Ecclesiology

Biblical Church Membership

Church membership has fallen on hard times. Some question whether formal membership is taught in the Bible. Isn’t it a man-made tradition that ought to be abandoned? Others accept it, but wonder if it has outlived its original purpose.

Increasingly, church membership is viewed as optional and is ignored, dismissed, and even actively resisted. This is not only true of individuals, but of pastors and churches as well. Are those who practice church membership beating a dead horse? It this simply a shop-worn tradition that should be discarded, or is church membership a biblical practice that ought to be restored to its original significance?

Concept and Terminology

The word “member,” used to identify individual Christians in the church, is a biblical term. The most extensive passage is 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, where “member” is used fourteen times in the space of ten verses, sometimes as a singular noun but more often as a plural. Although the phrase, “church members” is not used, parallel concepts such as “members of the body” and similar phrases are employed.

We are told that the church is one body consisting of many members. Together, Christians constitute the body, but individually, each Christian is a member. This is true of the Church Universal as well as churches local. The passage begins by focusing on the universal aspects of the church, but continues to talk about each believer’s membership in a local body.

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Theology Thursday - Clearwaters on Ecclesiology

In this excerpt from his work The Local Church of the New Testament, Richard Clearwaters discusses problems he sees in ecclesiology.1

Three common errors cause Christians to fail in having the proper regard for Christ’s earthly church and its officers and its organization.

Many Christians think that the universal church is entered by faith, and faith alone.

Babies dying in infancy never had saving faith, but the Bible teaches their salvation (Romans 5:12-21; 2 Samuel 12:22, 23). If nine-tenths of the babies die in infancy in some of our heathen lands, could they not be populating heaven more rapidly than so-called Christian America is today?

If infants had believed and should have been regenerated, it is still true that regeneration is not enough to give an individual entrance into the universal church. Their bodies would still await the resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

God’s children of all ages are awaiting the redemption of the body (Romans 8:23, 24). Every Christian will one day be sanctified to a complete conformity to the image of Christ (Hebrews 10:10; Romans 8:29). This has not yet happened (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

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Teaching and Teachers: Two Essential Components in a New Testament Church

From Faith Pulpit, Spring 2018. Used with permission.

A troubling trend is developing in churches today. This trend is not something we see in the “other” kinds of churches (i.e., the mainline, liberal churches) but in what we usually call “our” kind of churches—solid, Bible-preaching churches. The trend is a diminishing emphasis on Bible teachers and Bible teaching. This trend shows up in children’s and youth ministries, but nowhere is it more prevalent than in adult ministries, especially adult Sunday School classes.1 In this article we examine the New Testament emphasis on teachers and teaching and then suggest some action steps churches can take to reestablish their adult Sunday School classes.

The Gospels

The focus on Bible teaching in the gospels is on Christ’s teaching ministry. We see His emphasis on teaching in three areas: He was called a teacher, He had an extensive teaching ministry, and He included teaching in His last command to us.

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A Short Biblical Case for Congregational Autonomy

Congregationalism is the idea that Christ has established local assemblies of believers and that He is directly Head over each. The idea has both internal and external application. Externally, congregationalism means there are no layers of ecclesiastical authority outside the local church between it and Christ. Internally, it means there is no individual or board between the congregation and Christ. Leaders serve the congregation.

History has proven that layers of control outside the local church are no guarantee against corruption, either in doctrine or practice. Roman Catholicism comes to mind. That’s why we had the Reformation.

But congregational government virtually guarantees that there will be sick congregations. Corinth and Laodicea come to mind. That’s why we have the epistles.

If both congregational and non-congregational structures are subject to error and failure, does it even matter what structure churches use? If we rely solely on results arguments — as we’re so fond of doing — maybe not.

But for Bible-believers, “What works best?” isn’t really the question, is it? The right question is “What do the Scriptures instruct us to do?” The results are God’s concern, not ours.

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Doing Church Away from Church isn’t Church

Reposted with permission from The Cripplegate.

by Eric Davis

Maybe you’ve heard it. “We can’t make it to church today, so we’ll just do church as a family.” “I can just do church on a hike this morning in God’s creation.” “The church is really the people, so we can do church wherever. God is everywhere, after all.”

Do we really need to go to a building on a certain day for it to count as doing church? If so, isn’t that legalistic?

It’s becoming increasingly popular to fashion new ways to “do church.” But how do we discern what does and does not constitute going to church? God’s word has plenty of wisdom on the issue.

In short, my hike or a Bible open in my living room with the kids is not church. Here are a few reasons why doing church away from church isn’t church.

1. We wouldn’t approach other areas of life like that.

To assert that we can do church away from church is an unparalleled way to approach life events. Do we approach other areas of life like that?

Husbands, next time you’ve scheduled a family day, just before it happens, tell your wives, “Honey, I’m actually going to do our family time on a solo-camping trip. But I’ll think about you and the kids while I’m sitting out there with the dog and my knife cramming Spam in my mouth. It still counts as family time, right? We don’t have to be all legalistic, honey.”

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When Your Church Disappoints

Reposted with permission from The Cripplegate.

by Eric Davis

Let’s face it. Church is not always as exciting as we would like. Sometimes it’s boring and disappointing. It’s possible that there are good reasons for that. But it’s possible that there are not.

Being bored is not the worst thing that can happen to us in our churches. In fact, it may be the best thing since it can present opportunity for personal change. Though not always, our personal boredom can often be symptomatic of a needed soul adjustment.

Consider a few shifts before submitting to disappointment’s demands:

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Theology Thursday - Calvin on the Errors of the Separatists

John Calvin is most often known for his views on soteriology, anthropology and theology proper. He actually wrote a great deal more than this, of course. However, many Christians have not bothered to read anything else from him. In this excerpt, Calvin explains what a Christian’s duty is to a true church, and the grace Christians should show to one another in matters of minor disagreement. Indeed, Calvin believed we should “pardon delusion” amongst ourselves on unimportant issues. We should refrain from “inconsiderate zeal” and “immoderate severity.”

I’ll let Calvin explain the rest:1

We have said that the symbols by which the Church is discerned are the preaching of the word and the observance of the sacraments, for these cannot any where exist without producing fruit and prospering by the blessing of God. I say not that wherever the word is preached fruit immediately appears; but that in every place where it is received, and has a fixed abode, it uniformly displays its efficacy.

Be this as it may, when the preaching of the gospel is reverently heard, and the sacraments are not neglected, there for the time the face of the Church appears without deception or ambiguity; and no man may with impunity spurn her authority, or reject her admonitions, or resist her counsels, or make sport of her censures, far less revolt from her, and violate her unity.

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Understanding the Purpose of the Church, Part 2

Republished from Baptist Bulletin March/April 2017 with permission. © Regular Baptist Press, all rights reserved. Read Part 1.

Instruction

The saints need instruction, and for this purpose the Lord has not only sent the Holy Spirit and His Word, but has given as gifts to the churches evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Eph. 4:11–15). (It appears that the apostles and prophets ceased with the apostolic era. They are no longer needed since the Word of God has been given.)

The saints need the ministry of teaching and should attend faithfully the preaching of the Word (Heb. 10:24, 25). We should cry out to the Lord to raise up such ministers of the Word out of our churches, and every care should be taken to sustain them as well as to train them in His ministry.

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