what is church membership really?

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Chris G

Puritan Board Freshman
Piper: denial of church membership = excommunication. Corollary: believing somebody to be regenerate and prepared to submit to the authority of the local church as "mother" as to God as Father => permitting church membership.

Grudem: denial of church membership NOT= excommunication. Corollary: but in practice nobody ever is excommunicated, they only have their membership revoked, whether they are an unrepentant axe-murderer or somebody who is simply undecided about some of the finer points of the church's statement of faith.

Who is correct? I believe Piper makes more sense, but most churches seem in my experience to follow Grudem. Seems like a pretty basic - and crucial[/I] question to me, since in Piper's view the location power of the keys is straightforward - in the eldership of the church of which one is a member, but I just dont see it in the other case; the absurdity is exacerbated when an unrepentant sinner is denied membership / excommunicated / but still allowed to take communion because "that is between their conscience and God."

Also, a second question. My reading of Scripture is that if somebody is excommunicated all members know about it. My reading of churches is that only the elders ever know so its anybody's guess who one should be fellowshipping with as brothers and who they should be loving as unbelievers (especially if any differences between membership suspension and excommunication are too fluffy for a simpleton like me to understand) Am I right or - as usual, just not getting it?

Trying to fend off the raging beast of abandoned cynicism whilst somebody can provide some sensible answers....but please dont provide any answers that involve quoting confessions in such a way as to beg the question, implying that99.9% of evangelical churches in fact apostate....because we all know they aren't, however confused they are.....and I certainly am.
 

KMK

Administrator
Staff member
Can you provide actual quotes from Piper and Grudem?

Also, here at PB we love our confessions and quote them because this is a confessional board. The confessions are not provided in order to 'imply' that churches or people who disagree are 'apostate', but simply 'unconfessional'. That is a big difference.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Does the suspension/ (hopefully temporary) excommunication always have to be announced to the whole congregation? See Matthew 18.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Here is the Heidelberg:
Question 83. What are the keys of the kingdom of heaven?

Answer: The preaching of the holy gospel, and christian discipline, or excommunication out of the christian church; by these two, the kingdom of heaven is opened to believers, and shut against unbelievers.

Question 84. How is the kingdom of heaven opened and shut by the preaching of the holy gospel?

Answer: Thus: when according to the command of Christ, it is declared and publicly testified to all and every believer, that, whenever they receive the promise of the gospel by a true faith, all their sins are really forgiven them of God, for the sake of Christ's merits; and on the contrary, when it is declared and testified to all unbelievers, and such as do not sincerely repent, that they stand exposed to the wrath of God, and eternal condemnation, so long as they are unconverted: (a) according to which testimony of the gospel, God will judge them, both in this, and in the life to come.

Question 85. How is the kingdom of heaven shut and opened by christian discipline?

Answer: Thus: when according to the command of Christ, those, who under the name of christians, maintain doctrines, or practices inconsistent therewith, and will not, after having been often brotherly admonished, renounce their errors and wicked course of life, are complained of to the church, or to those, who are thereunto appointed by the church; and if they despise their admonition, are by them forbidden the use of the sacraments; whereby they are excluded from the christian church, and by God himself from the kingdom of Christ; and when they promise and show real amendment, are again received as members of Christ and his church. (a)
Notice, first, that the "keys" expressed in question 83 are consistent with the Reformed view that the visible Church of God is to be marked by the Preaching of the Word, the Proper Administration of the Sacraments, and the proper use of discipline in the lives of disciples.

By extension, not every fellowship that calls itself a Church properly administers these keys. In a manner of speaking, there are those who ascribe to themselves authority as "the Church" that the Reformed doesn't recognize as having commissioned authority from Christ.

Furthermore, there are responsibilities associated with the keys for the Church. A man cannot be arbitrarily or badly treated by a Church and get a short shrift with respect to the exercise of discipline. This is one of the reasons I think the Presbyterian model is Biblical as it operates as a "check" against the tyranny that is possible in local congregations given our indwelling Sin.

Things are obviously complicated by the fact that many places are devoid of real Churches. The WCF recognizes that certain sects contain members of the invisible Church even while those who ought to be "the visible Church" are doing a reprehensible job as undershepherds. In such circumstances, the best thing for the Christian to do is not to forsake the assembling of believers where he can while prayerfully asking the Lord for reform or to be brought by His Providence to a true Church that contains the Scriptural marks of authenticity.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
I'd say that neither statement offered above in the original post is correct. Say I was to show up seeking membership at a baptist church, having never been dipped, and stating that I had no intention of undergoing immersion. They should properly deny me membership. That wouldn't be an excommunication, but that doesn't mean that they would never excommunicate.
 

Chris G

Puritan Board Freshman
KMK,
Response to Grudem on Baptism and Church Membership - Desiring God

Richard,
No, not always. But sometimes - and I dont know of a single example of it ever happening - I have spoken to my aged and experienced father-in-law and he knows of it happening only in the case of leaders but never in the case of laymen.

Rich,
Thats really interesting - and this whole issue is making me look into church govt questions with much more interest than I used to.....but could I take the liberty of rephrasing you? "Certain sects are very often largely composed of regenerate believers, very often no less as a percentage of the membership than a Church that contains the Scriptural marks of authenticity......God, notwithstanding, being displeased by their corporate willful igorance."

Edward,
But...how can a non-member be excommunicated if he were never communicated in the first place? If one's view of membership does not include the power of the keys since such powers could - (somehow?) - be used with non-members, then I can only see that the whole concept of membership is a triviality compared to being in a position of communicant good standing with a church. Seems like being married to an incredibly beautiful woman who just happens to have a nice pair of shoes: tell her she has to lose the shoes but can carry on walking just as before on a nice soft carpet and its hardly a big deal.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
I believe I've heard of cases where the whole church was involved - not only in the case of a minister or elder i.e. there was an announcement respecting the individual(s) from the pulpit. The more difficult bit is treating the erstwhile brother or sister like a pagan or tax collector in our super-irenic evangelicalism, but this done properly can be used by God for the good of the Church.

Maybe Rich can tell us if the words of our Lord, "tell it to the church", are generally taken to mean "go to the kirk session" with the issue in Presbyterian polity, rather than "have a meeting of the whole congregation" or "announce the issue to the congregation." I'm not an elder myself, and don't have the Free Church's "Blue Book" to hand.

I'd have thought it would be the former in Presbyterian polity, but there should also be some discussion with the congregation generally if - as well as suspending the individual from the Lord's Supper - he/she must be treated like a pagan or publican.

Quote from Chris
but in practice nobody ever is excommunicated,
In my experience in the FPCoS and FCoS people are sometimes excommunicated and sometimes restored, although sometimes things do not go so smoothly and sometimes one wonders if all the teaching of Matthew 18 and elsewhere in the NT is being taken seriously.

Sometimes people - on being under church sanctions - may go to another denomination where they may be brought back in to the Visible Church, either having shown repentance or not.

If care is taken that only those with a credible profession of faith get baptism for themselves and their children, and only those with an accredited profession of faith get communicant membership, then that should help lessen the need for subsequent sanctions.

the absurdity is exacerbated when an unrepentant sinner is denied membership / excommunicated / but still allowed to take communion because "that is between their conscience and God."
I have not come accross this in my experience but I sometimes think that the fencing of the Table should be more clear that the Table is for all God's true people, except those who are currently suspended because of particular sin. Otherwise there may be someone there who partakes but should have been warned not to.
 
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Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
But...how can a non-member be excommunicated if he were never communicated in the first place?
Yes. That's the problem with the first statement. But the second statement (that since this is not excommunication, there is never excommunication) is even more wrong. So that's why I said 'none of the above'.
 

BJClark

Puritan Board Doctor
In our church they hold a church meeting for members after the Lords day service and make such announcements to the church body as per Matthew 18; this has happened concerning lay people and not elders.

It's a sad time within a church body when such things happen, but it certainly gets people thinking more about their own lives and hearts before God.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Just a note on excommunication and formal / institutional church membership:

It seems that our definitions of excommunication have become more and more formal and institutional as history has progressed and the church became more and more formal and institutional, the early church nowhere appearing as formal and institutional as we have now.

In the context of local believers always assembling and eating together amidst a sea of paganism, excommunication is a lot more than just fencing the table but is alienation from the whole community of faith. Since churches now do not really share fellowship, but drive 30 minutes to gather for a mere hour or two on a Sunday, we lose the force of what the NT practice actually was, which would have meant social isolation from the believers that usually gathered at a locale and being turned over to the pagan world once more.
 

KMK

Administrator
Staff member
Just a note on excommunication and formal / institutional church membership:

It seems that our definitions of excommunication have become more and more formal and institutional as history has progressed and the church became more and more formal and institutional, the early church nowhere appearing as formal and institutional as we have now.

In the context of local believers always assembling and eating together amidst a sea of paganism, excommunication is a lot more than just fencing the table but is alienation from the whole community of faith. Since churches now do not really share fellowship, but drive 30 minutes to gather for a mere hour or two on a Sunday, we lose the force of what the NT practice actually was, which would have meant social isolation from the believers that usually gathered at a locale and being turned over to the pagan world once more.
Interesting point. As we become increasingly connected via internet, I wonder what churches will look like down the road and what further impact might be had on church discipline. For example, some mega churches around here are taking to using live video feeds to satellite 'campuses'. These campuses have their own worship teams but receive the sermon and PowerPoint from the mother church. These campuses don't even have real elders of their own, but are under the care of a group from the main church.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Just a note on excommunication and formal / institutional church membership:

It seems that our definitions of excommunication have become more and more formal and institutional as history has progressed and the church became more and more formal and institutional, the early church nowhere appearing as formal and institutional as we have now.
Perg,
Before being too critical here, I'd really need to know what definitions you're using, "formal," "institutional."

I understand (and agree, more or less) with what you say about the fissiparous nature of the modern church experience, but I'm not clear on how that observation, and the difficulty we have in communally as the body-of-Christ "cutting someone off" so that he feels it--how that exposes how far we are from the "reality" of "informality" that supposedly marked the early church.

And are you opposed to the church-as-institution, or do you see that as a normal expression of the church, once it is temporally removed some ways from its NT inception?

A local, community body can certainly be institutional, depending on your definition. I don't understand how any group that has designated officers, and a precisely known "membership" roll, fixed "customs" (that even transcend national and cultural boundaries) isn't also an institution.

If "institution" refers to envisioning a body that is more than local and communal (and therefore "not found in the early church of the NT), I am even more confused. Because it is clear that the Apostolic church exhibited a recognizable hierarchy of authority.

Even if you think that such a situation expired with the death of the last apostle, it is more than obvious from Acts 8:14 (Peter & John are sent to Samaria), or from a variety of passages that demonstrate the authority of Paul over churches he founded, spread over a vast arc of geography and nationality, the NT church has an "institutional" character from its very earliest stage.

In fine, I think asserting that "formality" or "institutionality" has degraded the nature or quality of church-discipline since the early days, is a misdirected criticism.
 

Curt

Puritan Board Graduate
It seems to me that we must remember that church discipline begins at the point of contact between two Christians to discuss an issue. It may end there. If the situation must go all the way through to excommunication then public sin must be exposed publicly (a meeting of members only). Private sin may be dealt with privately. The table must be closed to that person, however, until and unless restoration has been completed.
 

Chris G

Puritan Board Freshman
Richard,

The danger of posting with such clarity is you just make me want to move to Scotland. Shame Id never find a job.
 
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