Thursday, May 31, 2007

Why Join A Church?

"Why should I join the church?"

Despite my seminary training and pastoral experience, I was unprepared for this new Christian's question. He agreed from our study of the Scripture that he needed to identify himself as a disciple of Christ through baptism, but then he asked, "Can you show me from the New Testament that I'm supposed to officially join anything?"

Now he really had me.

"If I come and worship as often as the members," he continued, "if I fellowship with these believers as much as anyone else, if I profit from the teaching and other ministries of the church, and if I actively demonstrate love for my brothers and sisters in Christ here, why should I formally join the church?"

His question struck me with an uncomfortable logic.

I began to realize that many of my conclusions about church membership were actually nothing more than previously unchallenged assumptions. These assumptions were now melting into questions of my own. Can I give reasons from Scripture why anyone should join a church?

Kenneth Kantzer was surprised by this question, but decided to find an answer.

Hat tip: Dale Tedder


Dan Trabue said...

I'm with the new Christian. Church membership as we define it is not normative to what we read in the Bible about the early church.

You accepted Jesus and joined in the community of believers or you didn't. There is no "joining the church" process described in the Bible.

Having said that, I've joined my beloved church as a statement of support for that church and I'm okay with that. Just as long as we're not defining that as a biblical necessity for salvation or anything along those lines.

It seems to me that Kantzer is trying to fit our modern model on what the Bible says and not the other way around.

Ivan Walters said...

You join a church for three reasons:
1. so you can relate to God through worship
2. so you can relate to your fellow Christians through Sunday school/ small groups
3. so you can relate to the comunity through mission and/or service tasks

Ed said...

I would suggest trying to find out what the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox perspectives on this issue are.

I suspect it may be that they can provide interesting answers that work well within their own theological systems. However, I have my doubts that whatever answers they might give would be transferable to a Protestant context.

It may be that we Protestants can give no good answer to such a challenge, after all, for us the church is "invisible," not tied to any one particular ecclesiastical community.

Dan Trabue said...

Ivan, the fella in the example had joined the church in all those regards. He just hadn't formally said, "Put me on your roles, this is where I'm a member."

So, are you saying that is sufficient?

Andrew C. Thompson said...

I think the reason there was no "church membership" in the early church was because of the nature of baptism: it was preceded by a lengthy period of instruction and carried a great social and spiritual significance than it does today. When you were baptized (as an adult) you lived differently because you believed you were actually different. Something had happened. The church was, on the whole, less cynical in that way.

Of course, there was also only one church then as well. So you didn't have to profess membership in one church to distinguish your membership there from any other ecclesial body. And that's definitely different than the culture of American denominationalism.

I do think formal church membership is very important in the way we frame it in the UMC, because it is couched in terms of a covenantal vow. We make a pledge to the church, that should be lifelong. It is just unfortunate that more don't take that vow seriously.

Cyprian of Carthage, in the 3rd century, made the statement, "You can't have God as Father unless you have the church as mother." We might quibble over what it means to only know salvation within the church, but the notion that we can only be a part of the fellowship of Jesus Christ by being a part of the fellowship of his friends has a lot of merit.

Rev. J said...

Church membership is similar to marriage. Sure you can participate in all the activities with a person but until you take the vows, until you say the words, the level of commitment is easily gone. Joining a church is a promise (at least in the United Methodist tradition) to support that community of faith through one's prayers, presence, gifts, and service. Joining a church enables us to hold a person accountable through the good and bad times of that community. It adds to the level of commitment a person has to live in that Christian community.

~c. said...

Why care about the bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo? Accept this fellow as a brother in Christ and get on with your ministry.

Mark Winter said...

"Joining the church," at least in the American Protestant sense, smacks of Rotary Club membership...and even then, Rotary Club expects more out of its members than the average mainline church on the corner.

Whoops, did I just say that?

DogBlogger said...

In theory, and in my own personal view of *my* church membership, I agree with rev. j.

But that's in the world known as "theory." In the real world, where I frequently have no choice but to reside, Mark Winter is the one speaking more truthfully here.