Thursday, September 09, 2021

Dismembering the Church

My church recently had a “membership” drive. The goal was to get people to sign up to the church roll, then stand up in front of the congregation and proclaim their membership through what they called a “church covenant”.

I’ve been in my local church for 12 years. I didn’t sign. I won’t.

It’s not because my fellow Christians do not know I’m one of them; they do. And I trust it’s not because I’m passive, uncommitted or uninvolved with church life. I’m in there serving, and I doubt there’s anyone in my congregation who couldn’t tell you that. (If there is, that will be corrected the next time they give me the pulpit, which they do fairly frequently.) And it’s not because they have found I am caught up in some particular sin or wickedness. No one has accused me of that — though I’d admit to being your garden variety hypocrite, in the sense that I continually fall short of the level of holiness God deserves from me. But no one so far has called me “hard hearted” or accused me of some crime.

So if I wanted to, I could get them to accept me as a reasonably sincere Christian, and they’d put me on the roll without a second thought.

In fact, they’ve repeatedly asked me to sign up.

But I’ll tell you why I won’t: I’m already a member. My church just doesn’t know it.

True Membership

What do I mean? Well, check out Romans 12, or 1 Corinthians 12, or Ephesians 4 and 5.

“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. For the body is not one member, but many … Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.”

“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

“No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of his body.”

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.”

Get it?

There’s but one thing that makes us “members” of the Church, and that is being in the Body of Christ. You become joined into this Body by faith in Jesus Christ. No other way.

Unattached Members

Now, I realize that there are people who are Christians but do not attend a local congregation.

They don’t think they’re “members” of anything, and they act like they’re not. But they’re making the same mistake my church is making. They’re thinking that they have a choice. They’re thinking that unless they sign up for membership, they aren’t in the Body of Christ, with all the responsibilities that entails. And they’re 100% wrong.

They’re depriving themselves of the joys of fellowship, as well as of the challenges, tests, stretching and growth experiences that come through the process of working, sharing and living with those who love the Lord. They’re robbing the local church (and ultimately the universal church as well) of the benefits of the particular spiritual gifts that God has given to them. And they’re denying the Lord their obedience.

The truth is there is no such thing as a solo Christian. Once saved, you’re in the Body of Christ. You can fight it, you can deny it — but you cannot change it. If you’re in Christ, you’re a member of his Body. We are all also members of one another. End of story.

Dismembering the Body

We also owe one another to accept one another on that basis. If a person is a Christian, and if you know of no special evil he or she has done that would prevent him or her from joining your congregation — that is, no biblical reason to doubt his or her genuine membership in the Body of Christ — then you have no right to play gatekeeper. We don’t exclude Christians. We haven’t the right. Their membership has already been bought and paid for.

Likewise, there can be no special oath that brings one into the church, no piece of paper certifying membership, no special attestation from human authorities. As the apostle Peter once put it, “If God gave to them the same gift [i.e. the Holy Spirit] as he gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” If we are talking about a person whom the Head of the Church has claimed as his own, then who are we to bar the door against such an individual and to say, “Well, bought by the blood of Christ and united into his Body are all fine and dandy, but here we expect you to sign our membership roll.”

Remembering What Matters

I don’t think the members-on-paper of my congregation will understand why I won’t sign. I imagine it wouldn’t even occur to most of them that anything significant is at stake. If they think of it at all, they’ll probably think me a hair-splitter. Yet I have seen genuine Christians barred from participation in worship or even entrance to the building over their lack of a piece of paper. And I cannot see that excluding a member of the Body of Christ purely on the basis of some man-made list or letter can ever be justified.

So I won’t be signing up for the membership drive at my local church.

It’s too late: I’m already a member.


  1. Granting your central point, but I suspect that you may actually be talking past one another.

    I doubt very seriously that your church is making any statement about your membership in the "invisible" or "universal" or "catholic" church-- you have already said they accept you, but rather trying to do the right thing in our current legal culture.

    The Scriptures call your elders (/pastors/overseers) to account for a specific subset within the larger body of Christ. This may entail discipline up-to-and-including excommunication and the naming of specific, unrepentant sins. Our legal culture makes this much easier(/possible) for our "incorporated" churches to do once you have documented proof of submission to *that* set of elders.

    So again: I grant your central point, but "Membership" in this context is not about your salvation or union with Christ, but rather about the accountability of the local elders to shepherd, and their ability to do so without fear of nuisance legalities.

    Take all of this with a grain of salt, though-- I am one of those full-bore TULIP guys, so I probably have reading comprehension problems ;)

  2. dlcarrol, I don't believe he "talked past" anything. His point was clear and concise as to what he "is" in relation to the church body and as the bride of Christ he was even more so.

    As to your comment about having reading comprehension problems, there is no doubt. The words of our Savior include ALL, NONE & WHOSOEVER. He even uses these easy to understand words in easy to understand sentences. 2 Peter 3:9 and John 3:16 are perfect examples of what I'm suggesting.

    Let me ask you 2 questions, dlcarrol.

    1) It's unclear to me how God making some that He caused to hate Him suddenly love Him would demonstrate His glory. What kind of glory would that be?

    2) Do the verses of 2 Peter 1:20-21 describe John Calvin and his "doomed from the womb" theology? " prophesy of scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation of things."

  3. dicarrol:

    Thanks for the response. It's always nice to hear from readers. And I enjoy those who offer a different perspective every bit as much as those who offer support.

    No, I don't think we were "talking past each other" at all. In fact, I even had a talk with the purported 'pastor' of our congregation on the subject. We simply do not agree on this principle. He was raised to believe that "membership" should be declared and confirmed by a manmade oath, and that a meaningful distinction can be made between those who take this oath and those who do not. I believe that Scripture teaches that the sacrifice of Christ on my behalf makes me a member of His Body. We've agreed to disagree. And to his credit, he said to me, "I would never ask a man to go against his conscience." So all's well there.

    Relatedly, our allegiance to elders derives from the same Source as membership in the Body. And their ability to "excommunicate" depends on precisely the same authority. There is no other.

    As for government requirements or the exigencies of their administration, I'm convinced that they never constitute any kind of argument in favour of modifying our theology. "We ought to obey God rather than man," I once read somewhere. I choose to take that literally, as I'm sure you would too; but then, when faced with the decision, I also chose to conform my conduct to that principle as well.

    In fact, soon we may find that the government wishes to curtail the activities, practices and beliefs of our congregations; at such times, the harder it is for the government to identify who we are and what we're doing, the better. So I think the government will have to do as it may. We must obey the Lord, right?

    I'm tempted not to say anything about your final comment, since it was probably offered in irony. However any self-deprecating remark on TULIP is quite apt; I do think that Calvinists are sorely overmatched in basic skills of Scriptural reading and interpretation, but the fact that you can chuckle about it may suggest you are actually among the more perceptive of their number and can eventually see through that.

    Well, I can hope anyway, can't I?

    Thanks again for your input.