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Church Membership: What It's Not

by Thor Ramsey

Last night I had a long discussion with a couple from our local church about our partnership (membership) covenant. That discussion convinced me that I needed to clarify some things about church membership, specifically about what it is not. And simply put, here's what our membership covenant is not -- it is not a dividing line.

The issue of church membership is what we call an open-handed issue, meaning it's not essential to the gospel itself. I believe it is important for gospel communities, which is why we wanted to move forward with it and intentionally make it part of our church culture.

However, because of our diverse and varied experiences within the universal church, everyone reacts differently to local church membership. Some of us have had bad experiences with church leadership that abused their authority. Others have found membership a meaningless formality because they became church members before they came to faith. Others come from nondenominational church movements where formal membership is frowned upon, etc. (Still, I would gently caution against letting our experiences determine our stance on church membership.)

All that to say, here's what will happen if you choose not to sign the membership covenant -- nothing.

Nothing will change for those who still have their theological doubts about church membership. You can still lead small groups, help lead worship, teach Sunday school, etc. You can still serve in all areas of church life, barring eldership.

The only thing you can't do is become an elder.

When it comes to being an elder, we are convinced that we (the leadership) have to be aligned both theologically and methodologically. And this is something we are continually growing in together. The reason for that is for the sake of the body itself. We can't have one elder teaching eternal security and another teaching that you can lose your salvation. That would create confusion and conflict within the local church body.

I summarized our reasons for implementing church membership as threefold:

  1. It's biblical. (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-5; Acts 20:29-30; 1 Corinthians 5:1-12; Acts 2:37-47; Acts 6:1-6; Romans 16:1-16; 1 Timothy 5:3-17, etc.)
  2. It fights against a consummeristic mindset; churches as spiritual smorgasbords for our consumptive pleasure.
  3. It fosters greater commitment to each other.

Now maybe at some point I'll preach a series or a sermon further unpacking those ideas, but for now, we want your membership to be like your giving -- cheerful and joyful. If you can sign the covenant agreement joyfully, then we'll rejoice with you.

If not, then we'll allow you all the grace you need to wrestle with what the Bible says about church membership. None of us changes our perspectives on a pin. But even then, as I already stated, this is an open-handed issue, not a gospel essential.

If you'd like a place to begin investigating whether or not church membership is biblical, here's a great article filled with Scriptural references: Is Church Membership Biblical?

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