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Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus (9Marks: Building Healthy Churches) Hardcover – April 30, 2012
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“Church leaders across many denominations will find this little book filled with practical ideas and good arguments that will help us cure Christians in our culture today of their allergy to church membership, pastoral authority, life accountability, and any limits to their personal freedom.”
―Timothy Keller, Founding Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City; Chairman and Cofounder, Redeemer City to City
“Brief, fresh, entertaining, and, above all, biblical. This is the explanation and defense of church membership you’ve been looking for.”
―Mark Dever, Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC
“Practical. Convicting. Biblically faithful. Leeman reminds us that church membership is not a choice but a demand. The book is punchy and provocative, but at the same time it is permeated with the gospel of grace.”
―Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
About the Author
Jonathan Leeman (PhD, University of Wales) is the editorial director for 9Marks. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books and teaches at several seminaries. Jonathan lives with his wife and four daughters in a suburb of Washington, DC, and is an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church.
Michael Horton (PhD, University of Coventry and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford) is the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary in California. In addition to being the author of many popular and academic books, he is also the editor in chief of Modern Reformation magazine, a host of the White Horse Inn radio broadcast, and a minister in the United Reformed Churches.
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Overall, this is a gospel-centered book saturated in Scripture. Indeed, the Bible never explicitly mentions church “membership.” But, although it is an idea never expressed it is everywhere assumed.
I received this book for free in that it was given to new-member candidates at my local church. I think you will benefit from reading this book for yourself and likely so will your fellow Christian brothers and sisters.
I think some difficulty could arise for someone who holds to a theological position that doesn't match that of any local congregations, and if those congregations require doctrinal agreement for membership, as could be the case in rural areas. A conversation should therefore be had between the prospective member and the leaders of the local church of his/her choice, to see if they could permit membership despite their differences. If that fails, the person may have to sacrifice a little extra time on the road, or potentially relocate, to become a member of a suitable congregation.
I want to give some testimony here to an effective tool our church has begun to use. We recently formalized membership at our church, a move that I am emphatically for as a pastor. This book pinpointed a lot of reasons to support this move which I was already seeing intuitively. Here are some of the items this movement is helping us grapple with as a congregation:
- How do we enforce church discipline when the need arises?
- Can we have any impact on the hypocrisy of people in our midst who profess Jesus with their mouth but their hearts are undeniably far from him?
- How do we be clear about the expectations of what it means to be a part of our church, and thereby draw people into defined discipleship?
- How is it that someone could disavow our most central values (like belief in Jesus as the Savior and son of God) but be a "member" of our church simply by attending it?
There are a variety of Scriptures that point to the need for a church to have an answer to these issues and as this book points out, church membership, while in and of itself is not a biblical mandate, is a functional construct by which we are able to carry out many biblical mandates that need some kind of "cutting board" to hold our issues against and deal with them. Membership has traditionally been an abused tradition, and churches have absolutely committed the crime of bludgeoning people with "belonging" as a measure to stroke their own egos as church leaders. Just don't judge a philosophy by its abusers.
And, don't judge the book by it's cover (if that's what is turning you off.) Perhaps not everyone needs to read this, but if your church has need to consider formalizing membership, this will be a helpful tool for you. And if you're frustrated that churches formalize membership, I think actually reading this might give some insight to the values we're trying to pursue by setting a clear path in front of our congregations as to what it looks like to follow Jesus here.