(Re-post from a Sunday Supplement Post of the 2011 Vision Series)
One of the things we’re serious about around here is people’s commitment to the local church. In general, the lack of commitment to the local church is an epidemic in our city. We live in a time when people are more committed to their cell phone provider than they are their church.
With that setup, the following is the taxonomy that I shared Sunday morning. It is a taxonomy for describing folks who are outside of the realm of a) fully committed to the local church and b) genuinely seeking Christ and/or a church home.
A loner is not a Christian. A loner may have a vague interest in God and may claim to be a Christian, but in reality, his service to Christ exists little more than in checking a box on a survey form. A loner will likely be agreeable to talking about God, but has no understanding of the gospel, does not love his neighbor as himself, and is no where close to living out the “one anothers” of the Bible.
A poser is someone who claims to believe but does not really believe. A poser has a vague interest in what is going on with the church because they see something they like and are attracted to it, but it is not necessarily Jesus that they see and are attracted to. Although they do not have another church home, their involvement is infrequent and inconsistent because their heart has not truly been arrested by the gospel of Jesus.
Our job as the church is to serve posers well by calling them to repent, believe in the gospel, and commit to the local church whom Jesus died for.
The only thing worse than a poser is a floater – someone who bounces around from church to church, never lays roots, never commits, never really gets integrated into the community – but still calls themselves a Christian. It’s worse because no one really knows if you’re a poser or a true believer. No one can count on you. You’re there for yourself, not the body of Christ.
One of the key reasons that people are floaters is because it’s a way to disguise the fact that deep down, they’re a poser. Floaters avoid community because they’re afraid of being exposed. They’re afraid of being called out. They’re afraid of committing and actually giving their life to something bigger than themselves because it might mean that they actually have to do what Jesus said and lay down their life, take up their cross and carry not just their own burdens, but also their brothers’.
There is nothing more selfish with respect to the body of Christ than a floater. And the call to floaters is the same as the call to loners and posers: repent.
As we continue with the process of rolling out membership here at 2 Pillars Church, I have realized a growing need for clarification with respect to children, baptism and Communion (i.e. the Sacraments), as well as membership. As a church we also perform baby dedications which get tied-in to the conversation.
In order to bring about clarity in this important area and communicate well how all these pieces come together, I have written a paper for our church to define how we approach children, the Sacraments, and membership. I post it here to make it more widely available to others both inside and outside the family of 2 Pillars with the hope of it being helpful to some.
Two weeks back, as a part of our current series on the Bride of Christ, I published a series of posts here on the blog under the topic of “Why Local Church Membership Matters.”
Those posts have been assembled into a white paper that we have now used as a discussion point in our Gospel Communities in order to continue to drive the conversation of the importance of membership in the local church. Since the lack of commitment to the local church is an epidemic in my city, I post it here for wider consumption in hopes of lifting high the Bride of Christ, whom Jesus gave himself up for (Ephesians 5:25), obtaining her with his own blood (Acts 20:28).
If someone is not committed to living out the “one another’s” of Scripture, if they are not committed to doing that with a specific group of real people, how are we to judge their commitment to Jesus Christ?
If someone is trying to function apart from the body, is Christ their Head?
If a failure to commit to the local church is equated to disobedience to God’s Word (and thus sin), what do we make of someone who is not a member of the local church?
Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and author of What is a Healthy Church, is bold enough to postulate an answer, “If you are not a member of the church you regularly attend, you may well be going to hell.”
As you read the pages of the New Testament, something that you will never find are Christians that did not belong to the church. If you were a Christian, you were part of the church. If you were not a part of the church, you were not a Christian. Paul never writes a letter to the “churches of Galatia… and all those who aren’t really a part of the churches in that region… but still love Jesus.”
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul refers to the church as the body of Christ. We are all members of the body. An arm that is not connected to the body ceases to be a part of the body. That’s why the Apostle John says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
By committing to the local church, we demonstrate our commitment to Christ, who is the head of the body (Ephesians 5:23).
Finally, it is impossible to live in obedience to God’s Word without being a member of a local church. Now, we’re not legalists and if one were to find himself in a community with no true expression of the local church, we would not be quick to call that person a non-Christian, but that is not the community in which we live.
Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” The only group of leaders in Scripture who are responsible to “give an account” for leading God’s people are the pastors/elders/ overseers in a local church. If you are not a local church member, how can you obey this command?
What body of elders are you submitted to? Further, it must be implicitly recognized that elders are not accountable for every person who darkens the door on Sunday morning, but only for those who have formally committed themselves to their care and thus have become apart of the flock (the local church) whom they are commanded to pay careful attention to (Acts 20:28).
Some will read Part 2 of this blog series and argue, “yeah, but we can do that without being members.” In fact, I recently had a conversation with a pastor friend of mine who loves Jesus and whose friendship I prize, yet whom does not employ membership in his church.
As we talked about the topic of church membership, he posed the question, “What do you say to the guy that asks, ‘So if I’m not a member does that mean you treat me differently?’”
My answer to my friend was, “You tell him ‘yes’.” That may sound haughty and aloof in our egalitarian-saturated society, but let me explain.
Jesus Christ died for the church. He obtained it with his own blood (Acts 20:28). One of the many metaphors Scripture uses for the church is the bride of Christ (see Ephesians 5:25-27, Revelation 19:6-8). If a man tells a woman he loves her and wants to spend the rest of his life with her and yet refuses to commit to her in marriage, she ought not take him seriously. If he simply showed up at the house whenever he felt like it or needed something, never emotionally invested, never demonstrated his love for her, never sacrificed for her, never put her needs in front of his own, never financially supported her, that wouldn’t be much of a commitment.
In the same way, “Christians” who fail to commit to the local church treat Christ’s bride like a whore. Local church membership matters because our commitment to one another – the church – matters (remember, we are the church).
If we are truly to live out the “one another’s” of Scripture together, we must be committed to one another and we must know who is committed to us. Who can we trust to not run away and hide when things get difficult? Who can I really confess my sins to? Who can we count on as we live on mission together? As we storm the gates of hell and charge the hill to reach the unreached for Christ in our city, who is with us? Who can we count on to support the mission with their time, their talents, and their finances?
Even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals God’s people living in radically other-centered ways (see Acts 2:42-47, for example). Throughout Scripture we read of Christians being instructed to exercise the “one another’s of Scripture” and, in turn, see them living out these “one another’s” in accord with those instructions. As we read these, we are also to heed these.
As Christians, we are commanded to love one another (John 13:14, Romans 12:10, 1 Peter 1:22, et al), instruct one another (Romans 15:14), comfort one another (2 Cor. 13:11), serve one another (Galatians 5:13), bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), forgive one another (Ephesians 4:22), admonish one another (Colossians 3:16), exhort one another daily (Hebrews 3:13), stir one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24), confess our sins to one another (James 5:16), and at least twenty-five other “one another’s” that I can easily count.
Local church membership matters because the local church is where we live out these “one another’s” of Scripture – with real people. People with personal and spiritual and missional discipleship needs. People with real problems, real burdens, real sin.
Over the next seven weeks, we are rolling out our inaugural church membership series here at 2 Pillars Church. This is a big step for us as we work steadily towards growing up as a church.
As I’ve been studying and spending time thinking and praying about the importance of church membership, one of my favorite things that I’ve stumbled across has been this quote from Charles Spurgeon:
“I know there are some who say, “Well, I have given myself to the Lord, but I do not intend to give myself to the church.” Now why not? “Because I can be a Christian without it.” Are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient? What is a brick made for? To help build a house. It is of no use for that brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house. It is a good-for-nothing brick. So you rolling-stone Christians, I do not believe that you are answering your purpose. You are living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live, and you are much to blame for the injury you do.”
This is week on the blog I’ll be highlighting why being a member of a local church matters. This is not intended to be a defense of the biblical warrant for church membership, nor is it to serve as a comprehensive definition of what the church is. Rather my intention is to detail why church membership is important – why it matters.
It is my contention that commitment to the local church in my city and our Western society at-large is an atrocity.
The result is lackadaisical Christians that are not held accountable to be living out the gospel in community and on mission. Instead of having and holding a high-view of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church), Christians are more prone to treat church membership like a membership at the YMCA where it simply indicates, “this is where I go.” Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the oft-heard question, “Where do you go to church?”
Here’s the problem: The church is not a place that you go to. Likewise, the church is not a building. It’s a people. It’s God’s people – sent on God’s mission to proclaim God’s message.
Think of the metaphors used in the New Testament for the church:
- You don’t “go to” the family of God. You either are the family or you’re not.
- You don’t “go to” the bride of Christ. You either are the bride or you’re not.
- You don’t “go to” the body. You either are apart of the body or you’re not.
We are the church.
The local church is a collection of committed followers of Jesus banded together to live out the gospel in community and on mission.