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About 40 Questions about Church Membership and Discipline

16 Aug Posted by in Articles | Comments Off on About 40 Questions about Church Membership and Discipline
About 40 Questions about Church Membership and Discipline
 
About 40 Questions about Church Membership and Discipline:
 
Does church membership mean more than simply joining a social group? Does the church have a responsibility to discipline its members – and if so, what does that look like? In 40 Questions about Church Membership and DisciplineDr. Jeremy M. Kimble recognizes and addresses the many puzzling questions about the critical role of the church in the life of believers.
The latest release in Kregel’s 40 questions series, each section considers questions of theology, ministry and practicality. This book raises – and clearly answers – the most common and difficult questions church leaders and members have. With succinct chapters, 40 Questions about Church Membership and Discipline is a practical resource for any church leader, elder board, seminary student or new member seeking a foundational understanding of how the church should function.
 
 
Membership and Discipline Involve a Life of Submission
By Jeremy M. Kimble
Church membership and church discipline are both connected to the realities of community and authority. However, in societies that possess a strong individualist impulse, consumeristic bent, or a resistance to authoritative structures, the call for joining a church formally and submitting to God-given authority is often not well received. The question of authority is relevant to the discussion of local church membership and discipline, because membership and discipline involve a life of submission. This life of submission begins with what we might call the “front door” to the church, namely, church membership.
There are numerous reasons one should consider church membership to be an important doctrine. First, as disciples we are called to persevere in the faith, and this is an ongoing community project. We are called to exhort one another day after day so that we are not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:12-13) and not to neglect meeting together so we can stir each other up to love and good works (Heb. 10:23-25). Perseverance in the faith is not something we do merely on our own; it is meant to be pursued with brothers and sisters in Christ gathered around the Word of God, encouraging each other to put off sin and run the race with perseverance (Heb. 12:1-2).
Second, the covenant commitment of the local church makes the invisible new covenant visible. We cannot see or hear a person being united to Christ and receiving his Spirit by faith, though it is real and eternal. Christ, however, intended for the realities of the gospel as displayed in the new covenant to show up on earth. Christians join a local church in membership, show the initiation of their covenant relationship with Christ through baptism, and demonstrate continual celebration of and submission to the new covenant and that local community through the Lord’s Supper. These acts within a local church make the truths of the new covenant manifest for other church members, as well as for an unbelieving world.
Finally, as we conceive of what a church is, we must understand that a church is its membership. In other words, the actual constitution of the church, what its makeup consists of, is people joined in covenant with one another to oversee each other’s growth in discipleship. With this understanding, if we take away church membership, we negate the reality of the church as a visible entity.
As one considers the cultural consequences of individualism, consumerism, and aversion to authority, it must also be noted that church discipline is a necessary reality as the “back door” of the church. Again, many more reasons could be enumerated for the importance of ecclesial discipline, but here we offer three. First, the practice of discipline is explicitly mandated in Scripture. Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13-along with a number of other passages-specify in detail the methodology and reasoning for such a practice. With such clear warrant and direction from Scripture, it is imperative that we approach this area of church life with care.
Second, as counterintuitive as it sounds, discipline is a proper demonstration of the biblical concept of love. God disciplines those whom he loves (Heb. 12:6-11), and thus a church who claims to love its members without disciplining them contradicts Scripture and offers a different kind of love than God does. Church discipline can potentially be a painful process, but as a spiritual family, we are called to work through such matters faithfully and gently. Not only are we called to go through this process in a loving manner, the very act of discipline should be seen as an act of love.
Finally, as with membership, discipline is tied to the call for a persevering faith. Part of the work within membership to encourage one another to endure in the faith includes the process of church discipline. We undergo this process not merely to punish someone, but to call them to repentance. If someone undergoes the final step of church discipline, often referred to as excommunication, the church is essentially saying about that individual that they do not see the fruits of salvation exhibited in their lives in a demonstrative way. Their stubborn refusal to repent of sin does not characterize a Christian, and thus excommunication is a declarative sign of potential end-time judgment. As such, the point of such an action is to call that person to repentance, and if they take that step we lovingly restore them to the body of Christ. Thus, membership and discipline serve as crucial practices in the life of the church.
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Excerpted from 40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline by Jeremy M. Kimble, © 2017 Kregel Academic
Dr. Jeremy Kimble (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Cedarville University in Cedarville, OH. He served in pastoral ministry for eight years and currently serves as an elder at Grace Baptist Church in Cedarville. He is passionate about teaching college students, as well as the local church, the truth of God’s Word. He is the author of 40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline.

 

 

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