Well, at least it is from me…
On church membership…
For now, anyway.
These last two are among the most compelling reasons (in my view) for formal church membership. The common bonds between them are: (1) They are both absolutely biblically unassailable. If you happen to be a Christian who bases his or her life on the precepts of the Scriptures, these two statements are indubitably true for you. And (2), 21st century, postmodern, individualistic, egocentric people won’t like either of them.
5. You need accountability and (if you’re bad) church discipline.
Accountability is good for you. Maybe I should say that again for emphasis (I’ll even add italics and red font and an underline where I especially want the emphasis, so that you can really tell what I’m emphasizing): Accountability is good for you. Friends, if you a serious about your faith; if you really want to honor and please God and set in place bulwarks against sin, your flesh, or the devil getting at you and making shipwreck (to mix metaphors) of your faith entirely, you want to be accountable to your church.
It is absolutely astounding to me how many people I know who in most ways vigorously pursue a Cross-centered life, and yet are unwilling to submit to formal membership so that they can have the benefit of having lifeguards on duty in case they find themselves in an undertow. Obviously, ideally speaking, a member of a church will never face church discipline, and the shepherding ministry of the pastors and elders in their life will always be limited to encouragement, exhortation and guidance.
And, ideally speaking, good swimmers will never find themselves in an undertow, get a cramp, have a wave smash them into a reef, get stung by a devil ray, or get chowed on by a shark. Does that mean we shouldn’t have lifeguards on duty in case the ‘ideal’ is not always the reality?
In fact, the worst thing that could happen to you in the above situations is that you’d drown and die. So what? Church discipline is designed by God to prevent you from living in Hell forever. At some point, it might be helpful to explore what biblical church discipline looks like and what sorts of circumstances it is meant to address, biblically speaking, but this isn’t the place.
Another way to look at it is this: Most churches today do not even try to practice church discipline on regularly attending non-members because of the massive and threatening legal issues. So, for example, you might have pastors and elders who want to practice church discipline on a man who is cheating on his wife, in hopes that it will shake the man from his sin and stupor and save the marriage and the man’s spiritual life, but they hesitate because they cannot afford to open themselves up to a lawsuit that might harm the faithful members of the church.
Don’t put your pastors and elders in that position. Be a joy to pastor (Heb. 13:17).
In every church membership covenant, there needs to be a clause in which the new member gives consent to be disciplined by the church, and then churches need to move people from “regular attender” to formal member for the safeguarding of their soul.
6. You need to submit to your elders and pastor(s).
Ecclesiology (theology of the church) 101: Submit to your elders and pastors. If your pastors and elders, whom God has set in leadership and authority in the church that you “regularly attend” think it is good for you to become a member, why in the world would you hesitate? The rational for refusing to become a member that goes: “I just don’t see what the benefit is,” is incredibly self-centered, arrogant, and rebellious.
Of course, pastors and elders are obviously fallible, and we don’t have a Pope (except, of course, The Pope of New Hope). This isn’t an ecclesiastical dictatorship. So, there is a place for discussion and disagreement and even lay revolt (in the case of egregious moral failure or doctrinal infidelity on the part of the elders or pastors). But if you persistently set yourself in judgment over the judgment of the pastor(s) and elders in something as simple as formal membership, you are sinning.
It is a very, very dangerous thing to rebel against or disregard the authorities God has set over you and must be undertaken very cautiously. I am sobered by what God said about Israel’s rejection of Samuel’s counsel and leadership: “And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.'”
Once again: Be a joy to pastor. Why would you do something that would make your pastor grumble (Heb. 13:17)?
Now, I’m not so arrogant as to place QED at the end of this post, but I will say that I am more convinced than ever of the crucial importance of church membership, having taking the time to set my thoughts down on… well… a computer screen. Please know that everything I’ve written, I’ve meant for your (and my) good.
I realize that many who read this blog are members or regular attenders of New Hope Church, where I pastor. I primarily have you in mind, because you’re the flock I care about most. If some of this has felt like a shepherd’s staff gently guiding you back into line, I’m glad. If some of it has felt like the rod striking you in the ribs, well, good shepherds also need to do that from time to time.
Soli Deo Gloria,