Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Will the TRUE church please stand UP!!

Identity Crisis #5: The church has misunderstood what church membership is.

One of the fallacies of church life is counting the number of people present in Sunday School and worship to show what "we" have. A common question among pastor's is "How many are you running?" By doing this, we are identifying numbers as success so that we have created a "faithfulness equals attendance" mentality, which in my opinion is a WORKS salvation. Don't get me wrong, I am not presenting a case for NOT going to church.......hear me out!! Membership then is reduced to attendance and giving, not anything else. This is a major crisis.
If you are a believer and you are following the Great Commandment that our Lord taught, "Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength" then "love your neighbor as yourself"; you have a desire to worship the Lord corporately and to be around God's people in something that God created for worship, ministry, discipleship, evangelism and fellowship. I read somewhere that worship of the Lord as a church on Sunday is the sum of what you have done in worship individually all week. If the church is a living organism, then we are not just attenders, we are disciples that think, feel, repent, and praise, confess and show reverence and so on and we desire to be in the presence of the Lord "together".

Allow me to use the example of the Rotary Club........Look at the Rotary Club Membership Requirements:
Attendance: Attending weekly club meetings allows members to enjoy fellowship, enrich their professional and personal knowledge, and meet other business leaders in their community.
Service: By participating in local and international service projects, club members can volunteer their time and talents where they’re most needed. The four Avenues of Service are Rotary’s philosophical cornerstone and the foundation on which club activity is based: Club Service focuses on strengthening fellowship and ensuring the club’s effective functioning. Vocational Service encourages Rotarians to serve others through their vocations and to practice high ethical standards. Community Service covers the projects and activities the club undertakes to improve life in its community. International Service encompasses actions taken to expand Rotary’s humanitarian reach around the globe and to promote world understanding and peace.
Finding and keeping members: To keep clubs strong, every Rotarian must share the responsibility of bringing new people into Rotary. Even new members can bring guests to club meetings or invite them to participate in a service project. Keeping members involved in Rotary is another responsibility. Fostering strong fellowship and encouraging early participation in service projects are two of the best ways to sustain a club’s membership.
Dues: Club members are required to pay annual dues to their clubs, districts, and Rotary International, as well as the subscription fee to the appropriate Rotary magazine.
Leadership: Club members are encouraged to volunteer for leadership roles at the club level and beyond. To learn more about leadership opportunities in your district, see the district leadership seminar page and the club committees page.

They require you to be there (fellowship, enrichment, & knowledge), to be involved in service (Vocational, Community, & International), responsibility to bring new people (evangelism) and invite them to be involved in a service project (serve along side them), pay dues (i won't go there on that should give to the Lord with a cheerful heart), and to volunteer to lead (servant leader mentality)!! Look at these and see what this civic organization requires.

What is required of the church member? What is the biblical basis of church membership? And how does this fit into the life of the New Testament church?

The biblical basis for church membership is in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, "12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many." (NASB95) We see the body imagery here as the body of Christ, the church, as we are to be members of the body as believers and children of God.

I believe that Mark Dever's book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, delivers a great presentation of these things: "The practice among Christians of church membership has developed as an attempt to help us grasp hold of each other in responsibility and love. 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 repsonsibility 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." (page 36)

Finally, as a church member who is a believer of Jesus Christ and is living out their faith, when you belong to a Bible believing church, you are testifying your salvation to the church and to the world. So, as a unified church of believers, you are declaring that you visibly and verbally acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior, King, and Lord in your life. Therefore, you are stating your salvation out loud to those around you in the church and in the world by the way you live, what you say, how you point others to Christ, your hunger for discipleship, etc.

So as we read 1 Cor. 12 and some helpful Dever's quotes, what are the requirements for church membership:
1. Church Membership is a COMMITMENT
2. Church Membership is a RESPONSIBILITY
3. Church Membership is a Testimony to SALVATION, individually and as a body of Christ

Compare this list to the church you are a part of and ask yourself, "Is this true of the church I belong to?" This is exhausting I know but I believe a large part of our identity crisis as a CHURCH!! I will continue on the three points of membership next time.......!!!


Anonymous said...

You mean I'm supposed to *do* something? Something besides warm 'my' spot in the pew on Sunday morning??? HORRORS!!

You mean I'm supposed to READ the Bible *every DAY?* You mean I can't just listen to the RADIO or CHRISTIAN MUSIC and it count for my 'God time?!?'

Oh no, no no no. I have too much to do to spend time every day reading my Bible. It's outdated and *boring* and just not for today's world.

Eklektos said...

Brother Brain, the sound of the loud boom coming from Telephone is the sound of the hammer hitting the nail squarely on the head.

In your analogy, my opinion is there is a biblical call for accountability that is not present in the Rotary Club, in the sense that we are accountable to a higher authority than they are. This calling requires us to be willing to serve, love, minister, fellowship, lead and all things that bring glory to our Father because we are adopted into His family. In the Rotary Club, we would just be human members, in Christ we are royalty, high priest, Sons of God and we will rule with Him for eternity. Better deal than the Rotary Club

We are accountable to the church body of which we are members. Elmer Towns, writing on church growth and leadership, says that people "don't do what others expect, but what others inspect." In other words, apart from biblical accountability, Christians are likely to grow lax in their work and testimony.

Members of the church are also responsible to every other member of the church. When you associate with the local church, you are asking for help in keeping true to your commitment to Jesus Christ, and you are pledging your support in helping others stay faithful as well.

The great sequoia trees of California are some of the largest living things on earth. Yet, one seldom sees a sequoia standing by itself. Scientists tell us that the sequoia has a relatively shallow root system and that if storms come, a single tree can be felled easily. Nevertheless, a grove of sequoia trees intertwines their roots together, and that provides support for each other in the face of the storms. It is a marvelous picture of the importance of the church as its members support, uphold, and. encourage one another.

Some are content to be mere spectators, but it is the foolish person who merely "sits around" when there are opportunities abounding to do great things for the Lord's sake. Someone has compared the church to a college or professional football game: 75,000 people who desperately need exercise, watching 22 men in desperate need of rest. That is not the New Testament picture of the church.

J. Allen Blair tells of an elderly lady in a congregation who was so deaf that she could not hear the loudest noise. Nevertheless, she was always one of the first ones present to attend every church service. Since the pastor knew that it was completely impossible for her to hear anything that was spoken from the pulpit, one day he asked her why she came. She replied, "Even though I can't hear anything you say in the service, I attend because I love God's house and wish to be found walking in His paths. And the Lord gives me many good thoughts about the text of your sermon that someone always points out to me in the Bible. Another reason is that in church, I am in the very best company. I am in the presence of God and those whom He has made holy and whom He will eventually make glorious. Why shouldn't this make me happy? It is not enough for me to worship God in my home; it is my duty and my privilege to worship Him publicly in the church services."
The church is not optional for the faithful Christian. He will seek it out, minister in it and through it, and bring others to fuller stature in Christ as a part of it. A local church is not always perfect, but it still raises a standard for God and carries a testimony for what is right and good. It still sends forth the true Gospel. It still encourages and builds godly living. It still is the fullest expression of His body in this present age. Making a commitment to the local church is more than adding a name to a roll book. It means taking the responsibilities along with the privileges, and saying "No" to the world's standards and "Yes" to God's. These are good reasons to join the local church.


Sleepy Disciple said...

Eklektos, you have brought many great points in on this discussion. I appreciate your wisdom on this topic and you apparent passion about it as well.

I was asked at a luncheon yesterday about the biggest hinderance at the church I serve in. What a question!! I obviously had several answers to it, but I think "rebellion to the authority of God, Jesus and Holy Spirit and the very Word of God" can sum it up.

We have turned our backs upon the Great Commandment and Commission. As you have written, we are not even close to a model of accountability. Amen!! I am praying about leading for change and reform (not Calvin type reform...a true reformation) in the NT Church here at Telephone. This has gone on long enough!!

Thank you for your words brother!!

Eklektos said...

Brother Brian, you were asked an interesting question, and you stated the problem very concisely. I want to stay on the main topic of your blog but I would like to travel down a rabbit trail for a moment.

I quote, “It has been said by someone that “the proper study of mankind is man.” I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God he calls his Father.

There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all out thoughts are lost in its immensity, so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other objects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, “Behold I am wise.” But when we come to this master science, finding that our plumbline cannot finds its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt, and with solemn exclamation, “I am of yesterday, and know nothing.” No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind than the thought of God.

But while the subject humbles the mind, it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe. . . The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.

And, whilst humbling and expanding this subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling bellows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead. It is to that subject I invite you to this morning.”

The above was spoken on January 7, 1855, the minister of New park Street Chapel, Southwark England. Spoken over 150 years ago by C. H. Spurgeon, who at that time was 20 years old. These words were true then and they are true now.

Brother Brian, when I read these words I cry, and cry out, where are these people in our churches today? Why do so many of them seem not know God as he really wants us to know Him. Many have knowledge. But it is rare to find someone to say “I have known Him.”


Ergatees said...

Brother Brian,

Another slam dunk Brother Brian. I certainly appreciate what you and Eklektos have said about the seriousness Church membership.

I could not agree more that membership should be something that the Church should really take a serious look at. Membership that is practiced in so many of our Churches misses the point of membership – a point that you and Eklektos have flushed out well. When we become members of a Church, we are joining a particular family and declaring to all that we are accountable to the brothers and sisters that are members there as well. That is not to say that we need to be a member of a Church to hold a "Christian" accountable, but it is to say that we are PARTICULARLY accountable to this group. That is the purpose of a Church’s Covenant. It declares the standards of practice and accountability for the members of a particular Church.

Who does that? We do that. We model it in our Church and we ask people, what they are studying and what they are gleaning from the Word of God. We are not doing it perfectly, far from perfectly in fact, but we are making a concerted effort to hold people accountable and to model the Christian Life and loving Christian accountability.


I really enjoyed reading the Spurgeon quote. Thanks for taking the time to post that. I was really blessed.

You asked a question though, "Why do so many of them seem not know God as he really wants us to know Him. Many have knowledge. But it is rare to find someone to say “I have known Him.”" I think the answer is that these people are not really following God and/or they are really not saved. Many are obviously following after their own flesh and lusts. They are seeking to please themselves and not God. They are their own authority and not the Word of God. I can say, "I am a pro football player and play for the Dallas Cowboys." But simply saying that, does not make it a reality, does it? Of course not! The reality is when I am seen wearing the uniform, playing on the field; when I am doing the work that is consistent with a pro football player and look like a Dallas Cowboy. Too many in our churches are saying, "I am a Christian", but are living lives that say that they are a lair. 1 John is a wonderful book of the Bible that every church "member" should go through. It is full of nothing but tests of true the true Christian faith. What a wakeup call that would be if we really looked at ourselves against the shadow cast by the Word of God and did all that we can to conform ourselves and our wills to Him.

In Him,