Rethinking Religion, Part 5: Formal Church Membership

“Bring up church membership and watch people squirm.” –Ed Stetzer

Isn’t that the truth? I squirmed just typing that and you probably did too as you read it. Formal church membership can be an explosive subject because people either see no need for it or they have a deep-seated emotional investment with it. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who is truly neutral to the idea of formal church membership. We seem to either run from it as an unnecessary burden that can in some instances be abusive, or we run to it with robust fervor because we’ve convinced ourselves those who aren’t a formal member in an institutional church are either sinning or fringe Christians who don’t really get it, or both.

In this post, I want to talk to you about formal church membership. It’s a subject that keeps presenting itself to me on this journey God has me on, so I want to address it. My views on formal church membership haven’t changed much in the last 44+ years but more recently, I’m seeing a trend in many institutional churches that is alarming. Allow me to say at the outset that I’ve pastored churches that have formal church membership and I’ve pastored churches that don’t. I’ve been on the inside of both systems and I’ve seen the positives and the negatives of each. I’ll talk more about that in a minute. First, let’s review where we’ve been in this Rethinking Religion series.

Review and Rewind

This is part five of a multi-part series I’ve called Rethinking Religion. If you haven’t read parts one thru four yet, you can use the links below to do so. In this post, we’re going to continue building on what I introduced in parts one thru four as we tackle the subject of formal church membership. What is formal church membership? Is formal church membership required of me? Is formal church membership a Biblical mandate that I am compelled to obey? If I choose not to become a formal member in a local church, am I sinning? Should I feel guilty? To refresh your memory, I’m presenting this multi-part series in the following order and there is more on the way:

Continue reading

Rethinking Religion, Part 4: Community and Accountability

This is part four of a multi-part series I’m calling Rethinking Religion. If you haven’t read parts one – three, I encourage you to read them before reading this one because they build on one another. Here’s a glimpse of what I’ve written so far:

I’ve previously noted that the directive by Ignatius (ca. 110 AD) was firmly in place in most local assemblies by the middle of the 3rd century (250 AD). By that time, Ignatius’ words, “Follow your bishop as Jesus Christ followed the Father… Let no one do anything in the church apart from the bishop… Holy communion is valid when celebrated by the bishop or someone the bishop authorizes” were considered the norm and assumed to be directives originating in scripture. But they are not. Tradition and tradition alone has given us this model. It is nowhere in the New Testament.

Continue reading