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Rethinking Membership

Rethinking Membership

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Published by casey_reece_2
Church Membership
Church Membership

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: casey_reece_2 on Aug 31, 2011
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08/31/2011

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Rethinking Church Polity: Membership, Leadership, andDiscipleship
This is the first draft of my thoughts regarding church polity within the CHM. Feedback welcome.
Caveat
This is not a proposal to reform currently existing denominational structures. Those most likely to benefit fromthese thoughts are pastors of independent churches who recognize that their membership, leadership, anddiscipleship structures are functioning poorly, if at all, and want direction for bringing them into greater harmonywith the Scripture.
A Membership Problem
The churches within the Conservative Holiness Movement are currently in a crisis of church membership. On average less than 35% of the attendees are members. Non-members who want to be involved in church ministry cannot be involved, or churches arecompromising their standards for church leadership in order to involve them.Along with the absence of church membership is a devastating absence of restorativechurch discipline. Our leaders do not know the processes Jesus and the Apostles spelled outto deal with church discipline or the purposes God has for instituting these processes. Forthose who attempt to follow the biblical instructions without church membership, theirchurch is in danger of being sued for libel or defamation.1We are all aware of approaches to membership that are inclusivistic and render membershipbasically meaningless. In our circles, membership is exclusivistic and viewed as dangerous:
it’s almost all responsibility and the only privilege, voting, is liable to create dissension and
disharmony.The kernel of the idea proposed here is two-fold (1) to follow Scripture in distinguishingthe criteria for church membership from the criteria for church leadership, and (2) torecreate in modern local church membership a situation somewhat analogous to thesituation in which Methodist membership came into being.
1 For the genesis of my thoughts on church membership, see my blog post A Major Reason I Advocate ChurchMembership 
 
2
A Synopsis of original Methodist Society membership
When John Wesley began the Methodist societies and class meetings, he was a member of the Anglican Church as were most of those in his societies. The Methodist society wascreated for those who wanted to flee the wrath to come and who wanted to pursue holinesspassionately and methodically.When the Methodist Episcopal Church in America was created by John Wesley along withBishop Asbury and Thomas Coke, the rules for membership in the society became the rulesfor membership in the church. What was a renewing society within the church in Englandbecame its own church in America and the bar to membership now existed at a level farabove that for membership in the Body of Christ or in the Anglican Communion.The problem this created for the Conservative Holiness movement, which is the grandchildof the Methodist Episcopal Church,2 is that one must be a mature, theologically developed,and life-style compliant believer in order to be a member of the church. Since membershipis currently
the
doorway to ministry involvement and leadership positions, in order to keep
leadership “clean,” the bar for membership must be relatively high.
 
Toward a Multi-Dimensional Solution
The solution to our current crisis is multi-faceted. It involves moving our churchmembership, leadership, and discipleship structures into closer alignment with Scripture.
Church Membership: A New Testament Model 
The New Testament describes a church authority structure in which there are separate anddistinct sets of criteria for membership and leadership. Membership in the body of Christdid not give one the right to assume a leadership role within the Body. Just the contrary,membership in the Body of Christ brought with it the privileges of being subordinate andaccountable to God-
ordained leadership, having spiritual authorities watch for one’s soul,
and receiving and giving spiritual support and edification to fellow believers.New Testament evidence for the existence of church membership within the 1
st
centurychurch31.
 
The role of “the church” in disciplining an unrepentant brother (Matt 18:15
-17). Jesus
gives “the church” the role of final court of appeal in matters of church discipline of the
unrepentant within the body. It is inconceivable that just anyone who showed up for thelocal service would have the right and responsibility to participate in disciplining a
 believer who has sinned. “The church” must have been a definable group to handle such
a sensitive and serious matter.2.
 
The role of “the church” in excommunicating the unrepentant (Matt. 18:15
-17; 1 Cor.
5). If the believer who has sinned does not listen to “the church,” then “the church” has
a responsibility to excommunicate them from their fellowship and regard them as a
sinner. If there is no clearly defined membership of “the church” how is this command
2 For more info on this, see my paper on Bible Methodism and the sources referenced there. 3
The following discussion has been adapted from John Piper’s similar presentation to his church membership. The original
may be found here. 
 
3to be practiced? In order to exclude someone from a group there must be a clearlydefined group from which they may be excluded.3.
 
The mutual accountability of believers and elders (Heb. 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Tim.5:17).
Hebrews 13:17
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those whowill give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:12
But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently laboramong you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction,
13
and that you esteem themvery highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.
1 Timothy 5:17
The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially thosewho work hard at preaching and teaching.
Who are these passages requiring to submit to whom? Who are the leaders and who arethe followers? These passages imply that there must be some kind of commitment thatexisted between those who were submitting and those who were leading so that theycould identify one another.
1 Tim. 5:17’s language of “those
 
who rule well” implies that those being ruled evaluate
those doing the ruling. This is practically impossible unless there is a clearly definedgroup who recognize who is ruling them.4.
 
The responsibility of elders to watch for “the flock” (Acts 20:28). Th
e first
responsibility of elders is to care for “the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made youoverseers, to care for the church of God.” In order for an elder to know who “the flock”
is, there must be a clearly defined and limited set of people.All of the above data suggests that the New Testament church, although without technical,legal formalities, had a clearly established set of criteria by which one was defined as a
member of “the church” or “the flock.” The NT suggests that the criteria would
have
included public believer’s baptism identifying with Christ, public profession of faith in
Jesus as the Christ and Lord, and dedicated participation in the life of the local church (cf.Acts 2:42).
S
UGGESTED
M
ODEL FOR 
M
ODERN
C
HURCH
M
EMBERSHIP
 
Church membership is available to those who:
 
have a clear testimony of saving faith in Christ alone for salvation
 
have participated in water baptism in confession of their faith in Christ.
 
have completed a 10-12 week membership class that introduces them to the basics of the Christian life and the substance of the privileges and responsibilities of local churchmembers.
 
fully commit to assume all the responsibilities and privileges of membership.
 
recognize that failure to fulfill their membership responsibilities will bring them under
the church’s restorative discipline to help them sustain their relationship with the Lord.
 Local church membership should be a commitment to the following responsibilities andprivileges:Responsibilities
 
 
commitment to progressive discipleship designed to move all members into spiritualmaturity and active ministries for which they are gifted.
 
commitment to support the local ministry financially through tithing
 
commitment to regular accountability to the church leadership

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