Monday, December 11, 2006

Church Membership - Love & Lies

To be a member of Christ's universal Church, and one of His local churches, is a grand privilege. To belong to Christ, and to His body, is a blessing from on high. The spiritual nurture, care, love and support that goes hand-in-hand with covenant membership in a local church carries more benefits than can be articulated.

At Grace, we look forward with great eagerness to having a formal membership. Though our process for pursuing membership may be unfamiliar to many, it is rooted in love. Rooted in a love that compels the pastors to want to responsibly care for the souls of men and women. Each individual soul. To know the sheep, and their spiritual history. To be able to pray--in an informed way--for each member is our strong desire.

Because church membership has been trifled with in so many churches, and for so long a time, it is difficult for some to imagine--without accusation of judgmentalism--the notion of anyone inspecting your life as a requisite for church membership. Though judging it may be, it is judgment in a good, healthy, and biblical way. The non-discretionary, "Judge not" motto of today's lost culture is out of step with Christ's teaching. It was in the same breath when Christ taught His disciples to look at a person's fruit to recognize a "sheep in wolves clothing." "Judge with righteous judgement" is the motto of Christ's economy. Spiritual fruit, according to Christ, is one of the indications of the presence of true Christianity. No fruit=no Christianity (e.g.; here, here, here, here, here, and here).

That's where the waters of church membership have become so muddied in our day. How many people, after walking an aisle, have been instantaneously welcomed into church membership on no other basis than "umm humm?" A well-intentioned minister may ask, "Do you believe in Jesus?" "Umm humm." "Do you want Him to save you?" "Umm humm." "Do you want to join this church?" "Umm humm." A shaky ground--to say the best--for church membership wouldn't you say? It's hog wash. It simply isn't God-honoring. (To heighten the argument, even Jesus taught for people not to believe He is God on the basis of His words alone!) The statement, "I'm saved, and would like to join this church," is not sufficient grounds for embracing that one as a covenant member--in spite of, "That's the way we've always done it around here."

When nearly everyone we meet in the American South claims present membership in some church (Or, as some, in several churches), the percentages of those same lives that are lying about the gospel is staggering. True Christianity produces noticable, recognizable, visible, apparent (and every other way to say "obvious") spiritual fruit.

To welcome into the membership of a church a fruitless individual is to contaminate the culture of the church with unregenerate souls. A move that will inescapably have detrimental effects on the ethos of the fellowship. On the other hand, witholding church membership from a fruitless person could prove to be the loving grace of the Lord that leads him or her to genuine repentance and faith in Christ. However, to welcome such a fruitless person into the membership of the church under the auspices of hope that they will be converted to Christ is more likely to fortify them in their pride by erecting thick walls of false security called "church membership."

For the true Christian however, church membership is a glorious blessing. The benefits reaped are immense, but they are a two-way street. Every blessing the member receives is intended by God not as an end in itself, but to be reproduced in the fellowship for His glory. Realizing that we are not consumeristic machines, but created for the mutual edification and joy of our brothers and sisters in corporate pursuit of Christ is freeing indeed. Membership is important for many reasons, one of which is to know who we are called to love, pray for, and minister to and with for the glory of God. Knowing that every other person in the church's membership has discussed his or her conversion with your pastors bolsters hope of their conversion. Anyone can be fooled. Pastors are not inerrant. But, Lord willing, He will supply the necessary spiritual sensitivity to discern the spiritual whereabouts of those who inquire for membership.

A process for pursuing church membership that, at the very least, calls for genuine Christianity to be visible in the life of the inquirer is not too unloving after all. As a church member, you need to have good reason to believe that every other member is regenerate! Knowing that a member of a church is unregenerate is a biblical oxymoron. Holding to the biblical pattern of the entire congregation's responsibility to seek, enjoy, and follow the Living God, presupposes that every member must be regenerate.

So, potential members of Grace, your pastors pray that you will feel loved as we pray for you. For each and every one of you. As we get to know you. As we get to know how God has been at work in you. We pray, in the event that you are encouraged to continue seeking the Lord for a season and hold off on pursuing membership, that it would stimulate you to genuinely seek His face and find lasting rest in Christ (or be convinced that rest in Him has indeed been found!) then covenant with our family of believers. We do love you. We do look forward to God adding souls to the membership of Grace.

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