Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pastoral Concern #3 - Local Church Membership: Part 2

As I noted in my previous pastoral concern, I am deeply bothered by the reluctance of some and absolute refusal of others to join a local church. Those who profess to know Christ and have such an attitude need to evaluate their position from Scripture. If they are honest with themselves, they will conclude they are in sin by refusing to join and should repent of their actions, find a local church, and covenant together with that body.

There is, however, another attitude expressed by many believers today on the subject of local church membership which disturbs me greatly. The only term I can think of to describe this position is “Bare Bones Church Member”. Let me define what I mean when I call one by this phrase.

A “bare bones church member (BBCM)” is an individual who has professed Christ as his Lord, has been scripturally immersed, and has united with the local church. Essentially that is the end of his involvement in that local church.

Below I list some characteristics of such members. Obviously, no two BBCMers are the same. Some will be more involved in the local church than others. But here are some of their traits:

1. They might attend morning worship services but not consistently.
2. They rarely, if ever, attend Sunday school.
3. They rarely, if ever, attend Sunday evening activities.
4. They never attend the local church prayer meeting.
5. They might give financially to the church but, if they do, it is very little.
6. They might serve on a committee if asked but likely not.

Before discussing each of these characteristics, let me make it clear that I am not a legalist. You do not become a Christian by earning it through some form of good works and you do not remain a Christian by doing so either. Christianity is a life lived by the power of the indwelling Spirit for the glory of God. It is not a life of required works.

On the other hand, if a professing believer has truly been born again and transformed by God’s Spirit, his life has been radically changed. He longs to know God more fully. He desires to be with God’s people. He lives to serve God with all the spiritual gifts and natural abilities God has given him. In other words, he no longer thinks and acts like those without Christ, at least not habitually.

I’m certain BBCMers have existed in local churches since the founding of the church on the day of Pentecost centuries ago. Perhaps I was blinded to their presence in my younger days as a believer. But it appears to me these types of members are much, much more prevalent in our churches today.

Let me briefly look at each of these BBCM characteristics and share what they are telling me about that individual.

1. They might attend morning worship services but not consistently. Public worship is not that important to them. “I can worship God wherever I am”. Of course, they don’t. “Besides, there are so many things to do in a week I need one day to myself”. In other words “my time” is more important than the Lord’s time. Therefore, some will sleep in, some will play golf, and some will attend sporting events. A BBCMer always has a “good” reason for missing the public worship service.

2. They rarely, if ever, attend Sunday school. Of course, Sunday school is before the worship service. “If I can’t get out of bed for ‘church’, how can I ever make Sunday School?” Their interest in the Word of God is virtually non-existent and their lack of knowledge of the Scripture is evident when you ask them to turn to a specific book in the Old Testament and they turn to the table of contents! Some will pose other reasons for their absence such as “I don’t like the teacher” or “I don’t agree with the teacher”. Again, they can always find a reason for not coming.

3. They rarely, if ever, attend Sunday evening activities. This is especially true if they manage to make the morning worship service. “I’ve done my church duty” is their attitude. To them, church membership demands only 60-90 minutes one day a week. “I gave up my Sunday morning for church. I’m not going to give up the whole day to the Lord”. This is especially true if the Sunday evening activity might involve Bible study in some way! Good grief, how often do we need to study the Bible in one day anyway?!

4. They never attend the local church prayer meeting. If you ask a BBCMer why they do not attend, they will say something similar to “I can pray on my own”. Or, perhaps their response would be “I’m too tired after working all day”. “I can’t afford to spend all my time at the church”. “The Cardinals are on TV tonight”. Or, maybe they will use the classic “There’s nothing for my kids”. Well, perhaps you could start something for the children. When I hear such excuses, I am led to conclude (1) they do not think much of corporate prayer; (2) they do not care if they miss opportunities to share joys and burdens with fellow believers, and (3) the meeting of their local church for public prayer is low on their priority list.

5. They might give financially to the church but, if they do, it is very little. Again, I am not a legalist. When it comes to giving, that is a matter between you and the Lord. If you ask some BBCMers about giving, they will remind you, “Remember we are under grace not the law”. That’s “code” for “I do not have to give a tithe”. No, you do not (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-15). But God required the tithe of the people in the Old Testament. How can we, saved by the grace of His Son, give any less? Unfortunately, many BBCMers give very little to advance the Kingdom of God.

6. They might serve on a committee if asked but likely not. Some BBCMers might agree to serve but their absence at church functions results in them missing committee meetings as well. Usually, though, there is little desire or commitment to serve. Again, such an attitude expresses a lack of interest in being with the people of the Lord and serving in Christ’s mission with them. They have “better” things to do with “their” time.

Most Baptist churches have adopted a church covenant, a formal agreement between members of the local congregation. My present church has one which is widely used in Baptist circles. Here is the second paragraph of that covenant:

“We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this church, in knowledge, holiness, and comfort; to promote its prosperity and spirituality; to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline and doctrines.”

I ask those who are BBCMers: how do you “walk together in Christian love” when you rarely come to church functions? I ask the BBCMers: how are you striving to advance the church when you have little to do with it? I ask my fellow members who are “bare boned”: how are you promoting our church’s “prosperity and spirituality” by staying home? I ask the BBCMers in the Baptist world: how are you sustaining your church in “its worship, ordinances, discipline and doctrines” when you do not come, do not study, do not pray, do not give, and do not serve? Where is your commitment to Christ and His church? Why do you even belong to a local church?

Again, I am not a legalist. Doing such things do not make you a Christian or preserve you as a Christian. But I must be honest and blunt to you who are “bare bone church members”. I am concerned about your souls. If you truly know Jesus Christ as your Lord, where is your devotion to Him and to the institution for which He died? Your life more closely resembles the life of one who does not know Jesus Christ than the life of a radically transformed individual. Take a moment and honestly ask yourself “Do I truly know Jesus Christ as my Savior?”

If your answer is “yes” then I ask you, “WHERE ARE YOU?” Isn’t it time you become an active, living member of your local church rather than sitting on the sidelines? Come, study with us, worship with us, pray with us, give with us, and serve with us!

But, if your answer is “no” then I pray the Lord would convict your heart of your sin and graciously give you repentance and faith. May you and your life be radically transformed by God’s omnipotent power!

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