As we saw on the previous page, the church is a called out group of people. To be called out means that the group of people is different than everyone else, that there is something distinct, identifiable and common among each person in this group or body of people.
The Bible carries abundant references to this "calling", as the inspired writers wrote to the people who make up the church:
"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." (1 Peter 2:9)
"For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." (Acts 2:39)
"It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thessalonians 2:14)
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful." (Colossians 3:15)
From the above references, we can summarize several basic points:
- God calls through the gospel, the message of Jesus Christ.
- When someone hears or reads the gospel being preached, he or she is being called.
- Those who believe and obey are the "called out." They are the church.
This demonstrates the meaning of the word ekklesia - it is simply a group of people who have come out of one "realm" and into another. This is in holding with the wording of the apostle Paul in Colossians 1:13-14,
"For He rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
So to wind this down to one simple statement, the church is the saved. Nobody who is not saved is in the church, and nobody who is saved is not in the church. They are one and the same thing - to be saved is to be in the church.
To understand this, some of us may need to scrap our traditional preconceived ideas of "church membership." Is the church sort of like a "club" that you join by signing up? Do you maybe have to go through some initiation process? In a sense, yes, and we'll get to that in a minute. But the ironic truth is that there is nothing you can do to add yourself to the church, to make yourself a part of it. Instead, starting from the day the first sermon was preached,
"...the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved." (Acts 2:47)
"Their number" simply refers to the number of saved people. The King James Version even simply says, "the Lord added to the church..." So who makes you part of the church? That is God's work. Apart from God's grace and choice to add obedient believers to His church, there would be no church at all. What we simply need to know is, what are God's criteria? We just saw it straightforwardly enough in the above scripture: He was adding to the church those people who were being saved. The very moment they were saved (see v. 41) they were added by God to the church. So the criterion is that you be saved.
Thus, as mentioned before, in a very limited sense, the church is something you join, just not by your own doing or merit. You do what God told you to do, and He promises that He will add you to the church. Not because you earned it, or qualified. But because you have submitted to Him and allowed Him to change you and to add you to His church.
Joining the church should not be the sinner's primary motivation for coming to repentance and salvation, not at all. Our primary motivation is to be right with God, to have our sins taken away so we can glorify Him and be with Him for eternity. When you come to God with this motivation and obey Him, He will in turn add you to the church as a result of your choice to reconcile with Him. It is first between you and God. For a case study on how these people in Acts 2 were saved and added to the church, just read back over the preceding verses, Acts 2:36-47.