"Love is that liquor sweet and most divine, Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine."

- George Herbert
"Not Possible, Biblical or Healthy"

Is Church Membership Really Required?:

Leaving the church is not simply leaving a club. When you walk away, you dismember yourself from the body. Jesus and the rest of the body sorely miss you, and bleed after your departure. You cut yourself off from your only source of life and nourishment. Like an amputated hand, you will slowly bleed out, wither, and die.

I hear you complaining already. My, he's being a bit dramatic. I'm a member of Christ; I just can't find a local church I like. I'm a member of the universal church, just not of any one in particular.

I want you to understand that being a part of the universal church without submitting to a local church is not possible, biblical, or healthy.
Plus this.
Every letter in the New Testament assumes Christians are members of local churches. The letters themselves are addressed to local churches. They teach us how to get along with other members, how to encourage the weak within the church, how to conduct ourselves at church, and what to do with unrepentant sinners in the church. They command us to submit to our elders, and encourage us to go to our elders to pray. All these things are impossible if you aren't a member of a local church. (See 1 and 2 Corinthians, James, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and 1 Peter for references.)

Asking where the Bible commands you to be a church member is like asking where the USGA rulebook for golf insists you be a human. The whole book is addressed to the church.

[Hat Tip: Jared]

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Comments on ""Not Possible, Biblical or Healthy"":
1. Karl - 03/31/2014 10:26 am CDT

The Gospel Coalition takes it farther than I would, says it differently than I would, and usually seems to assume to a greater degree than I am comfortable with that "submitting to a local church" means following the American church model.

But we talked about all those things at length in two or three long threads last year (spring or summer, I think) and there's probably nothing to be said about it now that I (and nhe, and Bill) didn't say back then. Understanding that you are open to alternative forms of Christian fellowship and are really most concerned with Christians who cut themselves off from all Christian community, then I don't have a beef with what (I think) you mean.

Was this GC piece in response to the Donald Miller kerfuffle a few weeks back?

2. Ami - 03/31/2014 12:11 pm CDT


Perhaps, but nowhere in the bible is "church" defined as (1) a concert, or (2) a lecture... but that is precisely what most people consider "going to church" to be.

Apart from those whose church is also a community, what most people do on Sunday mornings is neither necessary nor sufficient to meet the qualification of church.

3. Bird - 04/01/2014 7:40 am CDT

nowhere in the bible is "church" defined as (1) a concert, or (2) a lecture... but that is precisely what most people consider "going to church" to be.

That's probably true in a lot of instances, but I can't say that's been my experience in a lifetime of church attendance. I've been to concerts -- they're nothing like worship on Sunday mornings. I've been through, um, 5 years of college courses and have heard countless lectures -- they're nothing like the life-giving ministry of the Word. :-)

4. Karl - 04/01/2014 9:32 am CDT

But that is the experience of the modern American church model for many. Some combination of concert/performance/pep rally with music carefully chosen to produce the desired emotional ebb and flow and to set the theme for the day, followed by a 30-40 minute performance by a speaker on whose delivery the perceived success of the morning in the eyes of many will rise or fall and who gives something that ranges somewhere (depending on the church) between a theology lecture, a TED Talk, and a coach's impassioned halftime speech.

Nothing *wrong* with any of that. It is one way to worship and learn about God. It can be and is edifying for many.

The main important point I believe, is to not intentionally cut oneself off from all Christian community. Whether that means "you have to join an organization that calls itself a church that meets once a week and has a service of some sort" we might debate. It seems that the author of this piece might believe that to be so. From comments Bill has made in the past it seems that he is more open to other forms of participating in and being a part of the body of Christ in the world.

5. Bill - 04/01/2014 10:49 am CDT

One other qualifier I'd add: I think the healthiest community is not one hand-picked.

For example, someone disillusioned by the institutional church may decide that their Christian community is a group of friends meeting at Starbucks on Tuesday nights. Now - that is way better than nothing. But a church is not people who are all in the same age range, ethnicity, socioeconomic strata, political philosophy, etc.

We should strive to be in a church that has people that are different than us. That's when grace has it's full effect - when we are forced to deal with and love and bless those who we wouldn't normally associate with.

But again, the Starbucks scenario mentioned above is WAY better than just saying "I have no need of you" and isolating oneself in a solitary "Just Me and Thee, God" type of existence (unless, of course, one is in a place with no other Christians, which doesn't happen in the USA).

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