Like Button

Friday, July 28, 2017

Church Membership

When we moved to our new neighborhood years ago, my wife and I set out to connect to a new church. Who knew it would be so difficult? First, of course, there was the problem of finding an actual church rather than a building on a corner with a Christian-sounding name. (One we tried included an offertory performance of Lennon's Imagine. You know, with lyrics like "Imagine there's no heaven; It's easy if you try. No hell below us; Above us only sky. Imagine all the people living for today ..." Seriously? In a church? Well, not a Christian church.) After weeding out the non-Christian "Christian churches", we found another problem. It appears that in many places membership in churches is more difficult than membership in the family of Christ.

In order to become part of the Body of Christ, the family of God, the requirement is ... how did John put it? ... "As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name." (John 1:12) So, in its simplest form, faith in Christ powered by God (John 1:13) is what is required to become a child of God. The rest is downhill, for lack of a better term. I mean, from that point on "it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) From that point "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." (Eph 2:10) The rest of our lives is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ "so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom 8:28-29). There will be a process, of course. That will include a transformation of heart and mind (Rom 12:2). It isn't short term (2 Peter 1:5-8). All this is true.

But why is it that membership in the church can be so different than membership in the family of Christ?

Some churches have very little in the way of requirements. "Show up and you're welcome to join." No confirmation of faith. No agreement in any meaningful way. "We like it here" is sufficient reason to be called a "member". Others hold up high standards. Some of what we ran into included, "If you don't believe in paedobaptism, you can't join our church" and "If you don't see church as primarily an evangelistic operation you shouldn't join our church." One told us that if we didn't like their style of music, we weren't welcome there. And those are just a couple of examples; others could supply many more. Why is it that sometimes it's far easier to get saved by the blood of the Lamb than to be part of the local church and sometimes it's far easier to be part of the local church than it is to be saved from sin? It all seems so confusing.

I see that there are issues. I see that Scripture calls us to restore brothers in sin (Gal 6:1), that the Bible requires church discipline (Matt 18:15-20). We are warned about tares among wheat (Matt 24:24-30) and false teachers among us (e.g., 1 John 2:18-19). It just seems as if we are, in many cases, not balancing all this together in a biblical way. I'm not at all sure how to address it, but it concerns me at both ends of the spectrum.


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

From a lot of what I've seen over the years, church discipline seems to be the main reason for membership. Too many lawsuits have been lost because people didn't like the discipline, so if they have become members and agree to said discipline, then they can't win a lawsuit.

Also, they usually want you to be a member if you are going to teach or serve in any other capacity. My problem with membership is some of the "covenants" they want you to sign. Which is why when we began attending our current assembly 2 1/2 years ago we haven't become members -- I don't like their covenant.

Stan said...

Those "covenants" they want you to sign are exactly the kinds of thing I'm asking about. Those are the things to which you have to subscribe to be a member, but not necessarily to be a child of God.

I understand your position of not being a member, but if membership is required to serve in a body of believers and you don't become a member, won't it be difficult to serve in that body? And if it is not required to serve, isn't there an extreme risk of "false teachers" (etc.)?

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I serve individual members. I have helped by providing materials for individuals' ministries, I have provided apologetic information for members encountering Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. Praying for many there, providing encouragements to some elderly, etc. one doesn't have to be a "member" of an assembly to be active in serving members of the body of Christ.

As for teaching, one need not be a member in my book. The leadership can examine the individual for his qualifications and theological viewpoints, etc, to determine if he is qualified. And even in the assembly I'm attending, they allow for "guest" teachers if they see value; e.g., I have offered to teach about cults and am seriously considered for that.

Stan said...

I wasn't concerned about you. I was thinking about the general principle of "you don't have to qualify for membership to teach here" for too many groups. There needs to be some accountability.

Craig said...

Just as a clarification, is your problem with the concept of having standards for church membership or with the specifics of some churches requirements?

For example, I'd suggest that some minimal level of of standards should be reasonable for membership. For example, allowing an atheist to become a member of s church seems like a problem.

Stan said...

No, it's not that there are standards to meet. I complained about churches with no requirements as well. It just seems like it shouldn't be a lot harder to be a church member than to be in the family of Christ. There are requirements to meet to be in the family of Christ and should be to be a functioning member of a church, but "Agree with us on the mode of baptism" or "Concur that the King James is the only valid Bible" don't seem like viable requirements for church membership.

I wonder if it's just too hard to check. "Do you know Jesus?" "Is it the same Jesus we worship?" "Are you relying on Him and His work on the cross as your sole means of being made righteous, of getting to heaven?" There are a few tests that Scripture offers. I wouldn't be opposed to those. But "Are you a paedobaptist?" doesn't seem to be one of them.