If you wish to publicly profess Christ through baptism, please call the church office or mark your communication card on a Sunday. One of our elders will contact you.
Baptisms occur weekly at Grace Church. The following options are available: in Building A at the 9:30 Adoration Service or outside on Fellowship Plaza at 9:20 or 11:00 a.m.
All right, so what is the big deal?
Grace Church requires baptism of believers for membership. This phrase can be broken down into two simple sub-headings. One: Candidates for baptism must be believers before they are baptized. Two: The believer must be immersed before membership.
Sometimes these requirements are viewed by some as stringent. It is not a question as to whether they are stringent, but whether they are scriptural. Some argue: Baptism is important, but should it be a requirement for church membership? As long as a person is willing to give a public testimony, does it really matter to God whether we pour, sprinkle or dip? We believe it does matter.
What comes first? What comes second?
Logically, a person must be a believer before being baptized. This makes sense when we understand the meaning of baptism. Biblically, baptism is associated with forgiveness (Acts 2:38; 22:16), union with Christ (Romans 6:1-10), making disciples (Matthew 28:19), and repentance (Acts 2:38). When a person stands publicly and submits to the rite of water baptism, they are saying in effect, "I have accepted Christ as Savior. I publicly declare my faith and willingness to follow Him." How can they say that publicly with integrity if they have not made that choice. The whole service becomes a sham. It is devoid of meaning.
This discussion becomes emotional when we address infant baptism. The Scripture has no foundation for infant baptism. Its derivation did not come from the Bible, but church tradition.
Baptism speaks of identification with Christ. How can one publicly identify with somebody they have not yet come to believe in. Beyond that, the scriptural order is always belief first, then baptism.
"Now when they heard this they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:37-38).
"And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from the Scripture he preached Jesus to him. And as they went along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (Acts 8:35-37).
"And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshipper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us saying . . ." (Acts 16:14-15a).
"And Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized" (Acts 18:8).
Baptism is an initiatory rite into a believing community. Belief precedes baptism. You cannot give public testimony with sincerity to that which is not factually the case. For non-believers, to be baptized is nothing more than a religious show.
Verses like Colossians 2:11-12 seem to link circumcision and baptism. In the Old Testament, infants were circumcised under the old covenant. Some argue that as O.T. infants were circumcised, N.T. infants should be baptized. To hold this position one must structure their theology under a single covenant of grace viewing Israel as the Old Testament church or the church as New Testament Israel. Even if one perceives such to be the case (I believe erroneously), it must be noted circumcision in the O.T. simply indicated allegiance to the covenant. It did not necessarily mean personal faith. Obviously, not all the men who were circumcised were saved individuals. Circumcision did not save people in the O.T. (Hebrews11), nor does baptism save anyone today.
From early times many in the church have practiced infant baptism. Some have also taught the doctrine of baptismal regeneration (that water saves you). Because such doctrines have been taught does not make them true.
Others remind us whole households were baptized in the early church (Acts 11:14; 16:15,31; 18:8). The inference being that includes infants. It is true the N.T. speaks of "households" being baptized, but nowhere does it state the age of the children. It is safe to assume all those baptized were believers first. The scriptural order is unquestionably belief; then baptism.
How much water does it take?
At Grace Church we believe the only acceptable mode of baptism is immersion. We do not make that statement glibly. The following factors have led us to that conclusion.
- The chosen New Testament term for baptism is baptizo. Baptizo is translated in Greek dictionaries as meaning to dip or to immerse. There are other words in the Greek for pouring and sprinkling. The Holy Spirit, as He inspired the Scriptures, chose to use the word baptize. In secular literature baptize was used to refer to the dipping of a cloth in dye, or to refer to a boat that was sunk. It does not mean water sprinkled up over the side of the ship; but rather, the boat was immersed in water. The word means to place into the water.
Some may be tempted to respond at this juncture: "Well, that may be the case, but do not exclude people from membership in the local body over something as minor as this." That sounds appealing on the surface, but consider the ramifications of such big-heartedness.
Following that line of thought, we can give words new meaning just because they are inconvenient or potentially factious. We are now in the place of deciding which words receive new meanings and which ones retain the normal meaning. Next Christmas I will be speaking to a number of holiday guests. Many of them are non-believers; most of them well educated. Well educated people understand that virgins do not conceive children. So, perhaps we ought to take the word parthenos (Greek for virgin) and give it a new meaning. We will simply refer to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as "a young woman of marriageable age" and say nothing about her sexual history. That would appeal to our scientifically minded guests. They would perceive us as being enlightened. We might be able to bring them into the church because we have not turned them off with a biologically unsound story.
Granted, the ramifications of this word change may be greater than that of baptizo, none-the-less, the point is made. The Holy Spirit inspired the words of Scripture. We have no grounds for changing definitions simply because they transcend our comfort zone. That is the first step towards liberalism.
- We believe immersion is the acceptable mode of baptism because of the New Testament example.
"And it came about in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth and Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately coming up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch saw him no more, but went on his way rejoicing" (Acts 8:38-39).
The least that can be said is that all of the New Testament examples either strongly suggest immersion or allow for it. Why did Philip with his large entourage stop and go down into a body of water to be baptized? Would it not have been easier to extract a canteen and sprinkle him on the top of the head as they rode along? After all, time had to be of the essence with such a dignitary as the Ethiopian. Why did John the Baptist go out to the Jordan River to do his baptizing as opposed to staying in the metropolitan areas where the people were? A large body of water was needed.
Objections to immersion are raised. In Acts 2:41, were there too many people to immerse? In Acts 8:38, was there too little water in a desert place? In Acts 16:33, was there enough water in a house? None of these questions are insurmountable problems to the immersionists.
Immersion was the practice of the Early Church. We do not build our doctrine on Early Church practice, but it certainly substantiates the already strong arguments we have in front of us.
"There can be no question that the original form of baptism -the very meaning of the word- was complete immersion in the deep baptismal waters; and that, for at least four centuries any other form was either unknown or regarded, unless in the case of dangerous illnesses and exceptional almost monstrous cases. To this form, the Eastern Church still rigidly adheres . . ." (from the History of Eastern Church by Arthur P. Stanley, p.117).
Calvin, while not an immersionist himself, and not quite as positive as Stanley, had to admit:
"Whether the person baptized is to be wholly immersed and that whether once or thrice or whether he is only to be sprinkled with water is not of the least consequence: churches should be at liberty to adopt either according to the diversity of climates although it is evident that the term baptism means to immerse and that this was the form used by the primitive church."
Even those who hold to other modes of baptism seem to accept the fact that immersion was the practice of the early church handed down by the apostles.
A few clarifications
- The symbolism of water baptism seems best kept by the form of immersion. When people stand publicly to declare their faith, they are identifying with Jesus Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. What a beautiful picture water baptism is of this reality.
First, Grace Church is not hung up on mechanics. If a person wants to be baptized three times backwards, or three times forward, or one time forward, or one time backward, we do not care. We do, however, customarily practice immersion one time backwards. This is simply our church tradition. Some have objected saying you need to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, indicating three dippings. Our response: While God is indeed three, He is one. We baptize once in the name of that great Trinity.
We do not require a person to be baptized in a "Baptist" church. As long as they understood they were giving public testimony of a previous personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we accept their baptism. There is no attempt to investigate their previous baptism. We take the candidates word for it.
Finally, it needs to be mentioned that baptism, of course, does not save. We are simply giving testimony to that which has already taken place. For this reason, we prefer to speak of baptism as an ordinance, not a sacrament. The word "sacrament" means literally to make sacred or to dedicate to God or to a sacred use. Unfortunately, church councils over the years, for instance the Council of Trent, chose to define a sacrament as "something presented to the sense which has the power by divine institution, not only of signifying but also of efficiently conveying grace."
When we use the word "ordinance," we do not bring in the idea of conveying grace. We see baptism as only a symbol -a sacred symbol, a necessary symbol- for disciple making; but, water does not save. Only the blood of Jesus Christ has the power to do that.
Lets talk about this membership business
The purpose statement of Grace Church is "We exist to glorify God by developing committed followers of Jesus Christ who attract others to Him." Encouraging church membership is a natural corollary in developing committed followers of Jesus Christ.
The word church (or ekklesia) is used in the New Testament in two senses. First of the universal church. That is all those who, in this particular age of Grace, have been born of the Spirit and have, by that same Spirit, been baptized or placed into the body of Christ (I Peter 1:3, 22-25; I Corinthians 12:13). We know Christ used ekklesia in the sense when He spoke of building His Church, not churches (Matthew 16:18). The apostle Paul grieved because he had persecuted the Church (I Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6). Christ is said to have loved the Church and given Himself for it (Ephesians 5:25). It is of premium importance a person become a member of the universal church.
Second, the Scriptures speak of the local church. The Bible uses the word "church" to refer to a group of professed believers in any one locality. They are banded together for edification, encouragement, mutual admonition, and to facilitate growth. The word ekklesia is used of the local church more than the universal. Some examples:
- The church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1; 11:22)
- The church at Antioch (Acts 13:1)
- The church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17)
- The church at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1)
- The church at Corinth (I Corinthians 1:2)
- The churches of Galatia (Galatians 1:2)
It was Gods intent to build up the universal church by developing strong local assemblies. The concept of religious local assemblies was clearly understood by New Testament Christians because of their experiences with Jewish synagogues. Judaism recognized the local assemblies as being vital to religious life. New Testament Christians understood the concept.
But we still have not addressed the issue of membership
It is correct church membership is not mentioned in the New Testament per se; but then neither is the Trinity. Evangelicals accept the Trinity as a sacred truth. The "rapture" of the church is not mentioned in the N.T. Yet, many in our Christian fellowship believe the rapture to be a precious truth. Just because something is not mentioned with a specific word in the Bible does not necessarily imply it is not a truth taught in Scriptures. Our conviction is local church membership is an assumed dynamic. Church membership is expected. It is required for the building up of the body of Christ. Can you defend that position?
We believe we can. The New Testament was written in a time of transition. There were a number of things going on that made it a unique period of years. Read Acts 2. The church began predominately with Jewish members. These people were devout Jews. They were looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. They were godly, pious individuals. Their monumental mistake was not understanding Jesus was the Messiah who had been promised. When Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, this was his theme: Jesus whom you crucified is the very one you were waiting for. Focus especially on verses 14-36. The argument of Peters message was structured to communicate with knowledgeable Jewish people. In verse 37 we read:
"Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
As the New Testament church began, there was much about this new instituion they did not understand. They did not have the New Testament. During this transitional period, there was a gradual move from Judaism to Christianity. Once this is understood, the books of Hebrews and Galatians make a great deal of sense. There was always the danager for these people of lapsing back into Judaism. Going back to what was comfortable is an easy thing to do. But, the age of grace had begun. There would be new rules; new directions; new ways of doing things.
The head of the Church had painstakingly prepared leadership for this transitional period. He spent three years of His public ministry personally training the new leaders. These were the apostles. Because the leadership had already been determined, there was no need to vote on the shepherds of the churches. As the apostles went from church to church and new nucleuses were formed, they appointed others to stay on as leaders. Men like Titus and Timothy were not pastors, but apostolic appointees.
As we approach the second generation of the Christian church, a change is necessitated. The apostles died. John was probably the last living apostle. He passed away sometime around 80-90 AD. Now that the apostles were gone, who was in charge? How would these bodies of believers, scattered throughout Asia, govern themselves? The answer to this came in the completion of the New Testament. The guidance God wanted His new followers to have was given to them in the 27 books brought together and recognized as authoritative writings. These books, in their entirety, provide everything we need to know for the operation of the local church. The question is not whether "church membership" is specifically mentioned. The real question is whether or not the local church can follow these guidelines without membership.
Structure and organization are not dirty words
The early church was highly organized. It grew rapidly. On one occasion 3000 members were added to the church. Later, 5000 more members were added in Jerusalem, and on and on it went. This was immense, supernatural growth. This required some type of structure. The leaders were not managerial novices. They learned crowd control during three years with Jesus. They were competent, supernaturally gifted administrators who recognized something must be done. Some examples of early organization are found in passages such as Acts 6:1-7.
"Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. And the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. But, select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." And the statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parnenas and Nicholas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith."
Several things are of interest. First, they were already involved in ministry and programming. They had taken on the care of the widows. This was no small task when you consider the numbers already mentioned. Obviously, the twelve gave leadership; but, they took the burden of the ministry before a group called "the congregation of the disciples." In verse 3 we read they instructed the congregation to "select from among you brethren: seven men of good reputation. The congregation acted in this particular case. The final approval of this selection was made by the apostles, but the congregation knew who they were. There was a defined "us." The "us" needed to be distinguished from those who were not in the congregation. They instructed the congregation to select men who developed a good reputation. That means they knew one another. There was a nucleus from which they could draw the men that would serve. Some have called these the first deacons.
As the church continued to blossom and grow, problems set in. As we move to Acts 15, we find there was a difference of opinion. We read:
"And some men came from Judea and began teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." And When Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. And when they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them."
In these verses, we read twice people were sent and commissioned "by the church." Who constitutes the church? Was it all the people that happened to be sitting in a meeting? There was business to transact. There were doctrinal problems arising. In this case, a very serious one. What is necessary for salvation? Is circumcision a requirement? Once again, they took the issue to the apostles - those who had been designated as leaders by Jesus Himself. The apostles resolved it. But one cannot read this passage carefully without discovering a defined, identifiable group which was involved in the decision making process. Verse 22 reads:
"Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas " Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, and they sent this letter by them, "The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles. Greetings."
So when they were sent away, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter" (v. 30).
Notice the identifying phrases: with the whole church, the brethren, and the congregation. In some manner, a congregation already formed. Who was excluded? Who was included? We are not told. But structure was in place. There seems to be an association, perhaps even a "denomination" of believers, where these sensitive issues could be resolved.
As we continue to read through the remainder of Acts, we find missionary journeys were undertaken. A network of local churches knew one another. Funds were raised. We are not told the amount of the money sent for these missionary endeavors, but we assume the totals would commensurate with what we send today. Ministry takes money. In a number of cases there is careful instruction about the delivering of the funds. These funds are to be handled by trusted individuals. There is an account given; reports are given to the congregations. What we see here is the necessity of accountability and structure.
Where do we get our pastor?
In I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 the qualifications are given for the two offices ordained by God for the governing of the local body. The first of these offices is that of the pastor. This office is referred to elsewhere as "elder," "bishop," "overseer." The second office is that of deacons. Who selects the pastors and the deacons? In th early church, it was a simple matter. The apostles appointed them. There is no indication of any apostolic succession. Even if there was nobody would know who those individuals are today. Who selects officers in the church today? The logical answer is for the members of the congregation to select their leaders. What are the other choices? Do you poll the local community to see who they would like to have lead the congregation? Perhaps it is just the immediate neighborhood that gets to vote. Do you give ballots to everybody who shows up for worship on a given Sunday morning? That might work well most of the time, but what if the local Jehovah Witness group decides to bus in some of the delegates? It would seem the selection of leadership requires some type of formal membership. Other alternatives might be to check the giving records and allow people to vote who give over so many thousand dollars a year. Or, perhaps, the people who have attended for six months. Does it matter if those people are saved or unsaved? Does their lifestyle make any difference? Once again membership seems a more logical approach - perhaps the only truly workable one.
There is one other possibility. You can have a self-perpetuating leadership. When a pastor leaves he appoints his successor, and so on and so forth. Some churches have practiced this. That again seems to have some built in problems. Most churches would not accept this.
What about widow care?
In Timothy 5, we read these words:
"Honor widows who are widows indeed; but if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family, and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. Now who is a widow indeed, and who has been left alone has fixed her hope on God, and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day. But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives. Prescribe these things was well, so that they may be above approach . . . . Let a widow be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shows hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints" feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work. But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sexual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. And at the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention. Therefore I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach" (vs. 2-14).
There is no indication this injunction is cultural. We are to take care of the widows if they are "widows indeed." "Indeed" simply means they have serious, real needs. Elsewhere in Scripture it says, "If you have food and clothing, therein be content." The term for clothing would include shelter. So, it is the responsibility of the church to take care of the widows who are sixty years of age and older, who were faithful in their relationship in the past, who have demonstrated true piety in their practice and desire to spend their remaining years serving the Lord. The local church should do that. Now, in America, because of our welfare system, social security, etc., and the fact we are a nation of immense comparative wealth, there are few people who actually do not have a place to live, clothes to wear, and food to eat. However, when we encounter these types of widows, it is our responsibility as a local church to care for them. The question is: What widows are we responsible for?
Grace Church is located in Southern California. Are we responsible for all such widows in the state of California? Or the Southwest? The whole nation? Or, just for those widows in the city of Glendora? A logical answer would be: We are responsible for those widows who have chosen to become members of this local church. They are the ones we take on over-sight responsibilities for. They have become accountable to the church, and the church has a responsibility to them. Without membership, where are those lines of responsibility drawn? Is it your mother we take care of? Or just mine?
The duty of discipline
A number of passages make it clear the local church has a responsibility to discipline unruly members. Examples:
"But shun foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law; for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:9-11).
"And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a taxgatherer (excommunication)" (Matthew 18:15-17).
We have clear instruction. If a brother is involved in open sin, we are to go to him one-on-one. If he will not listen to us, we take another two or three people with us and from there it goes before the congregation. First of all, who is the congregation? The government has helped us in deciding this. The courts in our land say you only take matters of church discipline before the formal congregation of your church. To do otherwise is to open yourself up for law suits. Some of those law suits are being won. Even the government of our land understands a body may deal with matters which affect itself. They have no jurisdiction, however, over people that do not want to be a part of that assembly. The question: How do we know who is a part of our assembly? Does a casual attender who showed up for church one Easter Sunday become a candidate for church discipline? Perhaps we ought to hand out warnings to people with their bulletins when they come in.
Where do we draw the line? Who is subject to discipline by a local church? Who is not? What are the options? Is it everybody who lives within driving distance of the church and claims to be a Christian. Or is it the people in the immediate neighborhood of the church campus? Is it anybody who attends the church? Or does it seem reasonable to say that it is those who voluntarily commit themselves to the oversight of the church?
I recently received a phone call from a well-known church in the L.A. area. They were seeking my help in putting a particular woman under discipline. As I discussed this with a pastor, he explained this couple had attended their church a handful of times. Shortly thereafter, she moved out and was divorcing her husband. She no longer lived in their area. This pastor was hoping I would help find her so they could enact discipline. I told him I was sympathetic to what he was trying to do, but I felt it inappropriate to discipline somebody who is not a member of their church and had only attended five times. As already mentioned, it is legally putting yourself in jeopardy and scripturally unsound. However, when a person places their name on the membership role, they agree to accept the shepherding and oversight of that local body. Then we are in an excellent position to be able to restore them.
This is not to say we take a cavalier or nonchalant attitude towards the actions of others. But caring, exhorting, admonishing, and disciplining are different actions. I love all the children who attend our church, but I have only disciplined three - my own.
When we talk about discipline, we are not only talking about moral failure or ethical inappropriateness, we are also talking about doctrinal purity. Can anyone be brought into the church to teach? There are too many admonitions in Scripture warning against such laxness. A careful reading of 2 Peter 2 will reveal every church must guard themselves from false teaching. One constructive way of doing this is to require all teachers and leaders become formal members of a church and there by assent their agreement with the biblical position of the church in which they serve.
Who receives primary attention?
Who is a pastor to shepherd? Who is a deacon to serve? In one sense this is simply the positive side to the preceding discussion. The shepherding responsibility is a serious one. In I Peter 5 we read:
"Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; not yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory."
In Hebrews 13 it is stated a shepherd will need to give an account for those under his care. For whom is the shepherd responsible? Perhaps a more practical way of expressing the dilemma, given the fact that every leader has a limited amount of time, who becomes his primary responsibility? At what point has he failed God by ignoring some and neglecting others? Membership does not solve this problem, but it certainly helps to alleviate it. It is our conviction members should receive the lions share of a leaders time. They are the ones who have said, "We want you to shepherd us." A basic principle in counseling is you cannot help somebody who does not want to be helped. A corollary would be: You cannot shepherd somebody who does not want to be your sheep. It is a free society. People can come and go as they like, but feeding of sheep is a time consuming business. It is best to lay the food out for the people who desire to be nourished.
Perhaps this goes back to the issue of discipline, but it seems an appropriate place to share it. Shepherding has a very tender, sensitive sound to it. Part of caring for sheep is much the same as a parent caring for children. At times it requires strong and firm discipline or admonition. In Bible time we are told of a technique a shepherd employed when encountering a wayward sheep. If that little lamb continually ran off, it was impractical to keep chasing after it. The shepherd knew eventually it would get away from the flock and be attacked by wolves or other predators. To prevent this, he did something which appeared rather severe. He would take his staff, and with a quick stroke, break the lambs hind leg. After that, he would set it and pick the little lamb up, and for a period of days or perhaps weeks, every time the flock moved he carried the lamb around his neck. I am told, after this process was completed and the leg was healed, the little lamb followed him everyplace he went. It had developed a closeness; a bonding. There are times when shepherding requires a similar action. You will not be quick to do that to a sheep who does not desire to be a part of your flock.
Who is responsible for corporate life?
Who administers the funds and accepts the corporate liability for the local church? It has already been stated, even in the New Testament, local churches were not only an organism, but an organization. Here in America the local church, right or wrong, has become big business. We believe the local church is Gods means for ministering to the world. This being the case, somebody needs to be responsible legally for the institution of the local church. Do we simply have three trustees who accept all the responsibility? Should we let the pastor own the church? Perhaps trustees should own it and be responsible. If we want to be a congregational church, and if the congregation is going to own the church and be responsible for it, they must take on the responsibility that comes along with it. Membership is one way of saying, "This is my church. I will support it and I will keep this institution accountable."
Turning the tables
I have tried to provide a positive base for why we believe local church membership is New Testament based. Now, let me turn it around and look at the question from another perspective. Why would any believer not want to join a church?
There are a number of answers
One, they are just lazy. In order to join a church, you have to go to a class. At Grace we require a person sit through a minimum of five hours. Following that, they are interviewed by their elder. Some say, "I can still attend here. I can still enjoy all the benefits of the church. Why go to all the trouble?"
A second possibility is people have been burned in the past. They got involved in a local congregation. Ugly things happened. They just do not want to be involved. I would remind you: We are looking for committed people; not people committed to convenience.
A third reason could be cultural. Baby boomers, especially, have grown up with an attitude of not being joiners. They do not want to join anything unless they absolutely have to. It started back in the anti-establishment years when we were trying to break away and do our own thing. We (I include myself) felt anything bureaucratic, governmental, or institutional was suspect. It was part of our time, our philosophy of life. Now, years later, we have become the establishment, but there is a part of that attitude not left behind. The attitude is I will come when I am in the mood. I will participate as it fits my schedule. But do not tie me down to anything; do not make me sign anything; and do not ask me to join anything. After all, boomers reason, this church could change. If it does, and if it does not meet my needs anymore, I am outta here. I really do not know what to say to that except, maybe it is time for all of us to grow up a little bit. Commitment is the name of the game.
A fourth reason is closely tied to the preceding. It is an attitude of: "Do not tell me what to do. I want to receive all the benefits from the church I possibly can. I view myself as a consumer. If you provide a product I enjoy at a reasonable price, at a minimal commitment, I will attend and let you minister to me. But please, do not tell me I have responsibilities. Do not tie me down with commitments." The spiritual immaturity of this particular position is so apparent it hardly needs description. These people are saying, "I would like to have the freedom to speak up and give my opinion in the business meetings. And I want to feel free to gripe if things do not go like I want them to. But please, please, please, do not ask me to be accountable. And do not tell me I have to join to do all those things. Well, that is not the way life is. With privilege comes responsibility. With participation comes accountability.
Perhaps my statements here sound somewhat harsh. I do not mean for them to. I do encourage you, if you are struggling with church membership to ask the question, "Why?" What good reason can you give for not joining? You do not need to marry the church. This is not till death do us part. 8% of church members die, move, or leave every year. Perhaps God will call you elsewhere, but wherever you go, why not plug in and get busy and participate? We invite you to consider local church membership!