Monday, November 24, 2008
Over the years the question of Church Membership swirls around the Christian world, and is debated and discussed, sometimes fought over, and sometimes just taken for granted.
Now by “Church Membership” here, I mean it in the commonly used sense of the phrase, referring to formally joining a particular local church, in a formal way, maybe agreeing to some doctrinal statement, or agreeing to some written covenant, and actually being put on a list of “Members”.
Is that Biblical? Is it O.K.? Is it demanded? Is it optional? And so forth.
Today I want to open a discussion in what I think is a new direction regarding Church Membership, especially as it relates to Fellowship.
See, I believe that the discussion of Church Membership is in one sense missing the real point of what the Church is to be about.
Is Membership Fellowship?
There’s a big elephant in the room that no one mentions. This elephant is ignored, walked around, or maybe mentioned only in passing. The big elephant in the room is Fellowship.
Now I’ve read many extensive studies which attempt to prove from Scripture that Membership Lists are taught in the Bible. And I will admit some of them SEEM logical, and SEEM to make sense in a certain way.
But the truth is, there are no commands for Church Membership Lists in the Bible. There are no examples of Church Membership Lists in the Bible. And there are no examples of formal joining of the local church in the Bible.
Because of this, and in relation to Biblical Fellowship, I have come to believe that Church Membership Lists, and the formal joining of a local church, is a man-made result of a lack of true Biblical Fellowship, or what the Bible in Greek calls Koinonia.
No let me make a disclaimer, before I go any further. If you attend a local church that practices Membership Lists, I’m not saying you shouldn’t join, or formally become a member. Because the Bible also does not PROHIBIT the making of Membership Lists. So I want to be clear on that. The Membership List itself is not the problem.
With that, I want to look at three aspects of this question of Church Membership:
1. What does the Bible teach about membership in general?
2. What made one a member of a local church?
3. What does Fellowship have to do with it?
1. What does the Bible teach about membership in general?
Romans 12:4,5, "For as we have many MEMBERS in one body, but all the MEMBERS do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually MEMBERS of one another."
1 Cor 6:15, "Do you not know that your bodies are MEMBERS of Christ? Shall I then take the MEMBERS of Christ and make them MEMBERS of a harlot? Certainly not!"
1 Cor 12:12, "For as the body is one and has many MEMBERS, but all the MEMBERS of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ."
1 Cor 12:18, "But now God has set the MEMBERS, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased."
1 Cor 12:20, "But now indeed there are many members, yet one body."
1 Cor 12:25, "...that there should be no schism in the body, but that the MEMBERS should have the same care for one another."
1 Cor 12:26, "And if one MEMBER suffers, all the MEMBERS suffer with it; or if one MEMBER is honored, all the MEMBERS rejoice with it."
1 Cor 12:27, "Now you are the body of Christ, and MEMBERS individually."
Ephesians 2:19, "Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and MEMBERS of the household of God."
Ephesians 4:25, "Therefore, putting away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor, for we are MEMBERS of one another."
Ephesians 5:30, "For we are MEMBERS of His body, of His flesh and of His bones."
Acts 2:47, "...praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved."
2. What made one a member of the local church?
Acts 15:41, "And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches."
Acts 16:5, "So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily."
“The Church” vs. “the churches”
Belief in Jesus Christ, baptism, and then practicing “church”.
Acts 2:42, "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers."
3. What does fellowship have to do with it?
Fellowship = "koinonia", "commonality", as in "koine" greek.
1 John 1:3, "...that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have FELLOWSHIP with us; and truly our FELLOWSHIP is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ."
1 John 1:6, "If we say that we have FELLOWSHIP with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth."
1 John 1:7, "But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin."
Now we get back to Membership Lists, regarding church discipline and dis-fellowshiping a member.
Biblical "membership" involves "fellowship" --- a commonality of spiritual Life in prayer, teaching, breaking of bread, drinking of cup, knowing one another, bearing one another's burdens, sharing in one another's financial needs, fervently loving one another, recognizing the hurt in one another and applying the balm of Jesus with warmth, stirring one another up to good works, exhorting, encouraging, blessing, hugging, welcoming, caring about, feeding with the true Bread, Who is Christ.
In other words, church discipline which may lead to dis-fellowshiping someone presupposes there is something to be dis-fellowshiped *from*. Something infinitely valuable, something one doesn't want to miss, if they are a believer.
The modern American "church service", where everyone files in at 11 and files out at Noon, with a, "How you doing?", "I'm gr-r-r-eat!, how about you?" to a few people, followed by going home for another week apart from everyone else (or maybe till Wednesday for the truly "spiritual") --- doesn't know what fellowship is. So it substitutes Membership Lists.
Then it either never dis-fellowships anyone, because "who cares?", or it practices the church discipline of taking the unrepentent publicly sinful "off the Membership List", whereupon the unrepentent publicly sinful either goes to the next church, or is "shamed" back onto the Membership List, not because they really miss the so-called "fellowship", but because they are humiliated (too often they remain humiliated, with a red letter on their back...marked as a lesser being, not ike "us" who are incapable of falling so low..."How are you doing, Lesser Being?...O.K.?...go-o-o-d...see you next week...Ciao!").
This is not meant to be a cynical comment at all, but a mere observation of many churches over many years, and a heart's cry for a continual renewal of Biblical Fellowship.
"Church Membership Lists" is not primarily an exegetical question, it's a spiritual one.
May God work His Fellowship in the churches.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Anyone who never sins, raise your hand.
I didn’t think so.
Of course we do sin. Let’s get that out of the way first.
1 Jn. 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Two verses later it says, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
But wait a minute. In 1 John 3:6 it says, “...Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him [that is, Jesus].” And two verses later John writes, “He who sins is of the devil.”
What’s going on here?
A Christian's Sinning vs. Unrepentant Lifestyle Sinning
Well, that’s where English breaks down a little bit. The New Testament was of course written in Greek, the common Greek of the time. And when they wrote and spoke in that day, they would use different tenses of a verb that could make quite a drastic distinction in what they said. One tense might be a reference to a single action, and one tense might be a reference to a continuing action.
We do a similar thing in English, but we usually add other words, or forms of a word to get the point across. For example, if we were talking about a baseball player hitting a single home run, the announcer might say simply, “Wow, he hits a home run!”. But if we were talking about a baseball player whose habit is always hitting home runs, we might say, “Wow, he sure hits home runs.” That’s his practice, that’s his norm. He’s always hitting home runs. He’s a home run champ.
So in 1 John, when it says, “Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor know Him,” we find the Greek word for “sins” is in the Present Tense, which refers to continuous sinning. In other words, one who lives in sin, walks in sin, continues in sin, and never really repents of it, or turns away from it. This fits the context of 1 John also, because as we’ve already said that if we deny that we sin at all, we’re calling God a liar.
Where Do You Go?
O.K. I say all that to say this:
When you sin, where do you go? Do you run straight to God, or do you do what many of us have a habit of doing? We shy away from God. We don’t exactly mean to. But we do.
Some process goes through our mind, maybe not clearly, but something like,
“Oh boy. There I go again. How can I face God after that? I mean, we’ve been through that sin so many times. I know God forgives me, but does He really? I mean, what kind of wretch am I that I would do that again?
"I think I’ll just sit it out and see how it goes. I can’t go to God yet. I’m not sure I even feel like going to God right now. What would He think? Even God has His limits. He must really be frowning a me right now, or even downright angry.
"And I can’t face His frown and anger. Lord knows I deserve it, though. Do you have any idea how many times I must have disappointed Him. And after all He’s done for me?”
We may not verbalize all that, but it’s a common feeling that I’ve heard many people express one way or another.
And of course, eventually we do turn to Him, and our sweet fellowship with Him goes on. And even though we know on some level that the quicker we turn back to Him the better, yet we delay it for what we can only call crazy reasons of bad theology?
Is God Angry At You, A Believer?
Because is it accurate to see God frowning or angry at us? Is it good biblical theology?
No, it’s not. It’s a view of God that is just plain incorrect. And to get a correct view of God, and how He relates to us when we sin, we can look at a story you may be quite familiar with, the Prodigal Son. But you may not be familiar with it from the vantage point, not of the wayward son (that’s us), but of the Father in the story.
The Prodigal Son's Father
I can't tell you how many sermons I've heard through the years on the subject of "The Prodigal Son". What he did. How he treated his father. Where he went. How he worked with the pigs. How he squandered his inheritance. Finally, how he was restored. On and on about the son, with usually some contrasting comparisons about his elder brother.
It's supposed to be a picture of us Christians when we sin or "backslide", and how we can return to God. And how there's always forgiveness, if we repent, turn 180 degrees, say our speeches to God, resolve to do better, etc., etc.
But is that really what it's about? The son?
Well, sure, but only incidentally. I think it's really about the Father, and His heart toward us, his children. It's a picture of God. The son is almost just a prop, added in to make a point.
So what's the point?
[read Lk. 15:11-24]
Notice that the prodigal son had a little speech prepared. A little repentence speech. A groveling speech. Sort of, "Father, I'm a low-down miserable worm, not worthy to be your son, so let me be a hired servant of yours."
Did the Father listen to the speech, and judge the son's sincerity by it?
No! Remember? He never even listened to the speech! He was too overjoyed by his son's return! It's as though he said, "Oh shut up, you big lug! Give your daddy a hug! Welcome home, son!"
What's God Interested In?
And that's the point:
God is not interested in the content of our little speeches. He isn't interested in our groveling, as if the more miserably we grovel, the more we "earn" His forgiveness. Why? Because He has already forgiven us, and paid for that forgiveness on the Cross.
Well, what is He interested in, then?
You. And me.
He is interested in our fellowship!
If I may paraphrase the Father, he said:
"Cut the speech! I get it. Go get the robe! Get the ring! Kill the fatted calf! My son has returned!
"That's all I want! I love you, Son! I love you! Just abide in me. I'll produce the fruit. I know you've failed, and you'll fail again. But that doesn't change my love for you! And I'm at work in you both to will and to do my good pleasure! [Phil. 2:13]"
In our heart of hearts, as believers in Jesus Christ, we don’t want to sin, do we? But the world, the flesh and the devil deceives us, and we do sin.
So Again, Where Do We Go?
Where do we go?
Let’s get in the habit of running to the Father. Don’t walk, run to Him! He will always, always, have His arms open to you, His child, to wrap those arms around you in love. Because the sins are already paid for, remembered no more, as far as the East is from the West, because of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Oh, that we "may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled up to all the fulness of God..." (Eph. 3:18,19a)
Monday, November 03, 2008
I would like to make one last plea for believers in Christ to vote tomorrow to block the Presidency of Barack Obama.
I have heard too many Christians invoke the Sovereignty of God in a way that I think is unbiblical. Sort of an attitude of "God will decide the election, so it doesn't really matter how I vote, or even if I vote".
Here are my comments from another blog:
Using the Sovereignty of God to dismiss an election as some divine "six of one, half-a-dozen of another" is not only foolish in the extreme, it's unbiblical in itself.
Thank God men like Moses, David and Paul (not to mention the Son of Man) did their duty and left the results to God.
They didn't say, "Oh well, God's in control". They did what they thought was right, and THEN rested in the Sovereignty of God.
Obama's election, apart from anything else, would surely continue the Holocaust of the Unborn for three reasons:
1. He would reinforce the Party of Death (that's the Democrats, in case you haven't compared the Party platfoms), which will have a majority in the House and Senate;
2. He will actively support abortion rights himself, which he has made clear, even to the horrors of partial-birth murder, and out-of-the womb infanticide;
3. He will likely nominate 2 or 3 Supreme Court Justices who will be pro-Holocaust of the Unborn, Liberal radical judicial activists who will undermine the Constitution because they think it is "a living breathing document".
Obama's "Court" would likely last at least the next 30 to 40 years! Another generation!
Now, if it was Obama vs. Satan, I'd vote for Obama. But how in God's name (literally) could anyone who loves Christ vote for Obama, or fail to vote for his opponent?
Our vote is our voice.
"Where was YOUR voice during the Holocaust of the Unborn?"
Exalting in the Sovereignty of God, but fighting for, and voting for Obama's opponent,
Please use the freedom we have to vote, and vote to block Obama, by voting for John McCain. McCain is not the Messiah any more than Obama is. But he is Pro-Life, and so is his running mate, Sarah Palin.
"Lord, with love in our hearts for Barack Obama, we pray you spare us from his becoming President. Even in these final hours, may you lead your people to see the importance of this contest, and have the courage to tell others, even in this late hour."