Monday, December 07, 2009

Re-Thinking Church Membership (Part 31) - Review Of Whitney (1)

As I mentioned in Part 29, I would be reviewing a chapter in Donald Whitney's book, "Spiritual Disciplines Within The Church." My 1996 copy has chapter 3 as "Why Join A Church?," titled the same as the article on his website. The web article is a revised version of the first printing of the book. Quotes in this series can be found in the website article.

Whitney starts out his article with a question from a new Christian about church membership:

"Why should I join the church?"

Despite my seminary training and pastoral experience, I was unprepared for this new Christian's question. He agreed from our study of the Scripture that he needed to identify himself as a disciple of Christ through baptism, but he asked, "Can you show me from the New Testament that I'm supposed to officially join anything?"

Now he really had me.

"If I come and worship as often as the members," he continued, "if I fellowship with these believers as much as anyone else, if I profit from the teaching and other ministries of the church, and if I actively demonstrate love for my brothers and sisters in Christ here, why should I formally join the church?"

His question struck me with an uncomfortable logic. [Emphasis his]
First, a few observations. Several of which I have already addressed in previous posts in this blog series. One, the new Christian describes the state of his Christian walk. He is fully engaged in his church, is obedient to God's commands, and agrees with being baptized. Yet the membership question that he raises presupposes something about the idea of church membership that he has been confronted with: there is something missing. Obedience to God is not enough for the Christian life. There must be something more.

Two, as simple as the idea of church membership is (and I have shown how simple it is in this series), Whitney's seminary training and pastoral experience never adequately dealt with the concept of being a member of Christ's body. Such a fundamental point of doctrine was completely missing from a learned man's toolbox.

Three, the new Christian wanted to see a command to formally join a church from the bible itself.

Four, the logic of the new Christian's question - basically, "is obedience to God enough?" - was uncomfortable to somebody used to participating in a traditional system of "formal" church membership.

I will continue with more analysis of Whitney's subsequent study and the answering this new Christian's questions in the next post [Updated: obviously I wasn't able to continue with the analysis I anticipated.  Maybe sometime in the future] in this series.

Read the entire series here.

Part 30 . . . . . . . . Part 32

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