Romanticism vs. church membership in "Is Church Membership Biblical?"

"Do formal commitments enhance or stifle the heart’s longings? Romanticism, as the 19th-century literary and philosophical movement was called, insists that formality represses truth and that the only honest lifestyle is to follow one’s heart."

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MikeJ's picture

I haven't read the book, but the review certainly doesn't list any biblical arguments for church membership. Strange for a review on a book that asks "Is church membership biblical?"

Doug Flynn's picture

MikeJ wrote:

I haven't read the book, but the review certainly doesn't list any biblical arguments for church membership. Strange for a review on a book that asks "Is church membership biblical?"

"it is impossible to fulfill the Bible’s commands. God commands us to greet one another, submit to our leaders, and exercise church discipline by admitting to and expelling from the church. These commands require physical presence with each other, and a clear demarcation of who is inside the church and who is outside it."

Ron Bean's picture

I was in a church for 11 years that proudly declared that church membership was NOT in the Bible and therefore didn't practice it. I shall follow this thread with interest and I have stories!

BTW, the church is 65 years old and runs a Christian day school.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

G. N. Barkman's picture

Ron,

How did this church practice Biblical church discipline?

G. N. Barkman

Ron Bean's picture

How did this church practice Biblical church discipline?

 

Simple answer: They didn't. 

People not totally submissive to the leader usually didn't stay there very long.

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

If you're going to do what churches do with discipline and such, good luck doing so without a list of members.  

That said, I attended a church in LA (predominantly Asian in attendance) where they had no members list.  Thankfully it did not seem to have the "right boot of fellowship" phenomenon Ron writes about.  Could be cultural, or could be that they had no head pastor at the time.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

MikeJ's picture

@DougFlynn

Yes, he gives biblical commands that, he supposes, absolutely cannot be done without the extra biblical practice of keeping a church membership roll. He doesn't explain why the church membership roll itself is biblical. 

Fortunately the Bible has given us two great ways of determining who is in the church and who isn't: baptism and the Lord's Supper. Unfortunately we don't take these as seriously as we should. 

G. N. Barkman's picture

Mike,

Do you print any kind of list or directory with names and telephone numbers of those who attend your assembly?

 

G. N. Barkman

MikeJ's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Mike,

Do you print any kind of list or directory with names and telephone numbers of those who attend your assembly?

 

Yes, it is a helpful tool but not a membership roll. Please don't misunderstand. I'm not saying that church membership rolls are anti-biblical, simply that they are non-biblical. Perhaps it would help to explain that I attend what is commonly known as a Plymouth Brethren church (though most prefer to be called New Testament assemblies). Assemblies like ours, have a weekly communion service that usually lasts just as long as a typical preaching service. Someone under church discipline (or an unbeliever) may be present at this service but would not be able to participate. Someone in fellowship at ours or any other church (Brethren or otherwise) is welcome to participate. Some churches of our stripe issue "letters of commendation" for those visiting other churches but my particular church doesn't. I suppose that's as close as any of them gets to a membership roll.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I attended an independent Baptist church while I was stationed in Sicily. It catered to Americans, and was located off-base. They didn't bother to have a membership roll, because everybody was transient. The longest anybody stayed was three years. There were very little internal problems. It was bliss. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

G. N. Barkman's picture

Mike,

Are there any criteria for determining who is listed in the directory?  For example, are they required to be baptized and participate at the Lord's Table?

 

G. N. Barkman

MikeJ's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Mike,

Are there any criteria for determining who is listed in the directory?  For example, are they required to be baptized and participate at the Lord's Table?

 

Good question. I don't know, but I can't think of anyone in the directory who wouldn't meet those criteria. Again though, it isn't an official member roll.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Mike,

If someone listed in the directory is found to be living in adultery, and refuses to repent, what does your Assembly do?

G. N. Barkman

Ron Bean's picture

It appears to be that no membership leads to a passive church. Who makes the decisions regarding how money from offerings is dispensed including the pastor's salary? Who designates church officers, elders, deacons, or the next pastor? 

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Doug Flynn's picture

MikeJ wrote:

@DougFlynn

Yes, he gives biblical commands that, he supposes, absolutely cannot be done without the extra biblical practice of keeping a church membership roll. He doesn't explain why the church membership roll itself is biblical. 

Fortunately the Bible has given us two great ways of determining who is in the church and who isn't: baptism and the Lord's Supper. Unfortunately we don't take these as seriously as we should. 

How does that not constitute some sort of identification of membership from your perspective? Are you saying it is unbiblical to keep records?

MikeJ's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Mike,

If someone listed in the directory is found to be living in adultery, and refuses to repent, what does your Assembly do?

We would follow the church discipline process outlined in scripture. If carried out to the end we would follow the biblical command to "regard him as a heathen" and he would be unwelcome at the Lord's Table and  he would need to be evangelized.

Ron Bean wrote:

It appears to be that no membership leads to a passive church. Who makes the decisions regarding how money from offerings is dispensed including the pastor's salary? Who designates church officers, elders, deacons, or the next pastor? 

 

The Bible explicitly gives the responsibility of distributing funds to the deacons so our deacons do that.

The Bible implicitly gives the responsibility of choosing elders (biblically the same as pastor) and deacons to those who are currently in leadership (e.g. Paul commands Timothy to appoint overseers). In short, our elders choose deacons and other elders. The Bible doesn't explicitly state how leaders or officers are to be chosen. I think you could argue from Acts 6 that a congregation chooses deacons, but as for the selection of elders, it would seem strange to have the sheep choose their shepherd.

MikeJ's picture

Doug Flynn wrote:

 

MikeJ wrote:

 

@DougFlynn

Yes, he gives biblical commands that, he supposes, absolutely cannot be done without the extra biblical practice of keeping a church membership roll. He doesn't explain why the church membership roll itself is biblical. 

Fortunately the Bible has given us two great ways of determining who is in the church and who isn't: baptism and the Lord's Supper. Unfortunately we don't take these as seriously as we should. 

 

 

How does that not constitute some sort of identification of membership from your perspective? Are you saying it is unbiblical to keep records?

Not anti-biblical, but non-biblical and not biblically required or even necessary

Bert Perry's picture

It seems that the discussion here is really about formal membership vs. presumed membership.  To draw a picture, when my family finally joined Calvary Baptist in Rochester, we'd been attending for over a year and even had started working in AWANA.  We took part in business meetings, just about the whole nine yards.

The big thing I can see as an advantage to formalizing membership is that it is a bit of a barrier to the coup d'etats that some try to pull in church meetings, and it formalizes who is eligible for church office.  Obviously not enough  of a barrier, but a barrier nonetheless.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

John E.'s picture

I think I know that church Wink

G. N. Barkman's picture

I believe Bert made my point.  I framed my questions to try to show that a church that endeavors to be truly Biblical, must have a way to identify who is accountable to the church, and a way to exercise discipline in cases of grievous unrepentant sin.  The church may claim to practice no membership, but their actions require some recognition of who is, and who is not accountable to the church.  When you identify those people, they are "church members," even if you don't maintain a formal membership roll.

G. N. Barkman

Ron Bean's picture

"The Bible explicitly gives the responsibility of distributing funds to the deacons so our deacons do that."

 

Where is this explicitly taught. I see the deacons in Acts 6 given the responsibility of distributing to the widows by serving tables (which seems to imply food) but nothing about overseeing the church's finances or setting the pastor's salary, etc. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

MikeJ's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

"The Bible explicitly gives the responsibility of distributing funds to the deacons so our deacons do that."

 

Where is this explicitly taught. I see the deacons in Acts 6 given the responsibility of distributing to the widows by serving tables (which seems to imply food) but nothing about overseeing the church's finances or setting the pastor's salary, etc. 

Hmm...it seems I was wrong on that count. So yes, nothing in the Bible explicitly states who ought to be in charge of finances, much like it does not explicitly state that churches should have a formalized process of admitting members. Now I'm wondering what the original question had to do with formal church membership.