‘“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).”’
“‘He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18).”’
Exclusion is generally a negative experience for the person or persons being excluded. On 9th December, 2019 I heard the news that *Russian athletes will be excluded from representing their country in all major sporting events for the next four years. It’s because the World Anti-doping Agency found evidence that Russia’s Anti-doping Agency manipulated laboratory data about the taking of illegal performance-enhancing drugs by their athletes.
Sadly, for those athletes who did not resort to taking illegal drugs it is a great disappointment; since they will not be able to compete under the Russian flag. Through no fault of their own they have been banned from representing their country. They can however compete, under a flag of neutrality, if they can prove they have not taken performance-enhancing drugs. That at least may be a consolation to them.
Rules are rules, and if they are broken, in all fairness it is right for offenders to be excluded from competing.
There are other current examples of exclusion – take the case of at least **one member of the Labour Party who was expelled from the Party for anti-semitism. Similarly, members of the Conservative Party have been ***suspended while being investigated for accusations that they have expressed views consistent with them being Islamophobic. If found guilty, Boris Johnson is adamant they will be expelled from the Party.
Exclusion from Church Membership
How about exclusion from the church of Jesus Christ?
Is it possible for members to be expelled? And is it possible that some people will be excluded from gaining entry into Christ’s church?
To answer these questions we must first acquaint ourselves with the common characteristics of members of the church. We must also have a knowledge of the rules and regulations regarding membership. If we know these things we will be in a position to discover if there are justifiable reasons for the exclusion of certain people, and if so, who is responsible for enforcing the exclusions, and by what authority.
If the church was a club, which it most definitely is not, it would have a procedure for expelling members who break the rules. A specified person or a particular group of people would be authorised to undertake the task. There might even be a rule that gives expelled persons the right of appeal.
Characteristics of Church Members
Members are those who believe and trust Jesus, and they have faith (Ephesians 2:8) in Him. They have been born of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8) and they have repented of their sins (Mark 1:15) and they are disciples [followers] of Jesus. They obey Him; they love Him and they serve Him. He is everything to them. He comes before family, before job, before possessions and before all selfish desires, and before all else. Their very life is in Him, and He is in them (John 17:21-23). Each one carries His own cross (Luke 14:27), and he is prepared to sacrifice his life rather than deny Christ (cf. John 13:38).
These are some of the characteristics of mature Christians.
New Christians have much to learn, but at the time of their new birth through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit they immediately become members of Christ’s church.
All Christians can and do act alone, but by their very nature as ‘brothers’ in Christ (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:6) they cooperate with one another. They worship together and they undertake joint ventures, such as organising and carrying out missions for presenting the gospel. Their desire is to make Christ known and to be channels of His love.
Rules of the Church
The fundamental rule for all members is to love God and their neighbours as themselves (Mark 12:30, 31). They uphold the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2), which is to ‘bear one another’s burdens,’ and they respect and honour the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16). For them the Bible is God’s complete rule book. Jesus is the Head of the Church (Ephesians 2:20; 4:15, 16); and, first and foremost, members are answerable to Him (Romans 14:10).
The practice of the early church was to appoint elders ‘in every church (Acts 14:23) for holding fast ‘the faithful word’ and ‘sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict (Titus 1:9).’
So not all members are obedient, and for the sake of the integrity of the church and its witness to the world, elders have the authority to expel those who do not repent of their sinful ways. Thus they can be excluded from the local church for their transgressions against God and the church (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13).
Exclusion from the Church
God justifies (Romans 3:24) His elect (Romans 8:33; 11:7) and by virtue of this, all others are excluded from membership of the church of Jesus. That may seem harsh and unjust (cf. Romans 9:18-24), but people exclude themselves on account of their stubborn rebellion against God (Romans 1:18-32). They know full-well of God’s righteousness (V.V. 17, 18) and that He is the sovereign King of the Universe (cf. Psalm 47:2). He is the Creator who made all things (John 1:1-3), but they refuse to acknowledge Him, and they transgress against His law of love (cf. 1 John 4:8); which is to love Him with all their heart and their neighbour as themselves (Matthew 22:37-39). They refuse to obey the command of His Son to ‘Repent, and believe (Mark 1:15).’ They refuse to take His yoke upon them and to ‘learn from’ Him, and consequently they have no rest for their souls (Matthew 11:29).
People who will not accept the rules must expect they will be excluded from membership. That is right and fair (cf. Genesis 18:25).
Having become a member of the church of Jesus by virtue of new birth through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8) a Christian can never lose his salvation. He is a child of God forever (Romans 8:16; 1 John 3:2).
But you might ask what about people who leave the church voluntarily and forsake their faith?
Hebrew 6:4-6 provides the answer. They were never truly Christians in the first place. Like some associates of a church they may have had head knowledge of the gospel, but they lacked genuine faith, and they never really trusted Jesus. They were never born again of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8). They just went through the motions. Thus they reject God, and are guilty of the unpardonable sin of unbelief (cf. Mark 3:28, 29).
‘“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him (John 3:36).”’
‘Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God (Psalm 146:5).’
*Russia banned for four years to include 2020 Olympics and 2022 World Cup
**Labour under fresh pressure over anti-semitism as leaked dossier appears to show complaints backlog
***Islamophobia: Conservative Party members suspended over posts