Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Biblical Church Membership

Craig Alan Myers of the Brethren Revival Fellowship has written a thought-provoking article on biblical church membership. Here is a bit of the introduction--to read the entire article click on http://www.brfwitness.org/Articles/2006v41n5.htm

Several years ago, a nationally syndicated Christian commentator urged Christians to leave their churches. He claimed, based on a unique reading of the Book of Revelation, that the church age was over, and that Christians should make a go of their lives all on their own. Most serious Christians rightly ignored him.

Recently, however, a more prominent voice has come out with essentially the same view. George Barna, the Christian polling "guru," has written a book claiming that large numbers of American Christians are disillusioned with the church. He supports this trend and has labeled these church dropouts "revolutionaries," who are on the verge of forcing a decline of the churches in the 21st century.

Amazingly, many professing Christians see themselves as part of the universal church of Christ, but do not participate in a local body. Others openly discredit the idea of formal membership in a congregation.

However, this fails to accurately reflect on the New Testament evidence for the local congregation of assembled believers. The Bible almost universally depicts Christians as being together with others in an organized fashion.

The early church fathers and the Reformation leaders were consistent in their emphasis on the visible, organized church. The early Brethren distinguished themselves from other Pietists by adopting the Anabaptist emphasis on the church. They covenanted together tc live out their vision in an ordered community.


Blogger Neil said...

Terry, I am a little surprised. One of your roles is to be a reporter of sorts, but in this case, I must say it is hard to believe that you checked your sources and actually read Revolution by Barna. Don't worry, you are not alone. CT and Charisma have denounced the book and its author with the same unfounded claim. However, just because Barna reports (and he is reporting what is happening, not causing it)that many are looking for alternative expressions of church it does not mean they are abandoning fellowhsip or organized community. He is not saying that, and in fact, is saying the opposite. Churches meeting in a home and the market place are not unbiblical expressions, actually that would be MORE biblical...wouldn't it? In fact, you would be hard pressed to find in the Bible the type of church that we are all most familiar with. I also would caution us all against claiming that joining a membership list of a local church is a Biblical command. We have already been through that battle haven't we?

4:09 PM  
Anonymous an older minister said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Neil! Is this man in our fellowship? I certainly hope so. I would only add, how can you "leave" something that you "are?" We "are" the church. We don't "go" to it.

8:22 AM  
Blogger C.A.M. said...


As the writer of the original article referenced by Terry, I want to reply.

First, I doubt that CT and Charisma, along with commentators such as Al Mohler have unfounded claims. Barna is actively denying the importance of the local church. He speaks of being in right relationship with God and His people (larger church). But there is no larger church without local, organized expressions of it.

Barna says, "The Bible does not rigidly define the corporate practices, rituals, or structures that must be embraced in order to have a proper church. It does, however, offer direction regarding the importance and integration of fundamental spiritual disciplines into one's life." I disagree profoundly, for even a slight reading of the New Testament does define offices, practices, and rites and ordinances.

There are few organized churches that meet "in a home and the market place," that I know of. Most of what I am reading has Christians gathering together--but that does not make it a church. The New Testament seems clear that the "churches" were organized, with a definite leadership (elders and deacons), definite rites and ordinances (baptism, feetwashing, the Lord's supper, and communion, etc.), and a definite covenant whereby individual members were accountable to the leadership and the membership (with the ultimate threat of expulsion). It seems to me that these "alternative expressions" seek to bypass these New Testament principles, and if we endorse these expressions, we are sounding the death knell of the churches we serve.

Alexander Mack and the other seven were definitely an "alternative" form of "church" in 1708. But recall that they did not abandon organization as many of the Radical Pietists did. Instead, they organized anew, along Biblical lines, with New Testament ordinances, and individual accountability to the congregation. Recall that the first excommunication occurred in 1713, showing that the Brethren knew who was and who was not a part of their fellowship (and they numbered likely in the 200 range at that date). Recall that Mack's main writing is called "Rites and Ordinances" and relates what is important to the covenanted church body as he understood it.

The individual Christian is only a part of "the church" insofar as he has committed to a local expression of it. Otherwise, there is no objective ground for holding that he is a Christian at all.

I have been called into the ministry by God through the church. It seems folly to me to dismiss, as Barna does, the very institution by which and through which I serve Jesus Christ and preach His Gospel.

Mohler writes: "Regrettably, [Barna's] prescription is even worse than his diagnosis, for minimizing the importance of the local church runs directly counter to the Bible's vision for the Christian life. The real answer to Barna's concern is the recovery of biblical ecclesiology--a recovery that would relativize and revolutionize the entire landscape of contemporary Christianity in America."

10:32 PM  
Blogger Neil said...

CAM, I am sorry, but are you saying that a "house church" is not a "local church"? Are you implying that alternative expressions of church, whether they meet in homes or the marketplace, do not have leadership or practice communion or baptism or church discipline? If that is what you are saying then I am correct in suggesting that someone is not "checking their sources" and "making unfounded claims". I am a part of an organic house church movement. I have been a part of starting hundreds of these churches and in each one, they baptize, take communion and will not start without spiritual leadership from the beginning. I have exercised church discipline and "expulsion" in a mega church, in a small traditional church and in a house church. I must say, the experience with the house church was the most genuine and biblical of the three. And by far more effective. I must say, the accountability present in the churches I am a part of is far superior to that found in the other forms of church where I have led in the past. We are organinized...just in a different way. We are biblical. We are accountable. We do have leadership.

Be careful not to confuse Biblical truth with traditional experience. The truth is unchanging, but the form is not. When form is elevated to the stature of truth two bad things happen: 1. the truth is less potent because it is brought down to a level where it should not be. and 2. the form is elevated to an authoritative level, equal with the truth...and results in a dead legalism. This will happen not just some of the time but every single time. Just because it sounds conservative and religious does not make it good, godly or holy.

Barna is not denouncing church but the traditional form of church that we are all too familiar with. In fact, he isn't even denouncing that as much as simply reporting that God is doing something new. And that much of what we have been doing is not effective in fulfilling the commission given to us by Jesus. Listen to the wisdom of Gamaliel.

6:32 PM  

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