On Sunday night a group of us were discussing the topic of church dropouts, and the question arose, “What is church membership?”
We did not come to any conclusions at the moment, especially since it was technically not the main topic of the hour. I mostly sat and listened without saying anything despite the fact that I have been thinking deeply and reading extensively about the topic for over a year.
So I decided that it’s time to put my thoughts down on digital paper. Having been a Christian for many years and now being a pastor, I believe strongly that we need to rethink church membership.
For the most part, this belief does not necessarily stem from a strong feeling about how church membership functions but rather from growing dissatisfaction with how we “do” church around the world.
Christians need to delve into the intricate landscape of church membership and reexamine it from a biblical perspective. In an era where traditions are reevaluated, and the pulse of cultural shifts is keenly felt, the concept of church membership stands at a crossroads.
Over the next several blog posts, I hope to navigate the history, biblical foundations, and contemporary implications of church membership, acknowledging both its positive and negative aspects.
The Exploration of Church Membership
The notion of belonging to a local church body has been a cornerstone of Christian practice for centuries. Yet, as we stand in the 21st century, it is crucial to reevaluate and discern the impact of formal church membership.
This exploration is not merely an intellectual exercise; it’s a call to examine how this concept has shaped and, at times, reshaped the dynamics of our modern churches.
We should constantly reevaluate everything we do, both in our personal lives and in our corporate church life, and church membership is not an exception.
The Impact of Church Membership
Church membership, like any institutional practice, has left an indelible mark on the Christian landscape. On the positive side, it has provided a sense of identity, community, and accountability.
Proponents such as Jonathan Leeman, Mark Dever, and others argue that formal membership is a biblical imperative, contributing to the health and order of the local church.
Conversely, critiques from voices like Frank Viola and those within the house church movement point out potential pitfalls. Legalistic tendencies, spiritual elitism, and a consumerist approach can infiltrate the membership structure, leading to disillusionment and a sense of exclusion.
Cultural factors and legal concerns are also a part of the conversation. In an era of individualism, where personal autonomy is highly prized, the call for committed membership can be met with resistance. Legal considerations, such as liabilities and accountability, play a role in shaping the structures of church membership.
The Volatility of Church Membership
The conversation surrounding church membership can be volatile, echoing through churches of all sizes. For some, it’s a non-negotiable aspect of doctrinal purity and community cohesion. For others, it represents an unnecessary yoke that impedes the organic growth of the body of Christ.
The tension between these perspectives has implications for how we define our Christian identity and engage with our local communities.
The Implications of Church Membership
The significance of church membership is deeply personal for many Christians. For some, it provides a sense of belonging, purpose, and shared journey.
For others, it becomes a stumbling block, leading to disengagement, departure, or even dropping out of organized church life.
In the coming posts, we will journey through the history of church membership, explore its roots (or lack of roots) in the early church, delve into the biblical foundations, and grapple with the reasons both for and against formalized membership.
My desire is to foster a thoughtful dialogue about the role of church membership in our ever-changing Christian communities. I hope you will join me and embark on this journey of rediscovery together.
Nothing worth doing should be done thoughtlessly. Church membership is one of those things that the church should either implement with purpose or eradicate with purpose. Tradition itself is not purposeful or logical.