June 2006

So… when you plant a simple church, when do you consider a person a member of the church? Who would want to read much less summarize all that has been written on subjects that attempt to answer this question?

First, let’s use the notation of “big C” for the universal Church, the bride and body of Christ, and “little c” to serve as a group of believers that meet together regularly to encourage one another.

There doesn’t appear to be any debate about a person having to be a member of the Church before they can become a member of the church. So membership in a church seems to be all about practical matters: teaching, encouraging, loving, admonishing, honoring, etc. The church is where the rubber hits the road for all the “one another” passages (click here for the 59 or so one-another passages in the NT). If you meet regularly with a group of believers and are a member of the Church, then you are a member of the church.

For the typical church of Christ congregation, Church membership is born out in the five steps of salvation (hear, believe, repent, confess, baptism for remission of sin). For other’s it would involve things like sinner’s prayer, training, election by the church, baptism of the Holy Spirit, or some denomination-specific rites.

So what about me? How will I qualify a person as a member of the Church when they come into the church? Out of love and genuine interest, I’d ask for their witness. How did they come to know Jesus? What has God been doing in their life? How have they been led/aided by the Holy Spirit? If, in the course of their witness, I discover, as Paul did in Acts 19:1-3, that they had a different experience than my own, I’ll discuss it with them. But in the end I will accept this person even if they believe differently than I do as long as they have accepted the Lordship of Jesus.

Lordship of Jesus… That’s a loaded term! To die to myself daily, to accept his will for me, to turn away from immorality, to turn away from idolatry, to accept that he came in the flesh, to confess he is Lord and the Son of God, to acknowledge that he died and has risen from the dead, to obey him and inspired scripture, and on and on it goes. Will any two people have the same expression of Jesus’ Lordship? I doubt it, and we see diversity of Lordship expression in the first century. Lots of diversity and lots of discord!

So what do I do with people that disagree with me? I accept them as God’s servants. Romans 14:4 “Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” All of Romans 14 is particularly applicable here.

Are there any exceptions to this rule of acceptance? Sure, there are some beliefs and behaviors that cannot be tolerated among the church. See my compilation of passages related to acceptance and rejection at http://yeldell.org/robin/bible/AcceptanceandRejection.pdf. We cannot allow those who practice immorality, teach works-based salvation, deny the identity of Jesus, or deny the authority and inspiration of the Bible to be “blemishes at our love feasts.”

What if someone comes into your midst and wants to become a follower of Jesus? What are you going to tell him in your loosy-goosy membership doctrine? That’s pretty easy, I’ll tell them what it is to become a disciple in the clear and unmistakable pattern of Matthew 28:20 and Acts 2:37-47 (discipleship, repentance, baptism, obedience, community).


Christian Chronicle has an article "Churches in living rooms, coffee shops a growing trend" in this month's issue speaking to the growing interest in simpler church among the churches of Christ. Caitlin and I both got to add our two-cents worth in the article. It can be found online at http://www.christianchronicle.org/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=342