Are You Shacking Up with Your Church?

by GfG on July 16, 2014 · 6 comments

Finding a “home” church can be challenging.  If it weren’t for the people, the music, and the doctrine, it would definitely be easier.  Ahem.

I’ve shared before some whys and hows in the joining a church gig.  Since then, I’ve become a bit more than aggravated at how Americans shop for and commit, or lack there of, to church.

Stop Dating the Church by Joshua Harris addresses some points wonderfully.  He shares beautifully about why we are blessed and called to be a part of a local church.  He talks about what kind of church is healthy, why we should be a part of one, how to approach Sundays and worship, and he also lays out why we are to join, officially.

While Joshua Harris and I don’t see everything the same (he encourages changing jobs so you can stay by your home church or one that you love and that just isn’t realistic for many, if not most, people), I applaud him for calling out Americans on how they view church and church membership.

He calls it dating the church.  I’ve seen some more and heard some more and I’m willing to call it more than that.  I think he’s sugar coating the behavior.  Many people aren’t just dating the church, they are full on shacking up.  And it’s just wrong.

What do I mean by shacking up with the church?

shacking up PIN pic

When we enjoy all the privileges in a relationship and none of the commitment, when we associate with another person in a personal way and also refuse to be committed to them, when we claim the right to criticize or correct and not the right for others to hold us accountable, well then… it’s a lot like living with a person but not marrying him/her.

When we live with someone and look like we are married, but we aren’t, that’s shacking up.

When we pretend to be fully committed, but we aren’t and we enjoy all the “privileges” that are supposed to be for married people only, that’s shacking up.

And Christians are supposed to call that sin.

I see a disturbing trend in Americans: refusal to join a church.  They attend a church regularly, they go to all/most/many of the functions, they tell people its where they “go to church”, they want  assistance or “benefits”, and more, but they refuse to join.

They claim all kinds of reasons, but these are the top five I’ve heard:

  1. hypocricy
  2. disliking the music
  3. not agreeing with the style of worship
  4. belief that membership is unbiblical
  5. not seeing the “need”

And while some of that sounds legit, I really don’t think they are.

  1. There will always be a level of hypocricy when we are dealing with humans.  Everyone sins and everyone notices.   Rarely do people confess to one another and ask forgiveness privately, much less publicly.  {Romans 3:23; James 5:16}
  2. The music and
  3. style of worship can really affect where we look to attend, but once we make a church our consistent place of worship, then we need to be willing to suck it up.  We have to understand that no church is perfect and that sometimes we have to settle for a church that is less than our “dream church”.
  4. While membership isn’t mentioned in the Bible, submission to elders is.  We can’t submit if we refuse to commit.  Elders/leadership can not effectively lead, discipline, and assist those who aren’t actually under their authority.  {Hebrews 13:17}
  5. We talk ourselves into believing we don’t need many things. Like exercise or plenty of sleep.  Turns out, God mentions church quite a few times, so I think we should trust Him on what we need.

What I see and hear is a fierce independence, bordering on rebellion, in Americans that affects how they view church and church membership.  The “I answer to no one” and “it has to be my way” kind of thing.

Except we aren’t called to be independent or rebellious when it comes to church.

Quite the opposite.

We are called to follow and submit.  Yeah, Americans hate those words.  Is it biblical to hate them though?  No, it’s not.

Church is supposed to be where we locally {Paul trained and raised up many, but he did not consider himself, nor encourage them to consider himself their elder, but that a local body was their church and elder group} are

  • taught  {I Tim 4:13; 2 Tim 4:2}
  • equipped {2 Tim 3:17}
  • helped  {I Tim 5:9}
  • encouraged {Rom 15:4-6}
  • admonished {Matt 18:1-17}
  • led by the godly and upright {I Tim 3:2-14}
  • sharing in the ordinances {Luke 22:19; Acts 2:38-42}
  • as we worship the LORD our God together, through His Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.   {Heb 10:24-2}

Friends, look for a church.  Look hard.  Take it seriously.  Be intentional.

And then don’t choose and refuse to commit.

Don’t shack up with your church.  Marry it.  For better or for worse. 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole August 13, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Hi there! I just read your post here about church membership and found it very interesting. I come from a church, a Calvary Chapel, that does not have church memberships. I was wondering what your thoughts were on that? I agree with you that Christians are called to meet together with other fellow believers, as it states in Hebrews 10:25. However, I have not found any Biblical command to implement church memberships. You mentioned that many Christians attend church regularly, go to most, if not all, functions, and will call a particular church their church home but refuse to “join.” By “join” do you mean taking some kind of oath of commitment and then being part of a church roster? I feel that attending services regularly, being involved, and calling a church their home is the very definition of a church member. In fact, if a person does all this, why is he/she not considered a member of the church? I feel that having official church “memberships” actually creates division within the church. Being a “member” then becomes a mere technicality and allows for “members” to judge “non-members” and feel superior to them. Also, if official church membership is required in order to be baptized or partake in the Lord’s supper, as some churches do, I think we may be adding extra rules to God’s word. God says He alone adds to His church, Acts 2:47. When we are saved we are reborn into His family. I don’t know that there is a necessary secondary joining that is required. I would argue that we are already joined together in one body in Christ. In my case, if I were to attend a church that pressured memberships, I may join for all the wrong reasons, particularly out of fear of being labeled rebellious or non-submissive. I think we need more local churches that accept people based solely on their inclusion in the family of God, not requiring more than God has already required, but demonstrating oneness (John 17:21). I fully agree that Christians should be committed to a church body under submission to the authority of the elders. I just don’t see the significant value in signing an official membership card.

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GfG August 13, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Hi, Nicole!
Thank you for chiming in here!

Yes, I think actually joining a church is something we are supposed to do. Yes, it doesn’t specifically say that in Scripture. It does say, though, that we are called to submit to elders, be disciplined, be shepherded, to bear one another’s burdens, provide for widows and orphans in the body.

I don’t believe that a person shows that they are willing to do all of those things, especially the submit to elders part, if they don’t make an official public decision to be a member of a specific body (local church).

I also don’t believe that elders and deacons can effectively shepherd and care for a body if they don’t know who the members are. And I don’t think they should be officially responsible for those who refuse to join. Sure, they may choose to bless and help others in the community, both Christians and non-Christians, but they are called by the LORD and specifically told to minister to their body. Their church.

While membership is not mentioned, submission and the word church are. Sometimes the word church is used to mean the Church, the body of all Believers, and sometimes the word church is used to address specifics of a local church body. I think the distinction is important, as do I feel the roles of elders and deacons are important.

The word used in talking about elders and deacons is not a word that just means anyone in Christ, it is a word that specifically addresses and office/specific job role. Sure, people can be like elders and like deacons, but the words and qualifications outlined are for specific offices for the local church.

To equip the men (and women, when addressing deacons) fully, they need to know who their flock is.

No, I do NOT believe you must be a member of a specific church to take communion or be baptized. Those tasks are specifically addressed for all Believers.

grace and truth, Mindy

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Nicole August 14, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Thank you for your reply, Mindy. Your basis for official church membership seems to be built merely on opinion, though. There isn’t a verse that says, “Only official church ‘members’ must submit to the elders”. ALL believers are called to submit to those God puts in authority over us (Hebrews 13:17). While I agree with you that the church is called to appoint official elders (Titus 1:5), there is nothing in regards to signing up official church members. When Christians take an idea that they believe is good and then raise it to the same level as a Biblical mandate, it basically becomes a form of legalism. You use the term “shacking up” as an analogy for believers who are not official church members. To me, this sounds extremely offensive. Shacking up is a term for unmarried couples who live together. It is a sin in God’s eyes (Hebrews 13:4). Therefore, you are equating something that God says is sinful to the manmade practice of church membership. Isn’t that a harsh accusation? Would you go so far as to say that the entire congregation of a church that does not have official church membership is shacking up? Or would you say that someone who moves away from a church where he was a member and becomes a member of another church is equivalent to someone that divorced their spouse and remarried? I sure hope not.

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GfG August 14, 2014 at 2:34 pm

I do not believe that membership is man made. There are tons of studies done and articles written on this.

Here is one:
http://www.9marks.org/journal/church-membership-biblical

The title was meant to catch attention and challenge. It was even meant to offend, if necessary, because I believe it is wrong to not commit to a church via joining, whether by just telling the pastor/elders or by signing something or by taking an oath.

I don’t know what I’d call an entire congregation that disregards the importance of church membership.

Of course, when someone moves, they join a new local body. That is exactly the idea: join a local body, don’t just consider your membership in The Body enough and submission to Christ alone, as you feel led. Join a church.

Please notice that this post’s focus was on those who attend a church that has membership and values it, but the person/couple/family refuses to join, despite it being “their church”.

My post was not intended of focused on denominations that don’t have official membership.

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Concerned Sister August 19, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Dear Mindy,
I decided I must enter this discussion on church membership. Do you truly mean to offend a great number of brothers and sisters in Christ on this matter? Do you truly mean to condemn all the Calvary Chapel churches throughout the world? I believe wholeheartedly that you may express your opinions on your blog, but it seems to me that this is a matter that shouldn’t cause division. Certainly the fact that “there are tons of studies done and articles written on this” does not mean that your opinion is right and others are wrong. I am sure that you have seen that there are also tons of studies and articles that are written in opposition to your viewpoint.
I believe that Nicole has a legitimate point. You seem to be calling someone who will not become an official member of a church a sinner, wrong, and non-submissive and that seems very divisive and judgmental.
I see that your church has linked to this post from their Facebook page. Does that mean that you are representing your church on this issue? Have your pastors and elders read this entire post with its comments and agreed with all you have written? Your church website states that:
Doctrinally, we affirm:

In essentials of faith…unity is necessary.
In matters of opinion…liberty is upheld.
In all things…love is our pursuit.

From this post and the comments here, it seems to me that you are not affirming this doctrine.

A concerned sister in Christ~

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GfG August 19, 2014 at 3:39 pm

While I do strongly disagree with churches that do not call their flock to membership, including Calvary Chapel, I do not condemn them. I disagree with them. That is different.

I didn’t know my church linked to this. I’m pretty sure that all of the elders and the pastor haven’t read my blog. I don’t think they are regular readers.

There is more to our church doctrine than that, as I signed a statement of doctrinal belief when I joined. Are you a member there? Interesting that you could find my home church, when I didn’t mention it except once here on the blog and that you are not willing to leave your real name. If you do attend MCC and have issue, I would hope that you would be willing to confront me in love, personally, not anonymously.

My biggest point in the post, if you reread it, is that I have major issue with people who attend a church, participate, expect support, and all of that and don’t join it, though they have membership. Not that the church doesn’t have membership, but that those people refuse to join, though the place the call “their church” has official membership.

My church has official membership, so it is something the elders believe in and desire for the flock.

I appreciate concern, always. I am open to correction, always (well, most days of the month). Prayer most of all.

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