The Weightiness of Local Church Membership

That's the title of a section in Chapter Four, "The Charter of Love," of Jonathan Leeman's The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline.

In the section, Leeman writes,

"Today, we don't believe that authority belongs to the church; it belongs to the consumer who asserts his rule through his presence and pocketbook. Instead of calling consumers to submit to the lordship of Christ, the church does all it can to cater to the consumer. The preacher pulls up a stool and plays the comedian. The minister of music closes his eyes, leans back, and lays into a guitar riff. The church 'audience' is delighted--for a while.

One of the chief tragedies of evangelicalism todays is that it has lost sight of the wonderful, life-giving force of authority. We've been carried away by culture. More than we realize, we view ourselves as independent agents charged with determining how best to grow, serve, and love in the faith. Yes, we may listen to others, defer to others, and accept guidance from others, but in the final analysis we view ourselves as our own coaches, portfolio managers, guides, judges, and the captains of our own ships in a manner that is more cultural than biblical. In short, an underdeveloped theology conspires with out antiauthority and individualistic instincts to deceive us into claiming that we love all Christians everywhere equally while excusing ourselves from loving any of those Christians specifically, especially submissively. Unsurprisingly, churches are shallow, Christians are weak, and God's people look like the world."

What's the solution?

"But what if local churches were to recover the understanding that each stands as a proxy for Christ? Each church is his representative on earth. Consider, then, the weightiness of accepting members. Consider the weightiness of saying goodbye to those who move to another city; much more the weightiness of excluding them. If churches were to undertake such considerations, receiving members would be treated more like an adoption. 'Are the child's papers in order? Have all the necessary questions been asked by both sides of the adoption? How can we best serve and protect this child?' Saying goodbye to members as they depart for another city would feel like saying goodbye to a precious son as he leaves home. 'Let us know when you arrive safely. Let us know if you need money. Find good friends. Remain steady in what we've taught you. We love you.'"

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