A conscientious Christian might want to consider the following before officially joining a local church.
First, does the local church have a Constitutional Statement of Faith that is Biblical?
The book of Jude commands Christians to contend for the faith, not a faith, but a definite body of truth once delivered to the saints.
“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
There are Church constitutions that go far beyond the historic faith of the Church reflected in the major creeds of Christendom. There is a neo-Orthodoxy that is often demanded that an individual embrace in order to be part of the local assembly.
In Pentecostal denomination the litmus test of fellowship might be a willingness to embrace all the sign gifts, including modern day apostles, and speaking in tongues.
In the Presbyterian structure, the litmus test might be paedo-baptism.
Many Baptist denominations demand belief in a Dispensational Pre-millennial view of Eschatology prior to Church membership.
Only after the leadership is assured of someone passing the litmus test can they be considered safe and trustworthy.
Before joining a local Church, consider the Statement of Faith in light of the historic faith and the simplicity of Scripture, without a special litmus test being added.
Second, a local church should have a biblically educated and gifted minister in the pulpit having the gift of Pastor-Teacher. The question should be asked, “Does the Church have a biblically qualified Eldership?” An informed and spiritually gifted minister must occupy the pulpit.
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).
A man cannot preach what he does not know. A man cannot lead the people of God who does not know where he is going. A minister cannot set in order the things that are wanting if he does not know what is out of order. When Paul left Titus behind in Crete, he did so for a specific reason. “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:”
Because the local church needs a spiritually qualified and a knowledgeable pastor, the church is commanded to be careful and “lay hands suddenly on no man” (1 Tim. 5:22)
If any pulpit committee has failed to keep these biblical principles and guidelines in mind in their selection, then, my heart goes out to the congregation, for without a solid foundation, a good super-structure cannot be built. Such a congregation will remain spiritually malnourished, being fed with the safe and non-controversial Denominational milk of devotional material, while the excellent meat ofGod’s Word is neglected.
Pastoral qualifications is part of the doctrine of authority taught in Hebrews 6, lest the blind be leading the blind in matters of ecclesiology, meaning the nature and structure of the church.
Consider whether or not the Church has a biblical structure of Eldership rule, supported by a Deacon Board.
Third, a local church should use the spiritual gifts God sends to the congregation for maturing the saints. Many people in the congregation are under-utilized for one reason or another, and most of those reasons are not valid. Before uniting with a local Church ask yourself, “Can I be of service to this congregation? Will my spiritual gift be allowed to be used, or will my spiritual gift suffer from benign neglect?”
*For anyone who would like to explore the issue of Church membership more, I recommend studying the material at 9 Marks on the web. hwww.9marks.org/about/the-nine-marks/