Monday, January 14, 2013

So this one has me puzzled

I saw a link this morning from John MacArthur titled Church Membership in the New Testament. I am always interested in the arguments for "church membership" as it is such a commonly held practice with such a tenuous argument from Scripture. This case was no different. MacArthur opens and closes his essay with an admission that there is no "church membership" in the New Testament. From his opening:

While the New Testament never speaks of church membership in today’s terms, the principles of life in the early church lay the foundation for faithfully submitting and belonging to a local congregation. While the original membership process might vary from today’s patterns, there’s no doubt that New Testament Christians were lovingly united and bound to their local body of believers.

That is somewhat vague. Note he admits that it isn't really there but that the "principles" are. After making some vague assertions what becomes apparent is that what we call "church membership" is not found in the New Testament and that is what is so frustrating. When you title an article "Church Membership in the New Testament" when you admit in that article that it isn't in the New Testament, that starts to sound disingenuous. At least title it "Church Membership Isn't In The New Testament But Here Is Why You Should Practice It Anyway" so the casual reader realizes what is being argued here. There are few words more abused in the church than "Biblical"/
Then there is the closing which provides an interesting clue (emphasis mine):

One of the key ways the church can guard itself from error and maintain its purity is to confirm the faith of its people and keep them accountable. The early church didn’t have a name for that—they didn’t need one. Today we call it church membership.

Read the bolded portion again. The early church didn't have anything called church membership because they didn't need to. We have church membership today because we do. So the solution is not a man-made tradition, it is to try to find what we have lost that the early church had that made "church membership" unnecessary. That is kind of beyond the point of my post but as always let me exhort you to test everything people tell you and doubly so when they say something is "Biblical"!


Steve Scott said...

Okay, this is eerie, like as in Twilight Zone eerie. You quote MacArthur as saying, "While the New Testament never speaks of church membership in today’s terms" and again, "While the original membership process might vary from today’s patterns..." I then wonder what more MacArthur thinks is necessary than the New Testament itself. Perhaps Another Testament? Just as I was thinking about "another testament," I glanced slightly over to the right margin of your blog and noticed a photo of a Mormon temple. Another testament.

And if that isn't creepy enough, just as I'm typing about how MacArthur's other testament being juxtaposed with a Mormon temple is Twilight Zone, I notice just to the left of my computer is a used DVD of volume 10 of the original Twilight Zone TV show that my wife bought earlier today at a used record store for a few bucks.

Now, THAT's pretty Twilight Zone if you ask me.

Drewe said...

An interesting thought - what about acts 5? Granted, a special example, but surely Ananias and Sapphira were not the only two people in the whole 'early church' who had issues - they were just the recorded example. And surely not everyone who sinned in such a way was instantly struck dead when questioned - they were the example.

So guess I would question the presumption that the early church didn't need to deal with issues in it's 'membership' (to use the term more broadly to encompass Christians as a whole).

Arthur Sido said...

Drewe, certainly the church had issues to deal with from extreme examples like Acts 5 to sin issues like 1 Cor 5 to just general false teaching. The question is, why did the early church not have a formal membership system but we are told over and over again that we must. It strikes me that some proponents of "membership" are more concerned with control and keeping the flock in line than they are with "protecting" it.