Recently, all three churches taught on church membership. Sexy topic, right? In Ventura, Bert preached through many frequently asked questions people often have, and there were a bunch we didn't have a chance to get to.
If you want to check out Bert's sermon on church membership grab head to Ventura's teaching page to watch or listen to part 1: who are the church's members and part 2: what does it mean to belong? Also, if you're looking for some further reading, pick up a copy of Jonathan Leeman's Church Membership.
Church membership is all about a church taking specific responsibility for you, and you for a church. There are lots of forms and philosophies around how the church should handle membership, but we must start with rhe question: is it even biblical?
A survey of the New Testament tells us that church membership is not only biblical, it's actually assumed as the New Testament writers are writing to different local churches. They write on the assumption that there is a defined family taking responsibly and care for each other. What’s biblical is the concept of membership, this undeniable sense of who’s in the family. What’s a-biblical (not commanded for or against, just not there) is how we walk this out. And I have a hunch, that's where a lot of us get hung up.
We can clearly see that Christians ought to be in some sort of “one of another” relationship. There has to be some clarity around who’s in the family and who isn’t. Because our role, our responsibilities and care changes in nature based on whether someone is in our family or another. Paul says to the Ephesians:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19 ESV)
Paul says we are members of the household of God (the church universal), but then, just 2 chapters later, is get's more defined, using the wording "members one of another" (the church local).
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:25 ESV)
This is an important distinction, because it tells us that within the church universal, the big family of God for all time, there is the church local, a community of people living out commands to the church in their time and place.
I could go on and on... But, I wanted to get to some common questions we didn't address in our last two teachings:
What's the difference between members in the church (the church universal) versus membership in a church (the church local)?
Membership in the church universal comes with membership in God's kingdom. Like we saw above in Ephesians 2:19, as Christians, those who have been saved by grace and have had our identity changed, and have been rescues from domain of darkness into the kingdom of God, we are members in his family, along with Abraham, Paul and Christians from all times and places.
Membership in the church local though, is belonging to a specific group of people in a time and place.
So, this bring us to the next logical question, can one be a member in the church universal and not be a members in a local church? Scripture says no. There is, of course, grace in the journey as you are looking for a church, having moved, having been hurt by people in a church, etc. But, in scripture, you don't really get a picture of a Christian apart from a local church.
The commands to the church were always meant to be worked out in the context of a local membership, a local gathered set of disciples of Jesus. Thus, membership is not only implied, but an assumed part of life together in the church, in the bible.
Are pastors/elders part of the membership or over it?
This is a great question! Many think leadership is somehow except from how members are to relate to each other. And while the leadership God puts over his church has some unique responsibilities, there are first and foremost members of one another in the family. They serve the church by leading it, and they do not do it out of compulsion, or domineering over anyone:
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. (1 Peter 5:2-3 ESV)
Are we members of one another?
Yes! It's important to remember we are not members of an organization, a non-profit, a business or a religion. We are members one of another. Meaning, when we say we belong to each other, we're talking about people. The actual people that make up the church are the one to whom we belong.
What does it look like to resign your membership?
We don't really have any clear direction in the bible for this one. So maybe I can use an analogy here. Let's reframe the question to "what does it look like to resign your membership in a family?" Not so much an easy out, is there? We have no evidence in scripture that membership in the family is to be treated lightly, skipping town when things get hard. Rather, we see clear pictures of messy churches fighting for unity and biblical sound doctrine. Are there good and righteous reasons to leave a church? Of course there are! But, often, it's much easier to pull away from the table when things get hard than to stay and fight for family. When things get hard in your family, do you pull away from the table or fight for love?
What does church discipline look like?
First, we must understand in what context church disciple takes. It does not happen with non-Christians or those outside of membership. Meaning, if you are simply attending a Sunday service and have not given yourself to a church, you have no accountability, shepherding, avenue for care and real community - thus, no avenue for gospel reconciliation, AKA church discipline.
But, back to the original question, what does church discipline look like. We start with Jesus:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17 ESV)
This is our process. Now, we also come to Paul's words to the church in Corinth, to one of th most uncomfortable scenarios:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you... But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2, 11-13 ESV)
Yikes. Am I right? But, what's important to see here in the whole of this chapter, is that the church in Corinth was celebrate unrepentant sin. There was a guy, sleeping with his Father's wife, and this was being celebrated! Paul is saying, that rampant, unrepentant, blatant sinners out to removed from the fellowship of the believers.
The big idea here, is that in the church, we are to spur each other on toward love and good works (Heb 10:24-25) and to seek restoration and reconciliation with our brothers and sisters (James 5:19, Galatians 6:1), and church discipline is a means to an end of unity in the faith.
Can I transfer my membership?
This, once again, is dealing with form rather than biblical concept. So, I can offer some thoughts on how this might work, but there's no clear picture, biblically, of a transfer of membership.
So my answer: sure! Why not? What we'd find here, though, is a difference of church polity and function. Some keep very strict "membership roles" and one must transfer your membership to attend or be a part of another church. At Anthem, we do not have a formal membership transfer process, instead, if someone is coming from another church, we like to know that they are leaving their previous church well. If for example, a person moves than there is little reasons to question how a person left. But, if someone is coming from a different church in town, than we'd have the conversation with them about why they are leaving, and make sure there is no unresolved issues that need to be worked out.
Do I have to agree on everything to be a member?
This is a great question. I will say, it depends on what the issue is, but in general, if you are able to submit to the church's beliefs on an issue and not let it cause division amongst the brother and sisters, than no! There are plenty of issue that many faithful, Godly people disagree on. But, It is of great importance to understand the beliefs of the church to make sure this is something you can walk with.
If I am already attending and tithing why do I have to become a member?
There is a difference between attending and belonging. If you're attending, giving, serving but not yet a member, than you are living out some of the functions of a member, but not all. And you are resisting committing to a family. So then, I'd ask, why are are you refraining from committing from this family? If is a valid reason (theological disagreement), then you must next ask, is this the church for me? If you cannot /choose not to belong to the family, why would you still come to family functions?
What does being a member get me? What are the benefits?
This is a great question, but one I think might be inherently flawed, as is plays to our culture of consumption, rather than engagement. If our immediate concern is what do I get out of this, then we must check our motives and remember what the church is.
When you look at the Scriptures, you realize that there is no such thing as a Christian without the church. It just doesn’t exist. You are not made to be a body part that has been amputated from the body. It can’t function properly. This isn’t a Netflix membership, it isn’t a country club, and it isn’t 24-Hour Fitness. There is a common misconception that church membership, by nature is voluntary, and with it, perks. It’s not. If you’re in Christ, you're in the church. Jonathan Leeman writes:
"From the non-Christian’s standpoint, a local church is a voluntary association. No one has to join. From the standpoint of the Christian life, however, it’s not. Once you choose Christ, you must choose his people, too. It’s a package deal. Choose the Father and the Son and you have to choose the whole family—which you do through a local church."
The benefit is that we get to worship Jesus together, serve in His kingdom, and be children of God! We enjoy the guidance that his Word provides, and, when sin comes between us, we enjoy the reconciliation Jesus’ blood provides.
How is being a member differ from not?
This will differ from church to church, but in large, when we see how leaders ought to lead, and how members relate to one another, we don't really see the gray area we now have: attenders. Meaning, there we're members and there were guests, visitors, newcomers.
This may not make much difference for visitors and non-Christians, but Christians who consume rather than commit to a local church do a disservice to Jesus’ body (the church) and themselves. Members, on the other hand, participate as the church: sacrificing time, talents, and treasure; committing to the care and community of their fellow members; and submitting to the authority God has established to lead our congregation. Now, does this mean a non-member can’t serve, give, be in community? Of course not! This simply means, that there is a level of commitment that you won’t / can’t have for us, and we can’t have for you.
In short, the difference between a member and a non-member is that members are “on mission” with us. To be on mission means that you’re a Christian, that you’re identity is rooted in Jesus, and that you are on the mission God has put us on, helping people find their way back to God, you are fellow ministers of reconciliation with us (2 Cor 5).
Should membership in a local church require something more than membership in the universal church?
Yes and no. When we take requirements there are two sides to that: (1) requirements to get in and (2) ongoing requirements.
1. The "requirements" to get in are the same: to be a members of a local church, you must be a Christian. That's it! Now, some churches might add in things, like being baptized, or adhering or believing to a statement of faith, and while these may be good, the only biblical requirement is that a member is a Christian.
2. Ongoing "requirements", I'll use a better word, ongoing responsibilities to each other. Yes. We treat those that are in our immediate family different than those in our extend family. Leeman does some great work on this question in his book, but in short, being members in the same church means that members have the authority to oversee and affirm each other's members in that family, and they are the primary avenues for gospel reconciliation.
Is there a class you have to take?
Once again, this will vary from church to church, but a membership class in our culture helps with a few things: (1) It helps us know which Jesus we are taking about! People have a lot of different view on God and the church, and this is a great space to define what we believe. (2) It's a space to lay out what it means to belong to a church, how you will participate and how the leaders will care and lead you. (3) It's a chance for you to ask in-depth questions about the church. (4) It's a clear moment to really discern if this is where God has you.
Is membership really needed? Or is it a bunch of hoops to jump through or a means of control?
There are a variety of cultural reasons why membership is needed, especially in a day and age where commitment is in short supply, but the simply answer is it's needed because it's int he bible! This is how God set his church up to flourish. I want the church I'm apart of to flourish, so we're going to live and work this out as closely to what scripture says as possible.
For some churches, is has been hoops to jump through or a means of control, but this does not invalidate the biblical concept, only gives us caution to how we work this out. People have been hurt by leaders not leading the way their supposed to, does that mean we abandon leadership altogether? By no means! But it does give us great pause and careful consideration of how this get's worked out.