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Some Thoughts about Church Membership – Part 4

This morning I am overwhelmed with gratitude to the Lord.  He is letting me write this blog on the critical issue of church membership while I am teaching Burmese students in Myanmar for three weeks!  In a country of great poverty, he has me in a nice hotel room with time to work on class material and a fairly strong internet connection!  I am a blessed man.

But do I worship the Lord only when things are going well?  I hope not.  As we continue our examination of the early church and the issue of connection to the local church, we have been looking at a pivotal passage, Acts 2:41-42.  Here’s that text again:

I’ve grown up in a denomination (the Plymouth Brethren) that has frowned upon church “membership.”  Sometimes for good reasons.  However, the New Testament testimony is that the early Christians bound themselves together to serve the Lord with four specific priorities in mind.

We have seen their emphasis upon biblical doctrine.  We have also noticed their concern for genuine fellowship with one another.  Let’s notice this morning their third priority which is —

Priority #3: The Worth of Worship

We learn from Acts 2:42 that the early Christians devoted themselves to “the breaking of bread.” This expression could refer simply to the sharing of a common meal together, but that would seem to repeat the idea of fellowship. The early believers practiced the Agape feast which archeologists tell us was the precursor to our pot-luck church dinners (I think they have uncovered the clay equivalent of a Tupperware casserole dish). Christians shared a common meal, fellowshiped over the things they had in common in Christ, then someone would make a smooth transition and bring out bread and wine so they could celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. Remembering the Lord’s death until His return was one primary form of worship for the early Christians.

I grew up in a tradition which has very few distinguishing characteristics. The “Open Brethren” celebrate a weekly Lord’s Supper, usually by a separate service dedicated to following the instructions given by the Lord Jesus in Luke 22 and repeated by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.

That weekly service typically is not led by a minister. The men of the congregation are encouraged to come to that service prepared to share a Scripture or lead the congregation in a hymn which focuses on the sacrificial death of Christ for us. Some Brethren celebrations of the Lord’s Supper are painful (for example, when there are long periods of silence because the men have not prepared themselves to lead in worship, or one brother in particular waxes long on some pet doctrine, or the singing, often a capella, is so bad it would shatter a paper cup). Most I have found are encouraging and meaningful.

There are many ways to worship the Lord. “The breaking of the bread” was a reminder to the believing community of the sacrifice the Son of God gave that we might be forgiven and worship God “in the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 29:2). (from the book DocWALK: Putting into Practice What You Say You Believe, pp. 169-170). (to be continued)

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2018 in church membership

 

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Some Thoughts about Church Membership – Part 1

Friends: I’ve been asked by the leadership of Cedarcroft Bible Chapel in New Jersey to help them think through a more defined understanding of church membership.  Among the so-called Plymouth Brethren assemblies (such as Cedarcroft), church “membership” has been more implicit than explicit.  Those who attend regularly are considered members, but often no formal declaration of their “joining” the local church is made.  Only occasionally will a church membership class be offered.  It seems to be more an issue of faithful attendance than any specified or organized process that is followed.

There are some good reasons why the Brethren assemblies have resisted more formal church membership.  Some would say that it is difficult (if not impossible) to find verses that support the traditional view of church membership.  Second, as a whole the Brethren have typically resisted some of the practices of the so-called “denominations.”  A third reason would be what some would see as the abuse of church membership (that is, some think it is salvation-bringing).  It has also not gone unnoticed that few churches purge their membership roles due to non-attendance or unrepented-of-sin.

But, properly defined, biblical church membership offers some genuine advantages to less formal ways of looking at one’s involvement in a local church.  Let me suggest four advantages to a more formal — and more biblical — way of looking at one’s connection to the people of God.

First, a membership document (“covenant”) provides the spiritual leadership with the opportunity for spelling out expectations of church involvement (the need for church offices, such as elders and deacons; respect for leadership; concern regarding spiritual gifts; commitment to service; process of necessary church discipline; etc.). There is a great advantage to the congregation’s publicly reading aloud this church covenant every time new members are received.

Second, a membership covenant explains possible situations in which the congregation of members is asked to vote for or against certain proposals.  Being on a formal membership “role” helps identify those who have the right to vote in the congregation.

Third, a membership covenant spells out the process of discipline the spiritual leaders will follow in serious situations. Therefore, the “members” are aware of the process (perhaps lessening the likelihood of lawsuits in cases of unrepentant members).  Further, it is difficult to “discipline” someone who is merely an “attender” at the local church’s services.  Membership means something and loss of membership ought to be a serious consideration in the Christian’s life!

Fourth, it could be argued that the absence of details about formal church membership in the New Testament is simply due to the fact that the uninvolved, non-serving believer is not considered a viable option in the Word! (“God has no sons who are not servants!”). (to be continued)

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2018 in church membership

 

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