Friday, January 20, 2006

Dismembered Membership

This posting will probably only be relevant to those who were at the afternoon question time with Mark Dever (Fri 20th) So sorry for those who have no clue what this discussion is all about. Needless to say, it covers issues that are important but not absolutely essential, so feel free to ignore or contribute at will.

Here's the problem as I see it with the practice on membership as articulated by Mark Dever, or perhaps better put, here's the current question I have.

If issues that are important but not essential to the gospel can limit church membership (i.e. Mark Dever could not admit to membership of his congregation someone who was a committed infant baptist) then what is the church?

The church under this practice is now something other than the community of those who have been gathered to God by the saving Gospel of Christ. It is the community of those who have been gathered to God by the saving Gospel of Christ and have baptist/congregationalist convictions.

Or, put another way. If the church is a community that is brought into existence only by the gospel, how come issues that are non-essential to the gospel (by Mark's own admission) can stand in the way of membership?

Or, put perhaps more provocatively, why if Christ has welcomed someone into his church, are we allowed to keep them out of 'ours'? Unless of course, being a paedobaptist is an 'error' of such an order that it warrants church discipline. If this is the case, I fail to see how baptists could justify any co-operation at all with paedobaptists, even at a para-church level.

It seemed to me that at least a degree of the justification given for this practice was a practical rather than a scriptural consideration, namely that acceptance into membership of a paedobaptist could lead the congregation over time towards such a position. Ηowever, surely there are equal dangers in accepting someone who holds to a dispensationalist position on the return of Christ and the future of Israel, or any of the other issues that Mark Dever indicated would not be a barr to membership. As the discussion progressed on this point I felt we had left the realms of what scripture prescribes and moved into the arena of what might seem expedient given the spiritual climate in America (I had a similar feeling as Mark justified his reasons for not baptising anyone under 16).

I also wonder if this perhaps highlights one weakness of a 'members-voting' model of church government - the voting power of the members means that the brother or sister who feels strongly on a particular issue but is happy to sit under the leadership of those who disagree with him has to be kept out of membership. And it does seem as if the voting is the key issue here, since Mark Dever would happily have a paedobaptist preach to his church, though presumably not on baptism.

I don't think in any way that this somehow sweeps away eveything Mark was saying, or that my question somehow 'disproves' his view. No doubt he has done so much more thinking on this than a short question time could reveal. I also suspect, as I reflect a little more on it, that there are similar issues raised if we take any stance on meaningful membership (which I think all of us most certainly should).

Anyway, please point out the errors in my presumptions and let me know your thoughts/answers/suggestions.


Paul E-C said...

Nice one Pete -I like the whole Blog idea and that it isn't filled with Bloggish "today I got up and went to chapel for 8.20..."

I was very interested to read your comments, though they don't quite reflect my own questions from the day.
You've obviously thought about it more than I have; coming from a church background with baptized members only, I haven't questioned its rightness very much.
I agree that it seems certain parts of Mark Dever's approach seem to be in the context of the American context where Capitol Hill is placed. For instance, there are loads of other churches where people of different convictions can find a home.
With this in mind, going back to your comments, I don't think that it is necessarily wrong to exclude people from membership on secondary issues. You're not saying they're not part of the global church, merely that theirs are not the views of this local church.
If there are distinctives in our theology that distinguish us from other churches -and there must be, whatever denomination we are in- then it makes sense to nail your colours to the mast and say, if you want to be known as part of this church, you need to accept what this church stands for.

From a member's point of view, I think this happens mostly sub-consciously; while choosing which church to become a member of, you would probably avoid those that kept going on about something you didn't agree with, whatever it was.

Furthermore, this makes most sense when the issue is not eschatology but baptism -an issue at the very heart of how a member is defined.

Let's talk more about this. I'm sure Dave and Reuben will mount a defence for their mate!

Pete said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pete said...

Thanks Paul
I take your point about not necessarily making a statement that someone excluded from membership is also excluded from the global church. However, this almost underlines the problem; under such a view what exactly is church membership then? This seems to severe the link between membership of a congregation and our membership of one another in Christ? Surely that's part of what Mark Dever is arguing, that membership is important because it is an affirmation of salvation and a reflection of our spiritual union in Christ (hence why non-believers can't be members of his church, and rightly so). Otherwise I struggle to see what local church membership is scripturally.

Only the complexity of denominationalism allows us to make such distinctions between not admitting a member and yet still somehow affirming them as a brother. This was highlighted by you when you asked yesterday about situations where there was no wide choice of church-type available.

I'll continue to chew this one over as I think what Mark Dever raises is very important; we must have meaningful committed membership in our churches - I'd just like to think through how that would look 'on the ground'.


Skully said...

So what's happened to all the blogging Pete? getting bogged down with work or something?!