Church Membership Objections And Our Attempt To Help
Written by Brandon Adent
Why Not Membership?
In January, we wrote about reasons for membership, which you can see here. We talked about why it’s important, as well as a why people choose to become members of a local church.
This week, we’re going to take it in the inverse; we’ll be looking at a few reasons people object to local church membership. We’ll then briefly attempt to provide an answer to each one in turn.
Ultimately, our prayer is that you would see that membership is not just a cute idea or mere adherence to antiquated practice, but is rooted in Scripture, for your joy, and for your good.
So, with that, let’s get started:
1. You’re Unaware Of Any Biblical Basis For Membership
This is a reasonable objection. Membership - in the formal sense - doesn’t get much air time, and it’s not addressed as directly as other topics in Scripture (“You shall not murder”, “you shall not commit adultery”, etc). It can be easy to think that membership just isn’t that big a deal.
It is true that there is no 11th commandment: “Thou shalt be a member of a local church”.
We do, however, have a bunch of letters written to newly formed churches as part of the Scriptures, known as “epistles”. If you look at these letters, particularly 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus 1, you will find it hard to get around the issue of “order”: for authority to exist, there must be someone under authority; a particular “flock” entrusted to a particular group of shepherds; a particular group of Christians to a particular group of pastors.
I won’t take the time to unpack all this here, but if this is where you land on this topic, it’s worth looking at these passages to get a sense of the implications. I do think you will find that if you look for the answers, you will find that the Bible does uphold local church membership.
2. You’re Looking For The Perfect Church
Now, I want to be careful with this. To be sure, you should look for a church that preaches the gospel, where you agree theologically, where the elders are respectable, where you feel loved and appreciated.
But looking for the perfect church is like looking for a unicorn: Even if you found one, you should be skeptical.
There is no perfect church, because there are no perfect people but Jesus. And while all Christians are new creations in Him, (2 Cor 5, Eph 4.24), we’ve all got a lifetime of sinful thinking and habits to unlearn.
Some day, we will all be like Christ, but until then we keep going and growing as we seek after him. And God uses His Church as a means to grow His people to be more like His Son (Eph 4.11-16). There’s just no better impetus for growth than participating in a community of people who love Jesus, love you, will call you out on your sin, and will expect to be called out on theirs.
3. You’re Unsure Of Your Future Plans
This one especially comes up in college towns. Honestly, as a student, I felt the same way. All of these objections are matters of the heart. This one is particularly so.
Honestly, this can be a pretty lazy response, extending far beyond the subject at hand. Often, when it comes to subjects like membership, we just don’t want to do the work and devise a way out using our circumstances. Really, we should just be honest with ourselves and others about not wanting to do the work in the first place. Then, with the Holy Spirit’s leading, we can discern why we don’t think the good that may come is worth the effort.
Now, that said, this can be legitimate. If you’ve just starting coming to gatherings recently, will be graduating in six months, and aren’t sure where you’ll end up after that, that’s a different conversation. If you find yourself here, talk with one of the elders or a GC leader to figure out the best course of action.
4. You’re Afraid To Be Known
Often, I land here. Even having been a member for a few years (and attending for several), I worry about what people would think of me if they really knew who I was.
This is why we need to be reminded of the gospel continually. If you are in Christ, you are perfectly known by Him. In fact, He knows every wicked thought, word, and deed that has and will proceed from your being. And in full knowledge of this, Romans 5.8 says “…God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Because we have peace with God through Christ, we don’t have to be afraid to be known by other people, because ultimately they don’t define or own us. So we can be a part of a local church and not be afraid to be known.
Grace In And Through The Church
Whatever your reasons for not pursuing membership at a local church, you need to know that it’s okay to not know where you stand.
What’s not okay is apathy.
We really hope you’ll consider the motives behind your resistance to this teaching. Are you afraid? Proud? Lazy? Whatever the reason, subject it to the authority of Scriptures. Ask questions. Search for answers.
Ultimately, remember that the Church is a group of people bought by the blood of Jesus. If you are His, you’ve been made a saint, and saved into his church.
Covenant membership assures that you will be known, loved, and protected as a part of a community. We don’t get it perfect, and we may fail. But the testimony of the Scriptures is that God continually pours grace on people who don’t deserve it.
And being a member of the Church is part of that grace (Eph 4.11ff).