And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. (Acts 9:26-28)
Joining The Disciples
The New Testament church began on the Day of Pentecost as the Lord added the saved to the body of Christ in Jerusalem. In time, disciples began to establish congregations in the surrounding areas of Judea, Galilee, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. Luke describes the work of Paul, Barnabas, and Silas taking journeys to Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece to establish churches and ordaining elders in every church. Local congregations sprang up in Ephesus, Colosse, Thessalonica, Rome, and Philippi and throughout the region of Galatia. The church in Antioch of Syria was a vibrant, active, and missionary congregation where Paul spent much of his time before taking his three preaching trips. It was an event at the beginning of Paul’s work as a preacher that is fundamental to the nature of the church.
Following his conversion in the city of Damascus, Saul of Tarsus immediately began preaching Christ in the synagogues confounding the Jews, proving that Jesus was the Christ the Son of God. A plot to kill Saul was discovered and with the help of the disciples in Damascus, Saul escaped and came to Jerusalem. Arriving back at the city, Saul tried to join himself with the church in Jerusalem but was received with great fear. The saints in the church at Jerusalem did not believe the former persecutor was a follower of Christ. Barnabas took Saul and brought him to the apostles declaring the wonderful story of Saul’s obedience to the gospel and that he had boldly preached in Damascus in the name of Jesus. Saul was received as one of the saints in the church of Jerusalem where he stayed for some time.
Luke says that Paul tried to join himself to the disciples. What Paul recognized and would later discuss with the elders from Ephesus is the need and the importance of being a part of a local congregation in the work of the kingdom. The Greek word used by Luke describes a gluing together, cleaving, joining, or keeping company with showing Paul desired to be part of the group in an active manner. Paul wanted to be recognized as part of the church in Jerusalem. He understood as did all the New Testament converts the work of the church including being a part of or have a membership with a local congregation of God’s people. Paul could have come to Jerusalem and become a ‘Christian-at-large’ but that was not his understanding of the will of God. After his trips to Galatia, Macedonia, and Greece, Paul returned to Antioch and reported all the things God had done. The apostle was part of the church in Antioch under the eldership of the church.
When Paul called for the elders of Ephesus to meet him in Miletus, the apostle warned the shepherds of the duties given to them by the Holy Spirit. He tells them to guard themselves and care for God’s people like a shepherd does his flock. They were to feed and shepherd the flock that was among them indicating a fellowship of members who were overseen by their leadership by the authority of the Holy Spirit. Church membership was a vital part of the New Testament pattern of church authority. Paul admonished the church in Corinth concerning their actions when they assembled together showing the pattern of discipleship as a collective effort. Every Christian should strive to find a congregation to join with and cleave in the effort of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ in that community. At-large-membership is not authorized in the New Testament and defeats the work of the shepherds of the flock and the ministry of Jesus Christ.