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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Should Churches Raise Their Standards for Membership?

I have heard it so many times. "It is easier to be a member of a church than a member of the country club. At least they have membership requirements." Yes, those requirements are generally a recommendation from a current member and enough money to pay the membership dues. The fact is, I'll bet that the latter requirement outweighs the former.

So, people who think of themselves as mature want to raise the standards. They want to keep out those who may not be committed. They want to eliminate those who cost more than they contribute. They want purity in the ranks.

Now, I don't want to judge (but often find that I am doing so) but doesn't that sound just like the Pharisees? Didn't Jesus say that they would search the whole earth for a convert and make him twice the son of the devil that they were? Was raising the standard to some observable level a prerequisite during the New Testament?

Let's see. There were over 3000 baptized  the same day as their salvation after Pentecost. There does not seem to be more of a standard than a personal belief in Jesus. That standard allowed them to be baptized. That baptism made them part of the church.

I have baptized hundreds of people during my ministry. It is not an act someone performs on themselves. Truthfully, I have a much harder time baptizing someone who wants to "help." Baptism is an act of submission rather than commission. It is hardly a standard administered upon oneself.

Are churches who raise their standards growing? Yes, at least in some cases. They are growing because there are other "mature" believers who want to be a part of a church where everyone has a significant commitment to the Lord.. They also baptize their own children in high percentages. Many of their baptisms come from new members who come from churches that didn't baptize by immersion. In other words, a large percentage of their conversions are their own children and believers who converted to their denomination. In fact, 98% of growing churches are doing so off the backs of other established churches.

There is inherent danger in raising these standards too. Churches which raise their standards may be keeping the new believers from becoming part of the church. If the steps are too tall only the tall can enter the church. If the requirements are too steep only those who can pass the entrance exam will be permitted in. Thus, there is no foothold for new believers to stand upon so they can grow. They have been eliminated from the church.

Essentially, we have torn out the wheat when we tried to tear out the tares.

Jesus parable says that there will be those who are not committed at all in the church. They have never made a true commitment to Christ but they have been admitted on their word. They will never produce any fruit and are represented as tares.  They do not look any different than the true believers represented by wheat. Tares and wheat look the same as they grow together but tares have no grain of wheat.

Jesus tells His followers to let them grow because tearing out the tares will also result in the elimination of some wheat. Is this the same as raising the standard for membership and eliminating those who do not meet the requirements?

My church has former child abusers, prostitutes, people who have had abortions and a host of other "shocking sinners." I see these people make deep commitments to Christ and change their lifestyles because Christ is in them. It does not come because we have raised our standards. I want to love on people so that they can have the joy of Christ rather than the burden of religion.

So, I do not want to raise the standard. I want to open the door.

 Matthew 13:24-30 (NIV)
24 Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' 28 "'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' 29 "'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30  Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"

6 comments:

Ray said...

Perfect message. Who are we to make a minimum requirement to love the Lord? Crazy thought.

high-expressions said...

Again, thumbs-up, thumbs-up, for NOT failing to admit ALL the Lord sent.

Church is God's club, NOT men's club. God was the one and is still the one who specifies the entrance requirement, and there is only one specified, "Accept my Son as your personal Lord and Savior". Anyone who has done that, is a member of God's church.

Physically, because we are NOT dead yet, we go to a local church. All the churches make up the church of God. If a local church holds itself as part of the church of God, it belongs to God, NOT to men or any man. Founder or Senior Pastor and even the Diocese, does NOT own the local church as far God is concerned. All are undertakers or undershepherds, for the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ. It is Jesus' church or Jesus’ local churches.

He, Jesus, came to save the lost. Whoever who acknowledges that he/she is lost and wants Jesus as his/her Lord and Savior, he/she Jesus saves. Lost people are of all sorts, but Jesus wants them, and so, we are to take them all. The members are sheep of the Lord.

It is significant that the Lord had it recorded of certain things said of the Apostle Peter, in relation to the church. Jesus said in Matt 16, that Peter was a rock and on that rock He would build His church; and then, in John 21, we read that 3 times, Jesus told the Peter, that if he, Peter, loved the Lord, he was to feed His (Jesus') sheep. Whose sheep are the members of the church? Jesus'. What was the "head" of the church asked to do, feed Jesus' sheep. The 1984 NIV had it as "Feed my lambs", "Take care of my sheep" and lastly, "Feed my sheep". The Senior Pastor or pastor or whatever name we give it, his function primarily is to feed the sheep and take care of the sheep. In other words, the sheep comes into the fold, we feed them and take care of them, NOT we screen out some, as they come, and admit the ones we think we want.

In the first place, and all the overly grace preachers should take note, the sheep coming in are NOT perfect, and so, NOT, not needing feeding or taking care of. Stop telling the sheep that they need no one to feed them or that they need no taking care.

Instead of arguing "small rock" or "The rock" that Peter is said to be, it is plain that Jesus was painting picture of how the church is to be. In other words, “Peter as a rock” was hinting to us, Jesus was laying some foundation of how a church is to be handled by those who would look after it.

In that same passage of Matt 16, Jesus also told Peter to “follow Him”. To follow someone, here, is to make yourself, the disciple, and the one you follow, the master. What do disciples do? They learn from the master, they pattern after the ways of the master. Suppose we are at a time when Jesus was already resurrected, and Peter was assuming leadership, what do you think Peter would be doing? Yes, he would think back to the time of His master, Jesus; how Jesus was having them, the followers, collectively as the church; how Jesus fed (taught) them, how Jesus related to them, and how Jesus cared for them. Even Judas Iscariot, Jesus did NOT keep out of His church!

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high-expressions said...

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In Scripture, Jesus spoke about the ones the Father God gave Him:

37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:37-40, NIV)

This was how Jesus approached His assignment from God, the Father. Likewise, as a disciple, we are to pattern after the ways of the master; all Peters (senior pastors, heads of churches), as disciples of the Master, Jesus, are to:

1. Understand that members (believers) coming into the local churches, they are given by the Lord, and we drive them away, NOT.
2. We do NOT do our will but the will of the Lord, who sent us (Jesus said He was sent by the Father, and He likewise, sent us).
3. We are to lose none of all that Jesus has given to each of us, as “Peter”; so that, at the end of the day, our Lord could fulfill His part of raising them up at the last day.

I am NOT saying, the Lord left no words about protection of the church as a whole (even a local one), for under-shepherd, one of his jobs, is to protect the sheep under his care. In Matt 18:15-17, we read of Christians sinning against fellow Christians, and how we are to confront the offender, and how we are to protect the church. But it was about one sinning another, there was nothing about the UNacceptability of people’s past, for entrance into church membership.

If an ex-convicted thief became a member of a local church, after his acceptance of Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and he stole from another member of the church; directly, the Senior Pastor is NOT to be blamed for admitting the ex-convict, so long as the born-again was prima facie, genuine. If the Senior Pastor, on account of majority’s view of the congregation, refused admission of the ex-thief, into the church, the Senior Pastor has failed the Lord. If the ex-convict, after becoming a member, steals again, from a fellow member, and the matter was brought to the attention of the Senior Pastor, and he acts NOT, he, the Senior Pastor has failed the Lord. The point is that Jesus despised NOT, convert’s past, we should likewise NOT. But fresh sins must be dwelt with, accordingly, regardless who committed it, a clean-slate member or a member with a jagged past.

As far as the Parable of the Weeds and Wheat (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43), referred to, by Ps Prentis, a few points need to be bared, and we can all consider its appropriateness for use, in our context.

1. Firstly, the parable was given in vv24-30, but explained in v36-43.
2. The field referred to, at the very beginning, v24, was explained as the world, NOT the church, specifically.
3. As a side, this parable shows us that the Kingdom of Heaven (v24) does have a phase, in the world, and I commonly call it, the earthly phase of the Kingdom of Heaven/God. A person enters into salvation, enters into this earthly phase, and he becomes one of the many of us,

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high-expressions said...

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who enforce the invasion of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth or in this world.
4. It is clear from the explanation (vv36-43), that the tares (or weeds), resemble the wheat, except that the former does NOT bear fruit, grains.
5. Now, from the explanation, it is clear that tares are NOT wheat. If wheat are believers, tares are false believers. Some said, tares are non-believers. I think correctly, it was referring to false believers. Is there a difference? False believers are non-believers, but NOT all non-believers are false believers. In other words, false believers are non-believers who carried themselves like they are believers. Tares look like wheat, and so, false believers appear like they are believers but they are NOT. How should I put it; technically, they are “believers” (but I believe making it to Heaven, entails more than just technicality or legalism. Such, might have, indeed, said the Sinner’s Prayers! This made the believers’ group to be of two – {genuine} believers, and false believers).
6. How to tell tares from wheat? The parable gave us the impression it is NOT easy, but NOT impossible, for some of the “the owner’s servants” could tell the difference (or the difference of some) (v27). Is it possible for us to tell the believers and false believers apart? NOT impossible, but NOT easy. In other words, apart from fruit (grains), some can tell the false believers and believers apart, but NOT easy.
7. Can we be sure, when we look at the fruit? It depends on whether or NOT, you are the expert on genuine fruit! I suspect many of us are NOT, and so, God said to us, to leave it to the experts who would be end-time angels (“the harvesters”) sent for this purpose.

Now, is church included here, in the parable? Some people do NOT think so, and asked that we stop using this to picture the church; I say it depends on, whether or NOT, you consider the church (local church) as part of the world. What is the local church like? What is your local church like? The understanding I have is that the church, as the bride, currently is NOT perfected, and so, picturing it that way, the church is in the world, (world) being invaded by the Kingdom of Heaven/God, but the extent of the invasion is, in part, the role of the believers themselves, us all.

I agree with Ps Prentis that, the local church does NOT get more perfect, by imposing other men-made entry requirements on top the sole requirement of the Lord. Once we do that, we are bringing the world’s ways into the church. But doesn’t the presence of non-believers and false believers reduce the perfection of the church as a bride? Yes, they do, and we, perhaps, can keep out the general non-believers, but we are hardly able to keep the false believers out completely. When we look at the severity of the issue, to inadvertently keep out true believers, is against the mission of our Lord, and so, for that reason, keeping out false believers must be proceeded with extreme care, for a local church. If we interpret the actual context as the world as a whole (NOT just the local church), it is impossible to keep out the false believers, and the non-believers, there isn’t another world, is there! If we look at a section of the world, like the church at large or global church of God, it is still next to impossible (for us), to keep out the false believers, although we might be able to keep out the general non-believers, for the false believers are of intent, a planting of the Devil.

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high-expressions said...

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Does it then mean that we do nothing to keep false believers from our individual local churches? This approach I recommend: Give the benefit of doubt for all new converts or new births. In other words, they are accepted in, on prima facie basis. Then, as undershepherds, we must be alert to false teachings spreading in the flock. What do false believers cannot help but do? Yes, false teachings. Now, if a member holds certain incorrect doctrines or theology, we should try to give the correct understanding; that is part of “feed my sheep”. If he/she does NOT want to change his/her viewpoint, often we cannot force it down the throat, can we? No.

But as the undershepherd of the flock, you have the right to act against the person if he/she takes on the role of a teacher; in other words, if he/she instructs others of the same false doctrines or theology; you have to act; you are NOT protecting your flock if you do NOT act.

Does the parable suggest we turn out, members who bear no fruit? No, don’t do that. That is one of the warning of the parable, if we do that, most often we cannot do a good job, for we do NOT know the heart of the man; only the Spirit of God knows (beside the man himself); another reason is that, only the Lord knows what he assigns to his servant, we don’t; and so we cannot be too judgmental about whether a person attending our church has been bearing fruit or NOT, or will be doing so, later, as intended by the Lord; he may even be bearing fruit outside of the local church context, and we can see, NOT. But you can suggest and encourage members to bear fruit; give the understanding that you cannot judge adequately, but the Lord does judge on that factor, ultimately (even the parable of “Who is the goat and Who is the sheep” points to that). Believe me, the Lord desires us to suggest and encourage others to bear fruit.

I have suggested tares are NOT general non-believers; do we keep them out or turn them out? The church is in the world, and the Kingdom of Heaven is invading the world, and we are to win the world over to the Kingdom; and so, there is hardly any merit to keep or turn the general non-believers out. I believe the Lord makes room for that distinction anyway; in other words, the expectations of the Lord for the believers and the non-believers are NOT the same.

For example, in praise and worship in a church, if you are a believer, you are expected to be engaged in the corporate praise and worship, but the non-believer’s non-engagement is NOT viewed the same. “Points” are NOT deducted, because you have some non-believers sitting in your congregation NOT singing, compared to mine, which has no non-believers. General non-believers are NOT wolves in sheep-skins, unlike the false believers who are, and so, the former, CANNOT necessarily be excluded from church services. The church got to be transparent, it should have nothing to hide, and charity begins at home, even as we bring charity to the marketplace. It defeats the purpose of marketplace ministry when non-believers, after receiving charity (love) in the marketplace, come into the church and find it without charity.

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high-expressions said...

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Bear with one another. Although I have already mentioned charity (love) is a must in church, I want to underscore, we are to bear with one another, and we are to bear one another up. This is talking about everybody in the body. We cannot just bear with non-believers, and not bear with other believers. Now when the non-believers become believers, are they to leave you, your church, for you do NOT bear with them anymore, since they have become believers! Love the non-believers; love also, the brothers and sisters in Christ in the church. Don’t assume, since they are believers, they have the blessings and provisions from the Lord, and if they needed anything, all they have to do is to ask, and the Lord will answer and provide. The metaphor given in Scripture about the church being like the human body cannot be stressed more, and I believe Ps Prentis covered it here, before.

If the church is a caring church, which every church is supposed to be, the atmosphere of the church must NOT, be that of shame, when someone is in need, whether it is financial, material, emotional or spiritual; all of us, have needs, in one or more areas, at some points in time. Don’t ever promote teachings that point to, we should be swell, nicely blessed, like an outright entitlement of identity; it is NOT the most beautiful thing, but the most ugly thing, for it demeans many people, causing them to think there is something wrong with them with regard to their faith, condemning even (and they will shrink back, from sharing). Overly grace preachers are famous for this; well, the auditorium may swell, but it is no swell for the majority of those who sit long under such easy-believism; nice to hear messages, but they transform, NOT.


Anthony Chia, high.expressions