Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman

Over the last year, I have had a renewed desire for church membership. I had been taking more of a laid back approach to this issue. I would tell people, "If you do not join the church, it doesn't mean we will not visit you in the hospital." I still feel that way. If someone is coming to our church, I am not going to ignore their needs, if they arise, simply because they are not a member. As long as I have the time, I will certainly seek to help them. But the more I study the issue of church membership, the more I desire to direct people to officially joining a church.

One of books that has really helped me along the way is Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman. He is part of 9Marks ministries, which if you know anything about them, strongly advocate church membership. I greatly appreciated this book because it was not what I was expecting. That probably sounds strange, but his take in this book was very refreshing. He acknowledges the fact that church membership is different than every other form of membership in our culture.
"If you are a Christian living in a Western democracy, chances are that you need to change the way you think about your church and how you are connected to it. Most likely, you underestimate your church. You belittle it. You misshape it in a way that misshapes your Christianity . . . If you are a Christian, the local church is not a club. It is not a voluntary organization where membership is optional to you. It is not a friendly group of people who share an interest in religious things and so gather weekly to talk about the divine. Nor is a church a service provider, where the customer has all authority" (22). 
What was refreshing about this book is that he plainly says the biblical issue of church membership is not that we join, but that we submit to the church.
"The basic disease behind all of these symptoms, the disease which, I admit, courses through my own veins, is the assumption that we have the authority to conduct our Christian lives on our own. We include the church piece when and where we please. That is to say, we treat the local church like a club to join--or not" (24).
He continues.
"Christians don't join churches; they submit to them . . . Once you choose Christ, you must choose his people, too. It's a package deal. Choose the Father and the Son and you have to choose the whole family--which you do through a local church" (30-31).
He touches on a nerve that so many people in the churches today (particularly younger people) struggle with. They simply do not want to submit to authority. They want to be their own authority. I have struggled with that in the past, and certainly do have those feelings in my heart today. That is why I need to be in submission to the church. I need them and they need me.

In chapter six, he lists eight ways in which a Christian submits to a local church.

  • First, Christians should submit to their local churches publicly, by which I mean formally or officially (95).
  • Second, Christians should submit to their local churches physically and perhaps geographically. This is done by gathering regularly (96).
  • Third, Christians should submit themselves socially. The church should be more than a social club, but it shouldn't be less (97).
  • Fourth, Christians should submit themselves affectionately. We should be willing to weep or rejoice with others (98).
  • Fifth, Christians should submit themselves to their local church financially (99).
  • Sixth, Christians should submit their vocations to the church. Some will go into ministry. Some will take less pay to stay at a local church (100).
  • Seventh, Christians should submit themselves ethically. This has to do with submitting to church discipline (101).
  • Eighth, Christians should submit spiritually. They should exercise their gifts, build one another up, and pray for one another (102). 
You may not agree with everything Leeman writes in this book. I didn't. But I sure did appreciate his angle. It was refreshing. And he is a very good writer which helps. I would encourage you, no matter if you are a member or not of a local church, to grab a copy of this book.

1 comment:

  1. I respect a lot of the guys at 9marks but they are way off on this issue. They could not be more off to be honest with you.

    Lets actually look at membership:

    1. it creates dysunity in the body. It splits the body to the members and nonmembers and nonmembers are looked down on as lessers because they do not take this unbiblical step.
    2. (if this is part of membership)congregational voting is opposite of how the church was set up in scripture. the shepherds are to lead the sheep. anytime the sheep vote no on something the shepherds have recommended they have become their own shepherds.
    3. requiring membership for elder or deacon positions (have not found a church that has membership that does not) is a smack in God’s face. God laid out the requirement to qualify as an elder or deacon and did not include membership. Man in his arrogance decided he knew better how than God how to run God’s church and added an additional requirement to what God had already laid out.

    Satan laughs a little every time a new church adds formal membership to their polity.

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