31 July 2012

Thinking Biblically about church attendance, involvement, and membership

by Dan Phillips

As I continue in the "Thinking Biblically" sermon series, basically shaped after our church's doctrinal statement, we've had what could be called a "sub-series" on the church. It ended up being a trilogy. In the last installment, titled "What Do I Have to Do With Christ's Church?", I focused down as intensely as I could on just that juncture: attendance/involvement/membership.

How absurd is the condition of the confessing evangelical church? Absurd enough that you still have to say it's important actually to go to a local church. Absurd enough that you still have to say it's important actually to be involved in the church you attend, to whatever degree you're able.

My bottom line is: local church attendance and involvement is Biblically a crystal-clear moral imperative; something like membership is a necessity; and formal church membership makes sound Biblical sense, other things being equal.

The first aim in this sermon, of course, was to serve the dear folks whom it's being my great joy to pastor. All of the sermon should have legitimate specific application locally.

Second, just to be candid, my aim was to do what I could to produce a tour de force presenting the Biblical case the best I could in one sermon. Ambitious? You betcha. Out of my reach? Assuredly. But it's my job to reach (cf. Phil. 3:12-14; Col. 1:25, 28). There was so much more to say, but it was such a dense sermon that I actually handed out supplemental sheets listing off all the verses I mentioned, so that no one listening would be frustrated.

I hoped to give something online for Christians and/or pastors to share with those who haven't thought the issue through Biblically. That means I paint with a broad brush, in that larger context. There are some not in CBC who would hear the sermon and have a genuine issue in applying it. But they are relatively few, and they are far fewer than those who imagine they've got a note from Mom excusing them.

In preparing, beyond personal study and reflection and teaching and writing over the decades, some of the online resources from which I profited most were Aaron's open letter to Frank, and the Frank Turk posts to which Aaron referred therein.

Here's one passage from Frank that really struck me. The thoughts made their way into the sermon:
But here's the problem: from the day of Paul and his life after founding all those churches across the ancient world, the church was never perfect. Go back and read this post by me and look at the state of the churches Paul was writing to. The churches Paul founded were frankly not perfect -- they weren't even really very consistent. You know: it's not like 40 years had passed between the time Paul founded the church in Corinth and when they decided that the Lord's table was really a private party and not a public place where sinners demonstrate their unity in Christ, or where they had, apparently, forgotten the Gospel which is of first importance.

And Paul's first letter to Corinth didn't say, "Dudes: flee to the hills -- your pastors and elders are apostates." He said, in effect, "remember the truth of Christ and find unity in truth."
Woo, well-put. (Don't worry about Frank being puffed up by this; he never reads my posts.)

I've received some gracious feedback for the sermon, folks who found it helpful. And so now I offer this to you, hoping it's of help to you, and maybe beyond.

Now I get to figure out how to say everything about angels and demons in one sermon. Woo-tah!

Why you need to be in a church this Sunday.
Thinking like a slave

Dan Phillips's signature


Stuart Brogden said...

Good on ya for tackling church membership and attendance! It is far more important - and clear in Scripture - than most professing Christians dare imagine. Jeff Johnson has written a delightfully straight forward and edifying little book on this, reviewed here: http://defendingcontending.com/2012/03/26/the-church-why-bother/

FX Turk said...

That makes 2 people who read those posts, and now I feel like God is through with me. I hope I make it home OK tonight.

Steve Drake said...

Everyone is busy putting the finishing touches on their 'Guest Pyro for a Day' outlines. It's hard work, no time to do anything else. We now know what you two guys go through every week in order to have something salient to say in a blog post :-)

By the way, Dan, good sermon brother. I enjoy your teaching style and the Scriptures you pull together to move the sermon along. Thanks for making your sermons available on-line.

DJP said...

Thanks Steve. Either three or four more planned for this series, then we launch on Titus, DV.

Steve Drake said...

Are the outlines you give your congregants, which you refer to in your sermons, available at the CBC website? I notice there is a .pdf button of the sermon, but does this include the outline as well?

Steve Drake said...

It's funny how you can answer your own question when you take the time to look. Sorry about that. I see the .pdf is actually the outline. I 'assumed' it was a transcription of your sermon. My error.

David A. Carlson said...

Lets all agree that Dan is correct when he lays out that we all should go to and participate in a local church, as well as something like membership is a necessity (the formal church membership (as we think of it) as being biblical - well, lets leave that for another day).

I have been thinking more about the flip side to that question - What does the church (local, that which we pledge our troth to) owe the member/attender/active participant? Is there anything?

DJP said...

Did you listen to the sermon?

FX Turk said...

He's got bacon in his ears.

FX Turk said...

I hate it when people who are allegedly "readers" of this blog are literally still 5 years behind in processing the things they have allegedly "read".

PyroManiacs Staff said...

"Those Christian people who do nothing are usually troublesome, for they are at leisure to find fault with those who are doing their best." CHS

David A. Carlson said...


Tom Chantry said...

PyroManiacs Staff? What is that? Even the guest writers have to provide a real name!

Tom said...

I've been reading through The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love, by Jonathan Leeman. I've appreciated its defense of the church and its call for Christians to understand God-centered love and authority as it relates to church membership and discipline.

I'll give the Sensei's sermon a "listen to" tonight.


Kerry James Allen said...

C'mon Tom, you knew it was me!

Goggle Kid said...

I never know who anyone is. Except the Tin Man. I like the Tin Man.

FX Turk said...

You know: I established the "staff" account so that Kerry and any other helpers we enlisted could live behind a protective barrier for their meaningful contributions because, frankly, this is a hard gig.

Unlike Chantry, who folded after one post, Kerry seems to want to get in the mix.

I guess some people are just crazy.

FX Turk said...

Upon review, the last comment was at least a little rough on Tom Chantry (probably more than a little rough) who, frankly, is the patron saint of our comments section and a heck of a referee for comment thread chaos.

Saying he folded after one post was not very kind, and I apologize.

Kerry James Allen said...

Group hug!

Tom Chantry said...

Frank and I ain't gonna hug - the world doesn't need that much ugliness. But I'm cool with him.

Geoff said...

Dan, well done laying out a Biblical case for the local church and the Christian's responsibility to it.

Since God is indeed sovereign and He tells us that we "are not our own, for you were bought with a price," it seems supremely arrogant for us to think we choose the local body we go to exercising our own will. That same attitude results in people considering themselves free-agents or gym members who are free to move on whenever they like and for any reason. Christ's promise to build His church can not be divorced from the local church and only applied to the church universal.

Leeman's "The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love" was the book God used to take me from ambivalence to a deep love for the church. A paragidm shifter, for me.

Geoff said...

BTW, I'd give this post maximum stars, if only I.T. didn't block said stars from appearing.

HonestlyNow said...

Dan's sermon was great, but reading comments here, I just wanted to be the third to say how much I also appreciated Leeman's "The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love." Hits on all these points, and ties them all back to the primacy of God's glory. Outstanding book, and again, a very fine sermon here. I submit that there's no way for the Lord to accomplish His great work in today's western church, in the midst of our postmodern culture, without our gaining a focus on real church membership and discipline. Unless we let Jesus use us to start moving toward something like actual purity of devotion to God, nothing any of us says or does will mean a hill of beans to the Kingdom.