You Think It's Membership, But It's Not!
Can a Christian Love Jesus, But Not the Church?
It is important to be clear on what we mean by church membership in light of all those who have been hurt and disillusioned by their church experience.
Church membership is a conscious commitment to a local body
of believers in Jesus for service and submission
by trusting God for good through an imperfect church over time.
It can be helpful to talk about what it is not, in order to make clear what it is.
Church membership is not finding the ‘perfect’ church (ie, one just like me).
If they were all one member, where would the body be? - 1 Corinthians 12:19
‘First, your friendship community doesn’t display the power of the gospel like an actual church community would. In your friendship community, the community is created out of shared interests. Your friendship community looks a lot like you and likes all the same things you like. That’s normal and natural (we all gravitate toward people who are like us), but the community that God creates is supernatural. God gets to pick your brothers and sisters, and he often brings people into the family who don’t look—or think—like you do. Friendship communities will dissolve when some of the friends within the community enter a new stage of life or change personally. Gospel communities aren’t based on life stages or personal preference but on a common Savior. When this Savior brings people together who are very different and unites them in love, it displays the power of the gospel in a way that your friendship community doesn’t. ‘After all, it isn’t surprising when a group of friends who enjoy one another’s company love each other (the world has that). Sadly, your friendship community doesn’t end up saying much about the gospel’s power to reconcile enemies (Eph. 2:14–16), not to mention the fact that since this community is based primarily on your shared interests, you spend more time talking about those things than the gospel. If you commit yourself to a gospel community, however, you’ll find yourself attached to a group of people with whom you might not share anything in common except Jesus! It will be hard and sometimes frustrating, but the gospel is able to sustain this community and therefore gets credit for its existence. You will also find that since Jesus is the uniting factor, he is the subject of your discussions in a way that he wasn’t before. Hence, Jesus and his power shine much brighter in a gospel community than they do when you just hang out with your Christian affinity group. – Adriel Sanchez, Pastor; Letter to My College Self
Church membership does not mean the leaders can run your life.
Nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. - 1 Peter 5:3
What does ‘lording it over’ the church look like?
'My colleagues at Probe, Don and Deanne, know of a mother who needed to gain special permission from her church to attend her son’s wedding because it conflicted with a church event. The church made her feel guilty because she was choosing family over God. In another case, I know of women who missed their son and daughter’s prom night to attend a church meeting which was held twenty minutes from their homes. The mindset is loyalty to God means loyalty to his church. One’s spiritual quality is determined by one’s allegiance to the church. … Abusive leaders use their position to demand loyalty and submission. Ken Blue states, “I have heard many pastors say to their congregations, ‘Because I am the pastor, you must follow me.’ Their demand was not based on truth or the God-directedness of their leadership but on their title. That is a false basis of authority . . . any appeal to authority based on position, title, degree or office is false. The only authority God recognizes and to which we should submit to is truth.” Other leaders use titles such as “God’s man” or “the Lord’s anointed” so that others will treat them with special reverence and keep themselves above accountability that others in the congregation are held to. “If by appealing to position, unique claims or special anointings, leaders succeed in creating a hierarchy in the church, they can more easily control those beneath them. They can also defend themselves against any who might challenge them.” – probe.org, Abusive Churches
Church membership does not mean neglecting your family.
He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity. - 1 Timothy 3:4
‘WHY THE PROBLEM? We all have a set amount of time – twenty-four hours in a day and most of us have all twenty-four hours filled before becoming Christians. Therefore, when something new comes in we typically feel pressed. As new church ministry opportunities come up, we get busier. As our family expands, we get busier. Sometimes we can "capture" wasted time through improving our efficiency, but other times we realize that something will have to go! The cause of this tension is usually an issue of our conflicting values and the solution therefore is grounded in whether we manage our time according to our values. ‘IMBALANCE RESULTS from unbiblical values and/or an inappropriate response to the tension. Since our life situations often change, we will also regularly need to reevaluate how we balance these two areas. ‘What should not change is our heart’s commitment to both church and home ministry. God empowers us in both, works through us in both, and He sanctifies us through both. If we do not believe this, then we are wasting our time going further. We should return to scriptures on His purpose of the church and our role in it, and scriptures that guide us in our family ministry. – xenos.org
Church membership does not mean you can never leave a church.
Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. - Acts 13:3
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. - 1 John 2:19
These two verses highlight, broadly speaking, good reasons and bad reasons for leaving a church.
In order to talk about 'being devoted to one another' in regard to church membership (Romans 12:10), we have to talk about the reality of members leaving churches to become members at other churches and think through how to think about it.
I have been a member of six churches in my lifetime.
I left my home church for another church in town after high school.
I left my home church to join a new church that was a church split from my home church.
I left my home to church to go to seminary and joined another one.
I left my home church while away at school to return to my home church in my home town.
I left my home church to pastor another church.
I left the church I pastored in LA to come to CA and pastor at Coast.
All of these 'leaving and joining churches' were for different reasons. Some better than others. Some more questionable than others. Some more painful than others.
So I understand the lingering questions that result from changing churches and recognize that all of us must be accountable to our Lord in these decisions.
There are two basic reasons we leave churches (broadly speaking):
We have to.
We want to.
'Have to' moves center around corruption in the church and calling on our lives.
'Want to' moves center around opportunity at other churches and offenses in the church we are leaving.
There are good, legitimate reasons for leaving churches.
There are bad, illegitimate reasons for leaving churches.
So we should always search our hearts and ask the hard questions:
Am I leaving because of offenses, hurts and broken relationships?
Am I leaving because of weaknesses in the body that I am unwilling to be a part of the solution for?
Do I regret leaving or am I eager to do so?
But even with the reality of good reasons to leave churches, we have to take seriously the question (really, this is a 21st Century, American Church with many church options question):
If everyone leaves a church when they are dissatisfied how do churches become ‘less corrupt,’ how do relationships get healed, how do weak churches become strong, how do new ministries get started and old ones get strengthened?
Church membership is not just presence (ie, church membership in name only can be deceiving).
Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” - Matthew 13:30
Just because we are in a cookie jar, doesn't make us a cookie. Do we have 'cookie characteristics'?
Church membership is not insignificant, because it is the outworking of love for Christ.
The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ - Matthew 25:40
‘We believe that membership is a New Testament expectation for all believers. Each of us should be a member of a local body of believers. We should take responsibility to discipline those of the body who do not repent from public sin that brings reproach on the name of Christ. We should declare ourselves part of the body so that if we are wayward, we ourselves would be liable to such exclusion. We should take our position under the leadership and authority of a particular group of elders. We should declare ourselves part of a group who expect to be watched over and cared for by a particular group of elders. And we should find our place in the organic whole as a body part—a member—of a local body of Christ. That is God’s plan for us and for this church. That’s what we mean by membership. All of those aspects of membership are rooted in the truth that the local church is an expression of the universal church. Part of what it means to belong to the body of Christ is to belong to a body. … Church membership is a blood-bought gift of God’s grace. More than most of us realize, it is a life-sustaining, faith-strengthening, joy-preserving means of God’s mercy to us. I urge you not to cut yourself off from this blessing. – John Piper