Is Church Membership Really Necessary?

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by rrfranks, Apr 15, 2014.

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  1. rrfranks

    rrfranks Puritan Board Freshman

    Last Sunday as our congregation was preparing to partake of the Lord's Supper I was fencing the table and as I normally do I mentioned that the table is open to all who profess faith in Christ and are communing members in good standing in an evangelical church. After the service one of our church members was challenged by a visitor as to why church membership is a requirement for participation in the Lord's Supper. The church member sent a note to me and said,

    I could not find any scriptural evidence of requirement to being a member of a church to partake... We understand the importance of qualifying the individual and their relationship. But we need to see the passage that this interpretation is coming from. I know books can be written on this topic, however a consolidated response is all that is needed.

    I guess I struggle to be a concise thinker and am tempted to address all sorts of related topics (i.e. church membership, hermeneutics, etc). So I am wondering if anyone here has already addressed this topic before in a way that is concise & consolidated.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2014
  2. kodos

    kodos Puritan Board Junior

    How does one administer discipline without church membership? It is as our standards conclude, a "good and necessary consequence" of what the Bible teaches. How does one "put someone out of the church", if they are not a member of it. How does one bring forth disciplinary action to the church (elders) as Jesus asks us to?

    Excommunication is a good reason why one must have church membership. (1 Corinthians 5).
  3. RPEphesian

    RPEphesian Puritan Board Sophomore

    Building on what brother Rom has said, Paul tells us that if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. Congregations are responsible to fence the table, and an outsider's standing with their own church (assuming their church is spiritually sound) is a reasonable indicator of whether to admit them. If their own pastors have disciplined by forbidding them the Table, and their judgment is sound, that gives you cause to bar them. If they're intentionally not members of a sound evangelical church, it shows that they're not obeying in the first principles. That's cause to be suspicious.

    When I first came to an RB church my circumstances were a little different because the church where I was didn't believe in membership, and I was in a diligent search for a sound church, so the substance was there. However, if I was just playing Lone Ranger then my obedience would be suspect.
  4. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    One practical aspect of this is that not everything that needs to be fenced can be.

    Some denominations have little, if any, membership process, and little, if any, accountability, or meaning to membership. (E.g. the Methodists have a reputation for keeping someone on the rolls for life after merely coming forward for an introduction).

    The language you are using is sufficient, and can be used to engage questions like you received from the visitor.

    Someone who is "out of fellowship" is likely walking a disorderly Christian life and ought refrain from communion (cf. II Thessalonians 3:6, 11). Discussing what a Christian is is a good point of discussion. If one is not in church one is not tithing, not serving the brothers, helping the needy there, worshipping corporately, not regularly taking communion, etc.)

    Of course, if someone says they are doing all those things regularly, and they are committed to them, yet they are without the technical admission of membership, that would seem okay.

    That's how I would engage it. What is the person assuming?

    Are they saying they can be a believer off on their own, without all those things?
    Big sin and a wrong attitude there.

    Something to reflect on before taking Communion....
    (that's why we are told to examine ourselves II Cor. 13:5)
  5. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    If your church fences the table this way, it seems to me that you need to tell them something like this:

    "We make church membership a requirement because we take seriously the warning against coming to the table unworthily. We wish to protect visitors from judgment and to protect Christ's table from being defamed. Therefore, rather than merely requiring that you have decided you're a believer, we go the extra step of requiring that someone else—the leadership in a church—also affirm that you give evidence of being a believer by holding you as a member in good standing.

    "In addition, the Supper is a communion meal. It is not only one-on-one communion with Christ, but also communion with each other. Biblical church community includes letting others speak into our lives, challenge us, and if necessary discipline us—and such discipline cannot be fully practiced in a biblical way without church membership to tell us who is in or out of our particular community. Therefore, a person who resists church membership is, in effect, saying they don't want what the Supper signifies. If that's the case, they shouldn't be eating it."

    All that needs to be said gently, of course, with an understanding that some people simply haven't thought these things through. And I personally would not rule out special circumstances under which church leadership might choose to suspend such a regulation in the case of some individuals. But those two points are important ones that ought be be conveyed.
  6. chatwithstumac

    chatwithstumac Puritan Board Freshman

    I believe the issue is whether or not guests should be allowed to take the Lord's supper. Shouldn't guests allowed to take the Lord's supper, if they have confessed (have been baptized) under the same truths as members of the church have? It is sad to say but I'm sure there are members of churches who are not saved who take the Lord's supper. There is an obvious warning in 1 Cor. 11:27-29 of when Christians are not to take of the Lord's supper.

    I will take this matter to the Lord in prayer. I'll be praying for you.

    In Christ,
  7. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    He is a PCA pastor. The fencing of the table thusly is mandated by the book of church order, 58-4.
  8. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    That's what I was thinking. Surely, the PCA already has some kind of position paper on the subject.
  9. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Membership as such is an "in-or-out" thing, a designation. Frankly, culturally many in this society simply want to be the final arbiter of the labels they wear. Consider baptism--for the majority (probably), it is not the bestowal/reception of an extrinsic identity, but an assertion of that identity.

    The issue of discipline--whether sacrament administrative, or any other matter--is the central concern membership. "Concerning whom, exactly, am I obligated to 'give account' over the matter of soul-watching," Heb.13:17. Since it matters so seriously, possibly as much as life-and-death, when it comes to the Supper, 1Cor.11:29-30, shall not those who serve this discriminating meal rely on better "evidence" than a mere assertion of one's right to the Table? Especially when some have no right to eat of it, Heb.13:10?

    There is a "membership list" to which virtually everyone associated with Christianity wants an entry, namely the Lamb's Book, Rev.21:27. Do they believe they write it in themselves? No, it's written for them (was written, Rev.13:8) according to election, Jn.17:24; Eph.1:4. This is the ultimate record of "who's in, who's out."

    But there are all sorts of analogous lists in Scripture. Num 1:2 "Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head." God's people are known to the people of God generally, and in particular to the leaders--by name. There are always collections of those names. Where do all the genealogical names come from? Those and countless other names as well are found in the sacred history, and they weren't always simply supplied to the mind of the author immediately by God, but were found in the records, e.g. Ex.38:26; 1Chr.4:22; Ps.87:6.

    Ps.87:6 demonstrates a continuity between the Old Covenant records, and New Covenant realities. Of course, for those who are bounden to the notion that all earthly correlatives (church membership) to heavenly realities (enrolled in heaven, Heb.12:23) have been eliminated--no earthly administration of the covenant--this sort of anticipation of the future NT found in the OT will not convince. But there still is the reality that Paul rehearses numerous names associated with various and particular congregations, see Rom.16:14 & 15, "[certain names]...and the brethren [or all the saints] that are with them."

    Don't these words at least suggest that there is at the very least an informal, but probably named and formal identification of these brethren and saints? The notion that the early church was merely a loose collection of people, a long ways away from ossifying into a formal organization, is hard to square with the organization Jesus set up, which (need we mention?) starts with a named list of Twelve principals, Lk.6:13. And impossible to square with the organizational efforts of Paul.

    Membership, whether we speak of OT or NT aspects of this one religion, is not something that is easily left out of the description of God's people. It is vital to know who is "in" and who isn't. How can the average Christian rightly behave toward those "without," 1Cor.5:12; Col.4:5; 1Ths.4:12, if there's no firm line of demarcation? It isn't simply that we happen know the people we typically see weekly. We know them as we are members of one another, in an identifiable community.
  10. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    In light of the scriptures below, I believe Rev. Ruddell's comment which is quoted below is an astute observation.

    (Eph 4:10) He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
    (Eph 4:11) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
    (Eph 4:12) For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
    (Eph 4:13) Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
    (Eph 4:14) That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
    (Eph 4:15) But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
    (Eph 4:16) From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

    (Heb 13:7) Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
    (Heb 13:17) Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

    (1Th 5:11) Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.
    (1Th 5:12) And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;
    (1Th 5:13) And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves.

    I also appreciate Calvin's thoughts on the importance of the Church in our lives. The importance of the Church in Sovereign Grace | RPCNA Covenanter How can this work out if we are not members in a Community of neighbors that are fit together by Christ and organized by Him for the work of the ministry.

    I would also encourage everyone to examine Articles 27-35 of the Belgic Confession and see the importance which is placed upon being a Member of the Church.

    Reverend Buchanan's observations are spot on.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2014
  11. Cymro

    Cymro Puritan Board Junior

    If memory serves me correct our Puritan fathers would use 2Cor 8:5 as the basis of covenanting
    themselves together in membership. But if there is no structure there is no connection, and that is
    the whole point of 1Cor 12. The analogy of the various members of the physical body is pertinent.
    Each individual member cannot function or exist on its own, it has to have an integrated working
    relationship, otherwise the body is incapacitated.
    Even as the the 12 tribes constituted one church/state, so also the local church is joined in the
    one true church universal. There is a beautiful symetrical harmonious structure about the church,
    from the member upwards. That is why I find the Presbyterian order so satisfying.
  12. clark thompson

    clark thompson Puritan Board Freshman

    You do not need church membership, in often times it puts limits on the church members to help other churches on there own. We should not have to have a membership to have communion, if we are of the Faith then we are part of the Church.
  13. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Graduate

    Membership is really about making a covenant with each other, and so the question that should be asked is not why membership is necessary, but rather why a believer would not desire to covenant with other believers.
  14. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    This may be technically correct, but not substantively correct biblically.

    Here is the difficulty.

    How can one be "of the faith" if he denies the visible representation of it, the visible church?

    How can one claim to love God whom he has not seen but not love His Body?
    How can one have Jesus and not worship Him corporately, serve His people, give to His work in His church, or be accountable to those He has appointed to authoritatively handle His Word,
    or even to shepherd souls?

    How can one claim the Lordship of Jesus Christ, yet deny any visible vestige of it, His Body?

    I think a phrase like "a member in good standing of an evangelical church OR church where this Gospel is preached," is sufficient to fence. And if it invites further explanation or engagement, that too, is part of the process that our Lord will use for much good.
  15. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    According to Westminster Confession 25:2, there is no ordinary possibility of salvation outside of the visible church. If someone wilfully and obstinately refuses to become a member of a church, then we have no reason to regard them as a believer. Why? Because, according to scripture, those outside the communion of Christ's church are to be viewed as heathens and tax collectors.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2014
  16. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    God is not above good bookkeeping (Rev.21:27, mentioned earlier), and neither should we be.

    In addition to the excellent points made above, we see that the church was not shy about making lists of who is eligible and who is not in 1 Timothy 5.
  17. rrfranks

    rrfranks Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you all for your comments! They have been very helpful and insightful. Please pray for me as I seek to shepherd this member and help him to understand what the Scriptures teach. As is often the case, what God says is counter to our culture.
  18. Andres

    Andres Puritan Board Doctor

    Check out this article by Dr. Robert Strimple - I Don't Want to Join the Church. In it he addresses the question, ""What is the biblical basis for the idea that every Christian should be a member of a Christian church?"
  19. Andres

    Andres Puritan Board Doctor

    So you just take everybody's word if they say, "I am of faith!" that this is true? Essentially you are saying, everyone who claims to be a Christian, is one. Based on Matt 7:21, it seems Jesus would disagree with you.
  20. InSlaveryToChrist

    InSlaveryToChrist Puritan Board Junior

    No, he's not making such absolute statements. All he's saying is that everyone who claims to be a Christian, is to be treated as such. Then again, I'm not sure if that is in line with Scripture, but have certainly always thought that way.
  21. JimmyH

    JimmyH Puritan Board Junior

    By their fruits ye shall know them.

    Not related to the statement above, reading a couple of biographies of A.W. Pink I was surprised that he and his wife stopped attending church because of theological differences with the congregations. Really sad that such a man, so mightily used by the Lord did not avail himself of the spiritual rejuvenation of church membership.
  22. InSlaveryToChrist

    InSlaveryToChrist Puritan Board Junior

    I've heard that story, too. I think it was the following video,

  23. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    A. W. Pink's contemning of ecclesiastical authority and public worship is one reason why I never recommend his writings to the impressionable and really wish that BoT had never published his material, because (in the UK at least) it has led many into self-willed separatism. Any form of Christianity that neglects the church and the sacraments is not the Christianity of the Great Commission. Do we really want to promote a form of Christianity which speaks of Christ yet contemns his bride?
  24. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritan Board Doctor

    Iain Murray's bio of Pink is one of the sadder Christian books I have ever read.
  25. JimmyH

    JimmyH Puritan Board Junior

    While Ian Murray's bio is excellent, that of Richard P. Belcher is my favorite of the two. Arthur W. Pink, Born to Write: A biography: Richard P. Belcher: Books This a sentiment from an Amazon review ( not mine) that I throughly agree with : "While Iain Murray's biography 'The Life of A.W.Pink is important and valuable, Belcher's is superior because the reader gets the sense that he really attempted to understand the man he was writing about. This is especially significant because there is much about the life of Arthur Walkington Pink which is contoversial and hard to comprehend. It is hoped that additional biographies will eventually follow about this significant man of God whose influence has been and continues to be enourmous, to the praise and glory of God."

    I have read a quote attributed to Reverend D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones .... "Read Pink." I'm not sure if that is accurate though. I began reading some of A.W. Pink's work before I was aware that he left more than one congregation and never returned to church membership for the majority of his life. I still read him and I do agree with Reverend Glaser that his was a tragic life. BTW, BOT published "The Sovereignty Of God," and deleted the chapter on reprobation. Ian Murray devotes some explanation of that decision on BOTs part but AFAIC (as far as I'm concerned) it was inexcusable.
  26. Rich Koster

    Rich Koster Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    In my humble opinion one of the problems is the way we look at the word membership. We are not members of a lodge, or country club. We are part of the body of Christ. Someone who desires to be conformed more and more into the image of Christ, has submitted himself to the local congregation and eldership, for training and discipline. In that light, I would say membership (being a part of Christ's bride) is needed. It shows that we are not some rogue claiming the name, but walking in a disorderly manner. Rom hit on this point already.
  27. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    Pink was an anomaly. There were a lot of factors that played out in his situation. One of the problems that Pink had in my estimation was his inability to socialize and recognize men as fallen and growing. The groups he associated with were not solid ecclesiastically. He was one who kicked against the goads. Knowledge puffs up. He was a very good and studious man. In my assessment of Pink he was full of pride. One of my dear old friends knew him, J. P. Green Sr. We spoke a bit about Pink. Unfortunately I believe that both Pink and Green were alike in many ways. I say that with a lot of fear and caution. Both ended up becoming recluses. That is not of God. There were situations that molded them into that attitude. There was a lot of pain in relationships that influenced the outcomes in their lives.

    One thing that has really pushed me into another attitude than that of these men is the importance that God places upon Eldership and submission as it pertains to the Church. Christ is building His Church His way. He gave us clear instruction about how the body is to work. If we do not love the Church we are not loving what Christ loves. As Jesus said, "By this shall they know you are my disciples, that ye love one another." There is no loving one another if we neglect the gifts Christ has given us in the structure of leadership that Christ has ordained in His Church.

    God gives grace to the humble. I have kicked against the leadership of my Elders before to my hurt. I learned at an early age to submit to them as long as it wasn't going against scripture. Even when I disagreed with them. To my great gain God did deliver me and give me much grace and mercy when I did submit. I have even seen my Elders change their minds when I submitted joyfully for the benefit of both myself and theirs. And I have been protected many times by their wisdom even when I didn't understand their prompting me to do things I was confused about. Kind of like a child who just has to trust his parents are correct because he is too young to understand the issues that are past his understanding.

    I say all this to emphasize the fact that the body is family also and it is relational. If we are not members of a family then we are bastards who will be tossed to and fro based upon what we consider to be important. Pride kills and that is one of the main issues here when Church membership is relegated to a back seat issue. If we don't think that relationships and ties are important than a lot of what the word of God says has very little meaning. Jesus thought the issue of relationships to be so important that he pointed this out.

    (Mat 5:20) For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
    (Mat 5:21) "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.'
    (Mat 5:22) But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.
    (Mat 5:23) So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,
    (Mat 5:24) leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

    My Papa in the Faith told me I could know how my relationship with God was by measuring my relationships with my brothers. I believe he is very correct. St. John emphasized the same thing.

    (1Jn 3:15) Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

    (1Jn 4:6) We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
    (1Jn 4:7) Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
    (1Jn 4:8) Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
    (1Jn 4:20) If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
    (1Jn 4:21) And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

    God loves the Church. If we don't love the Church we do not love what God loves and are most likely found outside of the faith and God's will.
    I hope that helps.
  28. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    I am amiss at how anyone can neglect being a part of a local Church body which is accountable to the whole body of Christ Ecclesiastically when I read Ephesians 4.

    (Eph 4:1) I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
    (Eph 4:2) With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
    (Eph 4:3) Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
    (Eph 4:4) There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
    (Eph 4:5) One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
    (Eph 4:6) One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
    (Eph 4:7) But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
    (Eph 4:8) Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
    (Eph 4:9) (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?
    (Eph 4:10) He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
    (Eph 4:11) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
    (Eph 4:12) For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
    (Eph 4:13) Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
    (Eph 4:14) That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
    (Eph 4:15) But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
    (Eph 4:16) From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

    The body is so important to our lives. Where do we expect to find these gifts of authority if it isn't in a local congregation and the authority to which they are accountable to?
  29. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    The word "member" is used in two senses, at least here in Scotland.

    According to the Confession all those who are properly baptised are solemnly and visibly admitted to membership of the Covenant of Grace and the Catholic Visible Church.

    On the other hand all those who become communicant members of, e.g., the Free Church or another particular denomination, are referred to as "members" or "church members", while the rest who attend - baptised children, baptised adults, communicants in transition from another church, people who've never been baptised, etc - are, often, referred to as "adherents".

    It's a wee bit confusing for some, as it's not always explained.

    Sent from my HTC Wildfire using Tapatalk 2
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2014
  30. yeutter

    yeutter Puritan Board Senior

    I was talking with some Nepalese Christians about this issue this past week. Their pastor arbitrarily dropped the requirement of Church membership and even opened the Lord's table to all who profess Christ. They separated from the congregation. They want the invitation to the Lord's table to include an admonishment that the Lord's table is an invitation to a family dinner, that includes only baptized, confessing members of the Church; and a dire warning to those who lack real assurance that they are in Christ. They greatly fear the judgment of God on those who come to the table who do not know that Christ, and on those who do not have assurance that Christ has saved them.
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