Practicing Discernment: Analysis of Ambassador Bible Church’s Membership Covenant (Evangelical Free Church of America)

This is my analysis of the membership requirements to Ambassador Bible Church, an Evangelical Free Church in nearby Chantilly, Virginia in the D.C. area.  A little over two weeks ago I asked people to analyze and look at their membership requirements and you guys did exactly that, and did a good job.  This is my look at Ambassador and as always I welcome your feedback.

“Finding good players is easy. Getting them to play as a team is another story.”

Casey Stengel

“I can’t afford to be a member of a golf course.”

Jack Abramoff

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true

Acts 17:11 NIV

At this blog I would like to pursue and examine issues plaguing the Evangelical Free Church of America. There are many going on in this current theological climate. For example, you have to contend with a number of Evangelical Free Churches being theologically hijacked by Neo-Calvinists. Another issue is an upsurge in authority which is questionable in its own right. My background includes the Evangelical Free Church in California and yet I have to say that due to the problems plaguing chunks of the Evangelical Free denomination I wouldn’t explore faith or God in many of those.  That said, I love the Evangelical Free Church enough to question, and vote with my feet and write a post like this. Pushback and feedback is something that many churches need today. When they have gone too far there comes to a time when you have to speak up.

This started out as a quiz and many people weighed in and stated what they thought. I asked people to look at this and give me their thoughts in Ambassador’s Bible Church’s membership requirements in this post right here. Individuals need to look out for themselves as no one will do that for you. You need to question, think, and analyze the situation. Remember…many pastors are just as sinful as members, plus also remember that many churches today are struggling with corruption. Against that you need to look out for yourself and ask the hard questions. If you don’t …who will? I have to confess that my thoughts on church membership today have changed. It wasn’t always like that…I became a member of Wooded Hills Bible outside Milwaukee and the membership requirements were simple. They were not legalistic and had no traces of the infamous Shepherding Movement as practiced by the Fort Lauderdale 5. When I became a member of Wooded Hills the key issues were did I believe in Jesus and did I have a good understanding of primary and secondary issues. The primary issues that were touched on dealt with man being sinful and Jesus being God. And that was it…there was no membership covenant, my soul and life weren’t enslaved as a result of something Jonathan Leeman and 9 Marks was vomiting upon the church.  That said here are a few articles for you to read. The first one explains how to choose a church and the second one details the problems of membership covenants, while this article looks at current issues with church membership.  Finally this article deals with issues related to church discipline. There is a lot more to write and the more that this material is cranked out the more it will be pushed back.

Now let’s analyze the membership at Ambassador Bible Church (ABC) in Chantilly, Virginia which is a suburb of Washington, D.C.  I am going to write in the membership area below. My comments will be in red, from this point onward.  Individual comments left on the previous post that I use will be in green.

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Membership

What does it mean to be a “member” of a church? At Ambassador Bible Church, we understand membership to be an expression of a person’s commitment to Christ in a mutually accountable relationship with the local church. It is a means to become fully involved in all the church stands for and does.

Already off the get go there are red flags. Consider this statement by ABC. At Ambassador Bible Church, we understand membership to be an expression of a person’s commitment to Christ in a mutually accountable relationship with the local church. As I look at this statement I see it as being at odds with itself and also scripture. Is membership an expression of commitment to Christ? It sounds good but place it in the context of the entire membership requirements. After reading through this entire document, and seeing how they define membership I would say no. Furthermore I would take it one step further and say that with this view that ABC  largely rejects and turns its back on the global church. This membership is more reflective of American culture than of the Gospel or the global church. In looking at the website I see that ABC tries to be a multi-ethnic congregation.  Indeed Chantilly has a large Asian community with a lot of Koreans that live in the area. Yet that very statement is at odds with the global church, for example where does the Christian dying in a North Korean internment camp fit into this perspective? If he can’t be a member of a church is he not committed to Jesus? Also the second point is the emphasis of accountability. Jesus came to set free, from the onset it appears as if ABC is out to commit people to bondage.  So already in the first paragraph I have red flags going off. One other thing I would add as I proceed through this…I am always open to correction, pushback or other explanations. I am not a dictator and allow differing points of view.

Requirement for Membership

The main requirement for membership at Ambassador Bible Church is that you be a Christian. If you are a Christian and have not been baptized, we also ask that you do so at the next available opportunity.

Benefits of Membership

  • Identification

    Your membership identifies you with a local church body, where you affirm the vision and values together with others to accomplish God’s work in the local community and the world (1 Corinthians 12:27).

  • Responsibility

    Your membership expresses your faith in a tangible and responsible manner. As a member, you will faithfully support the church through prayer, service, and finances. It also entitles you to vote and participate in the decisions affecting the operations of our local church. You can be counted on to be an active participant rather than a passive spectator. (Ephesians 4:16)

  • Accountability

    Your membership expresses your commitment to Christ expressed in a mutually accountable relationship with the local church. The church is responsible to care for your growth in faith through pastoral oversight and church discipline, and you are responsible to serve and participate in the life of the church. (Galatians 6:2)

Looking at these bullet points on the benefits of membership. What bothers me is what it says about responsibility and accountability. If you are going to be a Christian Paul calls on us to be Bereans. To search the scriptures and weigh everything against what is taught. As I read this ABC defines responsibility as supporting the church in a blind manner. That one word, “entitles” indicates a club to me, almost an exclusive club, which also is a red flag. The church is not meant to function as a club, but as a spiritual hospital. The way responsibility is being used here almost seems to create two levels of the church…the pew peons and the leadership, and the role of the pew peon is to support the leadership at all costs. As I read this, that is how I look at it. Am I wrong? Like I said above if so then I favor feedback and correction. The other aspect that is a red flag is accountability which is strongly stressed. Again you are accountable to Christ not a pastor or church leadership. This kind of membership almost turns the pastor and leadership into “mini Popes” meaning they are “Christ’s representation on earth.” Is the pastor responsible for your growth or the Holy Spirit? Then they mention church discipline but they don’t define what they mean by church discipline. Do you want to sign a document that doesn’t state specifically what is a disciplinable offense? After all you might think, “Well I’ll be disciplined if I have an affair…” but consider what people in Sovereign Grace were disciplined for? Missing small group? Not dressed “modestly”? Missing church because you had to work.  Since they emphasize church discipline I would recommend reading this post here. Remember how Karen Hinkley was disciplined at Matt Chandler’s The Village Church? She got an annulment to her husband who was a pedophile addicted to child pornography, and the church went after her even though she had Biblical grounds for ending the marriage. Can a similar situation happen here at ABC with what is said about church discipline and the role of the pastor? As I see it this gives way too much power to the leadership of ABC.

Also who is Senior Pastor John Park accountable to in the end? I like what Bill M said in his comment which I will duplicate here. There is a statement on the leadership page, “The Elders include the Pastoral Team: Pr. John Park”. I take this to mean the staff, under the control of the pastor, are the elders. It is not an independent group of elders. There is a page dedicated to EFCA, Evangelical Free Church of America, not to be confused with ECFA, Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Of the ECFA “Seven Standards or Responsible Stewardship” under Governance is the recommendation for an independent board. For any organization to have accountability it needs an independent board. The elder board at Ambassador is made up of people on the payroll who look to the senior pastor as their boss, it is not independent. This type of governance is a breeding ground for insular thinking at best and abuse at worst, it is very unsettling. If John Park can influence the nomination of Elder and help put in place who the Elders are then in the end there is no accountability. As I read this document accountability only applies to the pew peons. When you consider a church these are all questions you need to ask. Again no one is going to do it for you…you need to do it yourself. You need to protect yourself. You need to protect your family.

How to Become a Member

  • Complete the Membership Application and turn it in to a pastor.
  • Attend the next Membership Class.
  • Sign the Membership Covenant (see below) in good conscience.
  • Be interviewed by an elder and approved for membership by the elder board.
  • Participate in the Membership Ceremony where you will publicly affirm your membership commitment.

Membership Covenant

Ambassador Bible Church is a body where everyone plays a key and significant role. From a simple task of shaking a newcomer’s hand to the task of taking down the sound system each Sunday, everyone works together as one body to fulfill one vision.

We believe that every member has a God-given responsibility to the church. As a member you are investing your time, treasures and talents into developing the most healthy, biblical church we can be. We work and unite together to fulfill the mission God has given us. So by signing as a member, we hold each other accountable to fulfill this task.

The most healthy Biblical church we can be? Healthy people, like healthy churches don’t brag or boast how healthy they are.  They are healthy naturally by their own efforts and love. A healthy church is one that is free of legalism and control, not one that promotes bondage and leaves people in shackles. While I support unity, in this case ABC is using unity as a means of squelching differing points of view. What if you sign a membership covenant but the Holy Spirit tells you later on that you shouldn’t participate in a particular activity or support a particular effort? Who are you going to follow? God or man? Here’s another question I have to ask…it’s my understanding that the Covenant was fulfilled and satisfied by the death of Jesus at Calvary. So if that is the case why do people have to sign another membership covenant? Is Jesus’s death not good enough? How many times does Jesus have to die? 3? 47? 5,678? Someone please tell me.

Therefore, as a member…

I will submit to Christ as Lord and to the shepherds of Ambassador Bible Church (Hebrews 13:7).

This is the nail in the coffin for me. What is the first verse in the Bible that they emphasize? Its Hebrew 13:7. That is what seems to be the millionth red flag for this organization and I in good conscience could not support nor sign such a covenant.

I will uphold the church vision, purposes, values, doctrinal beliefs, and constitution.

I will attend the regularly scheduled worship services and church congregational meetings (Hebrews 10:25).

I don’t see much parameter for illness or work in the above section. What if you have to travel for work and you’re on the road? What if you’re a member of the military and you have to deploy to Qatar? What if you sick and unable to attend? This seems legalistic and makes the church to be an idol.

I will give and invest my resources to support the ministries and projects of the church for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:7).

This is me personally, but I will not give to a church that is not open about their finances or their pastor’s salary. It’s long past time that the evangelical Christian church have higher standards than the world. Today it’s the exact opposite. Not only that but in many professions people’s salary and what they make is open and public knowledge. If you become a teacher in Los Angeles Public Unified your salary as I understand is public knowledge. Join the Marine Corps or the Air Force and your pay is public knowledge. Work for the federal government in the FAA, DHS, or FDA and your pay grade is public knowledge. So the only way I would give to a church is if the Pastor’s salary is public knowledge.  Transparency is key to building trust.  I do not know how open the finances are at ABC, but that would also factor heavily in my decision about getting involved.

I will belong to a small group for spiritual growth and accountability (Acts 2:42).

Again how is accountability defined? What if you miss small group due to work? Will you face church discipline because of it? Again…you need to question, question, and question. Remember Jesus did most of his ministry by questioning….so Jesus is the model to follow. If you get hammered by a Pastor for questioning tell them you are following Jesus by asking questions.

I will serve the church by joining a ministry team (1 Corinthians 12:4).

I will support missions and evangelism through prayer, finances, and personal involvement (Matthew 28:19-20).

I will pray for the spiritual well-being of the church and its members (Philippians 1:9).

I will abide by this covenant, and in the case I do not fulfill my commitments, I may be removed from the privilege of membership.

Having explained all that here is another reason why you should not attend, or explore ABC. If you get involved in the course of time you will face pressure to become a member.  When that time comes if you don’t want to or you disagree most likely you will be asked to leave. When that happens your connections and people you know will part ways and you’ll learn that the relationships you had are much more shallow. This is part of the reason why these issues need to be examined up front. Why expose yourself to that pain? Another issue you can also discover is that there are some churches that won’t let you attend a Bible study without becoming a member first. Honestly…can you imagine Jesus starting the Sermon on the Mount by saying, “You can’t listen or discuss what I have to say unless you become members and sign this membership covenant.” I used to be a firm believer in membership before my faith crisis but that is changing as a result of authority issues and membership covenants. What ABC is practicing is the Shepherding movement in a new generation. I would not consider this Evangelical Free as a healthy or viable place to explore Jesus. I do not find it healthy and solid. Its solid on authority and control therefore this is a church I would avoid. I agree with what John said about ABC and control. So that is my analysis of ABC’s membership requirements. I give Bill M, John, Cayuga,  and Baptist Wife an A in discernment. The Eagle is proud of you! I plan on doing this regularly and throwing up membership requirements of churches in the DC area and have people look at them and analyze them. The best way a person can worship the Lord is to think, think, think and ask questions…by doing that you are using the brain that the Lord gifted you. You are exercising that brain and worshiping God when you ask and analyze. It’s not just applicable to churches but to life as well. I plan on doing this on a regular basis and to jump around and throw up church membership requirements. Since I chose a church on the Virginia side next time I will choose a church from Maryland or the District of Columbia. After writing this and referencing their comments I will take this post and email or Tweet it off to ABC for them to comment and respond. That is the fair thing to do. On Wednesday we are going back to atheism for discussion. As always love you guys!

22 thoughts on “Practicing Discernment: Analysis of Ambassador Bible Church’s Membership Covenant (Evangelical Free Church of America)

      • Nifty. We’re going up to the mountains to cut down Christmas trees in a couple weeks; and the wife and I have been stockpiling ornaments. Love me some winter holidays!

        Liked by 1 person

    • There’s an Evangelical Free Church about a mile from my house here in Southern Cal.
      I remember stopping in for a look see back in 05′ or so.
      It only took me about 40 minutes to realize I didn’t belong there.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. “What is the first verse in the Bible that they emphasize? Its Hebrew 13:7”
    I’m glad you and others are getting the word out, such warning signs should not go unheeded.

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    • I hope this teaches people to think critically Bill and ask questions. The sheep are to be protected not barbecued. There is too much corruption and lack of accountability in much of evangelicalism today. When people are getting hurt, families are being destroyed, and people’s livelihoods threatened something has gone wrong.

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  2. One other point I would like to make in light of writing and analyzing the membership covenant at ABC. If there are, or any past situations of highly questionable or abusive church discipline situations involving current of former members then I would be willing to let them tell their story. This blog isn’t mine…it belong to the pew peon who has no platform or way to stand up for himself. Denominations have power, pastors have a pulpit, if something unethical or questionable happened in regards to church discipline then I have no problem with giving someone a platform and letting them tell their story. Please note I am not talking about someone having an affair who refused to repent. That is very different.

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  3. Wow. My pity goes out less to those signing these grotesque contracts then to their children who are brought under, made subject to, and indoctrinated into an unholy lifestyle that will forever mar their relationship with the God that loves them.

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  4. This membership “covenant” has nothing to do with joining a body of believers, brothers and sisters in Christ. If you really think about it, their “covenant” is eerily similar to the agreements indentured servants entered into in the 17th and 18th centuries in exchange for transportation to America.
    But, Commandment #11 says, “Thou shalt not discern!” Right???

    Liked by 1 person

      • I have seen “the pastor is always right” syndrome in Baptist churches. But it’s in other religions/faiths, too. My first husband (deceased) was Catholic. His mother (deceased) was Catholic. His paternal grandparents (deceased) were Mormon. I am still in contact with his Mormon aunts and uncles. Lack of personal discernment is everywhere!

        BTW, if you want to start a war, put a stereotypical Catholic woman, a stereotypical Mormon woman, and a non-submissive Baptist woman all at the same supper table and mention religion!

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      • “BTW, if you want to start a war, put a stereotypical Catholic woman, a stereotypical Mormon woman, and a non-submissive Baptist woman all at the same supper table and mention religion!”
        Reminds me of those ‘duck and cover’ drills in school back in the 60’s

        Liked by 1 person

  5. “Reminds me of those ‘duck and cover’ drills in school back in the 60’s”
    Ha, ha , ha. That’s pretty much what the men did!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, TN (stories on The Wartburg Watch) have a “Membership Covenant” that is almost identical to the covenant at ABC.

    Liked by 1 person

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