Church Membership Pt. 2

Posted: March 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

By the way, all of these Q and A things come from Third Millennium Ministries by Richard Pratt.

Question

I briefly read your answers to the question, “is Church membership biblical”?  I personally don’t think it is. God is Spirit and His Spirit exists within His Church, The Body of Christ.  You either have received Him as your Savior or you haven’t.  There is nothing else you can do to get in.   Being baptized is a command as well after one is saved.  I refuse to be a Church member in a local congregation.  By emphasizing Church membership they’re taking away Christ’s Authority.  De-emphasis! There isn’t an emphasis on the unifying Power of His Spirit which is the result of truly being born-again into His kingdom and His body.  A lot of people are “Church” members but don’t belong to the King.


Answer

The teaching of Reformed theology has always been that not every member of the visible church is a member of the invisible church. As you stated, “A lot of people are “Church” members but don’t belong to the King.” As you have correctly stated, this is proven over and over again in the Old and New Testaments.

What about formal church membership? The Bible is our standard for determining truth. Thus, we must ask ourselves if the Bible teaches about (formal) church membership, either directly or indirectly. While “nothing in scripture directly commands what might be termed “formal” church membership, whereby members of the body of Christ are required to swear submission to a particular local church or board of elders, deacons, or bishops,” it is in the Bible indirectly by good and necessary consequence. As the WCF states, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture ….  and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed” (WCF I.VI, Of the Holy Scripture).

What is this good and necessary consequence? The necessity of church order (1 Corinthians 14:40), church leadership (elders and deacons, 1 Timothy 3), and the ministering of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12-14) all speak to not only an organism (the body of Christ), but an organization (a visible church). One of the most important elements of formal church membership is submission to those who are of authority over you (Ephesians 5:21; Hebrews 13:17). If there is no formal church members then there could be no formal leaders. How could there be submission when there is nothing to submit to? Church discipline (Matthew 18:15-18; Galatians 6:1-7) for the edification of the body of Christ would be impossible to do if not for formal church membership, as there would be no set standards and no recognition of authority.

While the Bible speaks of the “church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages” (Ephesians 3:21) it also speaks of the church by locality, thus implying local church membership.

Acts 11:22 News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. [emphasis mine]

Acts 13:1 In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. [emphasis mine]

Romans 16:1 I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: [emphasis mine]

1 Corinthians 1:2 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. [emphasis mine]

1 Corinthians 16:1 Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. [emphasis mine]

The Bible does not only uses the singular term “church,” but also the plural—“churches,” implying a different church at different locations all unified under Christ.

Acts 14:23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. [emphasis mine]

Acts 15:41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. [emphasis mine]

Acts 16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. [emphasis mine]

Romans 16:16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings. [emphasis mine]

1 Corinthians 4:17 For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. [emphasis mine]

1 Corinthians 7:17 Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. [emphasis mine]

1 Corinthians 11:16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God. [emphasis mine]

there are also some passages that refer fairly undeniably to actual congregations (e.g., Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:16). We need to be thankful that God recognizes local church membership. If not then his whole church would come under judgment whenever he passed judgment (1 Peter 4:17). However, when we look at the church at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (Revelation 2-3) we see localized blessings and cursings.

Lastly, numerous texts imply church membership. Paul’s formal exclusion of the sinner at Corinth presupposes formal inclusion. Paul exhorts the Corinthian church to remove a brother from their ranks who was sinning in a way not even approved by pagans (1Corinthains 5:2, 7, 12-13). Paul’s reference to “the majority” in 2 Corinthians 2:6-7 seems to refer to a group commonly recognized as the church’s members. The early church kept a list of widows. We know from the widow list mentioned in 1 Timothy 5:9 that lists of people were kept and tracked. If widows were listed, it is likely that a list of current members was kept and updated as well.

By identifying ourselves with a particular church, we let the pastors and other members of that local church know that we intend to be committed in attendance, giving, prayer, and service. We increase others’ expectations of us in these areas, and we make it known that we are the responsibility of this local church. We assure the church of our commitment to Christ in serving with them, and we call for their commitment to serve us in love and to encourage us in our discipleship. In short, we enter a covenant relationship with that church and its leadership. [9Marks Ministries]

The Bible teaches that Christ’s authority cannot be “actually” diluted. He is God and all powerful. The Bible also teaches the concept of under-shepherding. Christ is called the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls (1 Peter 2:25), but individuals that Christ has appointed are also known as bishops (Acts 1:20; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7). From Hebrews 13:17, we see that the leaders or elders of the local church do have a God-given authority to which the congregation is called to happily submit.  Leaders exercise this authority for the good, provision and protection of the congregation. As the book of Acts states, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20: 28).

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