On Sunday, I overheard that some new people were interested in membership with the church. “Good for them!” I thought; “but I’m pretty sure membership just isn’t for me.” I’ve attended the Methodist church for about a year now and the subject just hasn’t come up nor do I have any idea what I’d tell them. I don’t understand what membership does for me that being a regular attender cannot do. Perhaps I’m less than thrilled with the idea of membership because the church that holds my original membership one day declared that anyone that wasn’t in complete and total agreement with their teachings were heretics in the pastor’s book and I realized that because of a difference of opinion, I wasn’t one of them anymore but something of a heretic.
Now some churches are really into membership and what comes with that is a whole new vocabulary where the words we think might say one thing are meant to indicate something entirely different. It comes with strings attached and protocols to which we must adhere to by going along to get along well with everyone. To them few things are more of a big deal than membership. It’s the equivalent of adoption papers as proof that you are a part of their family. It’s just like a passport issued by their embassy which protects you as a citizen of their country in a foreign land. It’s just like an engagement ring as proof of your upcoming marriage. If you lose it – then you’re a runway from the family of God and an expatriate from the kingdom of God and an ex-fiance who told God ‘no’.
Membership, they say, is being a part of a local church. A local church is a group of baptized believers who meet regularly to study the Bible and take communion under the guidance of appointed leaders – meaning that believers must submit to and honor the elders. This includes being disciplined; A vague concept which means that ‘letting elders tell you what to do, accepting corrective punishment, and repent of whatever wrongdoing they accuse you of’. You’ve giving them permission to kick you out of the club if you fail to meet their expectations. In return for all of this, they tell you that you’ll grow in spiritual maturity and godliness. The idea is that the purpose of membership is to ‘regenerate’ believers into a higher standard of behavior and spirituality. Membership is sometimes a prerequisite to serve the church in a teaching capacity, so it’s a handy way to segregate believers into ‘full’ and ‘limited’ groups.
Perhaps it’s how many stories I’ve heard about discipline being misapplied that makes me leery of membership. Some of the more famous ones were instances where 100+ year old grandmothers were forced out of their churches for questioning the changes taking place, punishing a woman for getting an annulment from her husband without consulting the elders of the church, questioning if a book should be sold for the duration that it’s author was on a very public trial, and countless of other examples ranging from bad to worse about how discipline was used the wrong way against the wrong person.
I know enough to know that I don’t want any part in churches like that – the ones that silence victims from speaking out and stand beside the perpetrators. I don’t want to be a part of a church that sees me as ‘less’ than a member because I’m not one. I don’t want to be in a church that plays favorites with some and has no love for others. If that means that I won’t rise to the challenge of being as spiritually mature and godly as they are – then I can live with that. I don’t really believe that following a church’s teaching is a sure recipe for moral superiority – I’ve seen loads of members who aren’t much different from or better than a regular person. Seems to me that membership involves a lot of false advertising.
I guess when it comes right down to it – I just don’t believe in membership because it seems to be more about power and control and less about belonging as a part of a group of people who really care about you. It seems that it’s more about making a vow of commitment to the church or signing an official covenant pledge and less about being believed that you are a committed follower of Jesus alone. It seems that it’s more about securing an inner-circle position and less about being included in everything. Since I don’t know what they mean by ‘membership’ I can only assume it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
I suppose I’d tell my church that membership isn’t everything and that it just isn’t right for me.