Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Church Membership and some thoughts on it...

When I was in college I can remember we questioned everything, and quite honestly I still do. Anyhow, we got onto the functions of the "institution" of the church. The problem was that we were seeing more of the "organization" aspects of it than the "organism" aspects and this was frustrating to some of us. Well, anyway many ended up bailing on what many of us understand to be the local church and not having much commitment to it. I on the other hand decided that I'm not going to give up on the local church.

Church membership came up and some thought it wasn't biblical, as well as dating, and definition of when one is married etc. I on the otherhand felt that church membership was biblical, dating can be done to the glory of God, and that one is married when done in some kind of public God directed service which publicly declares by God's design that they should leave and cleave. I may not have been able to give a defense for these at the time, but now I can...at least a little. Below are some brief thoughts on why I feel that church membership is biblical.

To me church membership is completely biblical as is seen in the discipline presented in 1 Corinthians 5, the member lists implied by the widows supported by the church 1 Timothy 5; those with their name listed in the Lamb's book of life Revelation 21:27; Individuals to be included in the church in contrast to 1 Corinthians 5 in 2 Corinthians 2. Some of these refer to what I understand as a "local" church body, and some I understand as the "universal/catholic" church body [not "catholic" as in Roman Catholic, rather "catholic" as in Universal Church]. There are also two descriptors for the church in regards to the "visible church" and the "invisible church." We cannot completely know a man's heart but we have many assurances as the Bible gives testimony...I won't get into that right now:) Needless to say I feel that Biblically we should try to practice only having people as members in our churches that exhibit regeneration and a saving faith by life and confession. So as close to the "invisible" church as possible.

Also, the "majority" in 2 Corinthians 2:6 Mark Dever says of this, "...Paul even mentions a 'majority' of people (2 Cor 2:6) who were referred to as having 'inflicted the punishment' of exclusion from the church. This majority could only be referring to a majority of the group of people who were recognized as the church's members. [Pp. 31 of 9 Marks of a Healthy Church 4th edition booklet]."

Also, Paul refers to specific local churches and the church in general as church bodies [1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 12:12-27; Ephesians 1:22-23; 3:6; 4:12-16; 5:23; 5:30; Colossians 1:18-24; 2:19; Hebrews 13:3]. In the context of the local church and universal/catholic church there are "members" of the "body" [Matthew 5:29-30; Romans 6:13, 19; 7:5, 23; 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 6:15; 12:12, 18, 20, 25, 27; Ephesians 2:19; 3:6; 5:30]. It's difficult for me to imagine a scenario of church discipline that Paul speaks outside of the context of some kind of church membership, and the many analogies of "members" of a "body" are more than enough biblical precedent to practice church membership...in my mind.

And what I mean by this term, Church Membership, is that the elders of a given fellowship accept people into the membership of the local church based upon their profession of faith and living their life in such a way to display that they actually believe in what they say with their mouth. By being a member a person is saying I have a vested interest in this community for the living, teaching and preaching of the gospel by all of the members.

By signing the statement of faith and church covenant a person is saying I will abide to the authority of the eldership of this community which God has placed over me that I may be disciplined if I do not display the traits of a believer necessary for the clear communication of the gospel by this body to our community and the world. By being a member you commit yourself to the ministry, and if the teaching is poor YOU bear the responsibility, so it is up to you to edify the local body in order to be corrected grow, or in order that you might see why a person taught a certain way or not. So it is my belief that this is the context for passage such as this...
1 Peter 5:1-5 "So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' [ESV]"

Hebrews 13:1-19 Verse 17 specifically "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you."

Embrace the local church and become a member that we may display through this "institution" the glory of God through the enjoyment of Him forever, and the Preaching...not talks, preaching of His holy inerrant, infallible Word!

1 comment:

Webmaster said...

Hi, Noah. I just came over from Justin's blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. We're getting ready to study "9 Marks..." in our men's group, and some of your insights should prove helpful. Blessings and peace to you!