Experiencing God: After Conversion, After Baptism, Church Membership

Title: Experiencing God: After Conversion, After Baptism, Church Membership (long version)

Text: Acts 2:41-42

Time: October 1, 2008

We are talking about experiencing God. It starts when we turn from our sins and turn towards God through faith in Jesus Christ. That’s conversion. Then comes baptism. Last time we saw how the Apostle Peter connects baptism with the conversion experience, links it closely together with repentance and faith, and doesn’t separate it like many churches do today. Today in many churches we discover many Christians who have never bothered to be baptized. That never would have been allowed in the early church. To be a Christian is to be baptized, to not be baptized casts doubt on one’s Christianity. So a new convert is checked to see if their heart is right for baptism, they are checked to see if they have truly confessed their sins and repented of sins generally and specifically. They are checked to see if they are sincere in their turning from sin and turning to God. They are checked to see if they understand Christ and the Gospel, and if they have properly believed from the heart not just the head. If there are no doubts as to their true and genuine conversion, they are baptized. But even before new converts are baptized they are already being prepared to join the local baptizing body of believers in church membership. Why else would a local church baptize someone other than to take on the responsibility of raising that person up into a mature Christian? If the person receiving baptism made it known that he was not interested in continuing on towards membership in the local church, but was actually thinking of moving on to a church down the street, why would the baptizing church even continue the process of baptism? If the new convert desired to go to another church, let him go there immediately and be baptized in that other church and continue on as a disciple in that other church. But if the convert desires baptism at the church it should also be assumed that he will be staying and making his spiritual home at the church for ongoing discipleship. Again, that is the only true, Christian, biblical pattern. Look at Acts 2:41-42, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” We see the phrase, “and about three thousand were added to their number.” Added to what number? These new converts were added to those who were already numbered as Christians, which from Acts 1:15, we know was around one hundred fifty in number. So three thousand were added to one hundred fifty. The numbers are not important, yet only in as far as showing that the new converts were added to the already existing body of believers. That is the pattern for church membership then and now. 

The new converts, the newly baptized converts, weren’t simply left to drift away like so often happens today. They were not left leaderless like often times happens today. The Apostle Peter and the disciples led these people to conversion, they then led them to baptism, then they led them into discipleship in the church. Now the process of discipleship and church membership today should be the same. In fact, discipleship and membership should be the same in a local church today. A person who is a member of a local church should also be a disciple of Jesus, and a person who is an ongoing disciple of Jesus should also be a member of a local church. The two words, “membership” and “discipleship” should be interchangeable. But often times today they are not because of the way churches have allowed membership to mean more of a political position than a spiritual position. Today, members think of themselves primarily as holding voting rights that they exercise during business meetings, instead of thinking of themselves as officially recognized disciples of Jesus Christ within the context of a local church. The emphasis should not be on “rights” as much as “responsibilities.” A Christian who joins a local church has the responsibility of becoming a better disciple of Jesus Christ through spiritual growth. That must be the emphasis. That was the emphasis in the early church, becoming better and better disciples or followers of Jesus. We see from the passage above that some of the activities they were involved in included: devoting themselves to the apostles’ teachings, and participating in Christian fellowship, to breaking bread together at the Communion table, and in prayer. Of course, these were not the only activities the new converts were involved in; there were no doubt many other things they did in connection with their joining the new Christian church. So in approaching membership today, churches must follow closely the outline for membership in the Book of Acts, but also realize that the outline is incomplete. It only serves as a sample of the most important things the new believers were instructed to practice with the other believers. We can pick up bits and pieces of other local church membership requirements through examining the whole Book of Acts and the early church. At CrossPointe Church membership is made a key part of the process of discipleship. The church wants to make the membership requirements the same as discipleship requirements, and discipleship requirements the same as local church membership requirements. In this way, a new convert or an established Christian can join the church knowing that they are joining a spiritual discipleship process, not just a political process for voting rights. Becoming a member of a local church should be a major spiritual step for a Christian.

With that in mind, CrossPointe Church has seven membership requirements based on the practices of the early church that challenge a person to become a better disciple of Jesus Christ. The first membership requirement is that a person be committed to Jesus Christ and Baptism. The second membership requirement is that a person must be committed to Christian doctrine and morality. The third membership requirement is that a person must be committed to daily prayer and Bible study. The fourth membership requirement is that a person be committed to the local church mission and leadership. The fifth membership requirement is that a person must be committed to ministry participation and financial giving. The sixth membership requirement is that a person be committed to bringing and including other to the faith and church. And finally, the seventh membership requirement is that a person must be committed to fellowship and loving unity in the church. Now what is immediately seen is that these seven requirements for local church membership go beyond the basic outline in the above passage of the Bible. That is because the above outline is not a complete list of all the things that were expected of new believers joining the local church. Scattered throughout the Book of Acts and the New Testament are more lists and more examples of Christians functioning in the context of a local Christian church. Today, we must draw upon all outlines and examples found in the New Testament record to get a full picture of what being a part of a local church is supposed to mean. At CrossPointe Church we do not claim to have all the requirements for church membership exactly as they were in the early church, but we think we are pretty close. On the one hand, we do not want to make local church membership more complicated than it was in the early Christian church, but on the other hand, we do not want to make it less comprehensive either. Our goal is to make local church membership an experience in Christian discipleship, making it no more challenging, and no less challenging than the original apostles established for the early church. With our seven membership requirements, we think we get it pretty close. If a person joins CrossPointe Church and commits to and takes serious his or her responsibilities as a local church member, we feel that the person will also be taking serious and growing into a better disciple of Jesus Christ. The requirements are challenging, and they are meant to be challenging. The vision for Christianity Jesus left the apostles, and the vision the apostles passed on to the people is challenging. It will require the attention of the heart, mind, and body. But meeting the requirements, or striving to meet them, is the discipleship process that Christ calls us to enter. So with that introduction, let’s look at the membership requirements one-by-one.

First, there is commitment to Jesus Christ and Baptism. At CrossPointe Church this is the most important thing: an experience with God through Jesus Christ. Now in order to have an experience with God, one must repent of sins and believe in Jesus Christ, and be baptized. This is the very message that Jesus came preaching in his very first teaching recorded in the New Testament. Mark 1:15, “The time has come, he said. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” So the first requirement for membership in the local church is repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Why is it so important to emphasize the dual aspect of repentance and faith, instead of just faith? Because it is very easy to forget or even leave out any talk of repentance in the salvation message, and many churches do. But repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. Repentance is turning from sin and turning toward God, that’s what God is asking of people to do: turn away, forsake, renounce, repent of sin in general and sins specifically, and then turn toward God in faith and believe. We stress this dual emphasis because it is so easy to admit people into the church who have never actually repented of their sins and turned toward God in faith. Most churches require faith of some sort, but without turning from sin, what kind of actual faith is it? It isn’t heart faith, because a truly repentant heart is the only kind that can truly turn toward God in sincere faith. If a person is unwilling to turn from their sins, they are unable to properly place their faith in God through Jesus Christ. Again, Jesus came preaching repentance and faith, and so we as a local church teach and preach the same message. Is there any incompatibility between the message of repentance and faith taught by Jesus, and the message of salvation taught by the Apostle Paul in Romans? Not at all. Paul says in Romans 10:9-10, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Paul is talking about believing in one’s heart, and that is only possible through turning our hearts from sin and turning our hearts toward God. It is impossible to turn our hearts toward God while our hearts are following after sin. We must be willing to turn away from sin and turn toward God. That is the biblical message of salvation in Jesus Christ. Another, more practical reason for requiring repentance and faith as a requirement for membership is that experience shows that unless a person is willing to repent of their sins they will not be willing to follow Jesus Christ in Christian discipleship. Time after time, we have seen persons who claim to be Christians refuse to follow even the most basic discipleship requirements. This is because they have never repented of sin in the first place. Their hearts have never been prepared to follow Jesus even though they are saying with their words that they are his followers, and they may even believe it in their minds. Yet, by their actions and attitudes, they demonstrate that they have never turned from their old lifestyle of sin and turned toward God through faith in Jesus to lead them in this life and into the next life.

But another reason why at CrossPointe we insist on repentance and faith, is that in Christian discipleship we are supposed to give up direction of our lives and hand over direction to Jesus. That is what repentance is supposed to be about. When we become a Christian there must be the intent that we give Jesus control of our lives and not continue to control our own lives. There are many professing Christians who have never repented of their life of sin and who know nothing of Christ controlling their lives. How can one be a disciple of Jesus without giving Jesus control? How can we claim to be followers of Jesus if one is unwilling to actually follow Jesus? Yet there are many churches that permit people to join the church without a clear understanding of repentance. This is wrong. The early church taught repentance, over and over again. So today the local church should teach it as a requirement for membership as well. Only through repentance and faith can a person experience God through Jesus Christ, and that is the heart of the whole Christian life. Without an experience of God it is difficult to commit and make good on the requirements for membership in the local Christian church. Without a living and active faith experience of God through Jesus a person will begin to see the membership or discipleship process as a burden, as mere duty. Without a vital and living love relationship with God, becoming a member or maintaining membership in the local church will become duty instead of a delight. One of the things that becomes very obvious in the early church is that the first century Christians had to really love Jesus in order to go through the difficulties they suffered. The requirements for membership were high, and the difficulty of maintaining faithful membership was great. But these early Christians joyfully and powerfully carried on their Christian witness even in the midst of a hostile culture because of their commitment to and love of Jesus Christ. It’s the same thing today. In order to meet the requirements to become a disciple of Jesus, join the church, and be a member, one must really commit and love God. And in order to maintain a faithful witness as a disciple and church member one must continue to commit and love the Lord Jesus in an ongoing way. Without a personal, living, and loving experience of God through Jesus Christ, one will drop out of the process at some point through lack of motivation. But if one’s heart is experiencing the living God on a daily basis, one will receive more than enough incentive and motivation to carry on and become a better and better disciple of Jesus Christ. So commitment to Jesus Christ through repentance and faith is the first part of this requirement.

The next part of this first requirement is baptism. A person must be willing to publicly express their repentance and faith in Jesus Christ through baptism in order to meet the first requirement of on going discipleship and membership in the local church. In some churches, a person converts, makes a public profession of faith, and then is baptized at another time. But in the Bible, the public profession of faith is baptism. At the time of baptism, the person confesses their sins and confesses faith in Jesus Christ. Baptism symbolizes two main aspects of salvation: saved from sin, and saved to a new life in Jesus Christ. We see this dual aspect of baptism illustrated in the New Testament, where John the Baptist baptized for the forgiveness of sins, a baptism of repentance. This is part of the Christian baptism. But the other part of Christian baptism is the rising to new life in Jesus Christ by faith. This is the baptism that Jesus brought and added to the baptism that John the Baptist taught. That’s why we see in the first sermon at Pentecost, the apostle Peter urging the crowd to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Peter emphasized the confessional part of baptism. But in other places, we see the apostles emphasizing the rising to new life in Christ aspect of baptism. They are both included in the same act of baptism. That’s why a person coming for membership in a local church is expected to be baptized after their conversion, or even after their rededication to Christ. At CrossPointe we never rush baptism in a person’s life because that would be harmful spiritually. We review their spiritual condition and try to discern if their conversion experience and commitment is genuine and sincere. If it is, we prepare them for Christian baptism. While at the same time we begin to teach that baptism is the first visible beginning of the discipleship and membership process. It says to the world that a convert is taking his or her first step in the discipleship journey. Along with commitment to Christ, commitment to baptism marks the beginning of a lifetime of following Jesus Christ. And the convert — and baptism candidate, is told that it is expected of everyone who is baptized to continue on in the discipleship process of membership in the local church. Why the linkage between conversion and baptism, and baptism and membership in the local church? Because that’s the process the New Testament describes in the Book of Acts. Acts 2:41-42, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” There is no separation in time or place between conversion, baptism, and church membership. It all took place naturally together. That’s the way it should be today also.

Second, there is commitment to Christian doctrine and morality. Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” This is why repentance and faith as a requirement for ongoing discipleship is so important: without repentance from sin and heart commitment to Christ by faith it is impossible to motivate someone to commit to Christian belief and behavior. In church after church there are countless “members” who have no desire to follow Christian belief or Christian moral behavior. Why? Because they have never repented of their sins and turned to God properly. Pastors bemoan the fact that they cannot motivate their church people to believe and live the Christian faith, but they never stop to realize that they themselves may have rushed the evangelism and discipleship process. They in fact may not be dealing with truly converted people. At CrossPointe, we want to make sure that a person has genuinely converted before we begin to disciple them through the membership process. But if a person has sincerely and genuinely converted they will be eager to continue on in discipleship through local church membership. This is the pattern in the Book of Acts. The people were converted, then they were baptized, and then they joined the local church in discipleship. “Those who accepted his message (conversion) were baptized (baptism), and about three thousand were added (membership) to their number that day,” Acts 2:41. Now these new converts were baptized and added to some kind of membership role. There names were added to some kind of list, and while it may not have been as formal a process as it is today, there was definitely an understanding that these new Christians were now joined to the original Christian group of 120 believers. They were then led into the process of learning what it means to be a Christian from the very men who were trained by Jesus in what it means to be a Christian. Of course the apostles knew the most about what following Jesus was all about, having done so for nearly three years – literally following Jesus. But there were others in the original group of 120 who were at various stages of discipleship. And of course, the new converts were least experienced and most in need of instruction. So what do we see them doing after their conversion and baptism? Seeking and receiving instruction from the apostles. That’s natural. That should be the desire of all genuine converts and newly baptized persons. If it isn’t their desire, something is wrong with their conversion or baptism, because newly baptized converts should, if their conversion be authentic and genuine, desire instruction in what it means to follow Jesus. Again, this underscores the importance of getting the conversion and baptism parts right, before attempting to disciple people into local church membership. If we get the first part right, the second will follow naturally.

When we baptize a truly repentant and faith-filled convert, he or she will seek instruction in discipleship because they will have a hungry and teachable heart. A truly converted-to-Christ person will have a teachable spirit when entering into Christian discipleship. But unfortunately, many of our churches see professing believers with unteachable spirits. Why is that? Sometimes it’s because of what we discussed already: they are not truly converted, because they have not truly repented or have not truly believed. But other times it’s because of the day and age we live in. In our day and age, it is a popular practice to question all authority and take a very skeptical attitude to anyone in any position of authority. With the availability of information in our society today, it is possible to gain a bit of knowledge on any subject and then consider oneself an expert. That is what many people do upon entering the Christian church. They hear a little bit on the radio or television about some aspect of the Christian faith. They read a little from a book, and pick up a little more from conversations with a friend. Then with this little information, they form their beliefs and opinions, bringing them into the local Christian church. Christian teachers often find it difficult to instruct new Christians because it appears that they seem to have strong opinions and convictions already formed. But if a person is truly converted and genuinely seeking to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, they will be teachable, knowing that they will be needing to listen more than they speak at first. They will want to learn instead of wanting to instruct others. Sometimes the new converts must be reminded that they are the new disciples and that they are the ones in need of instruction and they are the ones who need to receive the teachings that the church has to offer. It is assumed that if the new convert had known and practiced the basics of Christian discipleship they wouldn’t be needing to learn them. Most genuine and sincere new disciples will understand this, but some must be reminded of it; and the church should remind them gently if need be. Another membership requirement is a commitment to the church mission and leadership, which we will get to shortly. But the requirement actually comes into play immediately upon membership instruction, because it is important that new converts be willing to trust and receive instruction from church leadership. Of course if the new convert has been led to repentance and faith through local church leadership, and has been led to baptism through church leadership, then there should be no trust problem when local church leadership leads him into discipleship in the local church. This is an example of the importance of having as much spiritual formation occur at the same place among the same people. The trust factor helps in the discipleship process. If a convert has trusted a church to help him repent and believe, and then be baptized, he will usually trust the local church to disciple him as well.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” What were the newly baptized converts devoting themselves to? The apostles’ teaching. What was the apostles’ teaching? What we now call the New Testament of the Bible. The early Christian church had the apostles but they didn’t have the New Testament. We, today, have the New Testament but not the apostles. While we don’t have the apostles, we have their teachings, which is the next best thing. And it is enough. There is nothing that the early Christians had in the way of teachings that we do not have today. Everything they believed, we can believe. How they lived, we can live too. What this means today is that newly baptized Christian converts will devote themselves to learning the basic teachings of the Bible. They will learn the basic New Testament beliefs and behaviors. Now in theory, most Christian churches today teach basically the same essential beliefs. Some formulate these basic beliefs in creeds, the Apostles’ Creed, for example, which starts out, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ . . .” Now in teaching new disciples basic beliefs it is important for the local church to teach the basics or most important beliefs of the Christian faith, because to teach the entire beliefs of the faith would go far beyond basic membership training. It takes a lifetime to learn and understand all the teachings of the Bible. Scholars devote their entire lives to such a task and never complete it. But for the sake of basic discipleship and membership we should try to teach the basic beliefs, not every belief that is Christian. And that goes for the basic moral practices of Christianity. It is important to instruct new converts on the moral behavior of a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ, especially today, in our age of moral relativism and open immorality. It is not enough to teach doctrine in the church, morality must also be taught as well, or else Christians will get the erroneous idea that morality is optional or that only doctrine is essential. Some churches imply that a person’s private practices are their own concern and that the church shouldn’t be concerned how its members live. But that is not authentic Christianity. True Christianity teaches us what to think and how to live. God does not only desire us to follow him in beliefs but also in behavior. But again, if we are experiencing God in our lives we will want to think and act according to God’s will because we love and follow Him. If we do not desire to believe what He teaches, or live what He commands, why are we calling ourselves Christians in the first place? It comes back to the first membership requirement of committing to God through Jesus Christ. We are either committed to Him or we are not. That is not to say we won’t struggle in some areas to give him total control, but the intent of our heart must be for God to have his way in our lives, not for us to maintain control of our own lives.

Third, there is commitment to Prayer Devotion and Bible Study. Even before Pentecost, we see the early church praying, in Acts 1:14, “They all joined together constantly in prayer. . . .” And then after Pentecost, prayer continued, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer,” Acts 2:42. The newly baptized Christian converts of the Pentecost revival were immediately taught prayer. Why? Because prayer was and still is a Christian’s primary way of walking with Jesus. Before Jesus left, the disciples had the opportunity of spending hours and hours with him as they walked and talked along the dusty roads up and down the land of Israel. During those travels, the disciples not only asked questions and received answers, but also simply fellowshipped with Jesus as friends. When Jesus left the disciples they continued their fellowship with the Lord except it was through the fellowship of the Spirit in prayer. This may be what the second verse in the first chapter of the Book of Acts is describing: “. . . He (Jesus) was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.” Jesus was probably preparing the apostles for following him even after he was gone to heaven. Since he would not be available physically to be with them, answer their questions, and fellowship with them, he may have instructed them in how to receive his guidance and experience his personal presence through the Holy Spirit and prayer. Later in the Book of Acts, we see the disciples doing exactly this very thing, Acts 15:28, records how the apostles describe how they came to an important decision: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us. . . .” Clearly, it was the belief of the early Christian church that Jesus was alive and active in their midst. How could Christ’s presence be experienced if not in prayer? So one of the first things newly baptized Christian converts were instructed to do was pray. And not just information about prayer; they were part of prayer meetings of believers. They learned from the original disciples and the core believers who followed Jesus before his death, burial, and resurrection, and who continued to follow him after his ascension to heaven. What characterized these prayer meetings? The power and presence of the living God. Acts 4:31 describes an early Christian prayer meeting: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” In the first century Christian church prayer was the primary way in which believers experienced the guidance and fellowship of the living Christ Jesus.

Now what this means to the church today is that we must teach prayer immediately to the newly converted and to all Christian believers who are not familiar with it. Most people think they know much or a little about prayer, but most people are vastly ignorant on even the most basic ingredients of genuine spiritual praying. So as a membership requirement we ask that there be a commitment made to daily prayer on the part of each believer. How can one be a disciple or follower of Jesus without meeting with him daily in prayer? It would be inconceivable for an early Christian to be without prayer, privately and in a group. Yet today, there are professing Christians who pray little or none. There are churches that teach very little about prayer, what it is, how to do it. There are churches that offer no kind of prayer meeting. In the early church this kind of gross omission would have be shocking or unheard of. At CrossPointe we aim to disciple new members in prayer in order that they might experience the continuous fellowship of Jesus Christ through the Spirit. We also teach prayer so that our church might be a body of maturing believers who can carry out the Lord’s will and purpose in the world. We believe that prayer must be central to everything the church plans and does. The requirement of members to pray is simply a basic discipleship challenge. We teach the basic ingredients of prayer, using the A.C.T.S memory outline: Adoration praying, Confession praying, Thanksgiving praying, Supplication (request) praying. We then model how to pray, the proper attitude of the heart, where to pray, help in determining how long to pray, etc. The goal is for the CrossPointe member to be fully informed and fully equipped to pray, whether privately or joining in with a group. This is necessary, especially living in a world that has turned away from even the most basic spiritual activities such as prayer, and turned to human means. Society is in a confused state today largely because people have turned away from God and prayer, and turned only to human planning and reason. One of the most critical parts of a new member’s training in Christian discipleship is learning to depend and utilize prayer. The training will be something that will prove essential all of one’s Christian life. Members will be expected to practice private prayer daily because that is the only way a Christian can fellowship with God on a daily basis. And without a daily experience of God through prayers of adoration, prayers of confession of sin, prayers of thanksgiving, and prayers of petitions or requests, it is possible for a believer at any stage of discipleship to fall away from the faith or settle into a backslidden (disobedient) lifestyle. Prayer keeps us strong in the Christian faith.

But not just prayer, Bible study is the other key discipleship practice we teach as a membership and discipleship requirement. Now the early church had access to the Old Testament of the Bible, but the New Testament wasn’t available yet because the early teachings were done through the spoken word of the apostles not the written word. The apostles taught the people directly, more than through written letters or books. There were advantages and disadvantages to this situation. For example, the early church had the ability to ask the apostles direct questions concerning their spiritual teachings, and get direct answers. That was an advantage. But there were disadvantages. The apostles traveled around teaching and preaching, but it was easy for people to forget what they said or even misunderstand what they said later. With no written teachings to refer back to, it was easy for confusion to result. Eventually, the teachings of Jesus and the apostles were written down, making it easier for people to learn and remember these truths. That’s were we stand today; we have the teachings of Jesus and the apostles through the pages of the New Testament of the Bible. Essentially everything the early Christian church had in the way of teachings, we have today through the New Testament. And while there are places in the New Testament where we wish we could directly ask the inspired writer what he was trying to communicate, for the most part, the Bible is self-evidently clear in it’s teachings. At CrossPointe church we require a commitment to daily personal Bible reading of every member, because the Bible is the only absolutely true source of instruction from God. It is the source from which the Christian church draws its teachings. The issue of the Bible’s primary authority was debated during the time of the Reformation in the 16th century. It is Protestant Christianity’s view that the Christian faith be based on the authority of the Bible; that is the position of CrossPointe church. That doesn’t mean that the Christian church has no authority itself, but it means that the Bible, correctly interpreted, has primary authority in the church and in each believer’s life. Just as the apostles’ teachings carried the primary authority in the early church, apostolic teaching still carries primary authority in the church today through the biblical writings. New converts and others joining the church in membership are challenged to read from the Bible every day in order to grow mature in the Christian faith, just as the early Christians grew in their faith. Acts 2:46 says, “Every day they (the believers) continued to meet together in the temple courts.” And while it would be nice to sit under the teachings of the apostles every day and grow in Christian faith and knowledge, that is impossible today. But we can experience the next best thing through reading the teachings of the apostles and prophets in the Bible every day.

New converts and others joining CrossPointe church as new members will receive instruction in how to read the Bible. They will be taught how the Bible is organized. They will be taught how to interpret biblical passages in context, how to cross reference one passage with another, how to avoid common errors in interpretation, and how to follow the basic ground rules for interpreting the Bible successfully. But more than just gaining knowledge, members joining the church as disciples will learn how to read the Bible devotionally. How is it that one person can read the Bible and get nothing out of it, while another person can read the same Bible and gain a wealth of inspiration and encouragement? The secret is in the attitude of heart and mind, and in the questions we ask while we are reading. Questions like, “What does a passage say?” and “What does the passage mean?” are general knowledge questions. But the question, “How does the passage apply to me?” moves the reader from a general question to a personally specific question. That is the meaning of devotional Bible study. It is impossible for church leaders, especially the pastor, to interpret, explain, and apply every passage in the Bible to each person. That’s why each member will be trained in reading and applying the Bible to his or her life specifically. While in the early church, “every day the believers continued to meet together in the temple courts” and learned from the apostles; today every day each believer can learn from the apostles and prophets through reading the Bible. That is, if they can correctly interpret and apply the Bible teachings to their lives on daily basis. They can, if they are properly trained. So at CrossPointe church we teach those coming for membership how to read, interpret, and apply the Bible in their lives. This in no way takes away from the regular teaching ministry of the church on Sunday mornings and other times; it adds to it. The pastor still gives biblical instruction every week on Sundays and at other times in order to provide professional teaching to believers. But there is no way the pastor can apply the Bible to each person’s life the way personal, individual Bible study can. Knowing this, CrossPointe church seeks to train a large group of knowledgeable and devoted disciples of Jesus in personal Bible study. This is the best way to keep Christians from falling prey to false doctrine and false cults that deceive those who are unaware. This is also the best way to grow strong, mature disciples. For most of the history of Christianity, individual believers did not have access to the Bible. They had to learn and grow in their faith solely from the church and it’s teachers. But today, the Bible is available for everyone. We believe we should train and equip everyone to take advantage of this great blessing.

Fourth, there is commitment to the church mission and church leadership. As mentioned before, Acts 2:42 begins, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship.” This shows how the new converts had to rely on the church and church leaders for their spiritual formation. This was both normal and natural. And while we do not have original Apostles in the church today, we have those trained in the teachings of the Apostles who are able to lead and instruct in the Christian faith. Is it up to each and every Christian to decide for themselves what is the Christian faith and how they are to pursue Christian living? From the looks of things today, one might conclude that this is true, the way people pursue faith in such an individualistic way. But such an idea is totally false. The early Christian church would have rejected any such a notion that individuals can define for himself or herself Christianity or teach themselves how to believe and behave as a Christian. That is a modern notion brought about by excessive individualism and a twisted anti-authority attitude found in the world today. Christians, especially new converts, need the church, its people, and its leaders to teach an understanding of what Christianity is and how to live out the faith in life. Today it is popular to believe that Christians do not need the Christian church. Some Christians have the attitude that with radio and television teachings, with Christian books and conferences available, the church is an option. But such a distorted view of Christianity is not valid. The Bible nowhere describes individual Christians scavenging truth on their own from one source or another in a hit or miss fashion the way many people do today. The Bible nowhere illustrates individual Christians making-it-up-as-they-go-along, inventing their own self-styled religion from a little bit of this or a little bit of that truth, as is commonly found today. The Bible nowhere advocate unaffiliated, unaccountable, leaderless persons pursuing whatever spiritual truths that interest them, while avoiding those that don’t. No. The Bible describes new converts entering and maintaining affiliation with an already established Christian community called the church, with structure and authority for the purposes of encouragement and accountability. In the church, Christians learn how to spiritually belong to Christ, how to believe and how to behave. Jesus started the early beginnings of the church with his twelve disciples and trained them for three years in spiritual community. Then, after he died and rose again, he passed on the responsibility for the church to the disciples and other Christians at Pentecost. For nearly 2000 years Christians have preserved the beliefs and behaviors of Christianity in the Bible through the church community.

At Crosspointe church, we see two main aspects of church that are necessary for Christians to understand and affirm. One, there is the church purpose and mission. The purpose of the church is to make disciples or followers of Jesus Christ. Matthew 28:18-20 states, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” Our membership process is our attempt as a church to fulfill this great commission of Christ. Conversion is the entrance into discipleship. Church membership is ongoing discipleship, learning what is involved in Christian living and then committing to it within the context of a community for encouragement and accountability. Now the Crosspointe church mission is how we go about fulfilling our specific purpose of making disciples for Jesus within our local context here in New York. Crosspointe is a contemporary church, meaning we try to speak and act in ways that are easy for the average person to relate to today. Our praise and worship style consists of music and words that are relevant to the typical person of our community. We are not an “old fashioned” church in style, although we are biblically conservative in doctrine and morality. Our message would consist of the truths of the Bible presented in the language of our contemporary culture in order to be relevant. We consider ourselves missionaries to the modern, secular population living in and around Jamestown, New York. As missionaries, we seek to use any and every legitimate means to communicate Christianity to a population that thinks it knows the gospel message but actually doesn’t. Two, there is the church structure and leadership. The structure of Crosspointe church is taken closely from the Bible. Just as the early church had qualified and capable leaders, so too Crosspointe church has leaders. Once a Christian community is established, members select qualified leaders among themselves to lead and teach. At Crosspointe, there is a pastor who functions as the main leader, along with other leaders called “elders” who oversee the church community. There are also “advisory team” members who meet with the pastor and elders to give input on church matters. And of course, church members participate in decisions that involve everyone. We seek to minimize structure, yet for the sake of order we recognize authority in the Bible, our official church constitution, and in the official offices of leadership. Our official denominational affiliation is with the Baptist General Conference, a group of Baptist churches who provide encouragement and accountability for each member church.

Now as part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, each member must understand and affirm the Crosspointe structure and leadership. That does not mean that one must agree with everything concerning the organization of the church or its leadership, but it simply means that to be an official member/disciple at Crosspointe church one must be able to work within the basic church structure and work with the present church leadership. The early Christian church had a basic structure and leadership authority. Members of the church community were expected to work in and with this basic structure. Of course, any talk of structure and authority puts the church at odds with today’s emphasis on radical freedom and individualism. But the purpose of discipleship is to learn and grow from a state of spiritual immaturity to a state of spiritual maturity, and one of the components of growing up to be an adult Christian is to learn how to function within a legitimate and godly spiritual authority structure. Spiritual rebellion is not only a present problem outside of the Christian church, unfortunately, too often, it is a problem within the church as well. We are all prone to rebellion, we all seek our own way, we all desire to escape accountability or correction, but within a loving church community we can learn to trust not only God but one another. All members are expected to recognize and respond to legitimate church order, as well as respect official church leadership. The work of discipleship is an important task that requires the cooperation of both church members and church leaders. While we are all called to learn from each other, leaders will more often be in positions of teaching and directing within the church. There must be an understanding among members that following the basic church purpose, mission, structure, and leadership direction is important. We hear of churches today suffering from internal conflict and division. We hear of churches where members live outside basic Christian standards yet defy leaders to hold them accountable. We hear of churches where leaders are unable to lead due to members unwilling to follow because of an anti-authority philosophy prevailing among people today. One of the functions of the Christian church is to demonstrate that God’s authority can be trusted, and that the leaders he sends to teach and guide the church can be trusted as well. One of the objectives of discipleship at Crosspointe church is to help new converts and ongoing disciples learn to trust their spiritual lives with godly, legitimate, spiritual leadership. By doing so, disciples follow in the footsteps of those early Christians who worked together with leaders to accomplish God’s will.

Fifth, there is commitment to ministry participation and financial giving. In 1st Corinthians 12:4-6 and 14:12 it says, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. . . . Try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” An important part of discipleship is learning to participate in the church community with the use of our own individual abilities. It was never the will and intention of God to appoint church leaders to do all or most of the work of the Christian ministry. It is God’s will that church leaders use their gifts and abilities in ministry, and that members use their individual gifts and abilities for ministry as well. But before a member can use his or her talents within the church there must be knowledge of what talents one possesses. The Apostle Paul instructs the ancient church at Corinth on spiritual gifts, and gives just some of the possibilities of service within the church. 1 Corinthians 12:1-31 explains how God gives to each person a gift or gifts to be used for the advancement of Christianity within the church. Now when a Christian seeks to put his gifts, talents, and abilities to work within the ministry of the church, there are two approaches that can be taken. One is asking the question, “What are the present needs of the overall church ministry and how and where can I use my abilities to help meet those needs?” Operating under this track of ministry an individual might see a need in the church bulletin for a children’s ministry helper or helping with the teenagers or assisting with the music ministry, and inquire as to whether his services would help in one of these areas. Or one might hear of a need through word-of-mouth at the church for help with the clean-up crew, or help with the finance and administration committee, or an opportunity to lead a discipleship group, etc., and after going through the appropriate channels might find that one of these spots is a ministry fit. At CrossPointe Church there are always more ministry needs than there are people to minister, so the different existing ministries are always on the look-out for volunteers to fill ministry spots. If one’s gifts, talents and abilities fit the ministry need, there is a ministry match that will hopefully last. Now the other track for ministry is for an individual to discover his or her personal gifts, talents and abilities, and then design a new ministry around them. For example, after taking the CrossPointe Ministry Class an individual might discover that his or her skill set includes reading and reviewing books. No existing ministry of the church matches this particular skill, so the individual starts a new ministry, possibly a reading group that reads, reviews, and recommends books for the church library. Or if there is no church library, starts one! Two different ministry approaches: one starts first with the church’s needs and matches gifts and talents to these; the other starts first with an individuals gifts, talents, abilities, or interests, and builds ministry around these. Both forms of service are valid at CrossPointe Church.

CrossPointe offers a Ministry Class for members and anyone seeking help in finding a ministry to serve in the church. Since one of the requirements of a disciple of Jesus within membership at CrossPointe Church is to serve in a ministry, it is recommended and required that every member take the Ministry Class in order to better understand how God can use him or her to serve within the church. The class walks a person through the basic motivations for serving God found in the Bible. It then explains in detail some of the different gifts and abilities that God gives to different individuals for service within the church. Within the class there is an opportunity for everyone to take a simple gifts test in order to get an idea what kind of gifts each person might possess. Along with gifts, experience, abilities, and natural interests also play a part in helping a person find a good place of service for ministry. The goal is for each person to have for himself or herself a ministry within the church that contributes to the overall ministry of the church. When everyone is working together to advance the work of God on earth through the local church, great things can happen in the fulfillment of our mission. It is also the goal of the church to employee volunteer ministers in areas of ability and interest, if possible. There may be times when a job needs to be done within the church and people simply need to step up and volunteer to do it without a close match between their natural interest, ability, and the ministry task. During these instances, it becomes simply a matter of pure service where out of love for God and fellow man someone volunteers for something that under normal circumstances one would have no interest nor any particular ability to do it. But out of love, one does what is needed at the time. The church tries to minimize such situations because out of experience it has found that long-term it’s difficult for people to serve in areas of no interest or no ability. That’s why leadership at the church will try their best to help each person find his or her special place within the church for ministry, a place based on their personal gifts, talents, interests, and abilities. That way everyone can serve the needs of people while at the same time receiving fulfillment and satisfaction personally for their work. By seeking to make service in ministry a delight rather than a duty, church leadership hopes to involve more people in it and make it more fulfilling as well. Our service to God should be a delight, and it can be, when we try to match as best we can, our own personal abilities and interests to the ministry need.

But in addition to ministry participation, there is financial giving as a way of serving God and man at the church. Acts 2:44-45 says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” Conversion to Jesus Christ and following him in discipleship unleashed a great spirit of generosity in financial giving among the early Christians. These early Christians, although not wealthy by any means, gave what they had in the service of God and their fellow man. What a great example for followers of Christ today in the 21st century. Everyone is naturally selfish, especially so with money and possessions. There may be some who are more generous than others, but we all suffer the natural effects of sin, which shows up in our natural stinginess in sharing of our money and possessions with others. Ironically it would seem that an increase in wealth usually does not reveal an increase in generosity for most people, but rather the very opposite. The more we have, the more we naturally spend and gather to ourselves. As followers of Jesus Christ, as disciples who have repented of both sin and selfishness, the challenge then is to rise above our natural sinfulness and become generous with our money and possessions. The early Christians were made of the same natural selfish substance as we, and yet they through the power of God, rose above it and were willing and able to give out of their needs. How was this accomplished? Through the power of the living Christ who by His Spirit lives within each believer. What is it that the Lord asks of us as his disciples in the area of financial giving? There is no hard and fast rule of giving found in the early church, because the level of giving often depended on the level of needs. While we know early Christians gave generously, sometimes they gave superabundantly, for example in Acts 4:34-35, “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” What this shows us is that there are times when special, sacrificial giving is needed for various reasons, and as Christians we must be willing to open up our pocketbooks in these special ways with special gifts. An example of a special gift was the Hurricane Katrina offering taken at CrossPointe Church just after New Orleans flooded. People gave above and beyond their normal generosity because of the specific need. Other special offerings might include special projects the church undertakes, the support of a missionary, the purchase of a building, helping a family whose home burned, helping an individual with special medical bills, etc. These would all fall under the special giving category, and as Christians we want to be willing and able to respond as best we can.

As for regular giving, the Apostle Paul instructs, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver,” 2 Corinthians 9:6-7. In addition, the Apostle instructs, “Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income,” 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. These two passages show us how the early church gave on a regular basis. They were instructed to be generous. They were told to each decide in their hearts an amount based on their income to freely and willingly give. And they were told to set aside that regular amount each week for the offering. Now the question naturally arises: if we are instructed to give a proportional amount of our income on a regular basis each week to the work of the Lord through the local church, what is that level? Taken from the Old Testament and followed traditionally in the Christian church, 10% or the tithe is the proportional amount given on a regular basis by Christians. At CrossPointe Church the 10% tithe is the standard of giving for members. Why is 10% proportional giving level used by CrossPointe church as the standard of giving for disciples in membership? First, it’s biblical. This giving level originated from the Bible. Second, it’s historical. Generations after generation of Christians have been using this level as a standard for their giving. Third, it’s practical. It’s easy to calculate each week. It’s also proportional and fair. Each member gives proportionally the same according to his income. 10% of a lower income is challenging yet not overwhelming to give. 10% of a medium income is substantial yet not an overburden. And 10% of a higher income is an even larger amount yet challenges the giver as well. Now at CrossPointe church we realize that for some people financial giving on a regular basis is a new thing. Old habits of selfishness, stinginess, and undisciplined spending are hard to break. But we believe that when a person converts to Christ through repentance of sins and faith in Christ, he is given a new heart, a new soul. Because of the transformation Christ initiates in a person’s life, generosity becomes a reality. That’s why we do not hesitate to ask for a commitment to regular financial giving in the amount of 10%. Of course, more mature followers of Jesus may be able to give above and beyond the 10% tithe, while the new convert or immature disciple may struggle to even reach that minimal level, or may even fail to do so. But we ask of all members to use the 10% standard as the benchmark for regular, personal giving.

Sixth, there is a commitment to bringing and including other to faith in Christ and to the church. The Great Commission of Jesus to the disciples in Matthew 28:18-20, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” The Great Commission doesn’t end when we convert and become disciples, rather it continues to others who have not heard the Gospel. Proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ is at the very heart of why CrossPointe church exists. Again, Jesus says in Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” This proclamation is not limited to pastors, evangelists, or church leaders, but it’s for every Christian, everywhere. At CrossPointe we’ve designed a class called the Missions Class in order to train Christians in the theology and methodology of sharing their faith with others. This class first helps Christians articulate the basic elements of the gospel message, emphasizing the two great truths of repentance from sin and faith in Jesus. It then outlines the many creative possibilities in communicating the gospel whether in testimony form, through the use of tracts or books, using different forms of media, or the many other different approaches to presenting the salvation message. All CrossPointe members are strongly encouraged to take the Missions Class at some point in order to help them fulfill their commitment to sharing their faith with others. But the class is not limited to church members; it can be taken by any Christian who desires to be equipped in the skills of witnessing. Of the early disciples, it is said, “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and preaching the good news that Jesus is the Christ,” Acts 5:42. So too, modern disciples of Jesus must be prepared to present the message of Jesus to family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, or anyone who is put in their path. The Missions Class will help give new converts the confidence they need to share their faith, and it will help on-going disciples to improve their witness. But CrossPointe doesn’t simply encourage Christians to share their faith alone or apart from the church community, it also has a plan for assisting our personal witness with corporate witness.

As in the early 1st century church, CrossPointe Church wants to be a corporate or group witness to the reality of the gospel message, in addition to the individual witness of each believer. Acts 2:46-47 says, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their numbers daily those who were being saved.” The power of the church is that Christianity does not consist solely in isolated individual believers sharing the gospel message in isolated situations apart from any community. No. There is not only a person’s individual faith in Christ, there is the church community’s corporate faith as well, which is a powerful witness to the reality of the gospel message. Without the early church community the gospel message could never have advanced as quickly and as far as it did. Isolated and independent witnessing Christians could never have convinced the multitudes of the reality of gospel without the existence of the church. But through the corporate witness of many Christians all unified in a common testimony, the powerful gospel message was able to penetrate all levels of society in the 1st century. That is the same plan today at CrossPointe church. We train individuals to witness the gospel faith and encourage them to go out and share it with as many people as possible. Then, we encourage these same witnessing disciples to invite their family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. to CrossPointe church to experience the corporate witness of the whole body of Christ to the reality of the gospel. The powerful combination of personal witness and corporate witness allows visiting seekers to witness a full-fledged demonstration of the reality of the gospel as it is lived out not just by one, or a few people, but by many. And the church is the perfect environment for conversions to take place because there is a clear discipleship pathway available that is clearly marked out. Someone who newly repents of their sins and believes in the Lord Jesus can easily join a discipleship class or group, and learn about baptism and all the other discipleship basic steps. The church encourages Christian believers to bring their friends and family to CrossPointe and help these individuals connect with the right class or group to help them along the path of discipleship. Not only do members make a commitment to share their faith when they have opportunity and invite people to the church, but it becomes one of the greatest joys to see conversions take place and new disciples of Jesus being made – the very fulfillment of the Great Commission!

Seventh, there is a commitment to love and unity. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I an only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” A perfect church without love is nothing. A perfect disciple of Jesus without love is nothing. Love must be the very atmosphere in which the whole church exists or it is nothing. What is love? It is the spiritual quality of a giving heart. Love is the life of Christ in us when we give of ourselves for others as he gave himself. Love is the seed that when planted in the heart grows up into the life tree that produces the fruit of the Spirit: love – joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. Jesus said, “Wherever two or more of you are gathered, there I am in the midst.” Wherever two or more are gathered in Christ’s name, there is the church, but it is also the case that wherever two or more are gathered, there is the increased possibility of division. Why? Because we are all sinners saved by grace. Or as Paul says in the Book of Romans, “What I would do, I don’t. And that which I would not do, I do.” While we are still on earth we will battle against the sinful powers of the world, the flesh, and the devil – and these powers influence even the Christian Church. That is why as Christians we must all be dedicated to loving one another as Christ loved us. Jesus said, “This is my commandment that you love one another.” Loving one another means going out of our way to be at peace with one another. It means not striking back when offended. It means forgiving someone who has done wrong. It also means cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control,” and striving to preserve a social environment where the Fruit of the Spirit is operative. It means speaking the truth in love. While some churches don’t speak the truth whenever it isn’t convenient, CrossPointe Church is dedicated to speaking the truth, but also asking the very important question, “How can this be spoken in love and how can love be the context in which truth is presented?” Truth can never be compromised in the church, but neither can love be neglected in the church either. Unfortunately, personalities are such that one either majors on one or the other. Some people will be oriented primarily to truth, and may have a tendency to speak the truth. While other people will be oriented to love, and may not speak the truth out of fear of offense. But the church must strike a balance and do both simultaneously.

At CrossPointe Church we actually ask for a commitment from each disciple or member to commit themselves to love and unity. They are asked to commit themselves to cultivating love in their life as evidenced by the Fruit of the Spirit. If a person is neglecting the exercise of love in their speech and interactions with others, they will be reminded of it. We also ask for a commitment to church unity, something that can easily be neglected. Church unity is basically going out of the way to preserve harmony among members, going the extra mile if need be. It requires patiently and honestly communicating truth to one another and a commitment to keep on communicating until some kind of understanding can be achieved. Walking away, dropping out, quitting the church is not an option, only in the rarest of occasions would separating oneself from others be appropriate. The vast majority of differences can and should be settled by loving communication. It is a common occurrence in churches that someone will hear or see something distasteful and then as a result leave the church, often without any communication to anyone about the cause. That is not love and unity in operation. Love and unity call for talking with the appropriate persons about the problem. It then would call for patient conversation and prayer. It would further call for working to resolve the problem or issue. If all problems are handled in a loving manner, most of them will be resolved. Only rarely would a problem be of such a magnitude that separation resulted. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” This kind of unity comes about only with effort; it is not a natural thing that comes naturally for anyone. At CrossPointe Church, we see things in three categories: first, essential things; second, important, but non-essential things; and three, non-important, non-essential things. By using these categories we help keep a perspective on differences within the church. First, in essential things, we must all agree, not that everyone will express themselves the same even on essential matters of belief and practice, but there must be basic unity on these foundational truths. Second, on important, yet non-essential matters, we must at least be working toward basic agreement, because it is in these areas that most divisions in churches occur. We must be in a process of discussion, reflection, and prayer over these important, yet non-essential areas of doctrine and practice, with the goal of unity. And then thirdly, in non-essential, non-important issues, we must try to come to agreement, but also we must recognize that sometimes in these non-important areas we must learn to tolerate differences in a spirit of love. We must not let a non-essential or non-important area divide the church. Better, as the Apostle counsels in 1 Corinthians 6:7, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” or in other words, in some areas, it’s better, for the sake of unity, to let others have their way, rather than there be a division. These are options in resolving differences that come up in the church.

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