What Does Church Membership Really Mean to You?

What Does Church Membership Really Mean to You?
Today’s Thoughts…
March 13, 2009
By Pastor Lee Hemen

We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. (Acts 15:24)

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (1 John 2:19)

Dissension within the ranks of a military unit can cause harm, confusion, and disruption. It can when it occurs within the church as well. How sad is it when those who claim Christ, who were once part of a loving fellowship, that now speak against or tacitly work against His church body. The church at Jerusalem was saddened by people who claimed to be part of the church there and then deliberately went out to disrupt what Paul and others were doing in winning the lost. They started their own fellowships in order to draw others away from what Paul taught. They claimed to know the truth better than Paul. (Can you imagine?) They taught things that were contrary to what the early church taught on love, acceptance, and forgiveness. They said holiness was found in what they taught instead of the grace of God through Jesus Christ. So much so that the Jerusalem church leadership felt they needed to write a letter to all of the churches so that they would know exactly what these “Judaizers” were teaching and that there were those who willingly were causing dissension within the church’s ranks.

The Apostle John would later say that these kinds of disruptors had gone out from the church, but they did not really belong to the church! Wow! That sounds pretty harsh but was it true? Yes! Why? John related that “if they had belonged to us (the church), they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” John is saying they showed their “true colors,” as in the words of Cyndi Lauper.

There are always those who want to have it their way, think they could do a better job, or that they are not “listened” to, instead of humbly submitting to the established authority of the body of Christ they belong to or working within the church itself. If they are told “no” by the body of Christ or its leadership, they see it as a personal offense. We see this in folks who hop from church to church looking for that “perfect” place, but never find it because they themselves are in reality the problem. (Kind of like what Charles Spurgeon wrote!) We find it in those who say they “love” their church, its pastor, and its members, then use the qualifier “but” when speaking about it to others.

Paul absolutely hated these kinds of people and saw them for what they were: “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. (2 Timothy 3:2-7)

Man oh man was Paul ever hard on these folks! If a pastor wrote this about those who cause dissension in today’s church, he would be branded as “uncaring, hurtful, or mean-spirited.” In our day and age we have forgotten that the church holds a sacred place with the Lord. He established it, died for it, gave it its authority, enabled its leadership, and gave it spiritual gifts to use within its confines. Jesus sees His body as sacrosanct, holy, and His. Christians have come to falsely think because they enjoy free will and are seen as a priest before the Lord, they can think or do whatever they want, including when it comes to the local church. This is patently false and wrong theology. When Christians leave a church over pettiness, disagreements over ministry, or how they think things should be run – and then try to sway others to join in their personal proclivity Paul says they are “men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected!” Not my words, Paul’s!

As a pastor I have seen folks leave churches for many reasons. Some moved away, some left the faith, some died, some saw the church leadership teaching heresy, and some left in frustration or anger because of personal disagreement. But whatever the reason a person leaves a church for, they would do well to remember the words of Paul and others who saw those who left but then tried to gain a following through deceit and disruption afterwards as ungodly and working against the will of Christ and His body!

Be very careful my dear fellow Christian when you leave a church in frustration, because what you do afterwards speaks volumes as to what your true motives are and what you really believe about Jesus and His church that He loves.

This article is the copyrighted 2009 © property of Lee Hemen and may not be copied or reproduced in any way shape or form without using the full text of this entire article, and getting the permission of its author.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “What Does Church Membership Really Mean to You?

  1. Lee, I’ve got to ask you, do you think members of a congregation are ever justified in leaving a particular local fellowship?

    • Yes, if they are teaching heresy, if the pastor is in blatant sin and refuses to repent and step down, or if the congregation refuses to hold those teaching heresy or the pastor accountable. Now this means you personally have tried to get them to change. Sneaking off into the night, while others suffer is not godly. If there is a problem and you recognize it, you must stand up to it the best you can under God’s leadership. Get advice and insight from other godly people, not as gossip, but as to encouragement and insight. Far too many people leave a church because they are bored. Usually it is because they feel their children, their youth, or themselves are not being “fed” enough. Code word for personal boredom stemming from a non-committal attitude about sacrifice and serving. People forget that you are part of the body you belong to, and therefore may be part of the problem… until you do something about it.

      Why? Are you considering leaving your church fellowship?

      • I and my family left a congregation where my wife and I served as Sunday School teachers and I served several years as a deacon because I perceived the pastor and elders wished to create almost a boutique or niche congregation catering primarily to a particular demographic, and that the winsome and worldly values held up as “good,” while not altogether heretical, had more to do with the country club than church. I did stand up and speak up about this to the pastor and elders in the form of letter, and I spoke with them face to face, as well.

        As with most people, my best motives are mixed, and there was a certain amount of self-serving in my decision. As one who did not fit the target demographic, I had a sense of second or third tier belonging that galled me. On the other hand, I think my observations vis-a-vis the country club were accurate.

        Did I like a hireling flee away when I saw the wolves approaching? I wonder about that sometimes. On the other hand, I’d reached a point where if I had remained, I would have pretty soon been asked to leave. One of the horrible things I saw in that congregation was that many women attended without their husbands. I had no intention of abandoning my wife to what I considered a miry place, and had made a promise to her prior to our marriage that I would always attend services with her somewhere.

        Ironically, had we remained in place, we would have been part of a local body that has its own building, a nursery for our toddler son, and a lot of people we genuinely respect, value, love, and trust. And while we worship with people who fit all four categories mentioned last in the previous sentence, it is something of an annoyance for my wife that we have not creature comforts of an established conventional or (to use the term in a not particularly pejorative sense) institutional church on the North American model.

        I suppose I object to the idea that I and my family necessarily require the services of a religious professional, believing as I do in the priesthood of all believers. I object to the idea that I must live out arguably the most important area of my life in submission to another human being who purports to mediate between me and God – that is, who seems claims to stand in the place of Christ. And this may be someone who knows nothing more about living the Christian life on earth than I do.

        Despite the manner in which I write, I am not really angry about any of this right now, but I have been in the past.

        Currently my family and I are worshiping regularly with a small Baptist congregation, and have been for about the last three or so years.

        Lee, I’m going to quit writing now. Like so many people who write about their faith, theology, ecclesiology, and so forth, on the Internet I’ve a) written at times in the style of 19th Century hymnody, b) strayed from the main topic (rambled), and c) gotten a little strident.

        Best, C.

      • Sadly, this is happening more and more. I am so sorry that is has with your family. Churches that have opted to go for a specific demographic are not following the will of the Lord whereby all people are to be witnessed to. I am a little surprised at your comment however that, “I object to the idea that I and my family necessarily require the services of a religious professional, believing as I do in the priesthood of all believers. I object to the idea that I must live out arguably the most important area of my life in submission to another human being who purports to mediate between me and God – that is, who seems claims to stand in the place of Christ. And this may be someone who knows nothing more about living the Christian life on earth than I do.”

        If past pastors have sold you on this concept or if you have erroneously learned this, it is not biblical. Pastors are the leader only as the church submits to his leadership and he submits to Christ. When you become part of a local body of Christ, you willingly submit yourself to serve in the body under his leadership. No pastor knows everything, however we are to trust that the Lord would speak to him as we pray for him, and guide him as our leader. There is only one head of the church, Jesus Christ, but pastors are the head of the local body of believers. Are they human and make mistakes? Absolutely. Pastors do not “mediate between” you and God, only Jesus does. There is only one mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus Christ. Pastors lead a local congregation to do the mission and ministry God desires for that specific church. Like a captain of a ship guides it through the rough seas.

        It sounds like you have been hurt by the experience, and this is to be expected. A local church is like family and in some cases even more so because of the spiritual component involved. I know I am closer to many in my own church than even some in my family, such as my mother or siblings, simply because they are not believers. I will pray that this does not sour you on being part of a local congregation. There are many great churches out there that are doing the work of the Lord. And I encourage you find one to humbly serve in and support.

        A church that wants to be spiritually myopic and only desires to reach a certain segment of society can boarder on heresy or at the least spiritual blindness. So does those churches that spoon feed a watered down version of the gospel to make everyone feel good about themselves. Frankly, I would leave as well if they were unwilling to listen or mature in their vision. While the Bible contains many truths that can help us to be better families, parents, and individuals — it was not written as a self-help guide to better living through spirituality. It was written to give us the good news of Jesus Christ and to help mature us to serve him while we are here on earth in his church. God bless you and your little family.

  2. Hey Lee,

    Of course the experience was painful, but the pain provided useful information that motivated us to make a necessary change. What I was trying to say about religious professionals, and that phrase probably does sound unduly pejorative for which I apologize, is that I’m pretty bought-into the scriptural idea of the priesthood of all believers. The pejorative vibe is related to the experiences I’ve had in various congregations and at seminary encountering people who seem to have essentially called themselves to ministry after having a) been very involved in their church youth groups; b) been elevated by youth leaders to positions of student leadership; c) attending college or Bible college and being active in parachurch organizations; d) going on to some form of denominational or seminary ministry training; e) obtaining full-time paid positions within the organizational framework of a local congregation all without f) having ever experienced much of life or work outside the framework and safety provided by a religious organization. This isn’t to say that none of those whose career paths followed that trajectory are capable of theological reflection or of contributing meaningfully to the lives of those they are employed to serve, but it is obviously possible that the Christian lives they have lived have little to do, in terms of life experience and circumstance, to do with those of the congregation.

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