To Be or Not to Be: The issue of membership in a local church

Weekly I receive emails from a man who has been in ministry for over 50 years. Those writings have been a source of encouragement, admonishment and learning in my Christian and ministry life. Sometimes in those writings he cites or shares material from other sources. Recently he shared some thoughts written by some one else on the topic of Church Membership. May your faith be stimulated and stretched as you read his thought provoking post.


     Larry Huffhand and I don’t agree on quite a few things (although I am quite sure we agree far more than we disagree), but we both are convinced that disagreement shouldn’t affect such things as friendship, respect, and even citation. 
     It doesn’t seem so bad lately, but there has been a distinct, if unorganized, tendency against church membership (many have had something of a “cafeteria syndrome” – go to the church with the best whatever and to another one for something else – regarding the church, and it is not just young people involved).  Larry has written what I think is an excellent article on the subject of church membership, and I think it worth sharing.  (This is his “original” Article; he has since revised it a bit, but I couldn’t copy it).
“What does it mean when the Bible says in Acts 2: ‘then they that gladly received his word were baptized and the same day there were added unto them about 3000 souls.’  What does that mean?  Why did the Apostle Paul go around establishing churches?  Why did he instruct Titus to stay in Crete and ‘ordain elders’ in all the churches?  What does church discipline imply?  These and other questions go right to the heart of Church Membership.  And if Church Membership is so important, what should be the procedure of bringing people into the membership of a local church? 
    Except for the four personal letters Paul wrote to Titus, Timothy, and Philemon, all the other books Paul wrote, were written specifically to churches, and the reason he wrote them was to give them inspired, Biblical instruction and encouragement.  When I taught Seminary classes, I really discouraged ‘auditing’ the class.  It was like getting something for nothing.  So it is with just attending a church.  It’s getting something for nothing.  An attender has no obligations of any kind.  He is not obligated to tithe.  He’s not obligated to attend.  He’s not obligated to serve, [and can’t in many cases because of legal implications] and he’s not even obligated to pray for the spiritual welfare of the church.  He’s just an attender.  So what’s wrong with that, if anything?  I guess what I’m asking is this, in the light of ‘To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin,’ can a person be right with God and simply be an attender, and not a member of a church? 
    Personally, I believe the most important organization a Christian can belong to is the Local Church.  We look down upon illegal aliens in our country and so we encourage them to go thru the process and become a citizen.  To be under the watch care and protection of a government is a very important feature of being a citizen.  We frown on couples shacking up and living together without due process of marriage.  We believe it is a sin.  These are two of the three institutions established by God and there is a recognized process to belong to either of them.  But what about the Church, and its membership.  Shouldn’t it be every bit as important as these other two?  It’s the one organization God ordained to implement the truths laid out in the Bible.  That being said, joining a church ought to be a significant step in a Christian’s life, having a serious degree of formality to it, along with a personal welcome into the membership before the congregation, as well as an opportunity for other members to welcome them in.  It is a procedure recognized and practiced, not only by Baptist churches, but by all churches.  That’s my take on the subject for what it’s worth.
A reader adds some thoughts to Larry’s excellent post on church membership. What he suggests is not a popular theme or practice today, but I think the church suffers credibility from the lack of a Biblical approach to what he suggests: “Another issue that…wasn’t mentioned in the article on the importance of church membership (with which I completely agree), is that of not only responsibility/obligation (which was the focus), but also the accountability it gives to a spiritual authority.  Even though unpleasant and rarely exercised anymore, church discipline requires membership because without it, the leadership, and the congregation as a whole, have no formal authority and thus no sort of leverage to ‘pressure’ those in publicly known sin to correct course. They aren’t ‘in fellowship’ in any sort of formal way, and so can’t be ‘out of fellowship’ in any meaningful way.  I realize that the concept of having such leverage to pressure someone runs completely against the grain of our free-wheeling, no-accountability culture, but it seems that Biblically this is a specific and prescribed component of the convicting work of the Holy Spirit in the context of a fellowship of believers.””

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