A response to someone who says church membership is not necessary but a good idea

One of my facebook friends responded to a recent blog post advising members and pastors how to approach regular attenders of your church who are not members. Here’s what she wrote:

Three things stand out:

1) “For the person who is not convinced a matter is biblical, I’ll usually ask them to consider Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5.” I really don’t see how those two chapters battle the argument “it’s not in the Bible,” because there is no flat-out command anywhere in Scripture for church membership. Only two sacraments were ever mandated for the New Testament church – baptism and communion. I can see where he can twist these verses to apply to his point, but at best, these passages were taken completely out of context with a little eisegesis thrown in.

2) “Church membership is more like citizenship, which is why Jesus gave the apostolic local church the keys of the kingdom.” The local church may hold the keys of the kingdom, but the church does not have the authority to create its own set of legalistic rules and condemn anyone who doesn’t abide by their man-made mandates. This includes the necessity of membership, because lacking a direct command, this issue is a gray matter best left between the individual and God. If there IS a verse that requires church membership, then there wouldn’t be this whole debate about it.

3) “He should stop “borrowing” the [local] church’s public sign of the Lord’s Supper. It was like grabbing a team jersey when no one is looking and wearing it, even though he wasn’t an official member of a team.” A believer IS an official member of THE TEAM. It doesn’t matter which church he goes to – HE IS STILL A MEMBER OF THE BODY OF CHRIST. No single local church owns the exclusive rights to communion or baptism!

All this to say, I don’t have anything against church membership. I believe it is a good IDEA for the many reasons the author outlines. However, I do not believe the author did a very good job defending his point against the 5 different reasons he listed for not joining a church. He certainly didn’t defend it well enough to justify his final subpoint where he states “I encouraged a professing Christian who had not joined any church in a decade to stop receiving the Lord’s Supper.” The author sounds like he is thoroughly enamored with the church as a system – not as a body of believers. His poor delivery makes his article reek of legalism and haughty Christian elitism. “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

I will respond to her directly here. Though I strongly disagree with the points made and will respond to it here, I’m grateful for someone thinking and articulating why they disagree with certain ideas. Christians should be thoughtful and push back where they disagree to increase understanding.

(1) He doesn’t argue explicitly why Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 necessitate church membership. That’s not the main point of the article. It would be eisegesis if he was reading into the text. But you have not read his argument to see whether it is in fact eisegsis or not. That accusation is premature at best. You can read my reasoning here and see if I’m eisegeting. I argue there that you must be formally committed to a church if you are going to obey those commands.

(2) There are debates about everything in the Bible, even things that are explicitly clear. In other words, debates about things doesn’t mean the Bible is unclear on those things. There are debates about the Trinity, Jesus being God, Jesus being man, justification by faith alone, the inerrancy of Scripture, whether women can be pastors, what is legitimate baptism, etc. I would argue for a position in each of these issues and tell others why they must agree with what I think the Bible says. But let’s not say it’s a gray area because there’s a debate or someone says, “it’s unclear.”

(3) In your third point above, do you mean “body of Christ” local or universal or both? I’m assuming you mean universal church because you state membership positively there but seemingly negative regarding the local church. Are you arguing that the author is saying that a local church owns the exclusive rights to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He’s not. If you think that then you’ve misread him and assumed it. If you don’t think that then that rhetorical flourish is a caricature that is unhelpful to the discussion since it’s untrue.

(4) Legalism and elitism are bold charges that are fitting at times. Then you quote Jesus from Matthew 7, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” That verse is often misused. Are you saying that he is judging and shouldn’t be? Are you saying it’s never right to judge? And is charging someone as an elitist or legalist judging? To be clear, I think you and others have a right and responsibility to confront error and legalism and elitism. I wouldn’t necessarily call it judging in the way Christ forbids in Matthew 7. I just found it a bit ironic that you called the author that and then closed with a call to not judge.

(5) There are key questions I think you need to answer to move this discussion forward: What do you think it means to hold the keys to the kingdom? What do you think a local church is and why? What are the obligations, if any, on those who regularly attend a local church gathering?

I hope this is helpful and that understanding is increasing.

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About pjtibayan

I love Jesus Christ and live to share life and share Jesus together with First Southern Baptist Church of Bellflower primarily to Southeast Los Angeles County.
This entry was posted in 9Marks, church membership, questions pondered. Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to A response to someone who says church membership is not necessary but a good idea

  1. Grace says:

    A local church is nothing more than a branch, like at a bank or a fast food franchise. If you’re a member of Wells Fargo, you can go to any branch you want and they’ll accept your membership. You don’t have to rejoin the company every time you visit a different branch, because they’re all connected.

    The local church is just a collection of Christians in one geographic location. “Membership” is absolutely not commanded in the Bible. It mentions assembling together, partaking of sacraments together, holding one another accountable and all that jazz, but no where does it command membership. You know why? Because the church isn’t supposed to be some kind of exclusive “club.” No where in the New Testament is the church portrayed as the ridiculous thing it’s become in America. It is now just another country club for people who like singing and praying instead of drinking and golfing. If you think that a Christian can’t be an effective member of Christ’s universal church without being an official member of a local congregation, you might want to seriously reconsider what it means to be a member of Christ’s church. Church Christians are so comfortable in their little bubble of like-minded people. Why don’t you try taking communion with a church that disagrees with you on at least sixteen points. Because guess what? They’re part of Christ’s body too. You are the eye saying to the ear, “what good are you?” when you exclude other believers from your “fellowship” just because they haven’t joined your little club.

  2. Rachel says:

    Ok, I read the initial post on 9Marks and your response to Karen here. First of all, I don’t see why you felt the need to respond to her in a separate place from the discussion already taking place there. Second I think you’ve failed to address her arguments adequately.

    Point 1: My rust must be showing, but perhaps I missed the command that required church membership from 1 Corinthians 5. The command I caught was do not associate with immoral people claiming to be believers. Perhaps I was confused or didn’t see the subtlety of Paul’s point where he included the command to become a card-carrying church member. This passage is about church discipline. The removal from the assembly of an immoral member. I am going to use the word assembly instead of the word church because church is an emotionally charged word with lots of subtle byplay and assumed meanings attached to it. Matthew 18 is also about what it means to be part of the kingdom of heaven. It also includes a short and much abused and misused section about discipline amongst belivers. Both Jesus and Paul make the assumption that believers would be assembling together. There is no discussion of any such formal requirements for entry into this assembly as that is not what these passages are about. Using them to create formal requirements is irresponsible. There are other passages that disucss the requirements to be a believer please use those. Please note, there are no passages describing what is required to join the assembly. If I am wrong, please bring said passages to my attention. I am baffled by the idea that you cannot see a way to obey the commands here without being a card-carrying member of a church. I can be a committed Christian fully engaged with a group of believers and carry out these commands without ever actually filling out membership paperwork. In fact, the commands of Matthew 18 can be carried out without ever stepping foot inside a physical church. If you think that the church is the only gathering of belivers, the only assembly that Jesus was referring to you are sadly mistaken. He meant for us to care for our spiritual family, every member, whether they go to the same building to worship with us or not. Are you telling me, you would fail to speak to your brother about his sin if he didn’t go to your church or if he wasn’t a member of your church? If so, that would be the most blatantly sinful and unloving perversion of Christ’s command that I can think of.
    Point 2: Unlike some of the issues you brought up where there is debate in spite of clear Biblical evidence on one side of the coin or the other, card-carrying church membership is not one of those. It lacks a direct command. It has been defined by tradition created by men and not by divine decree. I would submit to you that your definition of church membership does not entirely mesh with the early church definition of membership. I would further submit to you that there is no difference in God’s eyes between a person who is a committed attender of a church, that pays tithes, participates in church activities, and builds meaningful relationships with other attenders than a person who does all these things and filled out the membership paperwork. I would say that they are both equal members of the assembly. Please point out to me the sin or violation of Biblical teachings of the non-member.
    Point 3: Actually the author is clearly stating that he believes the man to be in sin because he won’t fill out the membership application to join a local church thereby stating the man has no right to communion as a believer in a state of rebellion has no right to take communion. Now for him to have had these numerous discussions with this man, clearly the man was a regular attender. So unless there was something else going on with this particular case other than his refusal to join a local church and submit the papers to get his membership card, this pastor had no right to tell him he could not take communion or to imply that he was taking it when he should not. If the man’s conscience was clear before God, he has every right to the sacrement. He is not an imposter in the group. Communion is a universal sign for the universal church. I believe this is the point she was making, and I agree based on the facts presented. However, without further knowledge of the precise situation, it is impossible to judge accurately. I will say, however, that refusal to sign membership papers to join a local church is not reason enough in and of itself to deny a believer communion.
    Point 4: She never actually called the guy a legalist or elitist. She said that’s how his article sounded because he defended his points so poorly. She is stating that his poor ability to express itself has created this hopefully unintended appearance. In order for his argument to hold weight, it needs to be well-reasoned and well-crafted. Because he did not adequately explain or defend his points, Biblically or logically, he comes off as an arrogant legalist which I’m sure was not his intent. It is only common courtesy to point this out. After all, if he doesn’t realize he is appearing this way to others, how can he adjust his approach so that his argument gets all the attention instead of his poor style.
    Point 5: I have no idea how this whole “keys to the kindgom” thing has anything to do with the local church. Jesus was speaking to Peter period. The church did not inherit Peter’s authority. It wasn’t something he had the right to pass down. So this has absolutely nothing to do with the discussion of the church. The local church is the body of believers who assemble together to encourage each other in their faith. The Greek for church is εκκλησια which originally referred to an assembly of the town. The authors of the Septuagint chose it to represent the gatherings of the synagogue which were used for teaching and worship. I am forced to assume that this is the sense Jesus had in mind when he used the word. Therefore, the church is an assembly of believers for teaching and worship. To be a member of the synangogue you had to be a member of the chosen people ie a Jew or a convert into such. To be a member of the church, following this logic, you would need to be a part of the kingdom of heaven. I think the original purpose of the church was develop relationships with other believers for mutual support and encouragement. That is why the church is frequently referred to as a family and members are frequently called brothers. You should be close to your church and behave as if it were family. You should be always available for support or action. You should know each member of your family, and be ready and willing to assist them however is required, whether that be with time, money, or a swift kick in the pants when they get out of line. If you are just as committed to your spiritual family as you are to your actual family, with the unconditional love that implies, then I believe your are fulfilling the intent of scripture. This obsession with the membership paper is off track. Instead focus on the commitment to the body. If this person who comes each week, can be taught to be an active participant in the needs of the church with attendance, giving (both time and money) and teaching, then they are fulfilling the scripture, and you have brought another valuable person into the fold whether they fill out that little piece of paper or not. Actions really do speak louder than words, even words on piece of paper.

  3. Karen says:

    PJ, my counterpoints to your counterpoints:

    Counter-counterpoint 1) The entire point of his second section “DIFFERENT REASONS FOR NOT JOINING” is how he handles the different [what he perceives as] “excuses” for not becoming a member of a local church, which is evidenced by his explicit phrase “the more specific counsel that I offer depends on why the person is not joining.” Hence, the points he makes in this section are his arguments AGAINST these “excuses,” which includes “it’s not in the Bible.” The author has made it a sub-point to argue whether or not it is biblically required to become a member of a local church. A) If you’re saying that’s not his main point, then the author should learn to stay on his main point and not rabbit-trail all over the place and clutter up the topic. That is not effective preaching or objective writing. B) Since the author IS arguing whether or not local church membership is biblical, then he REALLY should find verses that back up his arguments. Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 have NOTHING to do with church membership. He may as well have picked these passages at random – bad argumentative style that is easily shredded by anyone who is logically analyzing what he says or writes.

    Counter-counterpoint 2) So you are contending that the Bible can’t make up its own mind? I think you’ve shown where you stand on the inerrancy of Scripture – apparently we can’t trust what it says 100% because it argues with itself. I don’t know what Bible you are reading, but I have yet to pick up a text that questions whether or not Jesus is God or that justification is by anything but faith alone. Perhaps you need to find a better translated texted, or go back to the original Greek that I’m sure The Master’s College and The Master’s Seminary has taught you.

    Counter-counterpoint 3) Apparently you have missed where I stated that I have nothing against local church membership. To make my whole argument more clear – I am arguing SOLELY against whether or not local church membership is a direct biblical command or a man-made tradition that has been erroneously equated as something divinely mandated. The author has made it crystal clear that he believes that the local church has exclusive rights to communion. He told a regular attendee to not partake in communion – the ONLY reason for someone to tell another believer this is if he believes the other is living in sin. The author’s team jersey analogy is far from being just a “rhetorical flourish.” The only “offense” this regular attendee has committed is not becoming a member of the author’s church. By the author’s thinking, since the regular attendee has refused to submit to the local church by becoming a member, he has defied the will of God and is therefore disqualified from partaking in communion. Perfect example of how a “good idea” morphs into a tradition that is equated to divine law.

    Counter-counterpoint 4) As a previous poster has pointed out, I NEVER called the author a legalist or an elitist. I’m glad someone else pointed this out because I was starting to wonder if I’d made it obvious enough. Based SOLEY on what the author has written, he is sounding very much like a legalist and an elitist, which no believer ever wishes to be accused of being guilty. But how is he to know this if no one ever tells him? FYI, my original responses were also posted on his blog directly.

    Counter-counterpoint 5) A) “What do you think it means to hold the keys to the kingdom?” I don’t believe the church holds the keys to the kingdom. Christ was addressing Peter directly when He made this statement. I believe this is an overly used and abused passage when it comes to the authority of the local church. The idea that a local church can hold these keys is simply ludacris. You DO realize how many different local churches, denominations, sects, and schools of thought there are within the universal church body? IF a local church has these keys, who’s got the correct set of keys??? Every church has a different statement of faith. It makes no sense for Christ to entrust keys to each and every local church when there is such a diversity among believers. It makes much more logical sense for Christ to hand these theoretical keys to ONE person – and that was Peter. B) “What do you think a local church is and why?” A local church is simply that – LOCAL. It is a geographical division of the universal church. Why? Because it would be highly impractical and impossible for every believer to fly into one central location every Sunday morning (or Saturday morning, depending on your demonination – see, we can’t even agree on which day is “the Lord’s Day”). C) “What are the obligations, if any, on those who regularly attend a local church gathering?” You seem to be under the impression that the obligations of member Christians differ from that of non-member Christians. The ONLY difference between the two is that one bothered to fill out paperwork and jumped through whatever man-made hoops the local church has put together. Are you contending that some of Christ’s commands aren’t applicable to non-member Christians? I don’t recall any passages that say “for local church members only.” No, God has made the UNIVERSAL obligations clear – baptism, communion, offering/tithing, assembling together, etc. These can ALL be fulfilled whether or not you join the local club.

    • pjtibayan says:

      I don’t think we have the same idea of membership. What do you think church membership is?

      • Rachel says:

        I guess I’m just confused. I don’t see a difference between local church membership and universal church membership, at least not a Biblical one. Please show me where a distinction is made Biblically between the two.

      • Karen says:

        UNIVERSAL church membership is salvation. Period.

        The idea of LOCAL church membership varies per local church. It ranges from fulfilling the most minimal requirement (salvation) to requirements on the most nit-picky details of one’s life. What you get out of membership varies just as widely from church to church. Requirements and restrictions of members also varies per church. I would define LOCAL church membership as fulfilling whatever man-made qualifications you need to satisfy to be put on this exclusive list.

        The tone of the original article on the 9marks blog and your original counter points were broad and general. We are not discussing what individual churches do. We are discussing whether or not LOCAL church membership IN GENERAL is even required by the Bible no matter how an individual church defines it.

        As a side note, it is possible for a LOCAL church member not even to be a member of the UNIVERSAL church. Only God knows who is truly saved. No set of local church rules & regulations can ferret out all the phonies. LOCAL church membership further muddles up this confusion by adding an unnecessary hierarchy. Why even bother? Stick to the basics of what God has laid out – that is, unless someone’s managed to dredge up that elusive Bible verse that contain’s God’s direct commandment for LOCAL church membership.

    • pjtibayan says:

      I’m not sure if you read my 6 reasons to join a local church that I linked to, but just in case you had time and wanted to hear it instead, I preached on the necessity of committing to a local church: http://life-baptist.org/2011/10/24/retreat-message-six-reasons-to-commit-to-a-local-church-pj-tibayan/

      • Karen says:

        I DID read this, and I fail to see how LOCAL church membership enhances any of these. Are you saying that none of these can be fulfilled outside church membership?

  4. pjtibayan says:

    @Rachel – There are a few key distinctions. When Matthew 18:17 tells us to tell it to the “church” and then treat someone like a tax collector, it is not speaking of the universal church. In 1 Corinthians 5, when you remove someone from “among you” it is from among the local church at Corinth and not say, Thessalonica or Ephesus. As a pastor, I pastor a local church and I’m their pastor with all the responsibilities and accountability that comes with it, but for Christians who are not mutually committed to all of the other committed Christians (which is what a local church is), I am not their “pastor.” So pastoral responsibility in and qualifications and exercise of ministry takes place in a local church, not a universal church sense. Does that make sense? Please let me know if I’m confusing you.

    • Karen says:

      Ok, so we now have to throw out the entire 1 Corinthians 5 passage because apparently it ONLY applies to the local church in Corinth 😛

      • Karen says:

        that last smiley was an oops…strike that from the record

      • pjtibayan says:

        That would be foolish. It would be like saying, “We are not to be fishers of men because Jesus only told that to Peter, Andrew, James, and John.” Of course not. But you miss the point of connection and the point of distinction.

    • Rachel says:

      So how does Matt 18 not apply to the entire church? So this person would be welcome in another local church? The same logic would apply to 1Cor5. I understand as a pastor you can only affect those who actually come to your church who you actually minister to, but I don’t see how a person under church discipline could be welcomed into another church body thereby making it a universal issue. I doubt Paul would have said that the member could be welcomed into another congregation or that there was any distinction besides locale to the churches he ministered to from any other body of believers. We are all one body. You can’t start lopping off chunks.

      • pjtibayan says:

        Thanks Rachel. Wait, who’s lopping off chunks? Jesus and Paul tell us to excommunicate/exclude unrepentant sinners.

      • Rachel says:

        you’re missing my point…separating local churches out of the universal church by saying church discipline is a local church issue is lopping of chunks…it is separating the body into pieces instead of viewing it as a unified whole. church discipline is carried out locally but applies universally.

      • pjtibayan says:

        If church discipline is “carried it out locally” (and not universally) but “applies universally” then are you lopping off chunks?

      • Karen says:

        She’s not referring to unrepentant sinners when she said “lopping off chunks” – she’s referring to slicing and dicing up the universal church into totally separate individual local church bodies

      • Rachel says:

        if it was logistically possible for church discipline to be carried out universally then it should be done that way. However, if local discipline is not universally accepted then you are arguing that a man who persisted in sin could just join another local church after being put out of his previous congregation, and you would accept such a person. This seems both highly unlikely and just plain ludicrous from a logical standpoint.

  5. Karen says:

    Also, why are you throwing in pastoral authority? That’s a rabbit trail if ever I saw one. Are you contending that local church membership is to define to pastors who they will be responsible for? So you are stating that you would not go after a friend (even a regular attender but not a member) just because he has not formally “submitted” himself to you? That’s cold.

    • pjtibayan says:

      I sense your attitude and desire to learn in dialogue and carefully listening is absent. I hope my sense is wrong. You’ve missed the point.

      You ask: Are you contending that local church membership is to define to pastors who they will be responsible for?

      My answer: yes, in the sense of leadership in Hebrews 13:17. The other option is to say, “Hey Karen, I’m your leader even though you don’t think or recognize me as such because you decided to attend here for a few months and I’m a pastor here.”

      • Karen says:

        I doubt you’ll run into anyone who disagrees that a pastor is the leader of an assembly. I will venture to say that ANYONE who goes to a local church will EXPECT that church’s pastor to act with some authority. Barring severe mental disability, I doubt you’ll find anyone who attends your church for a few months disagreeing whether or not you’re the leader.

        As a pastor, you are responsible for whomever walks through that door. From everything you say and how you interact with that person INCLUDING accountability.

  6. pjtibayan says:

    @Karen

    You wrote: “We are discussing whether or not LOCAL church membership IN GENERAL is even required by the Bible no matter how an individual church defines it.”

    But I think this is the problem. We don’t have a “GENERAL” understanding and definition. At least not between the two of us who are trying to discuss this. You define membership as: “fulfilling whatever man-made qualifications you need to satisfy to be put on this exclusive list.” Is that GENERAL? If so, I’m in the minority. If that is the definition, then I agree with you. It doesn’t say in the Bible, “you must join a church to fulfill whatever man-made qualifications there are to be put on an exclusive list.” But that’s not what we’re arguing from Matthew 18 or 1 Corinthians 5. I think, because we don’t share the same definition of “membership in a local church” we’re missing each others’ point. I think I get yours now (correct me if I don’t) and I agree with it when defining local church membership the way you do.

    I define local church membership as the people committed to everyone else committed with mutual understanding. That is local church accountability. I don’t want to defend the word “member.” Call it “partnership” “faith-family” or “flsahdfoiajdfjaidsjf.” The concept the New Testament guides and calls us to is important. Accountability and mutual understanding is critical. So an attender is welcome at our church. But they are not to confuse that with obeying all of the commands of the New Testament that go with New Testament Christianity. They don’t submit to elders because they don’t have any (they haven’t committed to a church). I don’t presume someone who attends the Sunday gatherings of the church I pastor is under my pastoral authority. I shouldn’t. Attenders who aren’t committed to the church can’t participate in removing unrepentant sinners from their midst because there is no defined “them” to remove them from.

    Another way to get at it is, “What is the local church?” Is it those who attend on Sundays? Is it whoever says, “I’m a part of this church?” Is it the building? I’d say it’s those who’ve committed themselves to Christ and each other in a mutually understood way. If someone thinks I’m their pastor and I don’t realize it, that’s not helpful. If I think I’m someone’s pastor because he’s attended my church for 6 months every week and he doesn’t think I’m his pastor, that’s not helpful. At that point, we can’t obey Hebrews 13:17 with any clarity and joy. (Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”)

    • Karen says:

      So question, why can you not be accountable by and hold accountable others who are in the universal body? Is fellowship defined by LOCALITY?

      • pjtibayan says:

        When was the last time you held accountable a member of the universal church in Uzbekistan or Bangladesh? Do you know all the languages to speak the truth in love and use your spiritual gifts to all the people groups?

        Main question to this comment: “How have you held all other members of the universal body accountable” practically?

  7. pjtibayan says:

    @Karen – to your last comment, yes, I’m saying you can’t fulfill those 3 categories the way the New Testament intends and states without being formally committed to a church in a way that’s mutually understood by you, the other committed people, and the leaders. The New Testament defines the church as the people, but not just those who go to a Sunday gathering, whether or not they personally profess faith in Christ.

    • Rachel says:

      where does it say that…you can’t just say the New Testament says and expect the argument to be closed

      • pjtibayan says:

        I agree Rachel and don’t expect that. In context, as you follow the conversation, I’m referring to the blog posts linked with New Testament texts above.

      • Rachel says:

        Except that those passages don’t say anything about meeting on sundays or define specifically the mission of the local church vs the universal church or the requirements for membership in the local church. They are discussions primarily of church discipline. As the texts don’t address the issues directly you have the burden of proof in the argument to explain clearly how they prove your point, which I haven’t seen.

      • pjtibayan says:

        Can’t say more than I said on this one. Either you win or if you keep thinking about it you may see my point. Thanks for the dialogue.

  8. Karen says:

    “When was the last time you held accountable a member of the universal church in Uzbekistan or Bangladesh? Do you know all the languages to speak the truth in love and use your spiritual gifts to all the people groups?

    Main question to this comment: “How have you held all other members of the universal body accountable” practically?”

    So you’re using LANGUAGE as a barrier now????? Have you got people from Uzbekistan or Bangladesh attending your church regularly but aren’t members??? Have you got people in your church who can’t speak English or Filipino (or whatever dialects you know)??? I will contend that the people in your church all know how to speak some language that you know. My question back – do you limit your pastoral ministry to those who haven’t formally put themselves under your care?

    • pjtibayan says:

      Can you answer mine first?

      • Karen says:

        When you use LANGUAGE as a barrier, the answer is obviously – I haven’t – which is PRECISELY why you chose that as an example. VERY poor debating style – it’s a last-ditch attempt at making a point because you can’t logically come up with anything else, so you have to grasp straws using highly unlikely circumstances.

        But we are NOT even talking about holding accountable people on the other side of the world that we don’t have any connection to. We are talking about those SITTING IN THE PEWS of your own church that you are all but declaring outcasts because they do not join your little club. We’re talking about friends who attend other churches. We’re talking about friends in other corners of the world (who DO speak our language). Are you saying we can’t effectively hold them accountable, pastor or otherwise?

      • pjtibayan says:

        We can go either way. My point with the other language is exactly that, “You don’t hold the universal church accountable.”

        But let’s go with your most recent comment: holding accountable people in the pews is church membership. Church membership is accountability to the point of Matthew 18:17 (telling the church) or 1 Corinthians 5:2 (removing them from among you). I’m not going to tell my local church, “Hey, Karen is unrepentantly committing adultery so we must confront her and if she refuses to repent we’ll treat her like an unbeliever and remove her from amongst us.” They’d respond, “Who’s Karen? Why would we remove her from among us when she’s not here?” My response, “Umm… because she’s my friend so we have to, I guess.”

      • Karen says:

        Ture, you can’t say that because I’m NOT sitting in your church’s pews. Now, if someone who WAS sitting in your church’s pews for a few months committing adultery, I think most people would know who you were talking about.

      • Karen says:

        So hypothetical scenario, if Joe Blow was attending your church for 6 months and you discover he’s living in adultery, you wouldn’t say anything because he’s not an official member of your church? You wouldn’t start the whole discipline process because you don’t consider yourself in authority over him? After attending your church for 6 months, I seriously doubt that Joe Blow would question your authority after being there for that long. I also seriously doubt that no one would know who Joe Blow was after being there for 6 months. Or would you just sit there and say nothing and let the guy keep sitting there in your church’s pews in his sin?

      • pjtibayan says:

        If you think you should kick him out if he doesn’t repent, I’d say that’s accountability/membership! Are you ok if a “Christian” goes to different local churches every week so that he can continue in adultery? Or if he’s not committing adultery, is it ok to just go to a bunch of different churches regularly and inconsistently?

      • Karen says:

        “If you think you should kick him out if he doesn’t repent, I’d say that’s accountability/membership! Are you ok if a “Christian” goes to different local churches every week so that he can continue in adultery? Or if he’s not committing adultery, is it ok to just go to a bunch of different churches regularly and inconsistently?”

        I’m not telling you what I think. I gave you a hypothetical scenario for you to address and tell me what YOU think. So what would YOU do as a pastor on the scenario I described?

  9. Joe Maxwell says:

    The real issue here the good pastor is missing. It is not whether church membership is practical and possibly the simplest means of keeping track of members. The real issue is the ostracization of people within the a local church’s reach simply for their failure to sign on the dotted line. In the article posted by Jonathon, he stated that he told a man that had attended his church for ten years, a man with whom he had frequent opportunity to speak, a man that we have no reason to believe was not actively involved in that church (perhaps Jonathon could inform us on that), a man certainly under his influence, that he deserved to be cut off from the sacraments by that local church, for no reason other than the fact he had not fulfilled the formal process of membership. Did the pastor not think he was a Christian? Any first-time visitor that claimed Christ–without an opportunity for the pastor to observe his life–would have been granted the Lord’s Supper. And the only issue in this man’s life that Jonathon provides us a reason for his suggestion was that the man had not fulfilled the formal process of membership, even though by all accounts he had been involved in that local church for a very long time. That is the issue. That is why commentators on this blog cry, “Legalism!” The formal process of church membership is certainly a practical and useful solution to the issue of accountability among believers. But someone that has demonstrated himself to be accountable but has merely avoided the formal process, should not be cut off from the community. Why would you push away someone like that? Again, Jonathon gave no indication of sin in his life. And if there was sin, or any real state of aloofness, Jonathon should have indicated so, rather than cause such misunderstanding.
    In the end, churchmembers recognize other churchmembers as the ones they see in the pew every week or listening to Bible verse recitations from kids in Awana. Not names written on a list.

    • pjtibayan says:

      Thanks for the comment Joe. And thanks for calling me a good pastor. I pray this discussion helps me get there for the Lord Jesus’ glory.

      I certainly agree that people who attends should not be ostracized within the local church simply for their failure to sing on the dotted line. Amen to that! As a responsible pastor, I’d also want the attender to know what responsibilities the Lord Jesus demands and graciously gives him for being a Christian committed to Christ and the universal church, namely commitment to a local church. So yes, do not ostracize. But also, do not say nothing, teach, call to obedience, and be graciously firm and loving.

      I would understand the lack of committing to the church in a way that other members and leaders understand him to be committed is a sin. Not using your spiritual gifts in your local church is a sin. Not intentionally edifying a group of believers through thick and thin is a sin. Not holding other accountable to the point of church discipline in order to restore an unrepentant sinner is a sin. Not being willing to be held accountable is a sin. Not submitting to your leaders is a sin. Those were the reasons I gave for formal commitment to a church according to the New Testament linked in the above post. If one says, “I am committed to all those things so I don’t need to sign on a dotted line” then I’d say, you’re right, but being committed to those things is the essence of formal commitment to the local church. If there is mutual understanding between other committed people and the leaders and committed one that there is mutual commitment, then that’s good. Surely we should not argue that mutual understanding is not helpful or serving the attender well.

  10. Stephen says:

    “When you use LANGUAGE as a barrier, the answer is obviously – I haven’t – which is PRECISELY why you chose that as an example. VERY poor debating style – it’s a last-ditch attempt at making a point because you can’t logically come up with anything else, so you have to grasp straws using highly unlikely circumstances.”

    I just accidentally stumbled onto this discussion and just would like to say (and this is my opinion) that when a person starts to get defensive, slightly rude (AS IN USING CAPITAL LETTERS), and generally making comments about the other person (does not contribute to the discussion), that is when a person has started demonstrating a poor debating style. Also, I noticed how often the two sides seem to miss certain points altogether and latch on to small details that generally drag the discussion off-topic.
    Just the view from the side, from a teenage boy still trying to figure out what it all really means.

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