the weblog of Alan Knox

Immediate Membership

Posted by on Sep 8, 2010 in members | 33 comments

Immediate Membership

When someone becomes a disciple of Jesus Christ – when that person is indwelled by the Holy Spirit – he or she immediately becomes a member of the church – no other membership is necessary.

At the same time, all believers who are part of that person’s life become responsible for the growth and maturity of that new believer as soon as they find out that he or she is a new believer – no other membership or covenant is necessary.

Also, that new believer is immediately responsible for the growth and maturity of all believers in his or her life – no other membership is necessary.

We become part of the church – the only church of God – the only church that matters – at the same moment that we become children of God and disciples of Jesus Christ. Any other requirement is man-made.


33 Comments

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  1. 9-8-2010

    Well Alan, are you suggesting that it is not only unnecessary but improper to have a membership or covenant agreement within a particular local gathering of believers? Because that is what it sounds like you are trying to get at.

  2. 9-8-2010

    Jason,

    I believe that church membership and church covenants are unnecessary because we are already members with one another and because we are already covenanted together because of our mutual covenant with God.

    I think that church membership and church covenants become improper when (among other things) 1) believers are taught that their responsibilities towards one another are a result of the church membership/covenant and 2) believers are separated from one another because of church memberships/covenants.

    -Alan

  3. 9-8-2010

    What?! What about membership classes and coming forward before the church to get an up or down “amen!” vote? Those are right in the Bible somewhere…

  4. 9-8-2010

    Alan, do you believe that a local body of believers that consistently meets with one another, cares for one another, and shares with one another deserves more of your consistent commitment than another body of believers in another town?

  5. 9-8-2010

    Alan,

    That for me has become the biggest issue with “church membership”, that it divides us unnaturally into extra-Biblical distinctions of those who are members of “my church” and those who are members of “their church”.

  6. 9-8-2010

    Alan,

    You are on dangerous ground. You may be getting some church clerks very angry with you!

  7. 9-8-2010

    I suppose that Jesus should have simply addressed “The Church” in the Book of Revelation rather than splitting His criticisms and edification up according to the local body of believers that occupied each of those 7 specific cities….thoughts?

  8. 9-8-2010

    Arthur,

    Yes, church covenants and church membership are often use separate believers even if they live next door to one another.

    Eric,

    Ah yes. The church clerk.

    Jason,

    I am responsible for all the believers that God brings into my life. I would suppose that I would spend more time, energy, and resources with those believers that I spend more time with – on average. But there may be times that I need to spend more time or energy with a neighbor or co-worker, even if we don’t meet together on Sunday.

    By the way, are you suggesting that Jesus was designating “the church in Ephesus” and “the church in Sardis” the same way that we use church covenants and membership to distinguish between churches today? I don’t think so. I think the fact that Jesus addressed “the church in Ephesus” and not particular groups of believers that meet together regularly in Ephesus as evidence that Jesus saw them all as one church.

    -Alan

  9. 9-8-2010

    Alan, God has brought many Christians into your life that you ignore everyday at work. You pass by them on campus with little thought. You have been in classes with men and women that you have had little to no relationship with outside of class. You ignore the gathering times (which includes opportunities for communion, edificaiton, and service) of tens and hundreds of individuals that God has brought into your life. I guess I need to understand what your definition of “brought” is and why you continue, week after week, to meet with pretty much the same people (Give or take a mission trip or meeting here or there).

  10. 9-8-2010

    And no, I was not suggesting that Jesus saw and addressed the people in Sardis the same way we, as Evangelicals,have traditionally viewed our membership in local churches. However, I am suggesting that there is a real sense of accountability and responsibility that comes with the natural occurance of “community”. Jesus responded to those cities as if they were responsible to Him for what they did as a community. There is something that you get from gathering with intimate, long standing groups of believers that can not be fabricated otherwise. Ponder that notion, and let me know if you have not experienced that in your own life.

  11. 9-8-2010

    Jason,

    You said, “Jesus responded to those cities as if they were responsible to Him for what they did as a community.” I agree completely. I also agree that community is formed in Christ as we spend more time together. So, yes, we live as community with those that we gather with normally. But, what about the believers that we work with? We probably spend more time with them than with those we gather with. And, much more time that with those I may pass on campus or sit in a class with but never interact with. Of course, at any time, one of those people could become part of my life if we spend more time together.

    My concern in this post is that Christians (especially Evangelicals, as you point out) tend to define our community by church membership or church covenant, and leave out other believers that we spend even more time with.

    -Alan

  12. 9-8-2010

    I guess my question is then, do you resolve that concern by doing away with church membership or covenants…or by educating one another on our obligations to our God, our families, our communities, and our brothers and sisters in Christ? I find that all to often “membership” at churches means very little to most of the congregants. If they had a right understanding of what they were covenanting to do and a right understanding of who they were covenanting with, then I don’t think there would be much room for your concerns. If anything, going through a thorough covenant process simply allows for further understanding of what the Christian life entails and what the expectations of God are.

    The way I view the covenant process in a local gathering of believers is as serving as a communal “YES” to what we mutually believe. Challenges occur more often when one commits to holding someone else accountable to a different standard of conduct than the other person believes or understands they are being held to. That is one of the major important aspects of the “mutual yes.”

  13. 9-8-2010

    Jason,

    If most Evangelicals understood membership and covenants the way that you understand them, then I wouldn’t be too concerned about it. Of course, I still don’t see the necessity of church memberships and covenants given your view.

    I do have a question though: Are you only responsible for living in community with those who give their communal “Yes” to mutual beliefs? What about brothers and sisters who live next door to you or who work with you every day, but who have different beliefs? Are you excused from living in community with them because of your theological differences?

    -Alan

  14. 9-8-2010

    Very serious discussion going on here. The end of what we believe has got to be the Word of God. Much of what I learned about what the church is and who belongs was based on how we did church in America at the time. But if you look at the examples of scripture you see what we do typically in America church is different than how the early church did it. We have three believer churches in our town and we are separated from each other due to covenants and practices. Alan is correct, when you drop the boundaries we build in our local churches and minister has the Lord leads we can serve all God’s followers no matter when or where we meet. Let’s follow our Lord and Saviour.

  15. 9-8-2010

    Greg (and everyone else),

    Jason and I are good friends. We were part of the same church (with membership and a covenant :) ) for a couple of years, until Jason and his family moved to another state… I still hold a grudge about that. ;) So, our “serious discussion” is between two friends who love each other very much, and know each other’s position very well. We keep each other on our toes.

    -Alan

  16. 9-8-2010

    This post is like a page out of my notebook.

  17. 9-9-2010

    Many of us have had a country-club idea of membership pounded into our heads from the beginning. So much so that we don’t even consider what the bible actually has to say. It can be very difficult to raise this topic with somebody who holds the “traditional” view because they almost need a complete paradigm shift to understand it. My experience, anyway.

  18. 9-9-2010

    And just when you think you’ve buried the issue….it springs back up again!
    i’m part of a local church which has no formal mebership system and no church covenants. Great!
    What we do have is a set of 10 ‘values’ in which we expound our particular understanding of the Bible in terms of how we do church, practice community. All great!
    HOWEVER, just recently the elders have concluded that not everyone is living up to those values in the way the elders think they should. And, if after due encouragement, they are not seen to be trying to live according to those values, they will be encouraged to go and find another local church elsewhere where the people are more like them.
    I, and a number of others, find this heartbreaking. Already we have seen some people reluctantly leave our church when an elder confirmed that they were among those considered to not be living according to the church values. They haven’t sinned, they’re just not considered to be quite ‘like us’.
    So, even the ‘soundest’ churches can quickly go astray on this issue. All it takes is for man’s teaching to be substituted for Christ’s and away we go…

  19. 9-9-2010

    Steve, I second your assessment about the paradigm shift. It is very hard to get people to think differently about what they have believed for years concerning their religious experience. It does take serious thought, prayer, and a bit of godly logic thrown in there as well.

    Alan, I’ll answer your questions with more questions: Are you obligated to love and care for your wife and children alone, or for your neighbors wife and children as well?

    Are you obligated to not have a more intimate relationship with your wife because you can not achieve the same intimacy with everyone?

    I believe we have gone through all of these progressions before but it is fun to revisit them and see if we are still firmly standing on the same patch of earth that we were last time :)

    Goblin: I have no idea of the context of the frustrating decisions at your church, so I can not weigh your situation accurately. But, I do know that there is much written in the Epistles on discipline. Covenanting is a “Communal Yes” to what the members of the local body say that they agree to as individuals. It is unethical to consistently hold someone to a standard of conduct that they have not been informed of and not agreed to in relation to the community that they are attempting to be a part of. I honestly believe that there is little room for discipline in the kind of community that Alan and others are talking about that have no covenant agreement.

    So, let’s talk about being faithful to the text and how to achieve a modality that provides the means to be faithful to the text in “all” areas and not just the feel good areas.

    And yes, Alan is dear to me and has sharpened me for almost 5 years now.

  20. 9-9-2010

    I hate I am so late to jump in on this conversation. It is a great discussion! I think that it is important to keep in mind the Church universal and church local. Covenants bring a shared identity, the communal “Yes” as Mr. Glen calls it. It’s why in the N.T, we read about churches that meet in certain homes. We have Paul encouraging Corinth to give as the Macedonians give. Identifying with particular local manifestations of the church does not mean disunity in the Church, even if those churches are right across the street from one another. Committing to one local body in covenant does not mean neglecting other believers, but an accountable, formal commitment to a set people.
    When I made a covenant commitment to my wife before the Lord, I still signed documentation, she took on my name, we exchanged rings, people knew about it and still do. In a way, a church w/o membership or a covenant commitment is like a common law marriage. We do all things married folks do, maybe even better, but many common law marriages have a distaste for the covenant b/c they think the formal commitment is what messes it up. So they don’t fool with rings, ceremonies, marriage license, etc, b/c they are the enemy. And they can walk away at any time…no “for better or worse” but instead they stay as long as it works for them. Any thoughts??

  21. 9-9-2010

    I don’t know where down the line we (as an entire body) have become so skewed. When a body begins to construct pacts or covenants, other than the one given to us through Jesus Christ, division IS going to occur.
    Other people shouldn’t make decisions about my faith. When a body begins saying “we believe”, power is taken from God and put in the hands of church leadership. Every now and then in a fellowship I belong to, there are different understandings of certain concepts that aren’t faith threatening(not related to the gift from Christ), but that doesn’t mean that we part ways from these people, because we are still on the same path, searching for what God is calling from us. They are my family nonetheless.

  22. 9-9-2010

    Bobby,

    I didn’t read your notebook… I promise.

    Steve,

    Paradigm shifts are always difficult. I can tell you that Jason had that paradigm shift many years ago. Our differences are very small, and we remain very good friends.

    Goblin,

    Yes. You illustrate a use of church memberships/covenants that I would say is improper.

    Jason Glen,

    Yes, of course, I am responsible both to my family and to others. I’m assuming, then, that you agree that you are responsible to live in community both with those who share your church membership/covenant and with others who do not. So… what’s the purpose of the church membership/covenant? It seems that you’re living as if it’s not necessary.

    Jason Hart,

    I’m not sure that I would equate Paul addressing the “church in Macedonia” or the “church in Corinth” with “local manifestations” of churches that are “right across the street from one another.”

    Dakota,

    Actually, I regularly submit my beliefs and practices to other brothers and sisters. I trust them to let me know when I’m straying away from Christ. It doesn’t take a church membership/covenant for that relationship and trust though.

    -Alan

  23. 9-9-2010

    Alan, I am living as if covenants/membership is not necessary…because it is not. I never said it was. I was simply arguing that they were a helpful modality for executing our responsibilities as a local gathering of believers. You live as if they were acceptable and profitable because over the past several years that I have known you, you have continued to commune with a local gathering that maintains a covenant. If it is improper and unprofitable…then why would you continue to reinforce it by maintaining your presence as an elder in a body that practices a covenant?

    Would you allow someone from another gathering of believers across town to “choose/elect/ordain/acknowledge) you as an elder for the gathering known as Messiah? If not, then why do you make the distinction? There isn’t suppose to be a distinction is there? Shouldn’t Jim Henry be able to walk in and serve as your wife’s husband and your children’s parent at any point? WHAT??? Well why not?? Shouldn’t Danny Akin be able to appoint someone as an elder over Messiah because the larger body of believers at Wake Crossroads thinks it would be a good idea….and they outnumber you?

    Would you allow another gathering of believers in Greensboro to write you and command you to kick one of your members out for what they view as consistent, unrepentant sin? Why not? We are all a part of the same body and thus have the same role to play in each other’s lives….right? No distinction…at all? No room for an intimate “agreement” among those who are living life out together on a consistent basis in a particular community? Seems a bit odd.
    I’m just a little confused as to how all these things work out for you. I don’t see much room for order and discipline in an environment with no “agreement” among the participants in the community. Sounds more like a platform for confusion, unrepentant sin, and disorder.
    One last thing then no more posts for me  I do not view covenants and traditional membership practices in the evangelical churches as the same thing. Ask me about it sometime.

  24. 9-9-2010

    I think that you are right, Alan. It’s a stretch to equivocate churches in different cities with those across the street from one another:o) However, in other instances (4 that I’m aware of), Scripture speaks of a church meeting in a certain house, which assumes there were other churches in the area meeting in other houses. There was a distinction, and that distinction brought about a different level of accountability and intimacy than with other believers. Covenants reinforce this local manifestation. Unless a church covenant principle directly contradicts the Scriptures, I don’t see how they are invalid under the New Covenant, if they reinforce everything that it means to be a disciple of Christ Jesus and a member of his body.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen a ton of churches that butcher what membership is and they construct an enviroment that insulates them from God with man-made concepts of holiness and love and “feel-good” Christianity. I’m just not ready to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Covenants bring much distinction in a country where an overwhelming majority of its citizens claim to be Christians but do not live it out. Thanks again for opening up this discussion

  25. 9-9-2010

    Jason Glen,

    Why would churches or people recognize elders that they don’t know? Oh, nevermind, they do this all the time… ;)

    Seriously, your argument doesn’t make sense to me at all. Elders should be chosen by people with whom they live in community. And, like we’ve both said now, church memberships/covenants are not necessary for community. And, sometimes, church memberships/covenants can hinder or separate people from community.

    Like I said in my first comment, I do not think that church memberships/covenants are improper in and of themselves. If they help a group, that’s fine. But, if people begin to think of themselves as being in community with one another (and thousands of others?) because they share church membership/covenant, and at the same time are used to separate other believers from one another even if those believers spend huge amounts of time together, then I think they are improper.

    Jason Hart,

    Yes, Scripture talks about Christians meeting in certain houses or with other people… and these are called “church.” But, if you check the context, the authors also call all the people in the city/region “church.” Thus, they are not divided the way we are today. They were expected to live as community with one another, and treat one another as brothers and sisters even if they did not meet regularly with one another. I’m sure these Christians saw each other around town, in the marketplace, etc. just like we do. When they did see one another, they were to recognize each other as “church,” not as separate churches.

    By the way, notice what I said to Jason Glen above, and in the post, and in my first comment to Jason Glen. I think that church membership/covenants are unnecessary. But, I did not say and do not believe they are improper in and of themselves. When they begin to take the place of relational community, then I think they become improper. As a reminder? Great! As a basis for community? That’s a problem.

    -Alan

  26. 9-9-2010

    I lied…I’m commenting again. Alan, when does the non-covenant model become improper? Is there ever a time when you can assent to the fact that a covenant is the proper thing to do? You have consistently avoided answering my questions concerning order, boundaries, and discipline; there is a lot of meat in those dilemmas for you to answer as a proponent of a “no-covenant” model. Or am I simply reading you wrong…and you really are a proponent of a covenant?

  27. 9-9-2010

    Jason Glen,

    I believe that order, boundaries, and discipline only work within the confines of community in Christ. Like I’ve said before, I do not think that church memberships/covenants are necessary for community, so I also do not think they are necessary for order, boundaries, or discipline.

    I do not think that order, boundaries, and disciples will work with church membership/covenant if there is no community. We see this all the time.

    -Alan

  28. 9-10-2010

    i love the way alan described his relationship with Jason..
    .
    (i know that was off topic, but im not an official member so i am not covenanted or obligated to submit to your rules.. i never filled out the yellow card or brought in my w-2 )

  29. 9-10-2010

    I feel like half of what I have said on here has been completely ignored and not addressed in the various responses. Do not be deceived, you all have made qualifications for various “covenants” in almost every aspect of your life…you just don’t necessarily ask people to acknowledge those covenants verbally or sign their name to a document. Your experiences with fellow Christians is no different. AGREEMENT=COVENANT. To verbalize it is not to devalue it. To name a group that mutually agrees on foundational Christian principles and “signs” their name to it does not devalue the agreement, nor does it devalue their individual or corporate relationship to other Christians or non-Christians in the area. It is simply a COMMUNAL YES!!!!

    “Hey, I heard you guys have a communal yes…what does your communal yes include?” “Wow…so does ours…that’s great!” Or “Oh! Wow! Your communal yes includes that God was a man and Jesus was one of His physical babies?” Or, “Oh, your communal yes includes that babies are baptized as a part of their salvific journey….hmmm, I would love to talk with you about that sometime. This is how our communal yes treats that.”

    It allows one community to relate with another with more knowledge and consistency. Rather than, “We can believe whatever we want to believe at our gathering without catching any grief for it…I’ve been in leadership for some time now and I believe that homosexuality is fine with God.” As soon as you make an agreement together as a community…you have made a covenant…I’m just stating that you call it what it is and be honest enough with your fellow community member to officially take ownership of it through a communal yes.

    Alan, I don’t think your moving on this subject so I will wait another year or so to bring it back up with you :). Love you bro. I look forward to seeing you again and gathering with the believers at Messiah. God bless.

  30. 9-10-2010

    Frankie,

    As Jason indicated in his last comment, he and his family will be back in our area soon, and I’m looking forward to getting together with them! They are our family and we’ve missed them very much. It will be great to catch up on what God has been doing in and through them in Tennessee.

    Jason Glen,

    Yeah, we’re both about where we were last time we talked about this. :)

    Looking forward to seeing you and the family soon!

    -Alan

  31. 9-11-2010

    What are the historical models for church membership or covenant that folks are referring to or considering as part of this conversation?

    I’m unfamiliar with any models in scripture or in history that might be worth considering.

    My experience in the modern American church, when dealing with membership, has been anything but inspiring. And, considering my life and travel right now, the whole concept of church “membership” per se is wildly impractical. My clearest body(ies) of believers are spread between Houston, Chattanooga, and Australia/New Zealand… and I feel like I am held within great care and accountability between those geographies.

  32. 6-24-2011

    Great post Alan. Stumbled across this blog post today on this very subject of membership. This is def something my wife and I have been struggling with.

    http://www.batteredsheep.com/biblical_church_membership.html

  33. 10-3-2011

    Totally agree Alan. This comes from someone who attends a church that has membership and a covenant, and I’m glad we do. When you teach it properly, all in the context of your post, it is great!