to the name of Christ (see Rom. 13:1-7). Churches are organisations where leaders and groups make decisions on behalf of a large number of people about money and property. Because of this they must operate in accordance with societal laws. In Australia and most other countries this means that denominations and local congregations need to have constitutions and membership. For example, we could not open an account for this church at the bank without first having a meeting and passing a motion to declare certain people as signatories to the account (unless the Pastor opened it up in his own name!…)

3. Others should have a part, not just leaders.
Ephesians 4:12 says that the work of ministry belongs to the whole church and not just a select few. Though some churches only let the clergy make the decisions, the C&MA recognises that all Christians have the Bible and the Holy Spirit and so potentially are qualified to help in the decisions of the church. In worship this means everyone can participate. But in business decisions and leadership decisions which have legal consequences, who can join in? When does a person attending a local church have the right to take part in decisions made by the church? The way this question is answered in most Christian groups is with church membership. Those who have shown their commitment to the church are given the right to vote, take office and exercise leadership. This connection between commitment and rights is vital if proper decisions are to be made.