I got into a discussion about the merits or lack thereof of the traditional church membership system. I went back and looked at some of the posts I wrote up about this topic a few years ago and thought I should repost this one. Turns out I was talking about getting the church out of the civil marriage business back then!
What I wrote here still rings true. If you don't know who to love without a membership list that speaks to a much broader problem.
A few days ago, I posted about "church membership" in a post titled A quick thought on ‘church membership’ and titles. Alan Knox picked up on that theme and wrote a companion post of his own, Is this the connection between love and membership? The comments that followed were interesting, including one that compared formal church membership with marriage. The point of the comment was that there is a need for church membership and suggested that is you didn't believe that, try suggesting to your wife that a marriage certificate and wedding ceremony are unneccesary. I thought that was a very interesting comment and it got me thinking about our cultural traditions that surround marriage and the parallels with the church.
If you are married, think about your marriage and what it means. Ask yourself a couple of questions:
- If you didn't have wedding rings to wear, would you still be married?
- If you didn't get a marriage certificate from the state, would you still be married in the eyes of God and one another?
- If you didn't have a wedding ceremony, would you still consider yourselves wed to one another, forsaking all others?
I would imagine that most people, and especially Christians, view marriage as transcending the wedding day and the marriage certificate and the wedding ring. I would also hazard a guess that the argument comparing weddings and marriage certificates to “church membership” would resonate with many Christians. My response to both assertions would be similar. If you need a wedding ring, a wedding ceremony and a marriage certificate to demonstrate your commitment to your spouse, you have a pretty shaky foundation for your marriage. If you require oaths and covenants of fealty to a local church organization to identify who you should love and serve and which men to follow you don’t have much of a foundation in the church.
Biblical marriage is a binding covenant relationship, not a legal contract, and being part of the church is a relationship rather than a formalized system. You cannot substitute contracts and formalities for either one. As I said in the prior post, If you love one another, “membership” is completely unnecessary. If you don’t love one another, “membership” won’t make a difference anyway. The same holds true in marriage. If you love one another, the wedding ceremony and marriage license are superfluous. If you don’t love one another you marriage will never last or at least never be one pleasing to God no matter how big the diamond or how lovely the wedding ceremony. You should check out Alan’s post and the comments that follow.
To get on my soapbox for a minute, I have long thought that the church should not be in the business of performing wedding ceremonies in partnership with the state. In other words the church should not serve as an agent of the state to facilitate legal weddings. I think that it turns “church weddings” into just another cultural institution and along with that it loses value as the culture devalues marriage. Marriage between two Christians who become one flesh in the eyes of the church should be completely separate from two generic people getting married in the eyes of the state. Two Christians do not need the approval of the state, the blessing of an ordained cleric or a piece of paper to be wed. If Christian couples who wed want to go to the justice of the peace to get legal recognition for various purposes in the eyes of the state after the fact, that is fine. I just think that the weird system where the state recognizes marriages performed by the church yokes the two parties together and we certainly should avoid that wherever we can. The church never makes the state more holy but the state certainly infects the church and diverts it from the work of the Kingdom wherever the two are combined.