Christian Living

Church Membership Has Its Privileges

Why We Shouldn’t Join a Church

A few decades ago American Express unveiled the tagline: “Membership has its privileges.” Their ads implied that great benefits awaited those who qualified to carry one of their exclusive cards.

To start, there was a high annual fee and, as I understand, minimal annual levels of usage for their various membership tiers. The card became a status symbol, separating the fortunate few who carried it from the masses who didn’t. It generated pride and caused envy.

Church does the same thing when it touts membership. To become a church member, there are hoops to jump through: attend classes, agree to certain teachings, follow specific rules, and commit to donate money, possibly even at a certain annual level.

Once we do so, the church accepts us as one of its own. We are fully embraced and become one of the flock. We are elite, and, even if we won’t admit it, we swell with pride over our special status. Now the church and her paid staff will care for us.

To everyone else, they offer tolerance but withhold full acceptance. After all, church membership has its privileges.

There’s one problem.

Church membership separates attendees into two groups. Click To Tweet

Church Membership Is Not Biblical

We made it up.

Having members separates church attendees between those on the inside and everyone else; it pushes away seekers. Membership splits the church of Jesus, separating people into two groups, offering privileges to one and instilling resentment in the other.

It is a most modern concept, consumerism at its finest.

To my shame, I have been a church member. Never again.

Although perhaps well intended, membership divides the church that Jesus wanted to function as one. Jesus accepted and loved everyone, not just those who followed him or offered money.

Paul never gave instructions about church membership, Peter never commanded we join a church, and John never held a new membership class.

I confess my sin of being sucked into this unholy institutional practice of church membership, at both the local and denominational level. I stand in horror over my role in promoting division among the followers of Jesus. Father, forgive me.

Though I will never again join a church as an official member, I am open to attend one, to immerse myself in community, to engage in corporate worship, and to serve others.

This is what church should be. This is what the early church did. This is what Jesus wanted when he prayed for unity. And this is what I will do.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

4 replies on “Church Membership Has Its Privileges”

Since Paul instructed the Cor. to expel a person from the fellowship, it stands to reason there were recognized members of that local body. We also see church discipline in action. Christ loves all and correction is one way of showing it.

I’m struggling with this question myself. My wife is seeking membership and I am resistant to the idea. I don’t see it as biblical, nor necessary in order to walk with Christ. I love going to, and participating in church (both on Sundays and by regular participation in a community group) but I don’t feel signing a commitment or taking an oath as being a requirement for being in the body of Christ.

I also am uncomfortable with the idea of submission to the elders of our church. While I find them all to be Godly men as far as I know, all men are sinners and susceptible to wandering from the righteous path. Therefore, I am only willing to submit to Christ. One line of reasoning by our church for membership is because it “enables pastors to know which Christians they will give an account for on the day of judgment” (Heb 13:17). I am very uncomfortable with that idea. Thoughts?

Alex, I share you concern.

Yes, leaders will need to give an account of those under their care, but tying that to membership misapplies the text. It applies to whoever participates, rather member or not.

Also note that we will all have to give an account, Matthew 12:36.

But instead of looking at who’s right and whose not, I encourage a different path:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18).

This will be the more rewarding, God-honoring, (and challenging) action!

What do you think? Please leave a comment!

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