Is it really necessary? Is a person who has regularly attended a church for years but has not pursued formal membership sinning? How rigorous or lax ought a church’s qualifications and expectations for formal membership be? Should we draw a wider or a more narrow circle in terms of how much theological agreement church members ought to have with each other and with the pastors and elders? Should church members have priority in access to elders and pastors, counseling and discipleship opportunities, and other church resources over non-members? Is church membership ever taught in the Bible?
These questions and more are very live right now, particularly among younger generations, which is what makes it an interesting question to me, and one I feel the need to formulate some answers to. Over the next few days I’d like to post some excerpts from Mark Dever’s book, What Is a Healthy Church?, just to stir the pot a bit and get some conversation going, and then offer some of my own thoughts.
Let’s begin with this: Dever writes,
“Sometimes college campus ministries will ask me to speak to their students. I’ve been known, on several occasions, to begin my remarks this way: ‘If you call yourself a Christian but you are not a member of the church you regularly attend, I worry that you might be going to hell.’
You could say that it gets their attention.
Now, am I just going for shock value? I don’t think so. Am I trying to scare them into church membership? Not really. Am I saying that joining a church makes someone a Christian? Certainly not! Throw any book (or speaker) out the window that says as much. So why would I begin with this kind of warning? It’s because I want them to see something of the urgency of the need for a healthy local church in the Christian’s life and to begin sharing the passion for the church that characterizes both Christ and his followers.
Many Christians in the West today (and elsewhere?) tend to view their Christianity as a personal relationship with God and not much else. They generally know that this ‘personal relationship’ has some implications for how they should live. But I’m concerned that many Christians don’t realize how this most important relationship with God necessitates a number of secondary personal relationships—the relationships that Christ establishes between us and his body, the Church. God doesn’t mean for these to be relationships that we pick and choose at our whim among the many Christians ‘out there.’ He means to establish us in relationship with an actual flesh-and-blood, step-on-your-toes body of people.
Why do I worry that if you call yourself a Christian but you are not a member in good standing of the local church you attend, you might be going to hell? Think with me for a moment about what a Christian is” (What Is A Healthy Church, 21-22).
I’ll post his answer to that (staggering) question tomorrow.
In the meantime: What say ye?