Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Piper on membership

Watch this video from John Piper on “membership”. Dr. Piper admits that there is no explicit command or example of membership in the local church but he defends it as implied. I don’t find his line of reasoning very convincing, especially given how big Bethlehem Baptist Church is.

Here is my problem with this. If you need a system of formal church membership to know who the “members” of the local church are, that is indicative of a problem. When there were discipline problems in the early church (for example 1 Corinthians 5: 9-13), they stopped being in fellowship with the unrepentant transgressor. They didn’t remove his name from a written list; they had nothing to do with him, refusing to even eat with him.

The key here is all about demonstrating a tangible commitment to the Body of Christ, to live out in deed and not just in words the command to “love one another”. I get that. I just don’t agree that it is represented by declaring “this is my church” and therefore “that church over there is NOT my church”. The traditional formal membership system divides the Body into fiefdoms and inhibits Christian unity by turning groups of believers into competitors for members (and their offerings).

How did the New Testament church show their dedication and commitment to one another? Walking an aisle? Signing a piece of paper? Attending the requisite number of “membership” classes? Of course not.

The early church showed commitment to one another in lives lived together, with complete sacrifice. Sacrifice of time, sacrifice of self, sacrifice of rights, sacrifice of property and counted all of it as nothing compared to the joy of community in the covenant Body of Christ.

If you want to show faithfulness to Christ lived out in community with the Body, skip the formalism. Skip the membership classes. Skip the miserly “tithe” envelope. Give yourselves to one another as the church. Take everything the world tells you us important and set it aside as meaningless. That is the path I am seeking for our family, carving out the unimportant and worldly to live in community. I am not sure how that is going to look yet but I am certain that if we focus on loving others more than ourselves and unraveling the love of worldliness, community will naturally result.

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Steve Scott said...

Seven fold amen.

Steve Scott said...

Actually, every passage in the NT that deals with members of the body presupposes that every Christian is already a member of Christ. The tragedy of all this formal membership stuff is that unless you have signed on the dotted line, people implicitly think less of you, as Piper admits himself. You already have the deck stacked against you from the beginning.

Now, if "becoming a member" is nowhere commanded in the bible, then it is a matter of conscience, and as Romans 14 tells us, the Lord will make us stand as regards to our conscience. So obeying the Lord of your conscience is unbiblical?

Jeff said...

I believe that Mark Herzer makes the best case for Church membership (although he is not dealing with names on rolls, ec.). Here is a link to the audio and here is a link to a PDF.

Alan Knox said...

You disagree with Piper? I didn't know anyone was allowed to disagree with Piper... this changes everything. ;)


Mr. VonDoloski said...

No, they didn't walk an aisle or sign a piece of paper, I think they met with the elders who examined their life for fruits of repentance and understanding and faith in the gospel and the people submitted themselves to their oversight, among other things.

Aussie John said...


I am with you on this. It's interesting that more than a century ago, the great J.C.Ryle preached a sermon which is very applicable for today. It's easy to find under the title, J.C Ryle on Formalism. He quotes another who preceded him,Thomas Hall, speaking on on 2 Timothy 3:5, in 1658, who declared:
"Formalism,formalism, formalism is the great sin of this day, under which the whole country groans. There is more light than there was, but less life; more profession, but less holiness."

Sounds very familiar: Don't you think?

Arthur Sido said...


You think that but is there any evidence for that in Scripture?

Mark said...

I love everything about this post, and subsequent comments, and I agree 100%. Our membership in the body is a given once we are in Christ, and, as you stated Arthur, to require believers to "sign on the dotted line" is to gather believers unto oneself, thus creating little mini-kingdoms, and causing division in the body. This must not happen! Whether or not we are committed to a local body is not determined by a piece of paper we sign. Our commitment will be obvious by our actions