Climbing on the Altar

Important Note To Students And Teachers

Too many baptized persons regard "membership in the church" as if it were membership in an important school or civic organization. In fact, important school and civic organizations often expect more of members than does "the church." In the thinking of too many, Christianity is more about "church membership" than about devotion to Jesus Christ. To such persons, "church membership" is more a matter of acknowledgment than a matter of commitment.

Too many baptized persons conclude Christianity is more concerned with personal claims than with daily commitment. "Regardless of how I live, if I claim to be a Christian, I am." "Regardless of my intentional ignorance, if I claim to be a Christian, I am." "Regardless of my lack of spiritual interest, if I claim to be a Christian, I am."

To many, Christianity is a matter of association. In the church, we stress the importance of phrases or words not used by the earliest Christians. Consider "church membership." Have you "placed membership"? Are you a "member of the church"? Where is your "membership"?

Consider the importance commonly attached to those words. A person's answers are critical. From those answers, many determine: (1) if a person is a Christian; (2) if "I can fellowship you"; (3) if you are "in the faith"; and (2) if you are true to the faith.

Is the church important? Absolutely! However, the church is not an organization existing separately from Christians. The church is not an organization to which we attach ourselves. If we are in Christ, we are the church. From earliest Christianity, Christians were the church (Acts 5:11; 8:1; 8:3; 9:31; 16:5). Being a part of the church is not a matter of affiliation with an organization. It is a commitment to the community of believers who draw their life from a Savior.

In our desire to restore the church, we can remake the church into something God never intended. When the church becomes an organization that exists in separation from Christian individuals, that is what we do. The original concept was simple. A group of people who believed Jesus was the Christ trusted Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. They trusted Jesus Christ enough to place themselves in him by accepting his forgiveness. Men and women who were in Christ, who functioned as Christ's community of believers were the church.

Two equally important questions exist. Question one: how does the person who wishes to be rescued from sin place himself or herself in Christ? Through God's act, entering Christ is entering Christ's community (Acts 2:47). Question two: when a person places himself or herself in Christ, how does his or her daily life change? A community of believers live different lives.

Historically, Christians emphasize the answer to question one. It surely deserves an accurate answer. Yet, finding an accurate answer to question one must not result in question two being ignored. Both questions are equally deserving of biblically reliable answers. The person entering Christ must understand the meaning and significance of being in Christ.

In A.D. 49 the Roman emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2). Christians existed in Rome before this expulsion. Because Jewish Christians had a preconversion background that stressed scripture, the Jewish prophets, and righteousness' moral and ethical standards, they often became leaders in the first congregations. Such seems to be the situation in Rome. When Jews were expelled by Claudius' edict, Christian leadership left Rome when Jewish Christians left that city.

An emperor's edicts ended with his death. After Claudius died in A.D. 54, the Jews returned to Rome. Jewish Christians also returned seemingly expecting to resume their role and place in the church. However, in their absence, other Christian leadership developed. With the return of Jewish Christians, the common first century tension between Jewish Christian and Christians who were not Jews reached new heights. Paul wrote all these Christians a letter we call Romans. In the first eleven chapters, Paul discussed salvation's foundation concepts. His discussion called attention to salvation matters regarding the relationship between Jewish Christians and Christians who were not Jews.

Beginning with chapter twelve, Paul challenged them to understand the practical, daily significance of Christian existence. How did salvation express itself in daily life?


previous lesson | table of contents | next lesson