What is the nature of Church Membership?

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sftmfs

Puritan Board Freshman
Greetings everyone!

This is my first post so forgive me if this isn't the proper forum to place this question.

My question is this: What is the exact nature of Church Membership? Specifically, is this a covenantal relationship that a person enters into with that local body? And, if it is a covenantal relationship, is that relationship analogous to the covenant relationship of a marriage, or is it closer to that of a gym or country club membership?

I'm also curious as to the implications of this with regards to determining whether/when a person should leave a church that they are a member of.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!
 

dudley

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
This is the way I see it....

I am a Presbyterian and I believe church membership is a covenantal relationship that a person enters into with that local body and with the greater Presbyterian session or presbytery. I believe that for reformed Baptists it would be the local church elders and session. I may be wrong there as I said I am a Presbyterian. My knowledge on the Baptists is more limited. I do personally see confessing church membership as a covenantal relationship and would see that relationship analogous to the covenant relationship of a marriage, members to join are examined for a credible profession of faith, baptism, and vow to peaceably study the church's doctrine, support its work, and submit to its government and discipline.
 

sftmfs

Puritan Board Freshman
Dudley,

Thanks for the remarks. I am inclined to agree that church membership is a covenantal relationship whcih is analogous to marriage. However, I'm trying to think through the ramifications of this for determining if/when someone should leave a church. I've been reading various articles on the net on "When you should leave a church" and it seems to me that most of the guidance given is very subjective and "me-centered." So, I'm curious, are there any doctrinal or practical issues that would be sufficient reason not to join a church, which, after a covenant relationship has been entered into, would not be sufficient reason to leave?
Using marriage as an example, if I were single and considering whether to pursue a relationship leading to marriage with a woman, I might decide that such a relationship would be untenable after finding out that the woman was a smoker. However, if my wife were to start smoking, I would not have sufficient grounds to divorce her.

I know that at some point the marriage analogy breaks down, but it seems to me that it ought to play a greater role in the decision of whether to leave a church than it often does.
 

kainos01

Puritan Board Senior
If your church starts smoking, you should leave (in the interest of safety)! :)

On a more serious note, I too would like to hear a Baptist response. As a Presbyterian, I believe that I am in more of a covenantal relationship than I was when I was a Baptist. I remember quite a bit of "church shopping" going on back then, my family included, sadly. That is indeed "me-centered" and is, I would say, the dominant position in the evangelical community today. I would say that if the marks of a true church were in evidence, I would be compelled to stay.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Greetings everyone!

This is my first post so forgive me if this isn't the proper forum to place this question.

My question is this: What is the exact nature of Church Membership? Specifically, is this a covenantal relationship that a person enters into with that local body? And, if it is a covenantal relationship, is that relationship analogous to the covenant relationship of a marriage, or is it closer to that of a gym or country club membership?

I'm also curious as to the implications of this with regards to determining whether/when a person should leave a church that they are a member of.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

In my understanding, church membership must in some sense reflect God adopting us into the Body of Christ.

The visible church is composed of believers and their children who inhabit a particular communion, and are bound together by oath to serve God in this World. Tied in with that is the notion that unity is based on common doctrine- beliefs and practices that are confessed as God's revealed will for His Creatures (from Scripture).

It's not a (highly) conditional, loose association of consenting adults as is so often assumed in broad evangelicalism. Those who view it in similar terms as a gymnasium membership are not at all understanding the Body of Christ, the holiness of God, or their own sin to name but a few things.

That's because, in part, God appoints officers (e.g. ministers, elders and deacons) to govern, for the benefit and accountability of a communion. God calls, equips, and qualifies men to do those things and invests them with a certain authority.

It also implicitly involves church discipline. There can be no discipline without the accountability of a structure, bound by vow, and a belief that God speaks or ordains the use of ecclesiastical power-
the "keys" to open the Kingdom by preaching, and to limit or close it to the unrepentant sinner who persists, to the detriment of himself, other members of Christ's Body, and of our Lord's reputation.

I don't think this would be quite analogous with marriage though. That relationship begins on a different footing (we choose our spouse, but in the church, God chooses us and adopts us into His Body), and it would seem to be an overworking of the benefits and responsibilities, because they are not the same.

There are some threads about leaving a church, so I'll only comment generally that one's convenience of the moment ought not be the first, nor highest priority reason for leaving a church (nor staying in it). We have higher priorities for paying back even small loans, so it's deeper than that.
 
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jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
I think Scott is spot-on. The covenant side has been handled ably. I might add that a view of church government likely informs a view of church membership. The congregational practices I've seen generally requires the willingness of the prospective member to join and the willingness of the congregation to accept that member. Presbyterian churches recognize the standards established by the denomination for church membership and a prospective member makes vows to support the work and worship of the church as well as to submit to the authority of the church (loosely stated from memory).
 

dudley

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Greetings everyone!

This is my first post so forgive me if this isn't the proper forum to place this question.

My question is this: What is the exact nature of Church Membership? Specifically, is this a covenantal relationship that a person enters into with that local body? And, if it is a covenantal relationship, is that relationship analogous to the covenant relationship of a marriage, or is it closer to that of a gym or country club membership?

I'm also curious as to the implications of this with regards to determining whether/when a person should leave a church that they are a member of.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

In my understanding, church membership must in some sense reflect God adopting us into the Body of Christ.

The visible church is composed of believers and their children who inhabit a particular communion, and are bound together by oath to serve God in this World. Tied in with that is the notion that unity is based on common doctrine- beliefs and practices that are confessed as God's revealed will for His Creatures (from Scripture).

It's not a (highly) conditional, loose association of consenting adults as is so often assumed in broad evangelicalism. Those who view it in similar terms as a gymnasium membership are not at all understanding the Body of Christ, the holiness of God, or their own sin to name but a few things.

That's because, in part, God appoints officers (e.g. ministers, elders and deacons) to govern, for the benefit and accountability of a communion. God calls, equips, and qualifies men to do those things and invests them with a certain authority.

It also implicitly involves church discipline. There can be no discipline without the accountability of a structure, bound by vow, and a belief that God speaks or ordains the use of ecclesiastical power-
the "keys" to open the Kingdom by preaching, and to limit or close it to the unrepentant sinner who persists, to the detriment of himself, other members of Christ's Body, and of our Lord's reputation.

I don't think this would be quite analogous with marriage though. That relationship begins on a different footing (we choose our spouse, but in the church, God chooses us and adopts us into His Body), and it would seem to be an overworking of the benefits and responsibilities, because they are not the same.

There are some threads about leaving a church, so I'll only comment generally that one's convenience of the moment ought not be the first, nor highest priority reason for leaving a church (nor staying in it). We have higher priorities for paying back even small loans, so it's deeper than that.

Scott said above: "I'll only comment generally that one's convenience of the moment ought not be the first, nor highest priority reason for leaving a church (nor staying in it)." I agree with that statement and his whole position. I will for your sake say that I left the Roman catholic church not for my convenience but because I saw apostasy in that church and sought the truth by searching and found it by Gods grace alone.

I never thought I would leave Roman Catholicism and become a Protestant. My faith Journey from Roman catholic to Presbyterian Protestant began in 2006. I did not leave the Roman catholic church to become a Protestant. I left because I no longer accepted the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, the pope. I gradually began to doubt the doctrine of Papal infallibility. I also was building a disdain for the new pope, Joseph Ratzinger, who I believed was moving the church backward to a pre Vatican II mentality.

One of the many things that bothered me was his return to emphasizing the adoration of the Eucharist. The worship of the elements of the sacrament of the Lords Supper. While I never argued the Roman catholic dogma of transubstantiation I always held the position that how Christ made himself present in the Lords Supper was a mystery of the infinite and could not be defined by finite men.

I expressed my concerns to friends who were Episcopalians and they invited me to join them for the services at the Episcopal church in early January 2006. I did join them I liked the service and the minister and became an Episcopalian. At first I think I became an Episcopalian because I felt at home with its sacramental structure, its governmental system and its liturgy, which is done at an altar and like the roman mass. I knew I had become a Protestant by becoming an Episcopalian. However I really did not understand what it meant to be a Protestant. I decided to make an intensive study of Protestantism as I began to study Protestantism and the reformation and the reformers I discovered that I was in heart and soul a Protestant.

I started to believe like the Protestants that the Bible as the word of God is the only and final authority and path to salvation. I now submit in discipline to the doctrines of John Calvin and the teachings of the Presbyterian Church in doctrine and life. In 2007 I became a Presbyterian.

I now believe It is Christ alone who is salvation to our souls, not the Church of Rome or the Pope"

It is Christ alone who is salvation to our souls. Rome taught at the time of the Reformation that there was no salvation outside the Church of Rome. Unfortunately She is now reverting to that same false claim. The Reformers regarded the Church of Rome to have seceded from Christ and the Apostolic Church. The aims of the Reformers were to return to the pure Gospel and practices of the Early Church. I left Roman Catholicism for the same reason. As a Roman Catholic I was a slave to the Institutional Roman Church. Now as a Reformed Protestant I am a servant of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

As a Roman Catholic I had to go to Jesus through the priest and the church as a Presbyterian and a Protestant I go to my Lord and Savior directly. As a Protestant the church is there to assist me not to direct and control me.

When I was a Roman catholic I was taught that the Protestants and particularly Reformed Protestants, Baptists and Presbyterians abandoned the true essence of the sacrament of the Eucharist which I now prefer to call "The Lords Supper." My study of John Calvin opened my eyes that it was the roman catholic church that abandoned and then corrupted the true nature of the sacrament. I was never comfortable with the adoration of the catholic wafer bread even when I was a roman catholic. R C's believe that the rc wafer becomes the body of Christ. I believe now that the bread and wine or juice of the Lords Supper Are Symbols, and not at all the actual body and blood of Christ.

To adore the bread wafer outside the celebration of the Lords Supper is a total distortion of the sacrament itself. I now think the rc mass is actually an abomination and injury to Christ's once only sacrifice on Calvary.

The problem with the council of Trent and the Roman catholic teaching of transubstantiation is that it attempts to explain in finite terms and language the mystery of the infinite God who is sovereign. The vanity of Lucifer himself is displayed in such Roman catholic teaching. As a Reformed Protestant how Christ manifests himself in the Lords Supper is a spiritual matter we cannot explain. It is why we say that Christ becomes present to us in our celebration of the supper through our faith alone and our communion and fellowship in the ordinance of the Lords Supper which he commanded us to do in memory of him and his one and only needed sacrifice for all who are born again in Him.

My beliefs are now contrary to living as a Christian and also being a Roman catholic. My theological and religious beliefs are now more in line with the Reformed Protestants so I became a Presbyterian.


My intensive study of Protestantism and the Protestant Reformation led me to believe the Reformation was establishing and returning the Church and the Gospel to the way it was in the early church and before the corruption's done by the Roman church and the governmental system of the papacy. I also discovered I believed in the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation i.e. the authority of the Bible alone in all matters of faith and practice and that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

I now believe the 5 solas of the Protestant Reformation are correct that
Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone based on Scripture alone and for the glory of God alone.

I also now firmly believe in the Protestant doctrine of Justification. Justification is by faith alone.

"The Roman Catholic view of justification [is that] God declares a person to be just when justice (or righteousness) inheres in the person. The person, under divine analysis or scrutiny, is found to be just. God justifies the just. ...By stark and radical contrast the Reformation view of justification is that God declares a person just based upon something [external to them], something not inherent in the person: the imputed righteousness of Christ."
R. C. Sproul

I firmly believe now as Protestants do that ““Justification is a judicial act of God, in which He declares, on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that all the claims of the law are satisfied with respect to the sinner. It is unique in the application of the work of redemption in that it is a judicial act of God, a declaration respecting the sinner, and not an act or process of renewal, such as regeneration, conversion, and sanctification. While it has respect to the sinner, it does not change his inner life. It does not affect his condition, but his state, and in that respect differs from all the other principal parts of the order of salvation. It involves the forgiveness of sins, and restoration to divine favor.” Louis Berkhof

Another major stumbling block I now have with Roman Catholicism is the sacraments. I will just quote from a paper I wrote while studying to become an Presbyterian elder.

“I no longer and for a long time even while still a Roman catholic felt comfortable with the adoration of the bread and wine in the Eucharist. I do now firmly hold a Calvinist Presbyterian view of the sacraments.

The Lutheran view of the sacraments especially the Lords Supper is not at all Reformed and actually it is very close to the Roman catholic view. I agree with pastor Buchanan. I am a Calvinist Presbyterian and I believe as did John Calvin that we are spiritually fed Christ’s Body and blood at the service of the Lords Supper. In an article “The Contemplative Shape of Calvin’s Eucharistic Thought” by Michael J. Pahls the following is a beautiful explanation of what we believe as Presbyterians and Reformed Protestants. He says of Calvin’s teaching on the Lords Supper “This “Spiritual” feeding on the body and blood of Christ are symbolized for the believer, whose faith is nourished, sustained, and increased. This is, of course, the point of the symbol. Calvin does not halt at a mere parallelism, however. As has been seen, the Eucharistic symbols have an instrumental function. The Holy Spirit, then is active in the Supper, feeding the believer by nourishing, sustaining, and increasing the mystical union “just as” the believer partakes of the bread and wine. The elements thus retain their substance, but the spiritual reality cannot be separated from them. Calvin, however, has maintained that the body and blood of Jesus Christ are locally present at the right hand of the Father in Heaven. How, then can there be a true feeding?

The high water point of Calvin’s mystical turn is in his theology of the “Eucharistic Ascent”. Rather than dragging Christ down to earth under the form of corruptible elements, Calvin argues that believers must be “raised up” to heaven in order to feed upon him there. In the 1539 edition of the Institutes, he argues,
But if we are lifted up to heaven with our eyes and minds to seek Christ there in the glory of his Kingdom, so under the symbol of bread we shall be fed by his body, [and] under the symbol of wine we shall separately drink his blood to enjoy him at last in his wholeness. For though he has taken his flesh away from us, and in the body has ascended into heaven, yet he sits at the right hand of the Father

Calvin takes a similar tack when offering critique of the Roman Catholic practice of adoring the consecrated host. The Lutheran view of consubstantiation in my mind is as much an abomination of the sacrament as the roman catholic teaching of transubstantiation. Far from being a sanctioned practice to facilitate Eucharistic contemplation, Calvin says this practice is an idol which evokes a vain imagination: “For what is idolatry if not this: to worship the gifts in place of the Giver himself? In this there is a double transgression: for both the honor taken from God has been transferred to the creature, and he himself is also dishonored in the defilement and profanation of his gift, when the holy Sacrament is made a hateful idol”

I guess there are many reasons why we practice our Christianity in different denominations. I will not be hard on others who disagree with my thinking. My theology evolved over many years I became gradually more Protestant in my thinking just like Luther, Calvin, Knox , Zwigli and all the protestant reformers who also were at one time Roman Catholics.

I will not any longer give blind allegiance to the pope and the Roman church. I am a protestant and a Presbyterian out of my Christian convictions.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
My question is this: What is the exact nature of Church Membership? Specifically, is this a covenantal relationship that a person enters into with that local body?

Church membership should be nothing more than a formal acknowledgment that one is already a member of the church through participation in the two sacraments which the Head of the Church has instituted. To place any covenantal significance in church membership is to raise it to the status of a third sacrament.
 
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dudley

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
My question is this: What is the exact nature of Church Membership? Specifically, is this a covenantal relationship that a person enters into with that local body?

Church membership should be nothing more than a formal acknowledgment that one is already a member of the church through participation in the two sacraments which the Head of the Church has institued. To place any covenantal significance in church membership is to raise it to the status of a third sacrament.

I agree with our PB brother Matthew and say Amen! "through participation in the two sacraments which the Head of the Church has institued." Praise God!
 

sftmfs

Puritan Board Freshman
Armourbearer,

Can you elaborate on why viewing church membership in covenantal terms would turn it into a third sacrament? Do you view marriage as a sacrament, or do you believe that marriage is not a covenantal union?

Dudley,

Praise God that He opened your eyes to the errors of RC! I believe that the RCC believes and teaches a different gospel and therefore requires all true believers so separate from them.

I hope I in no way gave the impression that I don't think there are any valid reasons for leaving a church, I'm just not convinced that the reasons often given are valid reasons, especially if there is any covenantal aspect to church membership. If there isn't any covenantal aspect to church membership then any reasons for leaving a church is fine.

Thanks for the input.
 

calgal

Puritan Board Graduate
And if it is a covenantal relationship are there not responsibilities going BOTH ways? Burden on the church and the member?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Can you elaborate on why viewing church membership in covenantal terms would turn it into a third sacrament? Do you view marriage as a sacrament, or do you believe that marriage is not a covenantal union?

Marriage is a civil union which is legitimate for believers and unbelievers alike. Marriage was converted to a sacrament by making it a rite of spiritual significance which came under the ministry of the church. Church membership by definition is an ecclesiastical action, so it is already under the ministry of the church. To convert it to a sacrament in the same manner that some convert marriage to a sacrament one only needs to make it a rite of spiritual significance, which is accomplished by giving covenantal significance to the act. Church membership which formally recognises one's participation in the church by the sacraments of Christ's appointment is a matter of prudence and care, but church membership which adds spiritual significance to the act of becoming a member is another sacrament.
 
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