Thursday, September 5, 2013

Church "membership"?

Church membership-
The good thing about a challenging message or teaching is that if we react gracefully it will drive us to God's Word and the Spirit's Truth. We will seek out wise counsel and humbly consider the application to our own lives.
Here is a good and thoughtful word on an area we've been personally wrestling with lately. I also just really like the "banner"; title, sheep photo and Scripture verse.
Sometimes, as in the Lutherans and Catholics in Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, you may also head across town to "get a second opinion." ;-)
Here are some "measured" wise words on the same subject (names, etc. deleted to "protect the innocent"):
"It should not be more difficult to be a member of a particular church than to be a member of the Church. Confess with your mouth, believe in your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord, and you're in! No other hoops!"
Romans 10:5-13
5 Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.”[a] 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’”[b] (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’”[c] (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”[d] that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”[e] 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[f]
John 14:6-7
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know[a] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” [from a friend & Brother]
Now that said, there are practical reasons for "membership" per sé in the local church and/or denomination, even though no Scriptural direction exists:
"To start, the simple answer is that denominations are a man-made system which has done some great good for advancing the Kingdom while also causing deep divisions among the Church. The Bible does not prescribe denominations. It also does not describe denominations. There is no authority from God to advocate for them. The Text is silent and so we must be careful not to be too dogmatic. If God didn't tell us it's important, we shouldn't make it too important. It may be good, but it's not essential. Here's the best wisdom I've ever heard on the topic: While on the elder board in _______, we were discussing changing our church constitution regarding membership. We had several men from South Africa who were raised in a Reformed Church and baptized as infants in their church but never as adults with believers baptism. Our constitution required believers baptism for full membership and allowed associate membership for those who had been baptized as infants. Associate members could not serve on the elder board. The thinking was, if we are a baptist church, one of our greatest distinctives is believers baptism by immersion. If men got on the elder board who didn't think this was important they could change the constitution and allow infant baptisms. To protect the church, some dear men of great faith and character were not allowed to be full members. It was not causing peace in the congregation. Some said, let the Reformed guys and their families get baptized again with believers baptism. What's the big deal? And yet it was a big deal. A couple of them had done this and it caused a lot of problems for them back at home when relatives found out that they'd been re-baptized. It sent a message home that their baptism from their childhood was not effective.
While we discussed around and around, back and forth one guy finally spoke up with a bit of frustration in his voice and said, "I just can't understand how we are ok with telling people that they are not qualified to be members of our church even though we all agree they are members of God's family." The truth of that statement has never left me. It's simple. If God welcomes them as His Church, why wouldn't we welcome them into our church? Should we be more exclusive than God? Should our church be more difficult to enter than the Kingdom of Heaven? That was the end of the conversation at our church. We changed the membership to include anyone who was in agreement with the mission, vision, statement of faith and had made a confession of belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. If these two things were evident, all that was required was a written or verbal statement of desire to become a member. (Where there is graceful) membership, it's meant to encourage, not divide. We must have some way to take church votes on things like the budget, so membership defines who gets to vote. But whether you are an attender or a member, we treat you the same as family. Elders must be members and so must deacons. Greeters and worship team people and children's team people, adult education, prayer team, etc. can serve without being members. They must only be recommended by their Team Lead which is the term we use for deacons. Denominations are kind of like family names. They can serve a good purpose for giving you a family that looks after you and gives you an identity. But if you let the carnal man have his way, family names and denominations become the occasion for wars of all kinds. God wants the church to be one as the Father and Son are one (John 17). As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. If He says we should be one, I know what my priority is." [from another friend & Brother]
I guess for us the "bottom line" is did we come in sacrificial love and caring, in obedience to Christ? Have we continued in that attitude? If so, then we are "family" and others who know us and have experienced personally that commitment will affirm our "membership" in the love of Christ. We may not be "official" members in the voting and/or denominational sense, but we are indeed family in Christ Jesus. Obedience to Christ and through Him to the Father and the Holy Spirit must be the governing priority.

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