Category Archives: Membership

Why Church Membership? Church Discipline

For the sake of Church Discipline

If we have not availed ourselves to the hard privilege of church discipline (as necessary), can we truly say we have submitted to God’s ruling in and through His church?

Of course, if your church does not practice church discipline, this point is moot. And, I might add, your church may not be a true church in the first place.

“Church discipline is rarely done in the modern church, and because it is rarely done, when it is done, it is rarely done well. As with everything, we have to turn to the Scriptures for guidance and protection.

‘I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’

A moment’s reflection shows the need for discipline. In a fallen world, sin will seek to corrupt anything of value. When sin begins to work, the one in a position to discipline has a choice to make. Discipline is inescapable. At that point, we will either discipline the sin, or we will discipline the righteous. But as long as the antithesis between the two exists (which is to say, throughout history) we must choose one way or the other. (Jay E. Adams, Handbook of Church Discipline (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986).

Scripture does not just command the discipline. We find in the Bible five basic reasons to practice church discipline. Not surprisingly, these biblical reasons for disciplining usually anticipate and answer some of the most common objections.

First, we are to discipline to glorify God –our obedience in this matter glorifies God. We know that God intends discipline for His church (Matthew 18:15-19, Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 5, 1 Thessalonians 5:14, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, 1 Timothy 5:20, 1 Timothy 6:3, Titus 1:13, Titus 2:15, Titus 3:10, Revelation 2:2, Revelation 14-15, 20). God tells us what to do, and because we are His people we are called to do it. This answers the objection, “Who do you think you are?” We do not discipline in our own name, or on our own authority. The Bible says that our good works (when defined by Scripture) glorify God (Matthew 5:16).

Second, we are to discipline in order to maintain the purity of the church. If we measure the “success” of discipline by whether or not the offender is restored, we will be forced to conclude that sometimes it “doesn’t work”. But if we see other things accomplished by means of discipline, our perspective changes. Conducted biblically, church discipline always purifies the church (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). It also prevents the profanation of the Lord’s Table (1 Corinthians 11:27). This also answers the common objection against the faith–“too many hypocrites in church.”

Third, we are to discipline to prevent God from setting Himself against the church. If we have a choice to distance ourselves from sin, and we choose rather to identify ourselves with it, then what will a holy God do? We see that God will come Himself and discipline a church which does not willingly follow Him in this (Revelation 2:14-25).

Fourth, we are to discipline in an attempt to restore the offender. We are not promised that the offender will be restored, but this end is nonetheless one of our goals. This rationale is clearly set forth in Scripture (Matthew 18:15, 1 Corinthians 5:5, Galatians 6:1). This purpose answers the objection that “discipline is harsh and unloving.” The goal is not to destroy the offender; the goal is a confrontation in which we formally protest the fact that the offender is destroying himself. Discipline is an act of love.

And fifth, we are to discipline to deter others from sin –the Bible teaches that consequences for sin detor others (Ecclesiastes 8:11, 1 Timothy 5:20). The objection here is that “people sure wouldn’t want to mention any of their spiritual problems around those elders!” But the issue is always impenitence, and if someone is intending to continue in sin impenitent, then he had better not mention it to any of the elders. But if he struggles against sin, as all of us do, then he will find nothing in church discipline except an aid in that struggle.

What does biblical discipline look like once it has been implemented? Many misunderstand what is actually being done in discipline. Discipline is not shunning or avoiding. It is rather avoiding company on the other’s terms.

The most obvious result is that the one disciplined is refused access to the Lord’s Supper, as well as the general communion which that Supper seals. But the offender is not being denied kindness, courtesy, opportunity to hear the word preached, the duties owed to him by others, or anything else due him according to the law of love. He is merely denied one thing: the right to define the Christian faith.” ~ Douglas Wilson, Mother Kirk: Essays and Forays in Practical Ecclesiology, (Canon Press, 2001), 158-159.

Why Church Membership? Being Set Apart

Anyone can attend a church gathering. Anyone. So what should set Christians apart from unbelievers? If unbelievers can attend every Sunday Service, Sunday School class, Wednesday prayer time, special services, and other activities, then what should set the true believer from the rest? Quite simply: membership. I believe membership demonstrates the love and care for each other that is commanded in Scripture.

A part of the demonstration of this love and care is church discipline. If you have not submitted yourself to the leadership of your church through membership (hereby displaying a selfless act of sacrifice), then you have dismissed yourself from the love and care demonstrated via church discipline, if indeed, the need arises for church discipline.

But church membership allows for a deeper relationship experience with others of like mindedness (other members). Membership affords the privilege of getting into each other’s lives, regardless of how messy it can possibly be. It affords the opportunity to come along side each other more intimately and help teach, reproof, correct, and train in righteousness.

Membership demonstrates the ultimate selfless act you can do simply because you say, “I am committed to you. I will love you as Christ has loved you. As the Gospel is the ultimate display of selfless and reckless ambition, I will demonstrate this same Gospel to you by my committing to you in membership.”

How else can you demonstrate your love for God’s people? Let the Gospel not only reign true in your life, but let it reign as your reality- the reality demonstrated in membership.

Why Church Membership? Fellowship

We cannot be completely obedient to all of Scripture if we are not intentionally and covenantally pursuing deep fellowship with one another in general, but also inter-generationally with older and younger people.

In other words, in order to be obedient as Whole-Bible Christians, we must commit ourselves as a member of a local body so that we can practice intergenerational discipleship. This means, we must be pursuing the hard work of getting to know someone older and/or younger than us. Then and only then, are we able to obey many of the intergenerational commands in Scripture.

Further, to deny others the privilege and responsibility of pursuing fellowship with you (and others) can be a form of disobedience.

Leaving a church because “no one talks to me” simply shows that not only are the others at that church disobedient but so are you. One-anothering is a two way street.

Bible passages essential for us to understand and develop healthy relationships by knowing we are called to One Another:

Why Church Membership? Our Leaders

Why Church Membership? For The Sake of our Leaders

Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

Submit in covenantal humility to let our leaders lead us with joy and not with groaning, for that would be no advantage to you.

Allow your leaders to know for whom they will give an account to God. Help make their leading be with joy and not groaning.

Why Church Membership? The Gospel

Philippians 2:8 – “And being found in human form, he, that is Christ, humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Ephesians 1:3-14 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

What is one of the greatest expressions of humility we can make? How can we express our identity with Christ and His humility to its fullest extent? Christ’s expression of humility is still evident because He rose bodily from the grave and He is seated (physically) at the right hand of the Father. We can express the Gospel by following Christ, Who became a member of humanity, by becoming a member of His body via Church Membership in a local body of believers.

Why Church Membership? Accountability

Accountability is getting help in taking responsibility for our actions.

Accountability is comprised of listening (James 1:19), humility in relation to others sins and faults (Matthew 7:1-2) with the thought, “if not for the grace of God, there go I,” demonstrating love because God loves us, and Whoever loves God must also love his brother. ( 1 John 4:21, 1 John 4:19)

What greater expression of true accountability than to purposefully covenant with others for the sanctification of each other?

True accountability allows people the freedom in sharing their circumstances and provides the feeling of total acceptance without fear of rejection. Why? Because God has completely and unashamedly accepted us in the beloved (Ephesians 1:3-10).

We are accountable to God (Romans 14:12, Hebrews 4:13)

We are one body in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12ff)

Galatians 6:1-2 gives a helpful principle, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” If your accountability friend has done something contrary to the Bible, you are called to confront him gently, forgive him, and comfort him. It also admonishes you to consider yourself because no one is above temptation.

Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says to, “…encourage one another and build each other up…”

How do I know you truly are placing yourself under accountability if you have not demonstrated your covenantal commitment to such a serious endeavor? Specifically expressing this accountability within the bounds of church membership?

Why Church Membership? Humility

Note: In short, read the book Humility: True Greatness by CJ Mahaney for a popular yet fuller treatment of Humility.

This is a short treatment of why I believe church membership is a biblical practice. Yes, Scripture does not explicitly command membership. However, implications of the five reasons addressed leave no other conclusion but church membership. This is a rough draft and certainly not complete in thought, but the intent and conclusion should be evident. The overarching question to consider while reading is, “Am I truly living humbly before God as He desires me to live? Am I humiliating myself as Christ humiliated Himself even to the extent of becoming a member of humanity and ultimately dying for all who believe in Him- even the death on the cross?”

My simple aim is to demonstrate the biblical necessity for church membership. The details regarding church membership are beyond the scope of this tiny series. Once we have established the biblical necessity for church membership, we must then deal with the details- which is something I do not want to take the time to go through at this time.

Let me say right out, there is no perfect church. There can’t be. Every local body of believers is FILLED only with fallen people- in need of a Savior, in need of fellowship and breaking of bread and the constant reminder we are not Lone Ranger Christians. We are a BODY of believers – not a group of individuals. Like the eye can not take the place of the rest of the body, neither can we being a part of the body substitute the whole.

Like you, I once (and still do at times) resent the idea of church membership. However, I began to realize, this hard grace of God is necessary for our edification and sanctification.

With this said, please read this in the spirit in which it is intended- to share the necessity of this grace in which we live.

“Contrary to popular and false belief, it’s not ‘those who help themselves’ whom God helps; it’s those who humble themselves.” ~ C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2005), 21.

“It is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.” ~ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 38 via C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2005), 21.

“Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” ~ C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2005), 22.

“If you were to speak to any of my friends, they would confirm how I continually surprise them with fresh discoveries of my inadequacies. I even provide them a certain degree of entertainment, especially when it comes to the hands-on and the mechanical.

One day my daughter informed me that our car was making a strange noise, so I went out to investigate. She tired to prepare me, but in no way did I anticipate the violent shrieking that assaulted my ears upon starting the car. I immediately turned off the engine.

In such a moment, wisdom demands one course of action only: Get out of the car, walk back into the house, and call a trustworthy auto-repair service.

That would have been the appropriate and prudent response. Instead, I followed the arrogant male instinct, which requires at bare minimum that the male lift the hood and stare intently at the engine. After all, neighbors might be watching, and we want to at least give the appearance that we have some mechanical knowledge.” C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2005), 25-26.

So often “church” is giving the appearance that we have some spiritual knowledge and awakening, yet we often do not want to humbly place ourselves under the Leadership and Lordship of Christ over our lives in and through the church as members.

“At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.” ~ John Stott, “Pride, Humility & God,” Sovereign Grace Online, September/October 2000, http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/sgo/v18no5/prt_pride.html (accessed August 3, 2005) via C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2005), 29.

If we have not placed ourselves in covenantal membership in a local assembly, can we say we are truly living humbly before God?

“As I sat with my family at a local breakfast establishment, I noticed a finely dressed man at an adjacent table. His Armani suit and stiffly pressed shirt coordinated perfectly with a power tie. His wing-tip shoes sparkled from a recent shine, every hair was in place, including his perfectly groomed moustache.

The man sat alone eating a bagel as he prrepared for a meeting. As he reviewed the papers before him, he appeared nervous, glancing frequently at his Rolex watch. It was obvious he had an important meeting ahead.

The man stood up and I watched as he straightened his tie and prepared to leave.

Immediately I noticed a blob of cream cheese attached to his finely groomed moustache. He was about to go into the world, dressed in his finest, with cream cheese on his face.

I thought of the business meeting he was about to attend. Who would tell him? Should I? What if no one did?” ~ Attributed to Pastor James R. Needham in a 2004 illustration from www.preachingtoday.com via C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2005), 123-124.

My Own Cream Cheese Moment
“Let me tell you about a cream cheese moment in my life, one of many such experiences that have helped convince me that no sin is more deceptive than pride.

I’m in an accountability group with men who care for and watch over my soul. In a meeting with these brothers, I was telling them of a specific pattern of sin I had noticed in my life in the past week. I’d become aware of this sin and been convicted about it, and I’d confessed it to God and received His forgiveness. Now I wanted to inform these men about it as well–then move on, because there was another particular issue I was more concerned about and wanted to discuss with them.

But as I described in detail my sin from the previous week, my friends started to ask caring and insightful questions about the root issue behind the sin. I assured them the root issue was obvious: It was pride. I even transitioned into a brief teaching on pride, then let the guys know I wanted to move o n to something else I thought was more important and more serious. I’m sure there was mild irritation in my voice.

But the men had more questions. They had observations. And they began to challenge me to look deeper at the pattern of sin I had shown in the previous week.

Again I felt irritation. I assumed I understood that particular sin completely. Why were we spending so much time on something I’d already figured out?

In essence, there was cream cheese all over my face, and I didn’t know it. My underlying sin had decieved me. I was blind. I didn’t see it and couldn’t see it. But they saw it clearly.

In my pride, I thought no one understood my heart as well as I did. But Scripture doesn’t support such a conclusion. Actually, God’s Word tells me, ‘No, C. J., sin is subtle, sin is deceitful, and sin blinds you. And you need feedback from others in order to understand your heart.’

By God’s grace, because the men seated around me in that room are true friends who care for me and aren’t afraid of me, they persevered. Though I was arrogant–not only in assuming I fully understood my sin and its root issue, but also in my relunctance to explore it more deeply–those men persevered in kindness. And only by their kindness and perseverence, and only by God’s grace, did I finally begin to perceive how much my sin had indeed deceived me. I saw that my confidence about fully knowing my soul in this situation, and in assuming I needed no one else’s eyes upon it, was actuallyy the hieight of arrogance.

They were guarding my heart and helping me to see the true extent of my sin. I thought I’d already wiped the cream cheese from my face and it was gone, but they were faithfully telling me, ‘It’s not gone; we’re staring at it! And were telling you this because we love you.'” ~ C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2005), 125-127.

Again, are we truly humiliating ourselves to such a degree that we truly demonstrate the humility of Christ to others?

Why Church Membership? Living the Gospel in Practice

John Piper once said,

“Could it be that we are so bent on having immediate, measurable results that we have defined the gospel and evangelism in a way that enables people to understand and respond even without spiritual comprehension and heart change? I fear this is largely why we are so weak as a church. The very foundations have been laid wrongly.”

This directly relates to the issue of Church Membership. Many (American) evangelical Christians, and I will also take the liberty of saying most, do not realize the significance of Church Membership. Most think it as an option of a smorgasbord of choices. But American (insert other free country name here) Christianity is atypical Christianity – by far.

Amercian Christians have never seen true persecution. A “minor” law being passed here and there, maybe, that might have direct impact upon Christians, but generally, nothing comes of it. However, I do not want to minimize the importance of fighting against such laws, by and large, American Christians know nothing about what it is to be truly persecuted. American Christians do not lose their lives for the sake of the Gospel, little alone being mocked and scorned because of their faith. Granted, there may be exceptions, but that’s the point. They are exceptions.

The American government does not darken the door of any church building for the express purpose of jailing all those in attendance simply because they were participating in a non-government sanctioned worship service. Whereas, even in the past month, Christians in China have been persecuted in such a way. American Christians do not lose their lives for the Gospel, but in China, many Christians have died because they rebelled against their human government in this matter.

American Christians take Church Membership for granted, but Christians in other parts of the not-so-free world put their lives in danger when they are baptized in public. I would even say that baptism itself in the not-so-free parts of the world is Church Membership. Their obedience to God can immediately lead to the loss of their own life!

And American Christianity takes Church Membership for granted. It has become a commodity, of sorts, with which we barter and even choose not to use if we don’t feel comfortable within any of the local churches available to us. We don’t want to become a member of any church because the church is “not perfect” or “filled with hypocrites!” This is why many churches have more attenders to services than they have actual members; and even then, many of the members are attending other local churches. We rationalize within our hearts, “if none of the churches in my area meet all of my proposed needs, I will not directly identify with any of them. I will, however, participate to gain the benefits, but I will not participate in such a way that I gain responsiblity.”

Amercian churches have been relegated to a group of selfish, uncommitted, and loyal-less individuals who take everything they can get without the thought of giving in return. Discipleship is for someone else; not me, and accountability is skirted. But the benefits are a-plenty!

This lax attitude toward Church Membership has led to the lack of true Christian authenticity. D.A. Carson says,

“What is at stake is authenticity. . . . Sooner or later Christians tire of public meetings that are profoundly inauthentic, regardless of how well (or poorly) arranged, directed, performed. We long to meet, corporately, with the living and majestic God and to offer him the praise that is his due.”

This thought is intense. It reminds me of the Psalmist’s words, “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’ As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16). At first glance, David seems to be promoting two very different statements – “I have no good apart from you” and “the saints… are … in whom is all my delight.” The reality of the true believing Christian is the believer’s partaking of God’s very nature (2 Peter 1). When we, as a true believing community, join together in corporate worship, our longing to meet with the living and majestic God and to offer him the praise that is his due is fulfilled! True authentic worship is displayed and God’s glory is proclaimed.

“21. … Where is that true communion the body ought to have with the head, and the uninterrupted influence the head ought to have again upon the body Where are the vital emanations which must needs attend so close an union and the real effects derived again from this union, upon the life, manners, desires, thoughts, actions, and the whole internal and external conduct of a Christian? Again: if the body be considered in relation to the members; where is then that sweet fellowship to be found in our modern church-societies which one member ought to bear to the other, and which makes every one employ its particular gifts for the profit and benefit of the whole, in a manner most abounding and universal, free from hatred, envy, bitterness, strife and animosities, as things utterly inconsistent with the nature of the church, body, and spouse of Christ? Where is that spiritual: sympathy and fellow-feeling, wherewith those that are not dead, but living members of this spiritual body, must needs be affected among themselves? Where is that divine coherence and symmetry not so much in particular opinions, forms, schemes, and modes of an external way of worship, as in spirit, in power, and in reciprocal acts of an endearing love, and of a most cordial friendship?” ( Jacob Boehm – HT: Howard Davis)

Church Membership is not like becoming members of a social club. It is a formal identification of our union with Christ and His body. How shameful it is that Americans take such an identification lightly. In any other context (outside North America), the practice of baptism is the process of Church Membership because the mere public identification with God’s people can be a death sentence.

An objection to church membership may be expressed as, “the first century church did not have church membership, why should we?”

Formal Church Membership, as we know it, was not needed. Mere identification with the church was membership enough. The church(es) of Rome bears witness to this. The Roman Empire was ruled by one man, namely Caesar, whose official titles included ‘son of god’ and whose birthday was proclaimed as ‘good news’. The fact that the church was proclaiming allegience to a King in place of Caesar was to sign a death warrant. When Paul wrote his letter to the Roman church(es), he was sentencing all members of the church in Rome to death; that is, if the letter fell into the wrong hands, namely loyalists to Caesar.

Another objection to Church Membership may be, “but we want people to come to church! If you coerce/force them to become members, they won’t come!”

Although there are false assumptions on which this objection is based, I will only deal with the most forceful of points. Hebrews 13:17 bears heavily upon this objection. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” For the sake of the undershepherds of a local church, become a member or attend another local church. Undershepherds will give an account for those souls of whom they keep watch!! If I were an Elder/Pastor of a church, I would want to know for whom I will be giving an account!

If you come to my local church to check it out, then come! If you want to join my local church, please do so! But if you want the benefits and none of the responsiblities, then let me direct you to other good, local churches in our area. This is a serious matter! When we take Church Membership lightly, we take the Gospel itself lightly! Even Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.

Oh that we in America would submit to something as small as Church Membership and give ourselves wholly to Christ’s body!!!