Somehow an entire month has passed since my last post. I assure you it has not been an uneventful month! However, I never wrote the final post in my series on the importance of church membership. I have alluded to some of these final concerns in other posts, but the importance of church membership is relevant beyond the local church when that local church is part of a denominational body. As has been seen in many recent denominational decisions, the people who are permitted to officially make up the local church then also officially make up the denomination and then also officially decide what the denomination believes and allows.
How does it ever happen that a denomination can decide to allow something that the Bible prohibits–like homosexual marriage? It all starts with church membership. The members of the churches within that denominational body are elected to leadership positions and/or as delegates to the denomination’s national (or even global) assemblies where there are votes taken on what the denomination believes, sanctions, practices, etc.
This is also, of course, one of the dangers of a church being a part of a denominational body. I know there are some advantages, and I will let you figure those out for yourself if you do not already know them (because, frankly, there are various opinions on such benefits). The dangers, however, are that the local church that has remained faithful to Scripture in its teachings, beliefs, practices and membership requirements is a part of the larger denominational body. This means that money from the local church may be going to support ministries and institutions that the local church does not support (and may even oppose) and it means that the local church is officially expected to believe and practice as the denomination as a whole decides. When the local church that has remained true to Scripture wants out of the denomination after it begins to stray from Scripture, the local church finds itself in a legal quagmire, since the courts have usually ruled that in such instances the church buildings belong to the denomination, not the local body. Accordingly, some of these churches have been forced to forfeit their local church buildings, and in some cases these have been hundreds of years old and/or worth millions of dollars.
I have been a member of one church in my adulthood that was a part of a larger international denomination. I joined it because it was the strongest and most biblically-based church in my community. At the same time, there were a lot of things I did not like about the church’s denominational membership, including where some of its dues to the denomination went and the denominations program for international missions. In that case, the international denomination had (remarkably) turned back toward biblically-accurate positions, but the state chapter of the denomination had not. The result was that there were then two competing state chapters. The church I was a member of had always been a member of the one chapter, because for a long time it was the only one. When it strayed, though, older members rejected efforts to leave it because of the church’s long affiliation and connection. So, this local church was dually aligned. Between you and me, I find that to be even worse. It’s like straddling the fence. It’s being lukewarm. It’s a church’s refusal to take a stand for truth because an elderly member might get miffed. For me, when the choice is between a miffed senior citizen and the Bible, I’ll choose the Bible every time.
This will likely sound like I am opposed to denominational membership and favor an independent local church. That would be accurate. However, that is not the purpose of this post. Rather, my hope is that those who are members of larger denominational bodies will recognize that the serious responsibility of defining, filtering and enforcing church membership will have an impact far beyond their local body.