Membership in a local church usually involves publicly professing one’s faith in Jesus Christ and one’s commitment both to serve in that church and to submit to its leadership. Here are 10 reasons why membership is at best unnecessary and probably just a bad idea.
(This photo, taken from the American Bar Association website, shows where you wind up if you join the ABA: in a suit, in a field, all by yourself, thinking, “What the hell am I doing here, staring off into oblivion?” The picture thus illustrates how dumb membership is.)
1. If I say I’m a Christian, then I must be: I don’t need anyone else to tell me that I’m a Christian; if I decide I am, then I must be. Well, ok, so maybe there are things in my life that no one really knows about. And, yeah, there are those moments when I’m alone and am confronted with who I really am, and I myself wonder if I am a Christian or just a complete fraud. What possible good could come from sharing my life story and my present struggles with ordained, accountable church leaders, who have a solid grasp of Scripture and the Christian tradition, not to mention more life experience as a follower of Jesus, who can then help me–the real me (warts and all)–to discern if my faith is “credible” (i.e., legitimate), so that I can really know that I belong to the one holy, universal, and apostolic Church and that I really do have access to the Lord’s Supper?
2. If my friends say I’m a Christian, then I must be: My friends never really challenge or confront me with my sin issues (they prefer to discuss them with their own “friends”). That’s partly because (as I said above) they actually don’t know everything about me. Nevertheless, if they think I’m a Christian, I must be.
3. I can manage my sin: After becoming a Christian, the sin remaining in my life really isn’t that powerful (that’s why there’s so little hypocrisy in the church today: we are all able to manage our sin on our own, except for a few who are just really “messed up”–you know , those people who need “counseling”). Further, church leaders should pursue me only when and how I want them to (that’s my definition of submission and accountability). I define sin primarily in terms of bad behaviors (i.e., bad deeds, bad words, etc.), not as anything darker or more sinister–e.g., a self-deception that completely hijacks my ability to see myself, others, God, the world, etc., accurately.
4. There is no need to show loved ones (e.g., serious boy/girlfriend, my spouse or kids) that I’m actually accountable: Like my boyfriend/girlfriend of six years who won’t marry me, I’m not afraid of commitment: s/he has repeatedly told me that they want to share their body, their bank account, and (even) their blog with me forever, so who cares if they won’t actually make it official by making public vows and signing on the dotted line at some “ceremony”? That’s all just superficial, external, “institutional” stuff. What matters is what’s inside. In the same way, publically professing my faith and signing on the dotted line to be accountable to a local church’s leadership–to real flesh and blood humans–says little, if anything, to a future (or present) spouse or child.
5. There is no need to show other believers that I’m committed to them: Other believers don’t need to know if I’m going to stay at this church before they decide to share their lives, struggles, and sins with me, not to mention investing their time, love, prayer, and concern. I should have the right to move on to a “better” church whenever I experience anything new/different or disagree with, well, anything the leadership does or if I’m am asked to do something outside my comfort zone.
6. There is no need to show church leaders that I’m committed: Church leaders don’t need to know if I’m going to stay at the church before they pour themselves into me–e.g., before they spend hours with me in discipleship or counseling (for the sin issues that, as I said, I’m able to manage on my own).
7. The American church’s de-emphasis (indeed, moratorium?) on membership (and church discipline) and its rampant hypocrisy have absolutely nothing to do with each other: Truth be told, nothing gets me more upset than the hypocrisy within the church. You know who I’m talking about—those really messed up people. I’ve almost stopped going to church, because I’m so embarrassed by these people. Someone needs to hold them accountable. I would do it, but that’s just not my thing. (I have to say: I’m one of the most non-judgmental people I know). That’s the job of church leaders: they need to hold those people accountable. But they probably won’t, because church leaders are generally hypocrites too. The idea of church leaders turning a blind eye–that just makes me nauseated. That’s not to say that church leaders should “confront” people (one time a pastor confronted me about dating a non-Christian, and I was so offended by his insensitivity: it’s way more complicated than he made it out to be; there’s an undeniable chemistry that’s there, and…).
8. Ordained, accountable church leaders still can’t be trusted: Before I’m going to be accountable to them, they first need to be pretty much perfect. Otherwise, it’s just hypocritical for them to ask me to “submit” to them. After all, the reason I came to this church in the first place was that I really like the _________, not because I wanted to be challenged to grow and be more like Christ or wanted any accountability. That’s why explicit commands in Scripture to submit to church leaders are best left as hypothetical abstractions, never finding concrete expression in the local church (e.g., Hebrews 13.17: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account”).
9. My personal life is just between me and Jesus: What I do with all that God has given me (especially my money and my body) is for me and Jesus to discuss. Why? Because my personal decisions have no (or almost no) impact on anyone else (friends, family members, non-Christians). For the most part, I know what’s best for me, and I know how to get it. That’s why I’m so happy and have so little guilt, shame, or regret in my life, and why the people who know me really well just can’t get enough of me.
10. The word “membership” is not in the Bible: The Bible is nothing less than the Word of God, and that’s why I take it “literally”–word for word. So when I can’t find words like “membership” or “Trinity” or “incarnation” in the Bible, I don’t believe in them. Scripture does use numerous metaphors to describe God’s people as a permanent, lasting community–e.g., children in a family, members (!) of a single body, branches of a vine, stones of a house, a temple, etc. But such metaphors should (once again) remain abstractions, never finding concrete expression in a local gathering of real Christians who publicly (before God and other Christians) make real vows that they really intend to keep. Also, just because commitment is one of the central defining characteristics of the God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ (distinguishing him from the gods of other religions), that doesn’t mean that I myself (as his child) need to make that a defining characteristic of my interaction with His people.