Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Members of the Body of Christ

We United Methodists need to re-claim a Biblical and historic practice of church membership. You see, the current paradigm is that joining the church is the same as joining a club or civic group. We ask prospective members a couple of perfunctory questions about loyalty to The United Methodist Church and participating in the local congregation by their prayers, presence, gifts, and service (even though they should be asked the Baptismal questions (UMH 34) first) and they’re in. I many congregations I’ve visited, the pastor does all the asking and welcoming. There is no congregational response or participation in receiving new members.

Consequently, being a member of the church is regarded as just like being part of a club, society, or civic organization. Only in the church, because we have open minds, hearts, and doors its much easier to join a United Methodist church. We have very low expectations. We are like a religious social club. Members expect to be served and to have their various needs met. The paid church staff are the servants of the church members. They are their to provide religious goods and services; to make the members feel good about themselves and to not make too many demands upon their time or money. When they feel their needs are not being met, members feel free to begin shopping for a better place.

This understanding of membership is, of course, not biblical or historic because the church is not a religious social club or society. The church is the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12ff). Being a member of the church, therefore, is like being part of a living organism. Membership in the body of Christ is not the same as membership in a club or civic group. The privileges and benefits of membership in the body of Christ are loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself. This love sets you free for joyful obedience and service with Christ in his work of preparing the world for the coming reign of God.

When we see the church as the living, breathing body of Christ it becomes more difficult to join and to separate from the body. Both require very deliberate processes. Both involve effort and some suffering on the part of the member and the body.

I’m convinced that one of the reasons so many people are leaving The United Methodist Church is because they realize that we don’t take membership seriously. We treat it like any other group. But the church isn’t just any other group. And they know it. They want to be part of the body of Christ, not a religious social club.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Brett said...

I agree. The Methodist Church is losing the Christians who wish to preserve orthodox christianity, and gaining those who settle for less and sometimes fall for lies.

11:57 AM

 
Blogger Steven Manskar said...

Brett,
Thanks for the comment. However, it seems unnecessarily judgmental to say that the people who remain in the UMC settle for less than "orthodox Christianity." I also disagree that the vast majority of those who leave do so for doctrinal reasons. The problem is more one of ecclesiology and practice than doctrine.

2:36 PM

 
Blogger Andrew C. Thompson said...

Steve,

This is a great, honest, hard-hitting post. I think our difficulty in recapturing a Wesleyan sense of membership is largely related to the cultural presupposition that membership in anything - church included - is just one more consumer choice to make. Of course, that also combines with the particular aspect of American individualism that says we should never presume to place restrictions on anyone for anything! When those two things work together, it produces a toxic result for the church.

This topic is being discussed over on the Methoblog as well right now. I just finished a column for the Reporter earlier today that will be dealing with it in an upcoming issue. I don't believe we can have a robust understanding of discipleship if we do not have a serious view on church membership.

6:48 PM

 
Blogger Randy Nielsen said...

A group of us in the Bowling Green (KY) District recently read and discussed your book "Accountable Discipleship" for an Advanced Lay Leader Class. I found the book excellent as it points out the church's movement away from the grassroots of John Wesley's Philosophy. Whatever happened to preaching and worshipping real religion? Instead we are doing our best to be "politically correct" in our attempts to fill the pews. A. W. Tozer is probably rolling over in the grave. He talks about this problem in his book "In Pursuit if God." We must stop merging with secular society and start delivering God's Message.

3:01 PM

 
Blogger Steven Manskar said...

Thanks for the comments Andrew & Randy

Andrew,
Thanks for your comment. You succinctly summarized what I was trying to say in the post. I'm convinced that one of the primary reasons many people are shedding their membership in the UMC is because they wear it so lightly. It is little more than a tee shirt they put on. It is just as easily cast aside when something nicer or more fashionable comes along.

Randy:
I'm very gratified you and your colleagues enjoyed reading my book. I don't think I'd use the term "politically correct" to describe what many UMCs are doing to try to attract people. Rather, I'd describe it as "enculturation." In other words, the church has become little more than a mirror image of the surrounding consumer culture. They are adopting the thinking and strategies of the market in attempts to appeal to people.

9:38 PM

 

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