Mailbag #40: Too High a Standard for Church Membership; Where Are Churches Commanded to Gather Weekly

Mailbag
11.04.2016

You say the standard for church membership is nothing more than simply “being a Christian.” But that’s not entirely true, is it?»
Where in Scripture are local churches commanded to gather every week?»

Dear 9Marks,

You mention in your book Church Membership, that the standard for church membership should be ho higher or lower than the standard for being a Christian (with the exception of baptism). But do you not also require a new member to agree with church’s Statement of Faith? Is that not a higher standard? I would think that John Stott could not be a member as an annihilationist, or Tim Keller could not be a member due to his convictions on infant baptism. On one hand, I feel comfortable limiting membership to those who agree with our theological convictions (i.e. credo-baptism, complementarianism, etc.), yet on the other hand I recognize this does seem to be a higher standard than just “being a Christian.” Thoughts?

—Andy, Japan

Dear Andy,

You’re not the first to ask me this. It’s a good question.

I agree with what I wrote in that book, if you construe the words very broadly (insert smiley emoticon). If I ever do a second edition, however, I would put the matter a little differently. I would say, to be a church, a group of Christians need to agree on the what and the who of the gospel. Under the “what” of the gospel, I’m happy to include what our church’s statement of faith says about Scripture, the Trinity, humanity, sin, and Christ’s person and work and return. Under the “who” of the gospel, I would include what our church says about the church and the ordinances.

After all, it’s agreement on these two matters—the what and the who of the gospel—that constitutes a church as a church, and distinguishes the church from the individual Christian. So these days, that’s how I talk about what’s necessary for being a church member: you need to agree with us on these two categories, partly because it’s those very things that make us a church, and because Jesus charges you with protecting those things in our assembly (Matt. 16:13–20; 18:15–20; 28:18–20).

Hope this helps.

Dear 9Marks,

A visitor recently asked the member why we have to meet every week. Why not every fortnight? Hebrews does say not to give up meeting together—but that doesn’t necessarily mean mean weekly. Besides the pattern of meeting together on the first day of the week, I explained to our member that being “devoted to the fellowship” (Acts 2:42) carries the sense of an intensity to meeting with the fellowship. How would you counsel such a person?

—Gustav, South Africa

Dear Gustav,

I’d point to the fact that God created the earth in six days and rested on the seventh. He then called Israel to use that seventh day of rest specially as the Sabbath.

Very soon after Pentecost, Christians nearly suddenly and uniformly began to meet on the first day of the week instead of the seventh, since Jesus got up on the first day of the week:

  • “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them” (Acts 20:7);
  • “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up” (1 Cor. 16:2)

This is what Christian’s have henceforth referred to as the Lord’s Day: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10). And so, for 2000 years, Christians have weekly gathered on the Lord’s Day.

In summary, we gather weekly because it seems to accord with creation’s design, because of New Testament precedent, because of historical uniformity, and finally—I’d add—because of spiritual necessity. As someone who is simultaneously justified and sinful, and who wearies easily, I require the weekly instruction in the Word and encouragement from the fellowship of the saints. If God himself rested on the Sabbath, and if Jesus himself is the Lord of the Sabbath, then it seems right to specially devote one day a week—the first—to specially resting our hearts and souls on Christ.

If someone still had a problem with all this, my guess is that other heart or maturity issues are at play. What is in their heart that they want to buck against creation, Old and New Testament patterns, and the uniform pattern of church history?

Hope this helps.