the weblog of Alan Knox

Replay: Church members…

Posted by on Jul 16, 2011 in definition, members | 11 comments

Replay: Church members…

Five years ago, just after I started this blog, I wrote a post called “Church members…” I was just beginning to examine the common modern practice of church membership, and was beginning to recognize that this practice often works to separate from brothers and sisters from one another. I’ve written several other posts about being a member of the church since this post. You can check the category “members” if you’re interested in reading more.

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Church members…

I’ve read several blogs recently concerning church membership and baptism. Most of the studies that I have read treat the subject from church history – especially baptist history. What happens when we study church membership from a biblical perspective? As I’ve studied various passages, a couple of questions come to mind:

1) How many churches are there? Certainly there are thousands of groups who call themselves a church. But, from God’s perspective, how many churches are there? I think there is only one.

2) How does someone become a member of that church? Scripturally, someone becomes a member of the church at the point of salvation – regeneration by the Holy Spirit.

If this is correct, and I’m open to listen to other suggestions, then when God commands us that “the members should have the same care for one another” (1 Cor 12:25), He is commanding us to care for all believers, not just those who happen to associate with the same local group as ourselves. When He commands us to love one another, serve one another, forgive one another, bear one another’s burdens, admonish one another, edify one another, and bear with one another, He is referring to our relationships to all members (i.e., all believers), not just those believers with whom we agree and meet regularly.

I understand that groups of believers associate together and call themselves a church. I understand that those believers then create membership requirements for their association. However, we must never blur the distinction between belonging to a local assocation of believers and being members of the church. Also, we must never assume that Scriptural mandates only apply to our local association.

When we ask the question, “Who is my neighbor (a member)?” is our answer as broad as God’s answer?


11 Comments

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  1. 7-16-2011

    I’ll go further. I think this entity we’ve created called “church membership” is a poison that sickens and cripples the body.

  2. 7-16-2011

    Alan,

    I am confident that in the local sense “my neighbor” and “my household” is vitally connected, as I have taught for many years. As I understand it, my ‘oikos’ involves everyone with whom I am acquainted, and whose life I touch in any way, from my nuclear family, to those next door, to the business people I deal with, etc.

    If we draw a circle around that group of people, interestingly, my circle of people, in some way, intersects circle of people belonging to others, which means that, “my neighbor” is invariably the neighbor of another.

    If this is so, and we think about it, the “neighbor” of every Christian, , in one way or another, through their personal circle of people,mission contacts, blogs, etc., is the whole world.

  3. 7-16-2011

    Maybe we should update the language a bit and replace denomination with a more suitable word? All Christians are part of God’s true “Church”, and in addition, many of us also belong to local “Cliques”.

    Good post!

  4. 7-16-2011

    Local churches in the New Testament consisted of called out, converted, baptized, and assembled members of the church (and a membership roll was apparently maintained). Otherwise, excommunication or any other disciplinary action would be meaningless actions. Spiritual, the universal church, is one body, and its oneness is reflected in the local church being one body. It is possible to go to extremes on either the local visible church, as some Landmarkers do, or got the extreme on the universal spiritual body which some do who stress thaqt as an exclusive truth without regard to the local element which is also presented in the NT. The truth of the Church is a two-sided, apparently contradictory doctrine, designed to set up a tension in the mind and spirit of the believer so he or she can apply that part of the truth that is relevant to a particular situation as is needed and demanded. This two-sided and apparently contradictory nature of the ekklesia teaching is also found in all the other Christian teachings. They set up the tension in the believer which enable and empowers him or her to become balanced, flexible, creative, magnetic, and enduring.

  5. 7-16-2011

    Cindy,

    I would agree with you in most cases.

    Aussie John,

    Very well said! Thank you.

    Dan,

    That’s the way it often works, unfortunately.

    James,

    You said, about the church in the NT, “[A] membership roll was apparently maintained.” Can you provide support for that statement in the NT?

    -Alan

  6. 7-17-2011

    Although there are definitely cliques, I do believe there is significant value in being involved in a local church. I think most people are better off with a local community to be involved with and accountable to…. It’s difficult to walk a path of growth without some type of community support. Tradeoffs….

  7. 7-17-2011

    It has been years, since I did the research on the ekklesia (6 years of research in church history covering over 250 sources and amounting to some 3000 5×8 notecards). In fact, over 4o (from 63-69), right off hand there is mention in I Tim.5:9 of widows being enrolled on a list. An elementary deduction follows that there must have been a roll of church members, identifiable by profession of faith in baptism following which they were added to the local ekklesia. I wish I had time to reply mor fully, but perhaps this will give you a start. Remember the local ekklesia of Ephesus, by which I mean the actual governing body of that city state did not include everyone in that city, only the citizens of that city state. They were identifiable, etc., and the oklos, the mob in Acts 19 is to be distinguished from the ekklesia and the ekklesia from it, one of the real contributions that I consider J.R. Graves made to the development of ecclesiology and the lack of the knowledge of his writing remarkably weakened Karl Schmidt’s article on the ekklesia in TWNT.

  8. 7-17-2011

    Dan,

    I agree that every believer should be involved in a community based on Jesus Christ.

    James,

    6 years of research and you have a list of widows to base church membership on? Have you found any examples in Scripture where a person was a “member” of one church in a city but not a “member” of another church in the same city? I think, in both the New Testament church and the Greek city-state ekklesia, there was only one in a city.

    -Alan

  9. 7-18-2011

    Dear brother, a list like the one mentioned above suggests a concern for records. The Jews of that day were noted for their concern about records. while I do not have at hand the info. you desire, it is simply a matter of research…I am not interested in a debate on the issue….Clearly you have an agenda re: the church. I use to have. I try to stay away from such things, preferring more peaceful pursuits of the truth. Take what I say in the way of peaceful suggestions – not in the interest of contention. I do not have the time now to do the research…so I will not enter on the issue. thank you for your consideration.

  10. 7-18-2011

    James,

    I think you’ll find that I’m more interested in learning and understanding than in arguing. So, I will ask questions for those reasons. Similarly, I do not disassociate with people who disagree with me. If we are both in Christ, then we are brothers and it’s my desire to live as such. I hope you decide to stick around and add to further discussions here.

    -Alan

  11. 7-18-2011

    Be happy to do so. I have been praying for a Third Great Awakening for 38 years as it is obvious our nation is in desperate need of such a visitation. As to the issue, I have no desire to be contentious. A local church mustr obviously be able to identify its members, as voting clearly takes place in the ekklesia that we call the church of Christ just as it did in the secular ekklesias of the Greek city states. Only members of the ekklesia could vote in the secular assemblies. The doctrine of the spiritual and universal church is the other side of the two part doctrine that constitutes the doctrine of the church. E.g., local, visible, democratic (under Divine guidance) congregation and the Universal, spiritual, invisible body into which one is baptized by the Spirit (I Cors.1:2 & 12:13). It has been years since I looked at the information (it is in 3000 5×8 notecards, not exactly an easily accessible materials). When Pul ordained elders, it seems that that involved stretching out of the hand as in voting according to, I think, it was A.T. Robertson. That is from memory and admittedly needs to be checked, but if it helps then my hopes are fulfilled. With best wishes.