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.