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Friday, December 22, 2006

Church Membership Defined

The word church has several meanings, depending upon context. One is what most non-believers and some believers think of – a building. Another could be a worship service – “We’re about to have church up in here (this may be a U.S. urban specific use)”. A third is a profession or group of those in the profession of clergy – “He considered the church as a possible career” or “The church declared Joan of Arc a heretic”. None of those, of course, are being considered in this series!

The two definitions relevant to church membership describe a group of people. One is the entire body of Christian believers. It is in this sense that the Scriptures speak of the Church as the Bride of Christ for who Christ gave his life (Ephesians 5), or of whom Christ is the head (Colossians 1), or what would be built upon the rock of faith (Matthew 16). This church, the Church with a capital C or the church catholic (universal), is a church that has a membership – but it is a divine membership added to by God (Acts 2:47). That is not the church membership for our discussion.

There are groups of people throughout the world who gather together for worship, exhortation, instruction, and fellowship. They may be under a tree in east Africa, in underground catacombs in South Asia, in illegal house churches in China, under a bridge in North Korea, or in a Cathedral in Europe. They are in small country churches of fifty and megachurches of 20,000 in the U.S. They may or may not have formal memberships, membership requirements, or paid staff members. They may or may not have doctrinal statements to which one must affirm, classes they should attend, or established procedures of discipline for members who do not meet the standards of behavior they set forth.

The church we are talking about is “a” church, not “the” church. I do not seek to make distinctions between denominations or even what might or might not be a “real” church. The only distinction I seek to make is simply what the word means – an assembly of believers. I, for one, would certainly make distinction in what exactly they believe in, but for the purposes of our discussion we will assume that any church considering itself “Christian” qualifies for our discussion of church membership.

Why should we consider a collective group of believers a church? Why not different people sitting at home watching T.D. Jakes on TV? Why not the people who stop by Alistair Begg’s website and listen to his sermons?

Words mean something. Anyone who has spent any time at this site has read that! The Greek word translated “church” is ἐκκλησίᾳ, which merely means “assembly”. In every case, the church is a group of people gathered together in one place. Furthermore, there is clearly a sense of permanence to the ἐκκλησίᾳ. When Paul writes a letter to the church of the Thessalonians, he is not hoping that some random people show up at a certain place to read his letter – no, he is writing to a specific group of people that need specific exhortations, who regularly gather together. The permanence is not that the membership is fixed, but that the assembly is consistent and ideally growing, not reducing.

So how does one qualify as a church member? I consider the existence of a formal membership or membership list of some value, which is why I engaged Rightthinker about it in my previous post. However, I do not think a list necessary for church membership. Following the Biblical and historical model, church members are those who are a part of a local body of believers that gathers together specifically for kingdom tasks. Those tasks can vary wildly, and necessarily may involve things that are not specific to the church, but should always include elements of worship, teaching and fellowship.

A church member is not an occasional attendee, but is someone who is dedicated to that community of believers. 1 Corinthians 16 contains instructions to collect funds when the church comes together on the first day of the week. 1 Corinthians 11 discusses the fashion and context of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper when the church (assembly) comes together regularly. The instances of the church (assembly) described as being together is countless, beginning with the apostles on the day of Pentecost, continuing with meeting in the temple and in synagogues and expanding to homes and specific locations for gathering. John and Paul both write of situations where someone is cast out of the assembly (church), as does Jesus in Matthew 18. Finally, Hebrews 10:24-25 explicitly states, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

There is no instance of a church which is not an assembly of believers, and furthermore this assembly is one that meets regularly to worship, teach, and build each other up. There is a significant body of Scripture dedicated to how the church (assembly) should be structured. Clearly the church is a community of believers, and I have yet to see Scriptural license for failing to join in an assembly. A church member is one who is a committed, regular attendee of the assembly.

That said, I recognize that there are other, non-Scriptural arguments used to defend a lack of church membership for an individual. The next post will examine the desert church fathers, the impact of technology upon the ability of the individual to grow outside of the assembly, and the priesthood of the believer.

14 Comments:

  • Fixing the font problem with this post exceeds my skill and time allotment for blogging. Sorry!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 12/22/2006 03:56:00 PM  

  • Hammer: Clearly the church is a community of believers, and I have yet to see Scriptural license for failing to join in an assembly. A church member is one who is a committed, regular attendee of the assembly.

    While I certainly appreciate Hebrews 10:24-25, I think that—especially at this point in “church history”—one ought to carefully consider Matthew 7:22-23 “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice iniquity!’

    I mention that particular passage because I’m impressed by the fact that the false converts that Christ will ultimately deny will be shocked to find out that they never really had an authentic relationship with Him ( i.e. they were not among the elect, ergo unregenerate) even though they obviously put forth a great deal of effort, not the least of which is regular church attendance. My suspicion is that a great many modern assemblies are populated by this unfortunate lot; and this has heavily influenced my decision to abstain for the past several years.

    Now, please don’t mistake my caution for a justification of hyper-individualism. I recognize that, not only am I a member of The Body of Christ, there is potentially considerable benefit in an assembly of believers, as stated in Hebrews. That said however, you seem to be advocating attendance for its own sake, as though “church membership” is an end in itself, rather than a means to an end, namely: education, edification, spiritual growth and communion with God via the Holy Spirit.

    The established sects (or denominations if you like) have time-honored doctrinal and theological positions that—to one degree or another—are at variance with my understanding of Scripture; some more than others. So, the question I’ve been asking myself is this: is “church attendance” mandatory, despite concerns about honest differences at best, and incongruous fellowship at worst?

    [incidentally, are you planning to discuss the evolution of the church as an institution, the stylistics of the “worship service”, etc.?]

    By Blogger Robert, at 12/22/2006 07:03:00 PM  

  • “When Paul writes a letter to the church of the Thessalonians, he is not hoping that some random people show up at a certain place to read his letter – no, he is writing to a specific group of people that need specific exhortations, who regularly gather together.”

    Hi Hammer,

    One of my frustrations with Church is the lack of specific teaching for the specific group of people who form the assembly. Very, very, rarely will I hear a message delivered specifically for the assembly. Some of the time, I hear a generic message that could be directed at any group of believers and some of time I hear a message that might as well be in a foreign language because I don’t have a clue who it is directed at.

    “Church” is such an important topic for discussion and for our active life in Christ. Blogging can serve one of the purposes of the Church if those who blog will let iron sharpen iron. Blogging may even be better than face-to-face if bloggers reflect before reacting. However, other aspects of Church, such as service and worship require the assembly.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this series.

    By Blogger David M. Smith, at 12/23/2006 11:28:00 AM  

  • Ah, but my family appears on many "lists" associated with church membership, without having to ascribe to being a formal "member" of a church.

    We appear in the "Church Family Phone/address directory", Jackson and I appear on the worship team list in the bulletin, my dad is an elder/usher, and my mother and I both attend the weekly women's study early to help clean the church.

    Is a list to prove this desire to serve necessary? I don't see that biblically. Were all of the initial followers of Christ recorded publically, or did that somehow grow as a desire to be publically recognized as a member of an organization became more beneficial to a person than simply following Christ? I don't know how that works, really, just wondering the roots of it all.

    At our church, visitors are asked to fill out a visitors card, and they are given a small token gift from the church. Our effort is certainly to grow the church, but only to grow the church with those who wholeheartedly participate...not just show up because they formally belong.

    As I said, if it works for a church to include a formal membership plan, then great. However, for our church, the message is to come to the cross because we are broken. I can't see ex-con's being all that intereseted in a church preaching they need Christ because they are sinful, but sign here so we can make sure you are a formal member.

    Your citation of Hebrews 10:24-25 is most certainly important. However, being a member of the body of Christ doesn't imply that membership is a formal and recorded singular act. God has recorded our names already, in the book of life.

    Additionally, it is important to remember what formal membership can imply for some. Bill Clinton was a formal member of a church at the time he was committing adultery with Lewinsky. We can insert a whole lot of people's names here. Church membership doesn't obsolve us of our sins. Christ does, and regular weekly+ attendance at church is a response to that.

    Again, I'm not entirely sure what makes us a member of a church and "the church", other than being saved and actively and regularly participating. Ceremonies are grand, but they can be given too much weight!

    By Blogger Rightthinker2, at 12/26/2006 11:28:00 AM  

  • Great comments and issues!

    First, RT. I think you meant to put this comment in the last post, because in no fashion can you read this one and think I am arguing for a Scriptural formal membership! I wrote, "A church member is one who is a committed, regular attendee of the assembly." Nothing about formal there.

    Can you cut and paste your comment into the previous post? I'd like to address it separately. Thank you!

    David,

    The absence of relevant Biblical exposition is a scourge on the churches of today. It is, in large part, one of the most significant contributors to the lack of churches that are doctrinally sound and vibrant in the faith. What we tend to find instead is either Biblical preaching that is not made relevant to the assembly, or, more likely, relevant preaching that is not Biblical!

    However, our frustration with the teaching in the assembly is not a justification for abandoning it. Perhaps we are called to band together with other committed Christians to form a Bible study group to supplant it, or try a denomination that we know has relavant Biblical preaching but we have other, less important, disagreements with.

    I bleieve blogging is an aid to today's Christian in the industrialized world, but as I will expound in the next post, it is an aid, not a replacement. Corporate worship and Biblical teaching from a human being in front of us and the interaction with others committed to the faith, in person, are irreplaceable.

    Robert,

    I agree wholeheartedly that churches are full of professing Christians who are not servants of the living Christ. Many are active, as you say, but many are not even active, yet think they are bound for glory. An example is a neighbor of mine, who showed up at church with us when we invited her, went to a couple of services, walked down the aisle to claim her salvation (can you hear my sarcasm?), next showed up three weeks later for a baptismal service, and hasn't darkened the doors since. She insists she is "saved".

    In fact, not only did Christ declare that the end state of this lot was ill, he also predicted that the church would have these unregenerate sinners in them. The parable of the wheat and tares (Matt 13), the parable of the mustard bush, the parable of the sower (Mark 4). Thus, we should not be surprised that we find the assembly so corrupted. Furthermore, the mere demonstration of gospel truth does not justify ignoring Biblical prescription.

    Now, don't misunderstand me - church membership is exactly what you say it is - a means to an end. I write about church membership the way I wrote the Firefighter Parables (side bar). Christians are members of an assembly of beleivers, but not all people who are members of an assembly are Christians.

    I would hold that church membership / attendance are mandatory. The Hebrews reference is prescriptive language. "Do not stay away, but do this so that you can receive these benefits."

    That said, the doctrinal and behavioral issues you mention are real, and can be real problems. What do we do about those? What are reasons to break fellowship and what are not? How should we view these differences? I think those are issues that can only be honestly engaged when we agree that we should be committed to the assembly...but, as I said in the intro, the failure to address those issues makes us avoid the assembly!

    I have what I believe is the answer. However, I ain't spillin' the beans until the third post.

    BTW, I'm up for discussing the differences in the conduct of the assembly. Which are you speaking of, specifically? Whether its one or a host, it's worth engaging.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 12/27/2006 05:00:00 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Rightthinker2, at 12/27/2006 08:11:00 PM  

  • You are right, Hammer! My bad. (Jeff would, at this point jokingly say, "What did you say? Can you repeat that?")

    I had read the previous post, and then this one, and intended to post on the last post. I copied the comment there.

    By Blogger Rightthinker2, at 12/27/2006 08:12:00 PM  

  • Hi Hammer,

    My point was slightly more specific than your response. I should have been more clear.

    You wrote that Paul had specific messages for specific assemblies. I thought this was very astute of you and true about his letters. We use Paul’s letters as general revelation, but Paul meant the letters as specific instructions and criticisms.

    I believe Churches would be better if Pastors were more like Paul; preaching specific messages for specific assemblies, not preaching generic messages.

    I do have multiple frustrations with Churches where I live, but there is no doubt in my mind you are correct about Church membership; at least so far. I know it is God’s will for me to be a member of an assembly and for an assembly to have me as an active member.

    By Blogger David M. Smith, at 12/28/2006 12:29:00 PM  

  • I'm up for discussing the differences in the conduct of the assembly. Which are you speaking of, specifically? Whether its one or a host, it's worth engaging.

    I’ll respond more specifically…tomorrow. I just read the thread, but I’m off to dinner with my sweetheart right now, as my kids are in GA for the week with their cousins. Save a spot for me; this issue is much too important to ignore!

    [p.s. I hope everyone had a great Christmas.]

    By Blogger Robert, at 12/28/2006 07:01:00 PM  

  • Hammer,

    I’ve struggled for some time with—for lack of a better phrase—the contrived nature of many of the well-established denominations (the ones I’ve attended include Baptist, Charismatic/”nondenominational” and, more recently, Presbyterian). Additionally, I self-educated with respect to church history, beginning with “the fathers” and continuing through to the 20th Century (admittedly, however, it’s been a few years since I focused intently on the subject).

    The local congregation of today simply cannot be viewed without a proper historical perspective. How the modern church evolved is, I think, quite relevant to this series. In fact, one need only go back as far as Calvin’s magnum opus: Institutes of the Christian Religion, as the Catholic tradition and liturgy is in a category of its own.

    According to my reading of Institutes (a few years ago), Calvin essentially invented the current iteration of the “worship service”. Indeed, Calvin was rather intolerant of alternate views, summarily executing nonconformists…often burning them in the center of town. To be sure, Calvin saw the establishment of theocracy as his personal calling.

    As you may know, the Baptist sect that settled in America was a Calvinist outgrowth, which emphasized immersion—as a volitional public sign of faith—because, increasingly, their children were leaving the assembly (i.e. one’s children were no longer to be baptized at birth, but were expected to be baptized by choice, thereby demonstrating—in their view—an authentic conversion and subsequent membership of the assembly. Then came The Great Awakening and the so-called Pentecostal movement, which has become quite popular in recent decades.

    Now, specifically, I worry that “church” has, over time, become a hyper-religious institution wherein a constant growth in membership has become paramount. The Truth is necessarily watered-down so as not to offend prospective life-long members.

    The modern assembly strikes me as a type of social club, rather than a spiritual family. Congregants typically self-segregate by race, socioeconomic status, narrow doctrinal positions or some combination thereof. Moreover, church attendance has become—for many at least—just another obligation to be fulfilled; and if we must do this, why not adorn the building with eye candy, create an entertainment atmosphere for “seekers” and so on?

    The Hebrews reference is prescriptive language. "Do not stay away, but do this so that you can receive these benefits."

    The question in my mind is: Will any assembly suffice, so long as I attend one? My answer thus far is: No, not just any will do. My preference would be a small bible study (perhaps in a residence) where each attendee is fully engaged and the pastor/teacher isn’t a celebrity that prefers monologue over dialogue.

    By Blogger Robert, at 12/29/2006 07:30:00 PM  

  • Robert,
    Thank you for your patience and eloquence. This subject has been on my heart for some time, and it is worthy of our exchange, as you said. Forgive me ahead of time for my selective knowledge of church polity – I grew up Catholic, and have spent most of my time in Baptist churches of several varieties, and know about Presbyterians from my interest in the Puritans and research into reformed theology.

    Thus, I don’t understand your description of denominations as ‘contrived’ in their formation. Baptist distinctives, for example, include orthodox theology, evangelical soteriology, separation in ecclesiology, and confessional in doctrine. Key indicators would be salvation by grace through faith, believer’s baptism by immersion, separation of church and state, liberty of conscience in matters not proscribed by Scripture, and Scriptural inerrancy and authority. To me, they are anything but contrived.

    What I would agree is contrived is the audacity of some groups of people that call themselves Baptist, yet deny things such as the divinity of Christ, Biblical inerrancy, God’s sovereignty, or any of the above distinctives. These distinctives are historically contiguous. However, Calvinism is not historically contiguous. The General Baptists were Arminian, while the Particular Baptists were Calvinists. Both were certainly influenced by Puritan theology and Anabaptism on the continent, but even with its connections to Zwingli and the Mennonites, Baptists are almost exclusively Anglo in origin. The adaptation of baptism had nothing to do with children leaving the assembly, because the assembly was mandated by law! They were actually more concerned with an inability to throw people out of the assembly than to bring more in! The Great Awakening, and its un-Baptist emphasis on man and his free will and the elevation of the Spirit outside of his place in the Trinity, is quite un-Calvinistic and un-Baptist.

    Where they break decisively from your description of Calvin is magisterial reformation. Calvin, Luther, and many others did want to retain the ties between church and state to enforce their reformations. We can certainly understand that this was the culture they lived in, and to condemn them for not being revolutionary enough is not to my liking. However, their theological reforms, especially the restoration of the Scriptures to their rightful place of authority, could not help but lead to Baptist churches.

    As far as the worship services go, I’m not sure I agree. We know that the apostolic church gathered together (Acts and broke bread), prayed (Acts 4) taught and received the word (1 Tim 4:11-15), joined in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19, Col 3:16), collected offerings (1 Cor 16:1) and encouraged each other to love and good works (Hebrews 10). The form, I would say, makes little difference as long as the intent is God’s glory. The size is of little consequence. Why is a bible study at home better than one that is part of a congregation of 2,000? What prevents this Bible studying a church – I mean beyond the service. I have Sunday School class of about 20 outside the worship service of 600. The church at Jerusalem had about 12,000 members. Church size is a red herring.

    I am not a fan of purpose-driven, seeker-sensitive methodology, though I would call it style as well. The watering down of the Word is criminal, I would agree, as is the “social club” mentality evident in many churches of all kinds. Yet, I discern a monstrous hypocrisy in your condemnation of the local church. While any or all of them may have narrow doctrinal positions that they segregate by, do you not exclude yourself from their assembly for your doctrinal disagreements? Why are your doctrinal positions holy enough to divide yourself from the fellowship, yet they are not enough for them to divide themselves?

    Even if I am far off on the finer points of ecclesiastical development and style of worship, they would not lead me to the conclusion you have operated under for some time – that we are exempt from any corporate worship because a “true” or “pure” church is not evidenced. It seems a ludicrous position you present, perhaps, “Will any assembly suffice, so long as I attend one?” You say no, but you do so to avoid these sinners. I would actually say “Yes!” For the purpose of obedience to biblical prescription and to grow in your faith, yes. Start with “anything”, because you currently do not attempt to do so. Furthermore, we both know that neither you, nor I, nor David, RT, Mrs Hammer and others would be content in “any assembly”, but are bound by our knowledge of the Word in Spirit and truth to seek and assembly that has two things – the word preached fully and scriptural doctrines presented. It can be boring, it can have performances we think are silly, it can, and will, have people that have no business calling themselves “Christians” in it and even more that we might despise for their weak faith. Yet, our despising of them indicates our need to be there, for it is pride that makes us despise our brother.

    Robert, you and David both hurt more than yourselves by forsaking the assembly. This series focuses on the impact of the assembly on the one, but your gifts are being hidden, and the part of the body you are is denied the rest of the body! It’s about more than you, it is about the church as the body of Christ, a church which would be edified by a David or a Robert among them, as well as a church that would benefit you. This afternoon I hope to complete the next post to acknowledge and hopefully put in their proper place some of the best reasons to forsake the assembly.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 1/08/2007 02:37:00 PM  

  • I don’t understand your description of denominations as ‘contrived’ in their formation.

    I didn’t mean to imply that denominations were contrived, but rather that the manner or style of the average ‘worship service’ strikes me as contrived. That is, the typical Sunday gathering seems to me to be a sort of predictable, hyper-choreographed event that’s been gradually mutating since the third or fourth century (and certainly since the Reformation).

    The form, I would say, makes little difference as long as the intent is God’s glory.

    The form a gathering takes has made quite a lot of difference. When, for example, “church attendance” per se became obligatory in Rome, the weekly gathering was (over time) altered so that it had more in common with Judaism than with that which the Apostles established. Rather than an intimate family gathering, the assembly became a formal event more reminiscent of a Jewish Temple on the Sabbath than of Paul and his flock. Calvin later cemented this new paradigm by insisting upon rigid stylistics, i.e. a presbyter delivering a sermon from the front to a captive audience, mandatory attendance, the scheduled partaking of “the sacraments” and so on.

    It’s interesting to note that the Church (the Roman Catholic Church) was “reformed”, as opposed to being restored. The secularization (i.e. the social and political corruption) of the RCC was merely refined by Calvin and Luther; it was not restored to its pre-Rome state.

    Calvin, Luther, and many others did want to retain the ties between church and state to enforce their reformations. We can certainly understand that this was the culture they lived in, and to condemn them for not being revolutionary enough is not to my liking.

    The same argument can be made in support of the Pharisees, Sadducees and even the post-Pentecostal Jews who failed to acknowledge the Truth of Christ…but it fails. Moreover, the revolutionary nature of the Reformation pales in comparison to the advent of Christ.

    Yet, I discern a monstrous hypocrisy in your condemnation of the local church. While any or all of them may have narrow doctrinal positions that they segregate by, do you not exclude yourself from their assembly for your doctrinal disagreements? Why are your doctrinal positions holy enough to divide yourself from the fellowship, yet they are not enough for them to divide themselves?

    You’ve confused categories here. I am questioning the premise that there is an unbroken chain that connects the early churches to modern sects, whereas various denominational disputes exist within the context of a wholesale acceptance of the premise.

    The size is of little consequence. Why is a bible study at home better than one that is part of a congregation of 2,000?

    A small gathering isn’t intrinsically better than a large one per se. The question is, however, what is the intent or purpose of the gathering? Your answer is: “God’s glory” and I would agree, although that’s fairly general. I would add to that spiritual edification, fellowship with other believers and theological education, with which you would undoubtedly agree. I would argue that these things are better suited to a smaller group, whereby individuals can interact more intimately, but it’s certainly a debatable issue.

    It seems a ludicrous position you present, perhaps, “Will any assembly suffice, so long as I attend one?” You say no, but you do so to avoid these sinners.

    Not at all. We’re all sinners…even those of us who have been “saved by grace”. What I’m avoiding is an institution that has embraced symbol above substance. In fact, I’ve searched in vein for a denomination that meets the standard: “the word preached fully and scriptural doctrines presented”. I say this for two main reasons:

    1. Sovereignty Armenians deny it outright and Calvinists distort it beyond recognition (i.e. free will is restored upon regeneration and works in conjunction with God’s will). In short, the denial of full sovereignty is a fatal flaw that has far-reaching theological implications. Now, I’m not a one issue guy by any stretch, but a correct understanding of God’s sovereignty is pivotal to the formulation of sound theology and doctrine. When God’s sovereignty is minimized and human ability and obligation are elevated beyond what Scripture teaches, the Truth is diluted and people inevitably become misguided. In my experience, this theme is predominant in Sunday (and Wednesday) sermons.

    2. Spiritual Growth As it stands, there are two distinct categories: teachers (pastor, priest) and students (laymen, parishioners). With rare exception, students remain as such for life, being spoon-fed the Word week after week, never graduating, while teachers are elevated to virtual celebrity status. The implication of this structure is that the teacher hears from God in a way that the student never will; and that the teacher has authority (in terms of theology, doctrine and practice) over the student that exists in perpetuity. This not only stunts the growth of the average believer, it necessarily allows bad theology to flourish because, generally speaking, either the student defers to the teacher’s perceived wisdom, or the student simply leaves the assembly in search of one that comports with his view; the theology of which may be different, but equally erroneous.

    That said, I lean toward a system that encourages every believer to mature in the faith, becoming teachers themselves, while continuing to learn, growing closer to the Lord. Sadly, this seems all but impossible in the current denominational environment, where established, self-perpetuating traditions are widely accepted as gospel.

    By Blogger Robert, at 1/09/2007 06:50:00 PM  

  • Robert,
    I am really enjoying this exchange. I think we can divide our discussion, addressing church membership and your issues with the church briefly and perhaps holding off for following posts there, and discussing some theology of the church and sovereignty here.

    Really, I still see your objections to the 'worship service' as stylistic, regardless of origins. Many of the objections to what goes on in churches that you, David, Buz, and my friend Jesse present are completely true - that these problems exist, are prevalent in many churches, and we mourn at them. That said, they stil have no impact at all on what you are bound to do, and you have not demonstrated positive justification in those complaints for abandoning your duty.

    Thus, I suspect that you base your absetention not in those valid complaints, but in a theology of the church and of God that are somewhat unorthodox, and dare I say, heterodox.

    I am questioning the premise that there is an unbroken chain that connects the early churches to modern sects

    This is not a new assertion. It has been held by many splinter groups, including the Seekers in the 17th century and conforms to successionist theories held by the Roman Catholic Church and Landmark Baptists.

    Successionist theories are based not upon Scripture, but upon an assumption that there must be an "unbroken line of succession to the apostolic churches". The theories differ in how this line is suposed to be maintained. The Roman Catholic Church claims apostolic succession of ordinations, with each bishop of Rome ordained through previous ones back to Peter. The Seekers attibuted successionism to Baptism by immersion from true churches, and since there were seversal centuries without evidence of immeriosn baptism, the Seekers declared that there was no true church and therefore they wouldn't sit in one, but would ostensibly wait for it to be established, accompanied by apostolic miraculous gifts. The Landmark Baptists claimed that true churches are established by other true churches, and tend to trace their lineage back through the Philidelphia Association, to Wales, and eventually back to Polycarp and John.

    Which one of these is right? Why? and for goodness sakes, where is this mandated by Scripture? Nowhere. Why would this conjecture be devised? My next post will demonstrate the reason...

    The student / teacher analogy seems to be a reflection of your experience, not the reality of many churches. My church has several levels of leadership oportunities and growth opportunities. The existence of a senior pastor is historical and scriptural. Like you, I would be dissastisfied with spritual complacency - but it does not absolve my failure to obey.

    Finally, sovereignty. I have a series planned for this, but I would present that your contention with the nature of human freedom (which, by the way, I admit to presenting the "Calvinist" model you speak of. I no longer hold that model) is not historically "Calvinist". The best description is in Jonathan Edwards "On the Freedom of the Will". I would ask that you peruse it before we engage on our future series on sovereignty. It's available online.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 1/11/2007 10:04:00 AM  

  • Hammer, when I mentioned the “unbroken chain” I wasn’t thinking of successionist theories; it was just an unfortunate choice of words on my part. In fact, I’m more than a little dubious about RCC claims that Peter was the first bishop of Rome.

    What I’ve been trying to articulate (however unsuccessfully) is that, in my view, what passes for “church” today (i.e. since Rome redefined it, and since the Reformers re-redefined it) bears only a superficial resemblance to the churches that the Apostles addressed in Scripture. I think this because of the nature of the structure of the institution itself. You insist that it’s merely “stylistic”, but I disagree; if you remove the mechanistic, ceremonial formality of the worship service—which varies slightly from one denomination to the next—what’s left? Without the pomp and circumstance, you’re left with a collection of believers called the Bride of Christ.

    Think of the Church as an extended family…literally. Families often gather together to fellowship, particularly on ‘special occasions’ such as holidays and the like. I submit that those with an intimate relationship don’t meticulously choreograph every aspect of the gathering. Instead, close families tend to loosely plan a meal and simply enjoy one another’s company with conversation, etc. Modern church services are not like this at all…and I’m not sure why. Now, it’s true that Paul prescribed an orderly assembly where the women were to remain silent, but the literacy rate at the time—in conjunction with the absence of the printing press—left few alternatives.

    The student / teacher analogy seems to be a reflection of your experience, not the reality of many churches.

    I don’t think so…my experience is quite varied, including a number of Baptist congregations. Beyond that, the manner of worship of the ‘mainstream’ denominations is not exactly a well-kept secret.

    My church has several levels of leadership oportunities and growth opportunities. The existence of a senior pastor is historical and scriptural.

    I’m not particularly interested in “levels of leadership” per se. The concept of the “spiritual leader” is, I think, less meaningful in an age of technological advancement than it was in the Apostles’ day. I’m not saying that new believers don’t need to be taught and guided by more mature ones; nor am I saying that every believer will have the spiritual insight that Paul had; rather, I’m suggesting that the cookie-cutter modern church service is a contrivance…at best, which masquerades as meaningful spiritual fellowship.

    …you have not demonstrated positive justification in those complaints for abandoning your duty.

    I simply don’t think that the author of Hebrews envisioned the modern worship service when he penned the prescription for the body of Christ to assemble. In fact, specifics in Hebrews regarding the structure of the assembly are conspicuous by their absence. You might offer other scriptural particulars, but again, I would argue that those were unique to the culture and customs of the day, e.g. silent, illiterate wives.

    By Blogger Robert, at 1/12/2007 07:22:00 PM  

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