“A Higher Standard?” On Church Membership, Part 2

First things first… I won the Super Bowl prediction pool I put out on Facebook, Twitter, and on this humble blog. Only 2 others picked Green Bay at all. I picked Green Bay by 6 (Right on :)) So, rather than gloat all week as promised. I'll do it just once here.

There.

That felt better.

Now, for more serious matters. The comments on last week's post on church membership were really interesting. Thanks for the feedback. Here's where I'm at: Church membership is the declaration of one's intent to live out the Christ-life in relationship to a particular outpost of the Kingdom (church). While the local church should abandon the irresponsible "come forward at the invitation song and simply say you're a member and you are" method–the church should not make itself a mini-Kingdom with a supposed "higher standard" of membership than God has set forth. This is for at least 2 reasons:

  • The church has no right to do so and could find itself falling into the Galatian heresy of preaching "Gospel and," instead of "Gospel, period."
  • There is no higher standard than God's. What we think is higher is in fact lower through legalism or self-interest. Many churches simply use membership to bind people to obligations God hasn't because they need people to come to Wednesday night church, for example. I believe it's OK for a church to encourage, cajole, or whatever. But, to say you must do it under fear of refusal of membership is off-track to me. If you can't get anyone to attend something you're doing…consider improving or getting rid of the program instead of the people. Sometimes the church should keep it anyway…but not usually. Membership is not a way to prop up ministries that need major overhaul or a good Christian burial.
  • Churches that take the "higher standard" approach usually emphasize works rather than the spirit. In most membership covenants that include attending a small group, etc., there is usually little said, for instance, about divisive behavior, encouragement, care for the poor, and other biblical norms that are clearly laid out in Scripture.

Having said that, I believe church membership obligates people to live out God's higher standard. When people "date the church," it's spiritually harmful to both the person and the church. Commitment is one of the greatest benefits to church membership. However, all specific membership "requirements" should have ample and genuine footing in the Scriptures.

I also believe core doctrinal convictions should be a part of the process. However, one man's core is another man's peripheral and so we must be careful here as well.

What do you think? Is it wrong to give specific requirements for membership other than explicitly biblical convictions, or is it important to do so–because specific practices spring from our convictions if they are genuine?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.