The Church

Church Membership: Who Needs It Anyway?

Comments (18)
  1. Toviyah says:

    Hebrews 10:25 gives biblical confirmation to the article:
    .
    Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

    Toviyah

  2. Scott Roney says:

    P.S. Ms. Uwan, so glad to see you writing here again. I’ve always been blessed by your perspective!

  3. Scott Roney says:

    The pre-eminent picture of redemption in the Bible is Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea. God did not deliver select individuals, He corporately delivered the entire nation (including some individuals whom He subsequently rejected, see I Cor. 10:1-5).

    The New Testament explicitly states that the church IS the body of Christ (I Cor 10:16-17, I Cor 12:12-13, I Cor 12:27, Eph 1:23, Eph 4:16, Col 1:18, Col 1:24). This is not an ideal or mere metaphor, but a statement of reality. To say that you love Jesus but not His church, is akin to saying that you love your wife but not her body.

    The church is the Bride of Christ. I am not Jesus’ bride, because I do not support same-sex marriage. Individual women are not Jesus’ brides, because Jesus is not a polygamist. I am not the church and you are not the church, WE are the church and WE are the Body of Christ. It is a corporate reality that transcends individuals.

  4. Martin says:

    Amplitudo,

    Have no fear, you’re not alone in your thinking.

    First and foremost, the Body of Christ, the Church, IS. NO. LONGER. VISIBLE.

    From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him thus no longer – 2 Corinthians 5:16

    So when you approach ANYONE, ANYWHERE in this world you are to see beyond the mask of their disappearing flesh. It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all – John 6:63.

    People greatly underestimate what Paul is saying in Galatians 3:28. He is telling us that even when people present themselves to you with self-proclaimed labels, such us “Jew”, “Master of Divinity”, “Doctor”, “Protestant”, “Homosexual”, “Lawyer”, “Homeless”, “Genius”, “Leper”, “Celebrity”, etc., you are to see beyond that label and instead seek to discern their spirit – 1 John 4:1

    Many times those who are rejected by “Christians” (yet another self-proclaimed label) have more Love in their hearts and live more according to Truth than many within the prison walls of the institutional church.

    Being in Spirit we now discern others Spiritually. We now have the Mind of Christ – 1 Corinthians 2:16

    It is not difficult to discern another person’s mind, simply because most people who are still confused about their own True Identity quickly betray themselves with their own distinctive choice of words. Those who believe that they cannot possibly be friends with someone who, in their eyes, leads an “anti-Christian” lifestyle, betray that they have not yet fully witnessed the True Power of Love.

    The Body of Christ, the Church, is everywhere where the Spirit of Truth speaks. Whenever two or more meet in My Name (Truth, Love, Hope, Faith).

    Finally, the (visible) institutional church is broken on an number of levels.

    But I only need to address one critical issue that reveals the true nature of the institutional church.

    MEMBERSHIP COVENANT.

    Jesus asks us to be not of the world, yet the institutional church patterns itself according to every other institution out there. If you read any membership covenant on any given church’s website it reads like a legal document. Moreover, the bigger churches with more money coming into their coffers require of their members to sign the membership covenant – which equates it to a legal contract.

    Without taking too much space let’s look at one of the more prominent churches and the contractual obligations from its members. Bethlehem Baptist Church, formerly pastored by none other than John Piper (council member of The Gospel Coalition). If you look at their “Church Covenant” notice the last point, 6, mentions “Relational Commitments” with an asterisk:

    https://bethlehem.church/church-covenant/

    But the asterisk is not referenced and you have to do your own investigative work to find out that “Relational Commitments” is simply a veiled term for “Play By Our Rules because you’ve signed the legal contract”. I quote two sentences that reveal that the true nature of an institutional church is a legal corporation that will resort to worldly means in order to protects its own interests:

    “We require our members to handle these misunderstandings in a Biblical way. This includes being willing to submit to legally binding arbitration rather than filing a lawsuit and also not attempting to require a “spiritual counselor” to appear in court or to provide his notes.”

    http://worshipmatters.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/107247.pdf

  5. Carlos says:

    I very much appreciate your article Ekemini. Since the move to the new website, a lot of older articles are being shown. I would have missed this otherwise. I clicked on the link for the podcast and it took me to the iTunes Apple website. For future reference, the majority of smartphone users use Android. So, you may want to include the Google Play Music link as well.

  6. John Coakley, Jr. says:

    Sister,

    I enjoyed this article. In an age where technology is bringing us closer together in regards to those whom are physically distanced from each other, but are distancing those whom are in close proximity with each other, Church membership is a topic that can never be spoken about too much.

    Our Pastor is preaching on this very topic, which I believe is so appropriate for the New Year. Most recently, he preached from 1 Corinthians 12 with emphasis on the church being one body and the necessity of all members in order for the body to function as designed. I can see you alluding to the very same concept in your last paragraph.

    Again, good article. Great points of discussion. Thank you for your words. I look forward to reading more from you in the future. Blessings to you in your studies.

    John Coakley, Jr.

    1. Ekemini says:

      Thank you for carving out time to read my article, brother! Yes, you are right when you say that, “church membership is a topic that can never be spoken about too much.” This is especially true given the statistics that indicate a decline in church membership among those in my generation. In spite of this fact, there is an eternal truth that prevails, Jesus Christ is still building His church. Astute observation regarding my subtle reference to 1 Corinthians 12;-) Grace to you!

  7. Amplitudo says:

    Friend,

    “It consists of those who have been effectually called by God the Father
    through the power of the Holy Spirit and have been redeemed by the blood
    of the Lamb through faith in Christ Jesus.”

    Does it not follow then that those whom Jesus elected, called, and died for are in the church, members in full, regardless of their relationship to a specific denomination or organization?

    Your later redefinition of church shown below cannot be reconciled with your initial correct and Biblical definition give above:

    “The church is a corporate entity comprised of individuals whom God has
    elected with the intent to be glorified within this community of
    believers.”

    What’s more, you have added a concept of “corporate entity” that is nebulous and undefined.

    I wish to understand your point, as I have never been able to establish it with consistent hermeneutics on my own. If you could provide clarification I would be grateful.

    In Christ,
    A seeker of truth

    1. Bryant Parsons says:

      Amplitudo,

      When Ekemini criticizes Christians who wish to separate from the body of believers, she is not calling into question God’s sovereign work in election but only how it plays out practically in the lives of believers. Yes, if you have been called and elected by the Father, then you are a member of the church, even if you have not committed yourself to a local body. But to deny the corporate nature of our membership of the church is to virulently misunderstand massive passages in the Bible. Amplitudo, you call into question the Christians need to identify with a “specific denomination or organization.” Where did Ekemini say that we need to be associated with a denomination or organization? Denominations are nice, and organizations are nice, but you can have a Biblical local church community that isn’t a part of an official denomination or organization. And to concede this point does no damage to Ekemini’s thesis which seeks to establish the need for Christians to identify with a local church body.

      When u say that Ekemini’s definition of a corporate entity is irreconcilable, you must explain how this is so. The New Testament is clear that we are individually elected into a corporate body of believers. Look at the language Paul uses in 1 Cor. 12:12-31. In verses 12-14 Paul says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” If our election does not have practical corporate implications, then how do you explain this passage? Paul is seeking to have the Corinthians understand that they are all members of the one body of believers who have been given different spiritual gifts in order to work together to edify one another and to carry out the great commission. If a Christian lives apart from the body of Christ, then he cannot use his gift in harmony with other believers in the body to accomplish the work of the church. This is clear corporate language.

      This is just one of many passages which highlight the corporate nature of our election. When Paul writes epistles the commands are often addressed to the collective because Paul expects Christians to understand that their behavior effects one another as a whole, so a Christian who wishes to live apart from other believers would have been completely foreign to Paul and the early disciples.

      1. Amplitudo says:

        Dear Bryant,

        Thank you kindly for the detailed response.

        My statement that her two definitions are not reconcilable was from a purely logical standpoint. She defined the term “church” as an individual reality and then as a “corporate entity” without explaining how or why. She deviated from her own stated definition almost immediately after making it. I agree with the first definition absolutely, but I don’t understand the second. I’m not trying to criticize, I just honestly cannot follow the leap from the church being the individuals that make up the body of Christ to church as a corporate entity, and want to understand her (your) position better. Is your position that the church corporate is more than the sum of its whole, the church that is the individual believer? If so, what makes the church corporate more?

        As for your exegesis of 1 Cor. 12, I’m afraid I don’t see it that way. The prevailing theme throughout the NT is not unity and harmony so that the early Christians might engage in fulfilling the great commission (and it is debatable that it was given to Christianity writ large), but rather harmony and unity so that Christianity survived at all. The constant emphasis on one body, identity, and unity, was not due to the church being a “corporate entity” but because they were living in a unique and momentous time of change, where what was once only for Israel was now, by the grace of God, available to every tribe and tongue. Paul especially was constantly exhorting both Jew and Gentile to embrace one another as brothers in Christ and to put aside their differences in the name of fellowship and brotherhood.

        Also, I agree with you that a Christian who wants to live apart from other believers would be alien to Paul and is not Biblical. My questions are entirely focused in the concept of church membership, which is the topic of this blog post. She seems to present two options, membership in a local church, or rogue believers. I’m merely curious if there might be another way, one that is not so heavy handed in its application of church membership.

        In Christ,
        Truth Seeker

      2. Bryant Parsons says:

        Amplitudo,

        Thanks for responding. Firstly, I think it is important that you recognize the nature of this medium. This is a blog post with hardly the space allowed to flesh out every point made within it. So forgive the author if you don’t see ample argumentation to back up each point made. It wasn’t meant to be a dissertation.

        Secondly, The body of Christ is by definition a corporate entity. The body is made up of many parts each coming together to edify one another and accomplish the great commission. To say that the early Christians were only concerned with Christianity’s survival is again, another misreading of the New Testament. Do any of the apostles exhibit fear that the Christian movement was going to be stomped out? The apostles had complete confidence that God was going to take care of this movement. They were relying on the very words of Christ himself that he would be with them until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). Paul prophesies over and over about end time scenarios (2 Thess. 2; Romans 11:25-36). This hardly seems to be the language of a man who is afraid that the Christian movement won’t survive.

        Now, back to 1 cor. 12. We can see that Paul understood that the body of Christ came together to accomplish the great commission because in the passage, he speaks of apostles and teachers. He lists these as spiritual gifts. What is an apostle but one sent to proclaim the gospel? And what is a teacher but one responsible for teaching right doctrine to believers? These gifts along with the gift of evangelism is given to the church in order to help them carry out the great commission. So to say that Paul was advocating corporate unity simply for Christian survival is to not take into account all of what the NT teaches. Paul was vigorously missional minded. He wanted other believers to be so as well.

      3. Amplitudo says:

        Dear Bryant,

        Thank you for your continued engagement.

        There is nothing to forgive her for, and I am not at all trying to be critical! I am merely trying to understand what she wrote, as it caused me no small amount of cognitive dissonance on my first read. I assure you, it is my lack of understanding, and not her argumentation, that is at fault.

        But if the body of Christ is by definition a corporate entity, what of those throughout history who have not been able to participate in its corporate nature? That is the main thrust of my question. And again, it is off-topic, but I hope you are at least willing to admit that historically, and presently, there are a great many Christians who do not consider the great commission having been given to all of the elect. That is a topic that warrants further intense analysis, but is beyond the scope of our present discussion.

        Thinking about it, I suppose what I’m driving at can be clarified in a question:

        When one child of God sits alone in a room, is he any less the church than when a congregation gathers to worship? I would say absolutely not. I’m curious to hear your response, and the reasoning behind it.

        In Christ,
        Truth Seeker

      4. Bryant Parsons says:

        Amplitudo,

        I am pleased to continue this discussion with you. It is crucial that we all come to a deeper understanding of truth. When you say that “there are a great many Christians who do not consider the great commission having been given to all of the elect.” Please explain who these Christians are. As far as I know, all Christians (if by Christians we mean those who have held to historic Christian orthodoxy) have believed that the elect are meant to carry out the great commission under the authority of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

        Now concerning your question. Yes a believer sitting in a room remains a member of the church. Is he the Church, no. Not in the corporate sense. This is why the believer must seek to be a part of a local church community. But, I think it is safe to say that sitting in a room by oneself is not the situation the NT envisions. It is a special circumstance. Yes there may be special circumstances where believers are alone, but this is not meant to be the norm. We cannot build our theology on abnormal situations.

      5. Amplitudo says:

        Bryant,

        As I don’t want to derail the discussion I will just briefly mention this, but there are a great many Christians, past and present, who believe several things concerning the great commission. Some believe it was only given to the apostles and is now completed. Some believe it is only relevant for those who are gifted and called by the church to preach and teach. Some also believe that the great commission is fulfilled in doing activities as simple as being diligent in your labor, or raising children in a Godly way. There have been many variations and blendings of these positions, but those are the main positions shortly summarized.

        As to our topic at hand, could you please define “corporate sense” for me? How am I, if I sit in a church room full of professing believers, in the church in a “corporate sense” in a way that I am not when I’m alone? I truly don’t understand this distinction. What’s more, will any church do? What if I’m in a church full of believers who are false and I don’t know it? I don’t mean to be absurd, I just can’t understand what you are saying.

        As for special circumstances, friend, if our theology derived from Holy Writ cannot reconcile every possible situation one may encounter, our understanding may be faulty. We cannot build a worldview based just on normal situations, we must consider the abnormal as well. Personally, I have found the abnormal situations to be the best test of a hermeneutic; if I can’t fit them in, I discard the hermeneutic.

        In Christ,
        Truth Seeker

    2. Ekemini says:

      Amplitudo,

      Thank you for reading my article, I really appreciate it.
      Looks like Bryant beat me to the punch, but the nature of your question
      requires a response. With regard to the two definitions of the church, neither
      contradicts the other. In fact, the second definition serves to expound upon the first.
      God not only called Abraham as an individual, He has also called an entire
      nation, Israel. There is an aspect of unity and diversity with regard to
      election, when viewed from a biblical theological perspective and through the lens
      of the church. This is not surprising, because there is unity and diversity within
      the Trinity.

      My point is that church membership is a good and necessary consequence
      of our election. As His elect ones we have new hearts (Ez. 36:26-27) and seek to glorify
      our great God in all that we do. Our lives are not our own (Gal 2:20), and we
      were not saved unto ourselves, but to a corporate body; which is the invisible
      and visible church. It is imprudent for God’s elect ones to draw a false
      dichotomy between the two, because there is some overlap between both of them. If
      a person professes to be a Christian, but refuses to join the visible church, one
      would have to wonder if his/her profession of faith is truly genuine.

      **Note that this response is within the context of America,
      where we enjoy religious freedom and have a plethora of choices when it comes
      to choosing a church. I understand that church gatherings take place in
      different settings (i.e. house churches), especially in other (closed) countries where
      Christians are persecuted.

      Grace to you,

      Amplitudo

      1. Amplitudo says:

        Ekemini,

        Thank you for the gracious response.

        As usual with me, an answer only prompts further questions.

        The primary being: is it appropriate to use the nation of Israel to support the definition of the church as a corporate entity? I truly cannot see the nation of Israel in the OT as any sort of picture of the church, nor a model I would want to emulate. God’s everlasting covenant with Abraham was with his spiritual descendents, spiritual Israel, of which you, me, and Bryant are a part. There were those amongst the nation of Israel who were a part of this spiritual Israel and looked to Christ’s coming, but the vast majority of them were never a part of this covenant relationship, even though they enjoyed the benefits of being under the law of Moses for a time.

        In short, the church (elect) was in Israel, but Israel was not the church (elect) in whole, not even close.

        So with this in mind, is there reason to reevaluate the concept of church as a corporate entity? Or do you have a better approach that does not require me to try and view all of corrupt and wicked Israel as the church?

        This matter is both pressing and personal because I find myself completely outside any local church, and am at the point of abandoning it, as I can find no reason in Scripture to cling to what seems a broken system that has no place for me in it.

        In Christ,
        Truth Seeker

      2. Ekemini says:

        Amplitudo,

        This will be my last response to you, because I believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. No amount of skillful exegesis and hermeneutcial precision on my part is going to cause you to join the local body. Only the work of the Spirit and the living Word of God can draw you back to the visible local church. Yes, it is appropriate to use the nation of Israel as a primary definition of the church, because God chose them out of all of the other nations according to (Deut 7:6-7). Now not everyone who is Israel is true Israel (Rom 9:6-8) and I made reference to this truth in the OT section of my article saying, “the redeemed and the unredeemed will remain in the visible church until Christ returns.” Additionally, my article started by defending the church in the OT and seeing it unfold more clearly in the NT, so I’m not sure why this wasn’t apart of your initial remarks.

        “In short, the church (elect) was in Israel, but Israel was not the church (elect) in whole, not even close.”

        Amplitudo, I must respectfully disagree with you on based on your statement. We, the Gentiles were grafted into Israel, because of God’s hardening of Israel (Rom.11:13-25). In that same passage Paul warns against our arrogance and refers to us as ” a wild olive tree and contrary to nature,” so I would tread carefully when you call Israel “wicked” and the church a “broken system.” Romans 11 does not support a dispensationalist understanding of Israel and the Church. The church (the elect) is true Israel, we were grafted into one “olive tree;” one tree with many branches–again unity and diversity. “There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all in all.” (Eph. 4:4-6)

        I hope that my answer will suffice if it does not I trust that the Spirit will bring clarity to you. Stand firm in the faith and don’t abandon the church. Jesus died for her and He loves her, you should love her too.

        Grace to you,

        Ekemini

      3. Amplitudo says:

        I find it disconcerting that anyone would suggest all of the nation of Israel was a part of Christ’s elect church, given that He opened the earth to swallow thousands of them when they defied Him.

        But, as you wish, I thank your for your time.

        In Christ,
        Truth Seeker

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