Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Re-Thinking Church Membership (Part 26) Christendom And A Dangerous Open-Door Church Policy

Racking my brain over the recent posts (here and here) made at Internet Monk regarding church membership, I'm going here to combine my thoughts with another concept I have yet to write about: the relationship of church to its surrounding culture. This might explain why so many churches today feel the need to resort to so many extra-biblical methods in constructing man-made church membership systems.

Hearkening back to parts 14, 15 and 17 of this series where I commented on Part 2 of Pulpit Magazine's article on church membership where elders at Grace Community Church admit that they don't know who to shepherd, I quote the following:

Elders can shepherd the people and give an account to God for their spiritual well-being only if they know who they are; they can provide oversight only if they know those for whom they are responsible; and they can fulfill their duty to shepherd the flock only if they know who is part of the flock and who is not.
My sense is that many church leaders are simply overwhelmed by the size of their congregations and feel the need to resort to methods that reduce their responsibility to smaller numbers. They make up extra-biblical requirements such as giving ascent to sectarian confessions or making covenants with each other (as if there were anything to covenant about that isn't already included in the New Covenant of Christ's blood). But, looking at several scenarios that describe a church's relation to its culture might shed some light.

Scenario 1: Small churches in a culture hostile to Christianity (such as the first several centuries A.D. in the Roman Empire, or behind Iron Curtain communism of the 20th century, or within communist China or North Korea today, or in any number of Muslim societies) tend to have "closed-door" policies and meet in secret out of fear of persecution. Secret symbols (such as the fish), or sayings are used to denote real Christians before meeting with them. Great care must be taken in not revealing the existence of church meetings simply out of concern for the lives or property of others. Church leaders know who are theirs to disciple, and they know them intimately.

Scenario 2: Churches that exist in societies that are dominated by Christianity, i.e. "Christendom" (such as the middle ages with the Roman church, many post-Reformation protestant regions, Puritan New England or the Antebellum South, or even many regions within America during its first several hundred years, or even the synagogues of ancient Israel) tend to have "open-door" policies and meet in buildings with open doors, completely accessible to the general public. Communities are made up of a majority of professing churchgoers, and everybody knows everybody else's business in general. There is little threat of "outsiders" entering in to cause persecution or other problems since everybody in the community is already "on the inside." Church leaders know who are theirs to disciple, and they know them intimately.

Scenario 3: Many churches today exist in a society increasingly disinterested in Christianity and increasingly hostile to the gospel of Christ. Yet they continue with an "open-door" policy. Communities are made up of wildly varying religious beliefs, and churches are infiltrated by all kinds of strange people with greater freedom of mobility and transient lifestyles. Anybody who is a spy for the government or a foreign religion or a pot-stirrer or divisive fool or atheist or unbeliever can enter the doors anonymously at any time and cause havoc. Church leaders struggle with knowing who are theirs to disciple, and fail as a result of having little legitimate control over their congregations. They complain quite a bit about declining spirituality and faithfulness in churches today, but really bring on their own problems by allowing it all in right through their open doors. They therefore resort to draconian legalisms to define what a disciple is. Real Christians who are real Christians can often fail to measure up to their definitions and exactments, and suffer as a result, and are often the ones blamed by frustrated church leaders for their own inability to deal with their flocks.

I'm wondering whether in today's religious climate churches that fit scenario 3 wouldn't be better off with a "closed-door" policy. Church meetings would be private affairs in private homes or buildings, and those who assemble would consist of only those that the shepherds are currently discipling. New converts would come via evangelists or by lay-ministering, but only those new converts would be invited to church meetings. Evangelism wouldn't happen in church to a great number of unbelievers, but out in the world. Church leaders would know who are theirs to disciple, and they would know them intimately.

Part 25 . . . . . . . . Part 27


  1. Our church sort of accomplishes what you are suggesting with the small group system. Most active church members are also in a "Christ Care" group and are discipled and discipling in this system. The worship service is open to anyone and is a means of attracting new members.

    Of course, we're not exactly a megachurch, just about 400 households, so it's not too hard for elders and deacons to know their flock.

    Another alternative might be system of branding or ear tags.

  2. The closed door policy is an interesting concept - that is for sure. In these countries in the West it bucks the trend - which has pro's and cons.

    Pro's seem to be what you mentioned - people become a more close knit community and the process of discipleship is fostered more effectively. I think the safety helps in some way.

    The big con is limiting who can enter the kingdom of God - like we have some control over who should and should not enter those doors. I mean, even that parable in Matt 25 seems to be broken in this policy...cause what if someone in dire need comes to your doors and they are closed to them?

    I am not a fan of this idea for these reasons...the impoverished mainly...they need help - not to be turned away as undesirables.

    I am not sure I can be convinced of this or membership policies to be honest - they seem limiting.

  3. You said:

    >"Many churches today exist in a
    >society increasingly disinterested
    >in Christianity and increasingly
    >hostile to the gospel of Christ."

    I don't see any increasing hostility to the gosple of Christ. I see an increasing hostility to so-called Christians who are using the gospel to Judge, condemn and hate other people embracing an institutionalized bigotry against people who don't look like they do or act like they do. I look around and don't see any Christians. All I see are fake Christians trying to get your money or a free ride to heaven.

  4. Christopher Lake12/14/08, 1:26 PM


    *All* that you see, when you look around, are "fake Christians"? I suppose that is possible.... but if that is the case, are you a true Christian? How did you come to know what the genuine article is, in order have a vantage point from which to say what is *not* true Christianity?

    I'm not saying that there *is* no true Christianity (there definitely is), but are you a true Christian, and how did you come to know what one is?