Church Membership?

Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it.
-I Corinthians 12:27

(Steve Gregg, radio host of The Narrow Path call-in show, got a call from a man who’s close friend was in the process of becoming a church member and asked Steve what he thinks about church membership.  The first part of this post are my notes from hearing what Steve had to say.  A link to the audio of the conversation is below.)

-The Bible does not have anything to say about church membership.  Church membership, as we know it, may actually be forbidden by the scriptures.

-When the Bible talks about being a member of the church, it is like how a part of the human body is a member.  This is not membership like you have in a club, an association, or an organization.  Membership in the Bible, is to be a member, joined to the whole singular body.  

-The reason why church membership, as we have it, is unknown in the scripture, is because churches, as we have them, are unknown in the scripture.  In the scripture, in every town, city, or region; where people had come to Christ, there were believers.  And all those believers were in the church.  There were not different churches, just the church.  The church in each geographic place.

-The reason that everyone was just in the church was not because there were so few Christians, but because to have different churches was said to be divisive.  For example, in Corinth, the Corinthian Christians were dividing their church:

For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters, by members of Chloe’s people, that there is rivalry among you. What I am saying is this: One of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in Paul’s name?

-1 Corinthians 1:11-13

-The Corinthians were dividing the body of Christ, just as we have done today.  Today many people do not see themselves as in the church simply because they are followers of Jesus, but because they are followers of some man or some theological school of thought or system, which today we call a denomination.

-Biblically, there is only one body of Christ, which all Christians are members of.  In cities in Biblical times, as today, there was more than one congregation, but they were all one church.  All the Christians were answerable, accountable to each other, in recognition and relationship.  

My thought:

Sectarianism and denominationalism that does not recognize the rest of the church is as absurd, dysfunctional, and unworkable as a person’s eye, arm, or hand acting independently of the rest of a human body.  God sees one body of Christ on earth.  There are not many bodies representing Christ.  

Back to Steve G.:

-The Holy Spirit joins each person to the whole body of Christ at conversion.  When someone is baptized, they are baptized into the whole, global, church.

-In a city, there are a large number of churches and many would like you as a Christian to become a member of their individual congregation.  The strange thing is that if you become a member, they will recognize you as a member, when they did not before you fulfilled membership requirements, and many other churches in that city will not see you as a member.  But all of this is not membership as the Bible describes it, but a dividing of the body of Christ, which the Bible says is wrong.

My thought:

Being a member of one church congregation to the exclusion of others is something Paul said was wrong.  But we today have adopted this as normal!

A family, maybe mine, maybe this is you; attended a church regularly and began to be known there.  A leader, maybe the preacher or an elder, approached the family and said, “would you consider becoming a member here?”  This exact scenario has played out with my family and other family members and friends. 

Back to Steve G.:

-We could say back to this question, “how am I not a member?”, and, “I am a member of the body of Christ”.  They might reply that yes they understand, but they would like to know if we would like to be a member of their particular congregation.  Then if we said something like, “Is it okay with you if I become a member here, but am also a member of all the other churches?”, they might not know how to answer.

-The concept of becoming, being part of the whole body of Christ has been corrupted, through history.  Denominations are man-made organizations.  Denominations or churches that have membership are not  illegitimate on this basis, but that their view of membership is not Biblical and is divisive.

Church membership or joining a church has become a political thing.  Politics means, “who’s side are you on”, and plays out in, “we believe”, and “this is who we are”.  And these divide them from the Christians who meet across the street or down the road in the same city.  These even divide them from denominations with the same name: Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist.  

My thought:

Now if there are churches who are apostate: unbelieving Christians in name only, then we still have the real body of Christ and not the body of Christ.  The only test of membership in the church, globally and every church meeting in a city is, “are you saved?”

Back to Steve G.:

Membership, as we know it, in churches that have it; is a demand to the political leaders of the individual congregation from the members:  “We have a claim on your tithe or regular financial giving.”

(This is the end of my notes from Steve G.)

———————— 

Argument: “Letters in the NT and book of Revelation were written to individual churches, unique churches of whom people were members of.”

Answer: All the letters to the churches in the NT were written to the church (singular) in that city or region that had gatherings in multiple locations (in homes).  The idea that the various churches in the same city or region would be in competition for members or would not work together or would be siloed off from one another is foreign to the NT and even called sinful.

This quote by Saint Cyprian has been used to advocate for church membership:

“He can no longer have God for his father who has not the church for his mother”

Some people can not see past their narrow view that the church is a building with a political structure that rules there, and to be a Christian, you must come to the building and play by the rules of the building.  Otherwise, you are backslidden.

And part of the building paradigm is that you must become a member of an individual building.  Churchianity is when the building replaces Christ as the center.  There are no verses in the NT that say we are saved by joining a local church, but rather that when Christ saves us, we are joined to the global church body.  Becoming a Christian makes a person a member of the whole church.  Local, individual church membership requirements or exclusiveness is man made, divisive, and sectarian (sinful and wrong).

It is very strange, unbiblical, and sad that church membership advocates do not recognize that people who get saved by Jesus, who are born-again immediately become members of the whole church.  The church is not an organization that you decide to join, but an organism: a living body representing Christ on the earth.

Can churches be different, with different emphases and differences in style?  Yes.  Can there be churches that people belong to, based on the gift of that church or special calling?  Yes.  Do different churches disagree on some things, but are still part of the whole church and recognize each other as such?  Yes.  

But when God looks down on all the churches in a town, he sees one church, and we should adopt this view.  We should stop thinking that God sees the church through our eyes, and instead see the whole church through His.

Membership to a local church, after becoming saved by Christ, is not prescribed nor commanded, and nowhere in scripture is it described as having occurred.  

——————————-

Steve Gregg talked to a caller on 5/19/22: Church Membership: Could you share your thoughts on church membership and some of the expectations, like tithing, that come with that? [I Corinthians 1:12].

Here are some lectures Steve Gregg gave on how church membership works out and is misunderstood:

Some Assembly Required: 2011 OC Organic Church Forum

Some Assembly Required, 2020 Part 1

Some Assembly Required, 2020 Part 2

Some Assembly Required, older series of 6 lectures

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