Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Re-Thinking Church Membership (Part 22)

Read the entire series of posts here.

A pastor I know tells the story about a former church of his that didn't have a "formal" membership. There were some people there that were living in a pattern of sin, so the pastors decided to confront them with their sin in order to correct them, and restore them to a right relationship with God. The people in sin replied, "since you don't have a formal membership here, we're not members, and therefore you don't have any authority over us to confront us." The pastors agreed, and decided not to pursue the confrontation, and the sinning people were allowed to remain in the church and to continue in their sin. Years later, each of these pastors recalled this instance and used it as a reason in their arguments for constructing "formal" memberships in each of their subsequent churches.

But with the biblical idea that every Christian is already a member of the church they attend simply by the fact that they are a Christian, what the pastors should have said is this: "Not so fast. But you are members of this church because you are members of Christ and you attend here. You are in sin, and we're here to help you back to God." Most arguments that I have heard for man-made "formal" memberships place such blame on rebellious Christians who refuse to obey the church leaders in becoming "formal" members of the church. But the reality is the opposite. Yes, those people in sin are to blame for it, but it was the church that refused to practice discipline because of their church membership doctrine. Because such churches refuse to obey Christ in disciplining sinning people, they allow sin to continue unchecked. Quite often these types of churches complain about "pew-sitters", yet these people are "pew-sitters" because the churches refuse to recognize them as members of the body, and refuse to discipline them to become mature Christians.

In Matthew 18 Jesus did not say, "If your fellow formal church member sins, go to him." He said, "If your brother sins, go to him." Who is one's brother but a fellow Christian? Jesus understood that all His people are members of His body, but many churches don't. Jesus also didn't say, "Church leaders with formal membership doctrines will build my church and the gates of hell won't prevail against it." He said, "I will build my church and the gates of hell won't prevail against it." Formal membership doctrines neglect the treatment of all Christians as fellow brothers, allow sin to exist in their midst, and refuse to help all gain the status of mature Christians.

Part 21 . . . . . . . . Part 23

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