Ed Stetzer’s Warped View on Church Membership

Ed Stetzer writes an article for Christianity Today explaining why you should become a member of a church. There are many issues that are raised and lots of questions that need to be asked. The biggest question I have is the following…by rejecting church membership as defined by a Neo-Calvinist are you rejecting God? This is Eagle’s thoughts on Ed Stetzer’s article.

 “The word ‘why’ not only taught me to ask, but also to think. And thinking has never hurt anyone. On the contrary it does all us a world of good

Anne Frank

“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth — more than ruin — more even than death…. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.”

Bertrand Russell

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35 NIV

Today I would like to write about an article I read by Ed Stetzer on church membership. I would really like to spend some time examining and discussing articles like this from both Stetzer and Jonathan Leeman at 9 Marks. Since I live in the DC area, and since I am a refugee from the Evangelical Free Church which has been infiltrated by 9 Marks, its fair game to discuss articles from 9 Marks. Furthermore in honor of Ed Stetzer and Jonathan Leeman whenever I discuss church membership or authority issues from a Neo-Calvinist perspective the lead into the post is going to have Cartman from South Park saying, “respect my authoritah!” Remember if Jonathan Leeman and individuals like Ed Stetzer are going to stress issues of authority then they never had authority in the first place. True authority is earned from respect, its not bestowed upon a pastor or person just because they claim to have authority. It is in that sense that I am asking you to think of 9 Marks in the same perspective.

Now having explained that let me explain to you my thoughts and previous experience on church membership. I was a member of 1 church in my life, and that church was Wooded Hill Bible Church. I decided to become a member after being involved for a couple of years. Why? I wanted to try the church out, and see if I was a good fit. I didn’t see membership as being casual and I knew my commitments to it. When I did this I was a recent graduate from Marquette University and I was working away in downtown Milwaukee. I foresaw myself being in Milwaukee for a long period of time, and I settled in and called it home. Plus I also did not take membership lightly as I knew it also brought about commitment. For example I knew I would have to engage in church membership meetings and I would have to give more. That said I decided to commit to it and filed my application. It was a simple application as I recall, just explaining my spiritual history and as I recall it also emphasize that membership was also about being part of a larger body of Christ. I had an interview with an elder that was short, sweet, and to the point. I had interacted with him a number of times in the church and I liked him. The interview was not grueling or difficult, instead it was pleasant. There was no membership covenant, my soul was not bound by chains. I was presented to the congregation of Wooded Hill on July 13, 2003 after Kevin Byrum gave a memorable talk called “Who Picked These Guys?” I was up at Lifest in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and I peeled away and drove about an hour south to be presented to the congregation with 9 other members if I remember correctly. In the course of my membership I engaged and served the church as I could. Membership was not controlling and mainly limited to financial issues, meetings and voting. Membership did not exclude people from teaching and Bible studies. Anyone could get involved in a Bible study.

I used to be a firm believer in membership, today I am not. In the church according to 9 Marks I would be considered a functional member based off what Jonathan Leeman said here. As I said I used to believe in church membership…today I do not. There is one reason that membership has turned my stomach. Its because or organizations like 9 Marks and the article by Ed Stetzer which I am going to dive into today.

For many Neo-Calvinists like Jonathan Leeman and Ed Stetzer church membership is about one thing, and one thing only…it’s about control. And that is why I reject their view on church membership.

Ed Stetzer’s “Membership Matters”

In Christianity Today which The Gospel Corporation , whoops did I just say that? Darned keyboard! I meant to say Gospel Coalition! 😛 Anyhow The Gospel Coalition was promoting at their website. Here is what Stezter says in explaining the three reasons why you should be a member.

1. Membership Reflects What the Church Is.

First, membership is a reflection of the organic community already existing in the body. Paul says we are a body. Can one part say to the other, “I’m not part of you”? No, it is already a part. But too often we live as if we are separated.

As a matter of fact, too many churches or Christian gatherings look like piles of dismembered body parts, not a body knit together as God’s agent, his body, his kingdom, at work in the world. To reject the value of membership is to deny what God has already established in fact.

2. The Bible Teaches Covenant Community.

We find in Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth that they were putting people out of the body. So Scripture teaches that we can be a part of the body, and we can be apart from the body. It is difficult to get around Scripture when it talks about being brought into the body and also being put out of it.

And yet for most churches there’s no way to put somebody out because they’re not even in. While there seems to be flexibility according to various bodies, there is no such thing in the New Testament as a church without some recognition of belonging—of membership in community.

People need membership commitment because they need to be connected to a Christian community.

3. People Need Church Membership.

Finally, we recognize biblical membership matters because people need it. People need membership commitment because they need to be connected to a Christian community. This is not just for the sake of the faith community, but also for the sake of the individual.

Individualist Christianity is a myth and a damaging pursuit. At the end of the day we’re redeemed. We’re placed in the body. The Bible specifically says he has redeemed us. He has transferred us, Colossians 1 says, from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Son he loves. A kingdom has a king. The king has subjects and his kingdom has a community together where we function as God’s people.

Now let me go unpack this and point out the issues with what Stetzer says. For many Neo-Calvinists membership is about control. That was the lesson of Karen Hinkley in Matt Chandler’s The Village Church. The Village Church tried to control Karen. Quick side note I’m curious to know have the other pastors of The Village Church repented to Karen Hinkley? Also has her small group leadership and members repented to Karen Hinkley I would love to know. If they don’t I would like to know why? But getting back to Stetzer these are the issues that I have with what he says that I would like to expand upon

  • Neo-Calvinists have made the local church an idol and forsaken the greater body of Christ. Its also more reflective of Western Culture 21st Century America than of what Scripture teaches
  • By rejecting Neo-Calvinist church membership is that the same thing as rejecting God?
  • The fruit of the spirit and of a Christian should be love, patience, kindness, etc…no where do I see Galatians saying the fruit of the spirit is church membership.
  • What is “Biblical membership” anyhow?
  • An explanation about the problem of “individualist Christianity” as defined by Ed Stetzer.

 

The Local Church as an Idol

First many Neo-Calvinists have made the local church an idol often at the expense of the greater church. As such incredible opportunities are lost and the evangelical bubble which was a problem to begin with, gets exceedingly worse. Christians are meant to live in the world but not be a part of it. I’d base that off both Romans 12:1-2; and John 17:14-15. The argument Ed Stetzer makes I would suggest will further result in Christians turning inward and ignoring the world. Is the answer to the world to stick your head in the sand deeper? After all part of the reason why I believe Ed Stetzer has made a church an idol is because he is lifting and promoting that over and above Jesus. Does the world really need the church as the world sees it? The world associates much of Christianity with corruption and local churches in the DC area such as Covenant Life Church, Capital Hill Baptist and Sovereign Grace Fairfax only reinforce that given the high degree of corruption coming from those bodies. The church did not die on the cross at Calvary for the sins of the world. Jesus was the one who did that Ed. By turning inward it also forsakes the responsibility to the greater community around the church. I actually saw this in Andrew White who was evangelizing me….in the end he choose a former Sovereign Grace over leading a person who was profoundly lost back to the Lord. Plus I would also suggest that this value of church is a reaction and by-product of 21st Century American culture. Honestly our society is changing faster than I would have imagined. Its changing culturally, in regards to technology, in regards to work, and transportation. Again with major strides in technological advancement we can do things today that as recently as a decade ago were unheard of. We have access to information that previously we would not have had. Cities and communities are changing dramatically…jobs are moving more to the cities and can be found less in rural areas. Against all this we are going to see the rise in the near future I predict of mega cities and urban corridors that will be amazing. I can’t believe how much construction I see in the Washington, D.C. area alone. Against all this change I think people like Ed Stetzer are over reacting and claiming the local church is the answer. It is not the answer, and actually in light of the scandals coming out of Neo-Calvinism the local church as how Neo-Calvinists define it are part of the problem.

 

Is Rejecting Church Membership Rejecting God?

This is one of the most annoying and disturbing things that I think Ed Stetzer has done. I am hoping this is not intentional. Plus I stand open to correction as well if I am wrong. In his article Ed Stetzer says the following, “As a matter of fact, too many churches or Christian gatherings look like piles of dismembered body parts, not a body knit together as God’s agent, his body, his kingdom, at work in the world. To reject the value of membership is to deny what God has already established in fact.” Now read that sentence closely and pay close attention to the part I underlined. You need to remember that this is membership as defined from a Neo-Calvinist perspective. My question is this…if you reject membership as Ed Stetzer claims have you rejected God in the end? Do you need to be a member of a church to show you fully believe in God? What are the flaws in this kind of thinking? Let me list a couple…

  • When CJ Mahaney fled Covenant Life Church and hid at Capital Hill Baptist behind Mark Dever’s skirt did CJ Mahaney reject God in fleeing from his membership roles and responsibilities at Covenant Life? Did Mark Dever reject God in letting CJ Mahnaey hide behind his skirt? When the main cast and crew of 9 Marks make an exception for CJ Mahnaey it begs the question what good is membership?
  • What about those Christians of the faith who are suffering for their faith? For example what about Christians who are rounded up and living in North Korean internment camps for their faith? They are suffering and being tortured in ways that are indescribable. Is Ed going to tell a Christian in North Korea that they are not a Christian if they are not a member of a church? What about the Christians who have suffered for their faith in Iraq, or Syria because of ISIL? Do they count if they haven’t signed a membership covenant or contract?
  • What about people that live in highly unstable population areas that are transient? For example in the future I would like to write a post about living in the Washington, D.C. area and discuss how lonely it is. But do people who come to the DC area for a brief time and transfer out (which includes a high number of the DC population) count if they are going to be leaving the area? This played in my decision to become a member of Wooded Hills Bible Church as when I saw that I was going to be living in Milwaukee long term I decided to become a member. I realized that I was not going to be coming back to California
  • What about the military chaplain who is not a member of a church who deploys repeatedly with the Marines to Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan to minister and support Christians who are serving in the military? Does that count? What about members who are not members of the military who PCS (personal change of station) every 3 years or so? Does a Marine who is being PCS from Quantico, Virginia to Iwakuni Corps Station in Japan count if they don’t sign a church membership because of the transient nature?

 

Is Church Membership Part of the Fruit of the Spirit? What is Biblical Membership Anyhow?

In Galatians 5:22-23 the fruit of the spirit which is what should be the mark of a Christian says the following. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”  First and foremost the mark of the Christian should be love. Christians should be known for love as that is how we should be defined. Love is missing and gone from an overwhelming majority of the Christian church. It has been replaced by things like “membership in the local church body” which has been stressed over and above love. Love attracts people but love is hard work. How do you love an alcoholic? How do you love an atheist? How do you love a person with an anger problem? Love is hard, for Ed Stetzer promoting church membership is the lazy way out. Why? Its a program as love is never a one size fits all scenario. Love takes work and love requires patience. What Christians should be known for and how we should be defined is by how we love those around us. That and that alone is what we should be known for. When a person on the outside looks at us it is not which church a person is a member of that will tilt or sway a person. This also irritates me as well because I have become deeply irritated with how the word Biblical is used. What is “Biblical” anyhow? When you say that something is Biblical you claim and define it as your point of view is Biblical and opposing views are not Biblical. Ed Stetzer does this with this article by saying since his view of church membership is “Biblical” while mine and other views (including your own by the way…) do not count. They are not Biblical. Its a play on words and a mind game in the end.

 

Individualist Christianity…Really?

This claim by Ed Stetzer gave me a laugh especially in light of the growing dones in the evangelical Christian world. Ed Stetzer I am profoundly frustrated…and here’s why.  I had a faith crisis that was hell and after working through all that I had run into a situation of authority at Fairfax Community Church. That questionable use of authority combined with a church that pursues growth when they can’t even take of their own people is irresponsible. I wrote about this the other day. Many Christians are not wanting to be individualist. However, many of the problems today begin and end with the church. Many evangelicals have been sold a pack of lies that states that all their needs can be met by “the local church” and much of that is crap. There are singles, divorced, widows, members of the military, and countless others who have a hard time finding a way to get involved or who are excluded. Many of the dones are due to either bad experiences, questionable behavior by a church or a church that can’t intellectually engage them. Many Christians are not pursuing individualist Christianity. I crave community and fellowship but that community was denied me by Fairfax Community Church and other churches I looked into as well. I looked at one church plant in the DC area not long ago. I liked the sermons, I liked the talks and I was impressed and thinking of getting more involved, I then noticed that one had to become a member before you could attend a Bible study to engage in Bible studies. Can you imagine Jesus starting the Sermon on the Mount by saying, “Before you listen to me preach and sit and engage me you need to sign this covenant membership if you don’t than you can’t listen or engage me.” What would have been a second Bible study and what could have led to membership down the road was denied in the end.

In closing this analysis of Ed’s article I just want to say that its hard to take Neo-Calvinism seriously in light of all the scandals and idolatry you have made. But if you want to engage people engage them in love and live a life of love. Church membership as taught here by Ed Stetzer or in other articles by Jonathan Leeman I categorically and firmly reject. Ed point to Jesus and not a church membership form. Its with that I want to close with Lesly Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” because Ed Stetzer you don’t own me. I think this article owned you! 😛

 

5 thoughts on “Ed Stetzer’s Warped View on Church Membership

  1. The churches I was part of most of my life (baptist) had congregational governance. The leaders might make most of the decisions, but they must answer to the members (this has good and bad points). We mostly only had formal membership for this reason. So membership was actually a way of giving members ownership/control in the church rather than leaders controlling the members.

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  2. Where did this 9Marks/authoritarian model of church membership come from and how old is it? You and others associate it with the NeoCals, but as far as I know as recently as the ’90s this wasn’t a thing in the circles around Piper at Bethlehem. (I heard lots of non-kool aid-drinking evangelicals complain about P’s theology c. 2000 but never heard mention of this coercive church discipline stuff.) I was a member of two evangelical churches in the ’00s (one quite large, one medium-sized) that were like the opposite of this “Hotel California” model; it was actually pretty difficult to become a member, you had to do all these classes and stuff, but easy to leave, I don’t remember anyone in official leadership even asking at either when I left. So I think it’s possible there’s a legitimate concern about the consumer model of Christianity here. But I’d be more receptive if it were a regular member pitching this instead of a church authority figure, it works out a bit too well for them and it’s hard not to be suspicious of power and control issues.

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  3. Church membership as Ed defines it can’t be proven from the Bible unless you’re willing to do theological gymnastics or simply make a case absent the basis of scripture at all. Its a cultural form of control that “obligates” people who aren’t as committed to be committed to tithe and participate in things. And if you don’t we can out the squeeze of church discipline on you when you don’t tow the line. The more people that vote with their feet the more desperate these guys will get.

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