Monday, April 09, 2012

Church Membership: part 1: Its Personal

The question of church membership was posed to me this weekend. Now some people may not think much about church membership. Hey, if you go to church, what’s the big deal about being a member? Some people treat church membership in a way that makes church just one place to go and worship. I can worship in my home or when I go camping in the woods or while driving my car. But as my friend, Dr. White, often says, “Inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument.” We really ought to be concerned about what Christ and His Apostles have to say about His church.

Now this is not an easy question to discuss for me since I have been personally struggling with church membership for the last couple of years. This is not some mere academic exercise, but a real life situation that I have been living. Over the last couple of years, I have seen several people struggle and some having fallen away from church. So again, this is real life and has real life impact on ourselves and our families.

A few years back I decided to move my membership to another Baptist church that is consistent with my Reformed Baptistic theological beliefs. The major problem with the decision I had made was that the church was literally over 2 hours away. With the price of gas, this has made going to church on a regular and consistent basis a major hardship. Another difficulty is that I have always believed that if it possible, one ought to attend a church in one’s community.

A third difficulty is that of offending friends and relatives, especially former church members in the church I used to attend. I want to be clear. I do not think that other denominations are somehow evil. But for the same reasons (hopefully) that a person who is not theologically Reformed would not want to attend an RB church, are the same reasons I am trying to be consistent in this area.

Being in the Reformed Baptist camp theologically has placed me in quite the bind. Since there are no Reformed Baptist churches in Scott City, how should I interact or work with local churches? For many, this may seem like a silly question, but as one who takes theology very seriously this is a far bigger problem than most realize till I have offended someone with some theological viewpoint.

For example, my father-in-law is one of the associate pastors/elders at the First Christian Church in Scott City. I know this terrific man would love for me and my family to attend regularly in his church. I know he would love to have me help in teaching youth or high school groups in some way. Yet if I were to do so, would I not cause offense rather quickly? (Something I am trying to avoid.) Reformed theology isn’t just some academic exercise. It is a rigorous and systematic theological thought that has a great impact on one’s life and how one approaches ministry.

So for the last couple of years, I have tried to find that balance where I might go to church within the area of Scott City and yet still attend as a member of FBC, St. Francis. Over these couple of years I have not found this balance profitable and not being a member within a local church in the local area has, I think, impacted my life negatively. Yet how to deal with this has been the most perplexing question in my entire Christian life.

Hopefully, I will be able to post some thoughts on my views of church membership over the next few posts and also evaluate my own situation. Perhaps together, some conversations may be started and some wisdom may be gained by thinking through what Scripture has to say about this very important subject.


Pastor Cory said...

Looking forward to your thoughts on this. I think it's good to consider the direct effect this issue has upon our lives.

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps together, some conversations may be started and some wisdom may be gained by thinking through what Scripture has to say about this very important subject."

Here's my two cents: Go back to the new testament and early church and learn about how they worshipped. Read the early writings of the first 5 centuries of Christians. They believed in one Lord, one faith, one baptism.(Ephesians)They weren't traveling all over the ancient world looking for a church that believed exactly what they believed based on their own personal interpretation of scripture. Oh yeah, that's right, they didn't have personal bibles to carry around. Well, actually, the bible wasn't yet put together and canonized until the late 4th century. So how did these Christians find fellowship and teaching and spiritual nourishment? The answer to these questions may help you to understand why there just may be something wrong with the fact that you have to drive so far at considerable expense to find a church in alignment with your particular doctrines and preferences.

Howard Fisher said...

Thanks for the comment. You stated,

"The answer to these questions may help you to understand why there just may be something wrong with the fact that you have to drive so far at considerable expense to find a church in alignment with your particular doctrines and preferences."

I have got the feeling that you are a Roman Catholic who has a view of church history from the same perspective. I'm sorry, but the Mass as known among RCs today bears no resemblance to what Christians would have believed then.

But your point about denominationalism has some validity, but that is also mainly due to historical circumstances, not due to the liberty we enjoy today.

The supposed unity within Rome's walls is such a farce that it is amazing to me people will believe that it really exists. In fact, I would argue that those within Protestantism, who actually follow Sola Scriptura, are far more unified theologically than those within Rome's walls.

I am not trying to make this a theological debate on what a Roman Catholic's views of church membership ought to be. I am approaching this from a Scripture Alone perspective.

God Bless

Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree with your assertion: "I'm sorry, but the Mass as known among RCs today bears no resemblance to what Christians would have believed then." Well, let history speak for itself then. Here I have posted a treatise on early christian worship by Protestant theologian H.R. Percival. He based it on his study of the writings of the Didache, St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. John Chrysostom.(This is found in the Calvin College CCEL site) Is this outline of ancient christian worship more like the reformed baptistic worship of today? I have to say I believe it is not. I would suggest you attend a Mass in any Catholic church any where in the world and the beliefs and worship style are most in line with these early Christians as pointed out by the Protestant theologian.

"The congregation is gathered together, the men on one side, the women on the other, the clergy in the apsidal chancel. The readings immediately begin; they are interrupted by chants. A reader ascends the ambo, which stood in the middle of the Church, between the clergy and the people and reads two lessons; then another goes up in his place to sing a psalm. . . . When the lessons and psalmodies are done, the priests take the word, each in his turn and after them the bishop. The series ended with a lection from the Gospel, which is made not by a reader, but by a priest or deacon. (So it is at the present time.)

"After the sermon the sending out of the different categories of persons, who should not assist at the holy Mysteries, take place. When there remain in the Church only the faithful communicants, these fall to prayer. ('Depart all ye Cathechumens: let no Cathechu­mens remain: but let us who are in the faith again, yet again, in peace pray unto the Lord,' is retained in the Liturgy and is in use now.) Deacon says the litany and to all these petitions is added Kyrie eleison. Then the voice of the bishop rises in the silence he pronounces a solemn prayer of a grave and majestic style. Here ends the first part of the liturgy. The second part, the Christian liturgy properly so called, begins by the salutation of the bishop, followed by the response of the people. Then, at the sign given by a deacon, the clergy receive the kiss of peace from the bishop, and the faithful give it to each other, men to men, women to women.

"Then the deacons and the other lower ministery divide themselves between watching and serving at the altar. . . . This is a solemn moment. After private prayer the bishop makes the sign of the cross upon his brow and begins.

Anonymous said...


'The grace of God Almighty, and the love of our Lord Jesus Christ and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you always.'
'And with thy Spirit.'
'Lift up your hearts.'
'We lift them up unto the Lord.'
'It is meet and right so to do.'

"And the eucharistic prayer goes on, concluding where the Cherubim and the Seraphim eternally make heaven ring with the Trisagion. Here the whole multitude of the people lift up their voices and joining their song with that of the Choir of Angels, sing 'Holy, Holy, Holy, etc.' (We have all this in our Liturgy now. - B.T.) When the hymn is done and silence returns the bishop continues the interrupted eucharistic prayer. Then, taking his inspiration from the last words, 'Do this in remembrance of Me,' the bishop develops the idea re­calling the Passion of the Son of God, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, the hope of His glorious return, and declaring that it is in order to observe this precept and make this memorial that the congregation offers to God this eucharistic bread and wine.

"Finally the Bishop prays the Lord to turn upon the Oblation a favorable regard, and to send down upon it the power of His Holy Spirit, to make it the Body and Blood of Christ,, the spiritual food of His faithful and the pledge of their immortality (all this is observed now.)

"The mystery is consummated. The bishop then directs the prayers. After this is said 'Our Father.' The bishop then pro­nounces his benediction on the people.

The deacon awakens the attention of the faithful and the bishop cries aloud, 'Holy things for holy persons.' And the people answer, 'There is one only holy, one holy Lord Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father, Amen.' No doubt at this moment took place the fraction of the bread, a ceremony which the documents of the fourth century do not mention in express terms (no doubt it did as it does now. - B.T.) The communion then follows. The bishop receives first, then the priests, the deacons, the subdeacons, the readers, the singers, the ascetics, the deaconesses, the virgins, the widows, the little children and last of all the people. The bishop places the con­secrated bread in the right hand, which is open, and supported by the left; the deacon holds the chalice - they drink out of it directly., To each communicant the bishop says, 'The Body of Christ,' and the deacon (now bishop) says, 'The Blood of Christ, the Cup of life,' which is answered, 'Amen.' During the communion the singers execute Psalm XXXIII (34) Benedicam Dominum, in which the words '0, taste and see how gracious the Lord is,' have a special suitability (it is in use now). When the communion is done the deacon gives the sign for prayer, which the bishop offers in the name of all ('0 Lord, who blesses those that bless Thee,' now is read generally by the priest. - B.T.) then all bow to receive the blessing. Finally the deacon dismisses the congregation, saying, 'Go in peace.' (Bishop or priest does this now.)"

Let your readers decide what the truth is. If you can give historical evidence that the early Christians worshiped like modern day protestants, I would respectfully ask that you provide the documentation as I have done, from a Protestant source, no less.

Howard Fisher said...


I have been through all of this before. The citations you offered do not prove Transubstantiation. And yes, no serious Protestant argues that we worship today in the same manner that early churches often did.

I do not have to anachronistically interpret the history of the church. I am not RC. Therefore I do not have to submit to Rome's authority to her belief that only she may interpret her own history.

I am not interested in debating Roman ecclesiology with you. If you wish to listen to a debate on the Mass, go here.

And just for your info, I have read the Apostolic Fathers and many writings of the early church. I have also managed to read the first 5 books of the City of God. Perhaps someday I will manage to finish those other books. For now, I have other interests I am persuing.

Anonymous said...

"I'm sorry, but the Mass as known among RCs today bears no resemblance to what Christians would have believed then."

Can you cite specific examples ?
What part of the mass specifically bears no resemblance to what Christians would have believed then? Non-Catholic church history scholars have agreed that the early Church was sacramental, and eucharistically centered. The actual service as I have pointed out from a protestant source, shows a striking resemblance to the mass of modern day Catholics.
Just be intellectually honest and admit that your services bear no resemblance to what the early christians believed and practiced. The implications of which is up to you to deal with, if you are to be consistent and intellectually honest.

Howard Fisher said...

A Jehovah's Witness once told me he believed that Jesus was God. I was puzzled. After conversing for while, he explained to me that we were using the same terms with different definitions. You can keep quoting references that seem to favor your position, but unlike you, I do not have to read Transubstantiation back into their words. You have to. I can let them be who they were. You can't by definition.

You make it sound like that there should be this mythical unity that has never existed. If you lived in a city that did not have a Roman Catholic church, would you go? Probably not. So your original accusation that I just refuse to go to a church because they don't agree with me is an inconsistent argument.

Howard Fisher said...

Robert Sungenis debate that evil Baptist (anti Catholic) James White on the Mass.

You may find it somewhere else. I just didn't look.

Cory said...

I feel like you're getting sidetracked...I'm ready for part 2 now please:)