As we have pointed out before, Church membership is nothing new. It was not created by man, it was instituted by Christ Himself because Christ created the church. So it should not be surprising to find the Apostles and the early church faithfully and diligently practicing both church membership and church discipline.
Of course in the book of Acts that is exactly what we see. In Acts 2:41, Luke records that those who accepted the message of Peter’s preaching were baptized into membership of the church at Jerusalem. We know the Apostles were counting and keeping clear membership records because it explictly states that “three thousand” were “added” to their number. These were not just disconnected Christians who had a personal relationship with Jesus but no relationship with each other. Rather, these believers were meeting together in temple courts and in small groups in each others homes throughout the week (2:46). In Acts 4:4 the membership of the Jerusalem church grows to about five thousand – again, this is something the writer of Acts could not possibly know unless someone at the Jerusalem church was keeping a membership role.
Lest we think the Apostles were only concerned about padding their numbers and building the first mega-church, we find in Acts chapter 5 that the Apostles not only practiced church membership but also church discipline. Peter confronts Ananias and Sapphira for living in unrepentant sin. The result is not only that they are removed from the membership of the church, but in this instance God actually kills them.
Finally, in chapter 6 we see that a local church apoints deacons so that they can more fully serve the catalog of widows that were also members of that same local church. Obviously, if the Apostles were appointing one group of their members to serve another group of members they must have had a pretty clear idea of who their members were.
So what do we see in all this?
First, the early church, led by Christ’s Apostles, kept a clear record of membership.
Second, the apostles employed biblical standards of Membership – Faith, Repentance, and Baptism
Third, the apostles practiced church discipline when members did not produce the fruit of the Gospel (namely continuing in faith and repentance).
Fourth, Christian leaders were made responsible for specific sheep, namely those that were members of their same local church.
Christ’s Apostles were the first to faithfully practice church membership and discipline. May we follow after their example.