Church Membership is seen as unimportant by some for many different reasons…but none of them Biblical. Often the reason we neglect Church Membership and discipline is not because we are being informed from Scripture but instead we are being corrupted by the toxic thinking of the world. We live in a culture where individualism is king. To be part of community or to be part of an institution, and particularly to be submissive to leaders and to defer to the desires of others, is seen as weak, perhaps even morally shallow. To find your life in connection with an institution and to willingly submit to that institution, some argue, just makes you one more cog in the great institutional machine
The real heroes of our society are not the submissive and those who defer. They are vigilantes, the Batman’s, and the Clint Eastwood’s and the John Wayne’s of our generation who take their fate into their own hands and buck the system. We laud the “self-made man” and those who have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps. As Michael Horton notes, “a regular succession of major public scandals, as well as a politics of resentment, impersonal and ineffective bureaucracy, and broken promisse have shaken public confidence in leaders and institutions.”
Unfortunately, many of these ideas and values have been been embraced by American Evangelicals. The local church has become an optional accessory, a special club for those who really want discipleship. Ultimately, however, the church is not needed in the Christian life and (for goodness sake!) it has no relevance to salvation whatsoever! For most of Evangelicalism the idea of church has been reduced to just a loose collection of Jesus Facebook friends.
Here are some examples of the way we have fostered unbiblical views of church membership
First, well-meaning but misguided Evangelism. “I’m not asking you to join a church, but to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” I hope we’ll see by the end of this series that the reason this appeal is misguided is because it’s preaching a Gospel without repentance. Part of the Gospel proclamation is the call to repentance (Matt. 3:2). Repentance isn’t just about feeling bad about sin. It is a turning from sin to God. Real repentance means real change. True repentance is a leaving off of sin and a fleeing toward God’s Holiness. When we tell people they can have Jesus but not the church what we are saying is they can have Jesus and go on living in the kingdom of darkness. They can have Jesus and go on not loving the people whom Jesus loves. They can have Jesus and go on not serving and exercising their gifts for the kingdom of Christ. Telling someone they can have Jesus and not the church is like telling someone, “I’m not asking you to give up being an alcoholic and abusing your children but to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” It is a Gospel without repentance.
Second, another reason we have fostered unbiblical views of church membership is because we foster a “consumer” mentality. That is, we go to church as “customers” not as “servants.” We think that the local church is a great place to get services and products and so if the church has the right type of stuff that I want for my family then I’ll join it. If not, take it or leave it.
Third, yet another reason we have fostered unbiblical views of church membership is that we see it as a little more than a spiritual accessory. Some say “If you’re a serious Christian you should join a church because it’s good for your walk with the Lord but church membership doesn’t have much else to do with your life.” Really this type of thinking is just another brand of consumerism that thinks the local church is just a spiritual mechanic where I go to get a spiritual tune-up every week.
The basic sin behind all of these ways of thinking is the assumption that we have the authority to run our lives the way we want to, to walk with God the way we want to, and that nobody has the right to tell me what to do.
Friends, we need to have the discernment to test these ideas against the truth of God’s word. We need to cut the toxic poison of these errors out of our lives with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Eph. 6). We need to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5) and have our minds transformed by the Word of God (Rom. 12:1-2).