Who’s In and Who’s Out
The commitment Christians make to one another in the church is not just casual and “understood.” Throughout the New Testament, it seems to be a formal one. In other words, the early church knew who was a part of their community and who was not. They had a very clear understanding of who was inside the church and who was outside of it.
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul rebukes the Corinthian church for not expelling a man who is in serious sin. In verses 11 to 13, he writes,
But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral, or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.’
Notice how Paul refers to those “inside the church” and those “outside the church.” But how does he know who’s in and who’s out? How does the church distinguish between those who are part of it and those who aren’t?
The answer is that they must have known very clearly which people had formally committed themselves to the church, and which had not. That is really the only way that Paul’s exhortation to “expel” the sinful man makes any sense.
How could the church “put out” someone who had never been “put in?” How could they expel someone from their fellowship if they had no clear understanding of which people were already in their fellowship?
They couldn’t, at least not with any meaning. The church could only legitimately remove from its fellowship those who had formally committed to the church, identifying themselves with it.
Later, in 2 Corinthians 2, we find that the church had indeed followed Paul’s advice and expelled the man. He apparently repented of his sin sometime after that, because Paul says in 2:6 that,
“The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him.”
Look at that sentence carefully, and especially the word “majority.” That is important because you can’t have a majority of anything unless you know who gets counted and who doesn’t.
Paul must be talking here about a majority of a well-defined whole—that is, a majority of those people who were known to be committed to the church. (Perhaps they even had a list. . . .)
“Church membership is a counter to our culture’s antagonism toward commitment and accountability.” Leadership Journal-April 18, 2005
You can receive this entire conversation on Church Membership (and more) in your inbox. I want to invite you to SUBSCRIBE by typing your email in the box in the upper right hand column of my blog…Thanks!