Sunday, March 04, 2007

What Does a Family Integrated Church Look Like To Me - PT 7

One of the areas of importance in starting any church is that of membership. It seems today even the mention of church membership raises the hair on some people’s necks. The next response is usually to ask where in scripture it says that church membership is necessary and a chapter and verse is asked for. Well my first inclination is to ask if one needs a specific chapter and verse for everything we do because the truth is there are lots of things people do that do not have support of chapter and verse such as nurseries, youth groups and Sunday school. The truth is most people have what they would consider a biblical reason for these areas just as I see a biblical call for church membership.

So here is a short rundown of some of the biblical reason for church membership and the importance of it in the life of a God glorifying assembly of believers:

First is that the word for church is ekklesia which means called out ones. In the context of the church it refers to those called out by God (Eph 2:25).

So one of the things church membership does is to allow the church to set apart those who are believers and those who are not. If the church is to display God’s glory then those that are in the church need to be those that are His sheep. Now church membership does not make one a Christian and there will always be those that can fool the church but the general idea is that through the commitment to membership the church (visible) will better be able to discern those that are and are not believers.

A second reason for church membership is that calls it believers in the church to submit to their elders and leaders as well as support and honor them (Heb 13:7, 17; 1 Tim 5:17 & 1 Thess 5:12-13). The idea here is that there are Elders to be honored and people that the Elders are too lead

These would seem very vague commands if there were not specific elders and leaders over a certain group of believers. Membership lays out who those are to be led as well as who their elder is that they are to submit to and honor. I realize submitting to elders is probably a strange term in our individualistic age but Christ sets up His church as he sees fit and He has seen fit to have the church led by Elders as God defines Elders. It would also seem a strange command if it was simply to the church at large since then an Elder from some other area could have say over a group that they have never been associated with, I think not.

A third reason that church membership is a biblical principle is that the New Testament has 58 “one another” commands that would seem very difficult to follow, they are called commands, unless there was a specific group of people it was applying to and that group is the membership of a church.

Most of these commands are in the epistles which were written to local churches so in their context there is a local group of called out believers that were to care for one another. The truth of the matter is that the local church is to care for itself before those outside. This does not negate care for those outside the church but we are to start with those committed to a certain body. Even when Paul speaks of care for widows (1 Tim 5:3-16) it is for a specific group and not the church universal (even though the local church is part of the universal church). Again, this is not a call to shut the door to the world but is a call to care for each other within the context of the church. Remember that it is the love we show for one another that shows the world who we truly are (John 13:34-35). Church membership is then the avenue through which the care for “one another” can be accomplished to its fullest.

A fourth reason is church discipline. Now this for many is probably not a reason for church membership because it is a foreign or disliked concept. However it is a biblical concept since being held accountable is a very important part of church life. Again, I realize this probably steps on the individualistic toes of today’s culture but that is not reason to avoid it. There would seem to be two reason for accountability and church discipline the first is to keep and protect the purity of the church and the second to help the one who is in sin. In 1st Corinthians when Paul confronts the issue of the man having an affair with his fathers wife (1 Cor 5) and the whole issue of judging those inside the church (1 Cor 5:12) the goal is to show a difference in the church from the world and to bring the offender back into fellowship.

Without membership it would be very difficult to hold anyone accountable and to protect the name of Christ and the church. We are not called to go from church to church holding people accountable but to do so from inside. Due to so much laxness in church discipline we constantly see people avoiding the correction that God requires. Now I have heard some refer to God taking care of this in the end or that the Holy Sprit will deal with these issues and it is not our part. But I would say that the Holy Sprit is taking care of things through the church He empowers. We do no one any good if we let fellow believers wallow in sin when we are called to help them get out of their issue and the best way to do this is to commit to each other through church membership.

There are other reasons that are in scripture that call for church membership but here are a couple passages referred to in Wayne Mack’s book, that I highly recommend on church membership, called To Be or Not To Be A Church Member?

In 1Tim 1:18-20 Paul speaks of putting out or excommunicating people and without them actually being in something specific, such as a member of a church, this could not be done.

In Matt 18:15-17 we see the rules for church discipline and they could not effectively be done if one was not committed to a specific church which may be why this process is not effectively followed today.

Lastly, I would say that the signing of a document such as a church covenant is a good thing to do. But I will also say that this may be a culturally driven thing. The reason I say this is that if one were to commit to attend a Christian church in say China or Somalia I would say that there would be no real reason to sign a document simply the fact of being associated with a church in that culture is detrimental to ones life says a lot. However in our culture in the west the signing of a document is an attempt to add some level of commitment since ones word is of little value today as so few people, Christian or not keep their word. I might even say today that even signing a document holds less value than it did at one time. I think this is why it is good to make such things as church membership classes take some time and a level of commitment as this may be a way to see the commitment level of those wishing to join a church.

I would hope that what I have said would lead one to see what scripture says about God’s church. We need to remember that it is not our place to try and reconfigure Christ’s church but to the best of our ability be the church God desires and the one that best exalts his name. I realize that some may abuse the idea of church membership but that is no reason for us to neglect or avoid it. We are called to a mutual commitment to other believers in any local church and I think that we should strive for this as best we can and church membership is one of these ways.

Here are some other resources on the topic of church membership:

9Marks MinistriesArticles on Church Membership

The Biblical Evidence for Church Membership - Brian Schwertely

Why Should I Join A Church? - Jim Ellif

Past Posts on Family Integrated Church:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

No comments: