What does it mean to join a church?

It’s Monday Grace!

Some will chuckle at the idea that joining the church comes right after going to Hell in my list of “What does it mean?” It reminds me of the church bulletin blooper:

“At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be “What Is Hell?” Come early and listen to our choir practice. “

Many who read here have had trouble with church. Some have been made to feel unwelcome. Others find little that connects with their lives. Still others have been disciplined or rejected. The rest of us have our own church stories, some good and some not so good.

So, I have to begin these thoughts with a disclaimer: the Scriptures never say that a person should go through classes or paperwork or examination to become a member of a local church. Church leaders have created this process as a way of welcoming only those who are truly part of the kingdom. That’s the nice version.

The less-nice version is that this is a way of controlling behavior among Christians. Limiting membership to those “who think like us” is a way of perpetuating the values and perspectives of leadership. Threatening to remove someone from membership is a way of enforcing certain ideas and good behavior.

Don’t get me wrong. I can justify a general sense of membership, partly because I don’t think leadership should have unlimited authority. I think God can speak through His people whether they are official leaders or not, but I also think He will use only believers and a certain sense of order. So, I am not against church membership. I just think the whole idea has been misused for the sake of control.

The other thing we must acknowledge is that the very best any local church can do is seek to reflect membership in the universal Church. In other words, unbelievers should not be members of a local church because they are not part of the body of Christ. At the same time, all those who believe are already part of the universal Church. No church leader or group of leaders can decide whether someone is in or out of the body of Christ. I realize that excommunication and all that has been a big part of church history, but it is not a good part.

So, joining a church should mean a joyous celebration of welcome for those who are already a part of the body of Christ to be known as part of our local fellowship. Do you need to sign papers and take classes and jump through hoops to be recognized as part of the local body? No, almost certainly not. That’s why I see it more as an affirmation, a celebration.

In the early days of the church, when there was only one believing fellowship in town, people of all mindsets were included as long as they looked to Jesus for salvation. Today it is not uncommon for a city to have hundreds of churches with many different perspectives and flavors. Even small towns have multiple churches. Denominations fiercely defend their identities and territories. Churches split, new churches compete, and styles of worship and government differ radically. So, church leaders feel justified in sorting through people to make sure they “fit.”

Frankly, if I were not a pastor and moved into a new place, I don’t think I would get very excited about joining the formal membership of a church. I would attend where I felt welcome and enjoyed the focus on Jesus. I would consider myself a member of the body of Christ because of His love and work for me and not worry about anything more than that. Nor would I attend a church with the agenda of trying to change it so the group fits me.

That would be enough for some churches, but not for others. If I was willing or interested in teaching or speaking up on issues, most churches would expect me to join. At that point, I would go to Jesus and ask Him what to do. I would not automatically join in order to teach, nor would I feel like an outsider because I didn’t join. But I know some churches (perhaps many) would want me to feel that way.

Bottom line: when you came to Jesus, you joined with Him. He is your life now. He is your Savior, your King. You cannot be separated from Him. This is the same for all people who have come to Him for salvation. The Church is the fellowship of all people from all time and in all places who belong to Jesus. That fellowship is eternal and good. You are and always will be part of that fellowship. Local churches would do well to remember that and to open their doors to all who belong to Him. Individuals would do well to remember that not everyone needs to think like they do. The variety in the body of Christ is part of the blessing and wonder.


I am still excited!

We have a temporary fix for those who would like to receive books directly from us without going through Amazon. It’s simple. Just make a donation and let me know that you want a book. The donation button is just under my picture on the right side of the page. That will take you to Paypal, where you can make a donation of any size. Several give regularly through Paypal, and it works well. After you make your donation, send me a note at: dave(at)gracefortheheart.org. If you want an ebook, I will send you a file by email. If you want a paperback, I will send one to the address you give me.

In order for this to work, I would ask for the following donation levels:

$5.00 donation – I will send an ebook file of the Jesus Loves Me book in both pdf and epub

10.00 donation – your choice of ebook or a paperback of the Jesus Loves Me book

Of course, you are welcome to make a larger donation. These days that would be greatly appreciated. For anything larger than $10, I’d be happy to send you both the ebook and the paperback. (Those of you who already use Paypal to donate to this ministry, please drop me a note and I will send you your choice or both.) If you want multiple copies of the paperback, please send me a note, and we can work something out.

These prices will seem higher than Amazon to those who have Prime (and have already paid shipping costs), but they will be comparable for those who must pay shipping. The ebook will be less on Amazon, but they will only send a Kindle version. You should be able to read the pdf or epub on almost any tablet or phone.

Also, I have only 10 of the paperbacks available right now. More are on their way. Be patient. If I run out, it will take a bit to replenish my supply.

So, two steps:

  1. Make a donation using the button on the right side of the blog post.
  2. Send me an email telling me you did that and what you would like me to send.

I’ll do my best to keep on top of this and get your books out quickly. If this works well, I may begin to offer my other books this way as well. We are in the process of reworking the GFTH website with a simple store. I’m looking forward to that.

And, for those of you who still use Amazon, just click on the book cover to use the link.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is book-cover-5x8-1.jpg
Click on the picture to go to the Amazon page.

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