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Monday, January 07, 2013 | Comments (46)

Your local church plays a significant role in your spiritual life. In most cases, the local church is the primary source of Bible teaching, worship, discipleship, accountability, admonishment, encouragement, and fellowship.

Considering the vital role the local church plays in spiritual growth, it’s a wonder that so many Christians don’t feel the need to identify with a specific congregation through church membership. Rather than planting with one church body and developing deep spiritual roots, too many believers today seem content to drift among multiple congregations, landing wherever they feel their needs and interests are best served.

That consumer-driven approach contradicts the New Testament model for the church and bypasses the Lord’s design for spiritual growth and leadership. It also cripples the believer’s usefulness to the Lord and to the Body of Christ.

When John MacArthur was recently in studio, we asked him about the importance of church membership and the role it plays in the life of the believer. Here’s what he said:

Starting this week, we’re going to look closer at what it means to be a member of a local church, and how that identification with the Lord and His people impacts your spiritual life.

For now, we want to hear from you. Are you a member of your local church? If so, what fruit have you seen in your life from publically identifying and submitting to your church? And if you’re not a member of your local church, what’s holding you back?

GTY Staff


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#1  Posted by Joshua Greene  |  Monday, January 07, 2013at 4:28 AM

The problem with churches nowadays is that all they sell you is "easy believism". There is a church very close to me called Newspring in South Carolina and their leader Perry Noble reported almost 500 confessions of Christ statewide. Not to be a cynic but do these folks know what they are committing to? Accepting Jesus Christ is realizing that you no longer live life for yourself but for Jesus and your neighbor, a call of self denial in every sense. I wish there were true teachers like Paul, Peter, Dietriech Bonhoeffer, those who don't just teach but live it. This ministry at Grace to You is wonderful, just wish it was in South Carolina and not California. Keep up your great work and I love your ministry.

#2  Posted by Randi Myles  |  Monday, January 07, 2013at 7:33 AM

Because of church hurt in the past, I spent about 4 years without a church home. Being raised in the church, I knew this was wrong so I turned to internet services and then eventually visiting churches until I found one I could feel at home in.

I'm grateful to God's grace while I was away from church. But I really, truly understand how and why people fall from the local church. Outside of family hurt, church hurt is the worse.

#3  Posted by Jim Mcneal  |  Monday, January 07, 2013at 8:08 AM

I agree with John's position on local church membership - if you can find one that affirms, teaches the reformational view of scripture that John so thoroughly has exposited - taught and foundationally built your church and mission "must haves" upon.

However, I live in a college E. GA town that in terms of following a reformed view of the Gospel, only has several PCA Presby churches to choose from. None of them exposit God's Word - nor have I heard a "Gospel" sermon. Even still, I settled on one and attend a small group led by one of the elders.

PCA believes and practices infant baptism. I follow John's teaching in that regard. And the small group elder knows I do not believe in and would never affirm what they do in that practice. You cannot be a PCA member without affirming your belief in infant baptism.

I have maybe 200 of John's sermons downloaded on my MP3 player and have read most of his books - some several times. And John and the teaching of his staff has led me on a love to delve deeply into reformed theology and to the degree I can stand it, the primary attactors. But John and Grace Church has set a high church standard that he has to know is few and far between represented in any community in America.

And I am not about to set myself under the authority of a local church or higher church administration authority when I do not fully agree with their teaching and practices. But the church I'm attending is as close as I will find to the core Refoprmed Christian beliefs John so excellently preaches - and warns us to follow.

#4  Posted by Jennifer Mc Farland  |  Monday, January 07, 2013at 9:16 AM

I completely agree with John's statements on church membership. However, I don't believe in being apart of churches if they won't be truthful about salvation, repentance, the absolute authority of the Bible. Unfortunately, for many people, there simply aren't churches in their area committed to telling the truth.

#5  Posted by Kurt Hutchison  |  Monday, January 07, 2013at 9:34 AM

If I could make a request. We have people who are opposed to church membership on (weak IMHO) theological grounds. It it isn't in the Bible they say, why make me sign a piece of paper or engage in unbiblical covenants with church leadership.

If you guys could devote an article to those people I would appreciate it. Give the Biblical basis for it. Maybe cover the history of church memebership too, things like communicant lists, membership rolls, membership qualifications in the early church through the present. And delineate what authority elders have and don't have biblically would help too.

#6  Posted by Lois Begly  |  Monday, January 07, 2013at 10:33 AM

The question being. what's holding you back? I would like to join the church we attend but, as with some other churches, a requisite for membership is water baptism. My husband was sprinkled in the Methodist church as a confirmed boy of about 12. But that is not the same as being water baptized, and so he would not be a candidate for membership. He has a problem with requiring baptism for membership in any case, because it is not a requirement for salvation. So he disagrees with the church we attend about baptism and so we have not joined.

#7  Posted by Nancy Alvarez  |  Monday, January 07, 2013at 11:35 AM

It is very difficult to be a member of a church these days, especially when most are tares and have no interest in the truth of God's Holy word. We are normal christians not fanatics. My husband and I are willing to discuss the Lord's word and fellowship with faithful believers but people look at us as if we are outer space. When we try to discuss its truths, we are treated like we are heretics. So when your leaders are suspected of being unbelievers with no hunger for God's truth only loyal to their denomination and not God, it is very difficult. We have been taking vacations in search of a church that honors our Lord. We believe that the Lord is directing us to a place in Texas. We visited a church there and attended both sunday school and worship this last fall. For the first time in many years we were in a fellowship that we didn't feel lost. We sensed the love and fellowship of the body and sunday school teaching and the sermon was music to our ears. We know that there isn't a perfect church, but we need a fellowship that desires rightousness.

#8  Posted by Bob Colby  |  Monday, January 07, 2013at 1:38 PM

I agree with John whole heartly. I belong to A Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Newton,Ia. It isn't perfect and neither are the leaders, and neither am I. All interactions with pastoral staff or members. whether good or bad, has matured me.

Being with God's people in a church environment keeps me humble and on my knees. I do not depend on " church sermons" to feed me. I really feel that is my responsibility. And that is what irritates me most about my church family. To many Christians are "Word of God" anorectic. They starve themselves all week and then show up at church starving, and expect Sunday school teachers and pastors to feed them enough to last the week.

I know Pastor MacAurther wood say maybe they aren't saved, I also wonder that too. The love of God and teaching of Biblical doctrine is almost non-existence. So that puts me on my knees.

Also one last comment. If you are looking for a perfect church, stop, their isn't one. Why because you go there. Also ministries on the other side of the fence "ALWAYS" look better, because you are not interacting with is saved by grace still sinning members like you do in your own church. Join a church it will make you a better Christian, even if it only keeps you on your knees in prayer and in the Word of God making sure what's being said is accurate.

Ac 17:10-12

10 The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

NASU

#9  Posted by Ben Enders  |  Monday, January 07, 2013at 1:51 PM

Amen to Jim's comments. The odds of finding that "perfect church" are slim to none. If it was so easy we would'nt have several of Paul's letters. Remember, pastors and elders are human, they need our prayers and support. Lois, has your husband read what the bible has to say about baptism? If he believes his baptism in the Methodist church was a Believers Baptism then your church should honor that. If not, then why would he not want to obey Christ who commanded us to be baptised?

#10  Posted by Mae Ella Jones  |  Monday, January 07, 2013at 1:59 PM

My husband and I have joined several churches over many years. We were not being feed the word of God and in some we did not hear the Gospel preached or taught. I would take the lead to find a new church, and my husband would attend too, until the last church was totally apostate, with just a form of religion. We could not stay there. We have both retired and have the time to really study the Bible. We are thankful for Grace to You , CD's and books by Pastor MacArthur.We know that we need to find a local church, but will not settle for untruth. We are finally learning the TRUTH. After my husband recuperates from double hip replaceable, I am praying that he will take the lead to find us a place to serve. There are not any readily visible ones in our city of Youngstown, OH.

#11  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Monday, January 07, 2013at 5:20 PM

I am confident that Pastor John, speaking to God's chosen and beloved elect, need not remind us that we are to serve and submit to the authority of a local church only in which Jesus Christ is the head (Gal. 1:8); this is crystal clear to us. I have known the distress of soul that He sends when wrongly judging the body He purchased with His own blood. So, as "those accustomed to the word of righteousness, having your senses trained to discern good from evil ...being strong, ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves." We are slaves of Christ, " the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame." May we strive to be missionaries, not just mission fields.

#12  Posted by Keith Farmer  |  Monday, January 07, 2013at 5:47 PM

One of the cries of the Reformation was sola scriptura. The Bible is our sole authority for matters pertaining to faith and practice. With that in mind, as I assume there will be no argument with that premise, I assert that nowhere in Scripture will one find positive grounds for the modern day practice of "church membership". If one is a born again child of God he is already birthed into the one and only Church. John MacArthur has stated on at least one occasion that Christians do not go to church...we ARE the Church. Romans 12:4-5 states "For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." There are not numerous bodies with various differing memberships as is the norm now in the visible church...there is one Church and we as believers are all members of the same Church.

Further, there are numerous other passages that affirm the central truth of Scripture that we, as believers, are all part of one Church...one body: 1 Corinthians 10:17 , 1 Corinthians 12:12 -13 , 1 Corinthians 12:20 , 1 Corinthians 12:25, Ephesians 4:4, Colossians 3:15, and Ephesians 5:28-30.

On these grounds I assert that modern day "church membership" with its various rules, covenants, and mandates is actually a man-made institution rather than being ordained by God. I also assert that modern "church membership" actually serves to cause division between "members" and "non-members"...don't think that is the case just look at the statements above regarding the practice by some church groups to require infant baptism confirmation before being accepted as a "member" This is really no different than churches requiring the signing of covenants, etc for "membership". Members can vote, budgets are planned, lists are maintained, etc. but "non-members" are just "guests" and are made to feel pressured week in and week out to "join". The fact remains...if they are believers they are already IN.

I challenge those who hold to modern "church membership" to look at the reason why Paul rebuked Peter as a hypocrite in Galatians 2:11-13. Peter was showing favoritism to a certain group due to the perceived position they held...they were "members" due to circumcision...their covenant sign. The passages following Paul's rebuke of Peter detail just how wrong sectarianism is and just how far its effects can be pushed.

For the record, I am committed to a local assembly. I pray for and i am friends with the pastor. I give to the work financially. I am involved in assembly events. And I support mission work both at home and over seas...

I will end with more Scripture rather than opinion: Galatians 3:28 "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" To divide the body according to man-made membership rules is to foster elitism and aids in promoting pride.

#13  Posted by Donna Kirkpatrick  |  Monday, January 07, 2013at 6:24 PM

I agree with John MacArthur on the importance of belonging to, and participating in a church. However, unfortunately its not that simple.

When I first began on my quest to find a church where I could worship and serve I found that many churches are more concerned about their image and the type of people who are allowed to become members. They had to be well educated, wealthy, and preferably be a family unit with children as opposed to those like myself who are single.

Again, and again, and again, I was ignored and not taken seriously. I felt rejected. I knew that God wanted me to be there, and I wanted to be there. But why didn't they?

It wasn't just me who has experienced this type of situation. I have talked to other people who have experienced the same thing that I have and most of them stopped going to church altogether.

Its hard to get over the rejection and pain I have experienced. Its going to take time but I know that God is always there with me even when many professing Christians are not.

#14  Posted by Louis Bell  |  Monday, January 07, 2013at 6:37 PM

Being isolated on a small island, I am faced with the challenges of finding a good place of worship. Over 90% Catholic by population and only a few Bible based churches to choose from. I began the think that I could just use the GTY and other forms of media instead of attending a church.

My idea was quickly brought to an end at the Truth matters Conference when John was asked the smae exact question that I was facing. His reply made sense and made me rethink the whole church thing. I felt let down at my church because the sermons did not have enough teeth. I call it "Gospel Light" or "Diet Gospel". Although the messege is biblical, it lacks the seriousness of sin. It must be discussed and brought into the light so it can be dealt with.

I watch and listen to plenty out in media today. The majority are preaching this soft and easy version of the Gospel. Millions are following these false doctrines. Many preach about self-esteem. Christ preached about self-denial!

Putting all this in perspective, it is extremely hard to find a good church. As John has said before, "have patience, if God does not want the preacher there, He will take him out."

#15  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Monday, January 07, 2013at 7:39 PM

Comment deleted by user.
#16  Posted by Keith Farmer  |  Tuesday, January 08, 2013at 5:05 AM

Having participated in past discussions here I am surprised that a personal attack with no bearing on the subject at hand was allowed by the moderators to be leveled against me (15)...but it is what it is.

Michael Bradley Kennedy...if you can demonstrate from Scripture alone the valdity of the practice of willful sectarianism in the form of legalistic church covenants, which are placed seemingly above the New Covenant we as believers are bound under when we are in Christ, I will be happy to join in as it were. Rather than hurling ad hominems at others state your case Scripturally. Your outburst is a clear demonstration of the divisive nature such separating of the body causes. I perceive an air of elitism in your post which further drives home the point that such fractioning of the body is antithetical to the Grace by which we are called and are to walk.

Paul, who to the best of my knowledge never officially signed a membership agreement or covenant with a local group...nor did he encourage us to do such, wrote these words in Acts 20:32: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." Paul had trust in the ability of the God who saved us to keep us by the power of His Word...not the word of a membership agreement with a local governing body of men. I feel a strong pull back to Rome with all the push lately for covenants, legalistic agreements, church discipline talk, etc. This is not the path that Paul gave us clearly when he wrote in Gal. 5:1: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."

To finish I will offer a quote by one who has written quite responsibly on the subject of whether church membership policies and or covenants are Biblical: "By their very nature, church covenants and membership policies are contrary to the grace of the New Covenant. Even when their rules agree with those of the New Covenant, they still directly contradict the principles Paul teaches in such passages as Romans 14. They inherently cause us to judge one another and to not trust that God is leading a believer on a walk that is between him or her and God"

#17  Posted by Lois Begly  |  Tuesday, January 08, 2013at 7:38 AM

I so appreciate Ben's insightful reply to my blog concerning baptism as a requirement for church membership. My husband does consider his sprinkling in the Methodist church as legitimate baptism. But he doesn't care whether or not our church agrees with him--his problem is that they require baptism for membership despite the fact it's not a requirement for salvation. He knows what the Bible says about baptism, but still thinks it's overstated by churches. I don't think what the Methodist church says on their official website about baptism is anything like what we read in scripture--there's so much double talk and mention of books they follow..one called 'By Water and the Spirit'...I wouldn't put my confidence in something so murky. It almost sounds Catholic.

Also, in our church, there are very few ministries you can participate in if you are not a member. Thanks, Ben

#18  Posted by Jeremiah Johnson  |  Tuesday, January 08, 2013at 10:11 AM

Keith,

I don't think Michael had any ill intent when he replied to you above. If I did, I wouldn't have approved his comment. I've read enough of his comments that I'm comfortable saying that's not his style. Nor is it the style of most of our regular commenters. I suggest you take his words at face value.

Furthermore, based on all your broad, negative assertions about the nature and practice of church membership, I'm a little surprised no one has directly addressed your position yet. Yours is the most controversial and combustable comment by a wide margin, and I expected others to be offended by you, and not the other way around.

I hope you'll continue to read this series, Keith, as John MacArthur will address many of the issues and complaints your raised in your initial comment.

#19  Posted by Kurt Hutchison  |  Tuesday, January 08, 2013at 10:51 AM

Hey Keith (12), for the most part I think you covered the arguments they need to respond to here well, you sound like some people in my church who refuse to join.

However I think you miss why Paul rebuked Peter. it wasn't about favoritism, rather it was Peter's fear of the Judaizers (a heretical movement that did not die with the Jerusalem council), the Gospel itself was at stake, and Paul knew this.

In fact that verse is an argument for stricter membership enforcement on their part, it is an example where they failed to remove apostates from membership and disfellowship with them. The Judaizers were not removed from fellowship, and remained a thorn in the side of the church for many years afterwards.

Changing subjects:

I hope the guys here give us strong Biblical defense of church membership. I suggest interacting with the critics arguments, who are represented here rather well IMHO. :-)

Since the Bible gives Elders the authority and responsibility to expel people from fellowship under certain conditions, it clearly assigns them the responsibility to regulate it around those same conditions, but leaves the specifics of that regulation up to them.

They are responsible for vetting that individuals have a credible confession of faith (simple obedience to Christ in Baptism is a bare minimum requirement), and to sign on to a doctrinal statement (at least give lip service to orthodoxy). These are basic, obvious, necessary things that Elders are required to do or be found derelict in their duties.

I don't know why this is hard for people to get. The church throughout history has understood it. The early church had some of the most stringent requirements for membership in the history of the church, this while the Apostles were still alive. They made people wait 2 years (and go through intensive bible study during that time) before allowing them to join. To them a credible profession of faith was a changed life and commitment to the church, and submission to the authority of the elders that could not be demonstrated by a mere signing of a statement of faith or a membership covenant. And refusal to do the lesser thing (sign a membership covenant) is certainly proof you are not willing to submit to the authority of your elders IMHO.

Again to Keith (12) I think you are missing the distinction between the visible church and the invisible church. Elders are given charge over both. The Biblically mandated regulatory mechanisms are there in part to protect the visible church and the purity of the Gospel from coruption by apostates. Study a bit of church history and you will see the battle for orthodoxy has raged unabated since the Judaizers.

And those churches that refused the fight, and did not police their membership rolls, especially where leadership was concerned, were lost very quickly.

#20  Posted by Ben Enders  |  Tuesday, January 08, 2013at 3:29 PM

Lois, My church is very similar, no one can participate in ministry unless they are a member. I had to fill out a four page application and am currently waiting for my interview. What I have discovered is that the church (and I) need to be on the same page concerning critical doctrine. I had a difficult time understanding that church membership is biblical, but Dr. MacArthur really helped me see it in scripture and understand it. Kurt (19) has a great post!

#21  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Tuesday, January 08, 2013at 3:57 PM

Thank you Jeremiah.

#22  Posted by Matthew Hanold  |  Tuesday, January 08, 2013at 4:34 PM

You're arguements are all very interesting. Though your Bible citation seems a little lacking. Must be the stuff in the whites between the lines?

#23  Posted by Keith Farmer  |  Wednesday, January 09, 2013at 10:08 AM

I would like to address a few assertions made by Kurt in #19:

"you sound like some people in my church who refuse to join."

My contention is if they are attending faithfully and have been welcomed into your assembly they are part of the assembly...requiring them to take another legalistic step by "joining" is not a practice that can be substantiated by Scripture. I would simply challenge you at this point to demonstrate from Scripture alone...not "church history" that additional requirements other than a profession of Christ as Lord are a valid procedure for welcoming one into a congregation.

"However I think you miss why Paul rebuked Peter. it wasn't about favoritism, rather it was Peter's fear of the Judaizers (a heretical movement that did not die with the Jerusalem council), the Gospel itself was at stake, and Paul knew this."

I reject this notion. The Scriptures do not declare that Peter was afraid of the Judaizers...only that he shunned Gentiles and dined with those of the circumcision. Paul declared that he was acting as a hypocrite because he associated with the Gentiles and preached grace to them but shunned them when the circumcised boys came around. Favortism and sectarianism, again, is hypocritical.

"The early church had some of the most stringent requirements for membership in the history of the church, this while the Apostles were still alive. They made people wait 2 years (and go through intensive bible study during that time) before allowing them to join."

First, I would like a clear definition of the term "church" you are using. The term Church as properly derived from the Greek kuriakos (as found in 1 Corinthians 11:20 and Revelation 1:10) is different in its meaning than ekklēsia (which is used some 116 times in the NT) which properly translated means "the called out from". In order for us to converse our understanding of the meaning of words is vital...

Second, I would again appreciate your using Scripture alone to demonstrate how believers...new believers...were required to wait up to 2 years to join a congregation. In fact, I read these words from Acts 2 which directly contradict your assertion (for context read Acts 2:36-46): "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them...And the Lord added to the church (ekklesia...the called out ones) daily those who were being saved."

"Again to Keith (12) I think you are missing the distinction between the visible church and the invisible church."

I did not realize that Christ had two distinct bodies...

Let me end my comments here by stating that I lead my family to participate within a local assembly of Christ's called out ones. I accept that there are Biblical guidelines for order when we come together. I believe God's Word...I do not find in His Word extra man-made requirements to be placed upon His called out ones as modern day "church covenants" and "membership polices" demand in order to assemble.

#24  Posted by Michael Machlan  |  Wednesday, January 09, 2013at 10:57 AM

Jeremiah,

I must respectfully disagree with you in your assertion that Michael was not derisive toward Keith in his comment. Though I would not completely agree with what Keith was saying, I do believe that he does bring up issues that are relevant to this topic and he is trying to do it by using scripture. I think it would be better all around if we could converse about this without sarcasm or being facetious.

#25  Posted by Keith Farmer  |  Wednesday, January 09, 2013at 10:59 AM

I do wish to clarify a point I made previously. Galatians 2:12 does state that Peter withdrew from the Gentiles "because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group." The point I seek to make is that FEAR is not the hypocritical portion rather the divisive nature of sectarianism regardless of motive. Peter shunned the Gentiles because he respected one group more than the other.

Hope that clears my point.

#26  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Wednesday, January 09, 2013at 11:42 AM

Micheal (24), and Keith (16), I repent. As you both profess love for God and His word, may the Holy Spirit penetrate your hearts in my defense:

"For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.

Those who accuratley handle the Scriptures have no need to be ashamed nor cover his hatred with guile.

#27  Posted by Fred Butler  |  Wednesday, January 09, 2013at 12:13 PM

Keith, #12, writes,

On these grounds I assert that modern day "church membership" with its various rules, covenants, and mandates is actually a man-made institution rather than being ordained by God. I also assert that modern "church membership" actually serves to cause division between "members" and "non-members"

Okay. And, so what?

It's one thing to say "Well, that's not in the Bible" but it is quite another to say "That's wrong because it's not in the Bible." Your basic position is similar to the exclusive psalmoldy folks who insist we are to only sing the psalmns when the church meets for worship. Or maybe even the Church of Christ advocates who maintain that because musical instruments are not expressly discussed in the NT, then they are forbidden for use by churches in worship.

Honestly, how exactly does Scripture "forbid" the practice of modern day "membership?" Good membership programs are helpful in that they explain basic doctrinal commitments and the overall direction this particular congregation is going. A thorough membership process gives the person an opportunity to show the leadership that he is on board with those convictions. It also helps the leadership, at least thoughtful leadership, identify any potential troublemakers who may be joining for all the wrong reasons or who are maybe attempting to escape church discipline elsewhere.

Continuing, you write,

Members can vote, budgets are planned, lists are maintained, etc. but "non-members" are just "guests" and are made to feel pressured week in and week out to "join". The fact remains...if they are believers they are already IN.

I don't want non-members to vote in my church, especially if they are fair weather Christians who kind of come and go as they please and are loosely affiliated with our group. It's as if you are treating church membership like a common law wife or "living together ". "We love each other, why do we need to go through the ritual of getting "married?" If you think about it, marriage is ordained by God and the marriage ceremonies are "man-made" institutions."

Obviously, such thinking is ridiculous and absurd.

Fred

#28  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Wednesday, January 09, 2013at 1:28 PM

Amen!

#30  Posted by Bryan Leed  |  Wednesday, January 09, 2013at 5:21 PM

I grew up surrounded by churchgoers, but not Bible-believers, and it is a major factor in why I did not get Saved until I was in my mid-30's, fifteen years ago. Today I am 49 years old.

When I first got Saved, through solitary Bible study and application, I tried to find a church home, but it is hard to be "the new guy" at church. It is like being the new kid at school. Over a year or two, I tried attending about 6 different churches in my area, but I felt like I could not fit in anywhere. So I kept up my daily Bible study while ignoring church for a decade. I experienced sluggish spiritual growth and fell to much backsliding, until two years ago when I felt convicted by the command in Hebrews to not forsake assembling with other Christians. I found a Southern Baptist church in my town, but we do not pay much attention to our denomination. The Bible is the sole authority.

My pastor got me baptized in 2011, something else I had been living in violation of Scripture over.

Church life has its ups and downs, pros and cons; more pros than cons, now that I have finally found a Bible-believing church. We talk about Scripture more than at any other church I have ever attended.

Church life is far from perfect, but so am I. I love the accountability. It keeps me from backsliding to a great degree.

Church life for me is very much like the old saying, "two steps forward, one step back," but at least I am making steady progress over the course of each year, if not every single day, not every week, not every month. I would be in much worse shape without weekly church attendance. I probably average 5 hours in the church building every Sunday. Once or twice a month I get together for kitchen Bible study at my house, for a few hours on Sunday afternoons, with two or three other guys that I know through my church.

I am surprised that even at my Bible-believing church, there are still plenty of disagreements over scripture. Usually it is the same muckrakers trying to be skeptical or non-obediant to the Word. Lots of people tolerate this, some folks shun me for pointing out error in what folks believe versus what the scripture says on that topic. I have a reputation for being too strict on the Word, so I am trying hard to be humble, meek, and loving whenever someone starts talking in error about what a Bible verse means. I find that sometimes I regret not standing up for the Word enough, later. I am still trying to find the balance. It is a maturing process.

Sometimes I am the dummy who has Scripture wrong. I am happy to be corrected, as long as it is scriptural correction.

One odd problem I see too much is folks come up with "a great idea" for somebody ELSE to do; then they get mad and irritated when that somebody ELSE does not obey the supposedly great idea. I think it is important for me to come up with what I should do myself, not what I think others should be doing in their Christian walk. This pertains to witnessing, not overt sin.

#31  Posted by Keith Farmer  |  Wednesday, January 09, 2013at 7:14 PM

Hi fred,

A couple of things I would like to respond to:

1) Honestly, how exactly does Scripture "forbid" the practice of modern day "membership?"

Fred, the underlying problem which you seem to neglect is the mandate by which "membership" is being pushed by many assembly leaders. Jesus said Himself in Matthew 16:6 “Take heed; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”

John Gill commenting on this passage says..."The doctrines the Pharisees taught were the commandments and inventions of men, the traditions of the elders, free will, and justification by the works of the law:"

While "membership" is not SPECIFICALLY prohibited (being that it is a completely foreign IDEA to Scripture) I assert that it is legalistic based on even your own words here: "I don't want non-members to vote in my church"

I would counter by saying first the "church" ...which I am assuming you mean the assembly of believers...is not yours my brother. Your attitude of elitism by asserting such an absurdity demonstrates clearly the divisive nature of sectarianism. This type of divisive rhetoric is precisely why Paul jumped so quickly to call out Peter in Galatians. The danger of compromising the Gospel of Grace for the legalism of the Judaizers must be halted at even a hint of exposure. Your attitude is further a demonstration of the same sectarianism that James exhorts us to steer clear of in James 2:1-13. By requiring one to become a member of an assembly through man-made covenants and policies (above someone stated they had to fill out a 4 page application...) with the restriction of certain priveleges to only those who have "signed on" there is by default a division within the assembly...and that is sin.

2) "Obviously, such thinking is ridiculous and absurd."

I reject your assertions and I ask you to do as I have others and that is to state your case from Scripture alone for so called church membership requirements... other than profession of Christ as Lord...for one to be gain acceptance in an assembly of fellow believers.

I finish by echoing what Paul said in Galatians 3:3..."Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?"

#32  Posted by Elizabeth Offer  |  Thursday, January 10, 2013at 8:13 AM

Being saved from Catholicism in 2005 (GTY being a big help with the Holy Spirit, and the overview of theology in back of my JM study bible) it was only natural to find a Protestant church where I could be batptized and take my daughter to. I became a church member as a matter of obedience to the ordinance of baptism and not to forsake the assembly of the believers.

My continued spiritual growth led me to leave the first church I was a member of. When asked why I left, I told a friend there that the Spirit led me. I did not feel comfortable about criticizing the Pastor for some of his sermons which seemed worldly

(he is now a realtor).

I heard on Christian radio John MacArthur was speaking at a church in my city and I went to it to hear him speak. He mentioned that this was a good church. I started visiting it and other churches and

although it was on the other side of town I realized how blessed I was to have it. The fruit has been spiritual growth for me and my daughter. The Lord has answered my pray for my daughter since she was born, and it has given me a lot of peace knowing she is a believer and has others at the church to encourage her. I have found encouragement also. Thank you Jesus!

#33  Posted by Fred Butler  |  Thursday, January 10, 2013at 8:43 AM

Keith (#31) writes,

Fred, the underlying problem which you seem to neglect is the mandate by which "membership" is being pushed by many assembly leaders.

Okay. Again, so, what? Our church "pushes" formal membership every Sunday from the pulpit. I have yet to hear anyone at my church say John is legalistic for telling regular attenders to officially join our church.

Look, if membership procedures are NOT forbidden in Scripture, and there is nothing sinful about them as you seem to recognize in your response, how exactly is it "legalism?" You go on to say it causes "division" among Christians if some have privileges and other don't, but I fail to see how that is "sinful." I think you are overreacting way too much to the idea of formal membership by putting a spiritual spin on your disagreement with it that is just unfounded.

Continuing,

While "membership" is not SPECIFICALLY prohibited (being that it is a completely foreign IDEA to Scripture) I assert that it is legalistic based on even your own words here: "I don't want non-members to vote in my church"

Let's expand on this a bit in a practical fashion. My church affirms the doctrines of Grace, or what is known as Calvinism. Let's say some Christians who don't affirm those doctrines began attending our church, but they remain non-members. If we maintained a loosey-goosey view of membership as you advocate here and let them begin attending with no questions asked just recognizing their personal confession of faith, and those individuals began attending home Bible studies or fellowship groups, they could cause confusion and divisiveness when they actively opposed our view of Calvinism.

The same could be said about those who adhere to Covenant Theology and infant baptism, or charismatic issues, or even theonomy. In fact, theonomists would probably vote to have our church as a whole be more politically active than what our leadership would be comfortable in allowing. Where they would vote to take the direction of our church is not where our church as a family of believers wants to go.

A formal membership process safe guards the church from unwittingly adopting those potential problems for strife. It provides the one seeking membership an understanding as to what the church is about, their doctrinal convictions, their purpose statement as believers within their local community. Such things don't add to the Bible in unscriptural, legalistic ways. They help to clarify what that particular church is about.

I think you are conflating being saved and a member of the "Body of Christ with being a member of a local church. Committing to the "regulations" and "privileges" of formal membership at a local church isn't telling a person he isn't saved, it just holds both the person and the leadership accountable to one another. There is no division here among Christians and any "division" you perceive is entirely mistaken on your part.

#34  Posted by Timothy Daigneault  |  Thursday, January 10, 2013at 9:49 AM

After discovering GTY, and coming to understand the Doctrines of Grace, I felt more and more uncomfortable in my church. I brought up concerns and most people looked at me clueless.

Thankfully I came across The Masters Seminary Alumni Map (http://www.tms.edu/AlumniMap.aspx), and found a Master's Grad only a few miles from my current church! I went and couldn't believe the difference. My wife and I have been so blessed by this little church plant, I can't even begin to express how much the Lord has transformed us through the teaching ministry of our church.

So if you're convinced you can't find a good church near you, check out the TMS map!

Also it's amazing to hear about so many people coming to our church from seeker sensitvie backgrounds, because they were so fed up with the shallow teaching at those other churches.

- Tim

#35  Posted by Gideon Moses  |  Thursday, January 10, 2013at 11:47 AM

This discussion is interesting so I would like to throw in a question "IF" you do not have a good church in your area that teaches to Doctrines of Grace but you are a member of an Arminian based belief church BUT yet they love the Lord and preach the truth (other then the doctrines of Grace of course) should you just leave if they don't teach absolutely exactly like you think they should? Even Spurgeon agreed that Arminians were his brothers. Yes, I wish I would hear the glorious truths of the doctrines of Grace but even though some members seem to be lethargic to the gospel there are some of us who want to serve faithfully, so is it right to leave because of the whole? I may not find a better church in the area and then to have to come back to this church may be even worse if I leave. What do you think?

#36  Posted by Ben Enders  |  Thursday, January 10, 2013at 6:23 PM

Jeremiah, I vote that we block anymore postings by Keith on this topic until we can arrange a debate between him and Dr. MacArthur. Keith, do you realize you are arguing (to death) against the teachings of Dr. MacArthur....on his website?!! I thought I read that you don't like personal attacks and elitism, yet your postings are not without both. Enough already.

#37  Posted by Victor Josey  |  Thursday, January 10, 2013at 7:11 PM

I totally agree with John on his comments about church membership. I guess that would be if the authority of the church leadership were truly led by the Holy Spirit and it all actually worked like he has explained it. I am currently looking for a church home after leaving a church that I have been a member of for twelve years. Church organizations today are only concerned about growing in numbers into mega status. The leadership of church is not humble and Spirit led. In my area there are not any pastors/teachers that truly expound the word of God and equip the saints for the work of ministry or make you hungry to dig deeper in for yourself. Churches have and are turning to more worship based with praise and worship shows to draw the masses and shorter sermons. The preaching/teaching is less emphasized and expository preaching is replaced with short messages. Any preacher that has come into the area that really preached and taught have been run off into evangelism or back out of the State to another church. I pray that God would send a truly great preacher to the area like John that could stay more than a few years. No it is not the preacher it is about serving Christ but I’m sorry great preaching is what attracts me. I can commit and serve anywhere that there is Spirit led leadership and great preaching. I fear that it will never be a reality close enough for me any time soon. Down South here churches are in the control of long lines of dominate families or Executive Pastors that are more concerned about the pay check than a true move of God.

#38  Posted by Don Brunzell  |  Thursday, January 10, 2013at 7:31 PM

I agree with everything that Dr. MacArtur is saying about submitting to the authority of the church leaders, serving, being involved, etc. But I find no where in Scripture where I have to sign a piece of paper to become a member of the church. I think the only requirement of being a member is to be born-again. If I attend regularly at a Bible believing church, I would consider myself a member of that church. Thus, I would be under the leadership's authority, serve, tithe, etc. Membership to me is a man-made concept to protect the church from being sued by unhappy members.

#39  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Friday, January 11, 2013at 9:08 AM

Comment deleted by user.
#40  Posted by Jeremiah Johnson  |  Friday, January 11, 2013at 9:32 AM

Ben (36) and Michael (39),

There are some easy ways to get yourself expelled from our comments section, or at least find yourself in the penalty box for a while. Keith hasn't crossed any of those lines yet.

As long as everyone stays respectful, on topic, and open to critique, I think a debate like we've had in the above thread can be healthy and productive.

#41  Posted by Fred Butler  |  Friday, January 11, 2013at 9:38 AM

I agree with Jeremiah. I think Keith has made some excellent points. I am not saying he is correct by any means, but his views do reflect the opinions of many individuals regarding church membership. Because of that I wouldn't want to just shut him down because he is being disagreeable. Disagreement helps us sharpen our own perspectives as well as those we are disagreeing with.

Fred

#42  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Friday, January 11, 2013at 9:39 AM

Unerstood. Thank you Jeremiah.

#43  Posted by Fred Butler  |  Friday, January 11, 2013at 9:43 AM

Gideon, #35,

The last thing you want to do is become a grief for your pastor. If the people there love the Lord and you can serve faithfully alongside of them without you compromising your convictions, I would encourage you to see how much you can make it work.

Certainly if there is another church in your area with more like-minded convictions and you are compelled to join it, by all means, do so. But do so with respect and blessing to your previous church and the pastor. IOW, don't leave a dark cloud of disagreement between parties.

#44  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Friday, January 11, 2013at 9:52 AM

And thank you Fred.

#45  Posted by Timothy Daigneault  |  Friday, January 11, 2013at 10:55 AM

Gideon, #35

I would certainly not act flippantly with changing churches. It's not that Arminians are evil or heretical, it's more so that when the leadership is against the Doctines of Grace, and from that postition, take Arminian theology to the extreme. The church will typically become very pragmatic.

For instance the church I attended had "events" to reach the lost nearly monthly. They always advertised free stuff to lure people in, and then, do the whole bait and switch tactic with a watered-down cheesy gospel message. They would even have raffles for free tv's. The staff and most of the core members of the church were pushed harder and harder, to the point of exhaustion, and people would just walk away from the church.

For me, it wasn't just a mere disagreement on a few finer points of the gospel. It was an entire worldview of what is the purpose of the church.

#46  Posted by Gideon Moses  |  Friday, January 11, 2013at 12:24 PM

Fred #43

Thank you for your reply, I do think of that the whole time I have considered leaving. We love our church family and would hate to hurt them but I know even talking with my pastor he is in total disagreement with the Doctrines of Grace. I have heard him say from the pulpit that he got saved when he was 4 years old but made Christ his Lord when he was in his twenties. I have a serious problem with that and yet love him for how he stands up for the truth and won't cave in to liberal teaching. Yet some of his ministry/financial/business decisions have been really screwy and with this assembly he is the sole with no Elders only Deacons that only act as a sounding board. So, anyway I believe in church membership for sure and we have seen our family grow over the years spiritually developing a good spiritual foundation for my children because of it for we were always involved and at church regularly three and four times per week. But I KNOW it could have been so much better if our church would have had a higher understanding and disciplining of the Sovereignty of God. I think it is just a matter of truly trusting God's direction and perfect will in our lives, for everyone's path is different.

#47  Posted by Gideon Moses  |  Friday, January 11, 2013at 12:53 PM

Timothy, #45

Our church is not really like that BUT I will say they have had certain programs to bring people in. But nothing like gimmickry. Even though our churches world view is not exactly like a church that holds to The Doctrines of Grace they are certainly not liberal or even lean that way. They are Fundamental and yet on the contemporary side of Fundamentalism but Fundamental all the same. We have had other really good young men leave our church because of this issue and maybe and probably left the wrong way with letters written about certain things that should not of been written and now there is a really bad taste in our pastors mouth over these issues. So for me to go to him and discuss with him my reformed doctrine leanings I am sure it wouldn't be good. For my families sake I am really trying to seek what God has for us WITHOUT using my flesh to make a hasty decision I will always regret. I believe in church membership wholeheartedly and am praying for Gods direction in this delicate matter.