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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Pastors, Don’t Let your People Resign into Thin Air

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Does your church let people resign into thin air?

A church member simply submits a letter or has a conversation with a pastor, and then poof!—they’re gone. And your church couldn’t say whether the person has joined another evangelical church or dropped off the face of the earth.

My brothers, this should not be.

TWO WAYS CHURCHES LET MEMBERS DISAPPEAR INTO THIN AIR

An encouraging number of evangelical churches seem to be regaining meaningful practices of church membership and discipline. But I’m concerned that even some of these churches, however unintentionally, are leaving their back doors wide open.

One way churches do this is procedural. In some churches, an intent to resign, whether submitted verbally or in writing, is regarded as a fait accompli. If someone “resigns” their membership, then they’re gone. After all, the church can’t coerce people into staying, can it? (More on this below.)

Another way churches might do this is situational. Let’s say that to resign from First Baptist Smallville you have to submit a resignation, then the pastor or elders look it over, and then the congregation has to vote to dismiss you from membership. Most of the time, people are moving away and joining a church in another town. Once in a while somebody leaves to go to another nearby church.

But this time, a cranky troublemaker who’s been giving the church headaches for years has finally had enough and decides to throw in the towel and resign. In a huff, this person says he’s just giving up on church—at least for now.

It would be tempting to simply stand aside and allow this troubler to cease troubling your church. The last thing you want is to invite more trouble by detaining him at the back door.

But should the church simply allow this individual to resign into thin air?

WHY YOU CAN’T LET PEOPLE RESIGN INTO THIN AIR

I think the biblical answer is a resounding “No.” Here’s why: When your church made that person a member, you were declaring to the world that this person belongs to the kingdom of Jesus (Mt. 16:18-19). By regarding this person as a member, your church affirmed that he is indeed a “brother” in Christ (1 Cor. 5:11-13).

So what’s the problem? Hebrews 10:24-25 commands us not to forsake assembling together. Therefore, any professing Christian who quits going to church is living in habitual, unrepentant sin. And the way a church addresses unrepentant sin is not by merrily sending that person on his way, but by removing their affirmation of “member” and “brother” (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:1-13). When the player quits showing up on game day, the team has to take back his jersey.

By the way, to cite just one stream of church history, this is something that previous generations of Baptists affirmed repeatedly and emphatically. Consider the Charleston Association’s A Summary of Church Discipline (1774): after criticizing someone who wants to leave an acceptable church for one he likes better further away, the association affirms that, “To dismiss a member to the world at large, would yet be more preposterous, and ought never to be done in any other way than by excommunication” (Mark Dever, ed., Polity, 124). And Samuel Jones, in his 1805 Treatise of Church Discipline, says simply, “It is certain there can be no dismission to the world” (Polity, 153).

A quick way to get a handle on this is to consider church discipline. If someone tries to resign mid-process in order to “escape discipline,” should the church just let them go? Of course not. That would defeat the whole point of church discipline. Instead, the church must retain the right to refuse someone’s resignation and send them out another way—through excommunication. 

When a church releases a member in good standing, they are repeating their judgment that this person is a brother or sister in Christ. Even as the person is walking out the back door, you’re saying again, to them and the world, “We affirm your profession of faith in Christ.” That’s inherent in dismissing a member because apart from death, the only two ways to leave a church’s membership are being dismissed as a brother or sister in good standing and being excommunicated. If a church does accept a resignation from someone who’s disappearing into thin air, that church is telling the world that Christians are free to drop out of church with no consequences and no questions asked.

Of course a church can’t coerce people to stay. That’s not what I’m saying here. What I am saying is that the church has the responsibility to oversee the lives of its members as long as they are under its watch—which includes their trip out the back door.

The upshot of all this is that a church should not accept a member’s resignation who is not doing what Christians do—in this case, regularly assemble with a church.

FOUR PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS

Here are four practical implications of this.

1.The troubler of First Baptist Smallville needs to either reconcile with that church or join another one where he can be more content. He can’t simply resign his membership and sit on his couch on Sundays. If that’s what he intends to do, FBC Smallville’s response should be church discipline, not “See you later!”

2. Churches’ membership procedures should reflect the fact that the church, not the individual member, has authority to accept and dismiss members. A member cannot unilaterally resign. A member can submit their intention to resign to the church, and the church will either accept or reject that intention.

Different polities will work out the procedure differently, but I’d argue that Scripture gives final responsibility over the matter to the whole congregation (1 Cor. 5:4-5; 2 Cor. 2:6). This means that the church as a whole should have the final say in the matter.

3.Churches’ governing documents (constitution, by-laws) should reflect the fact that individual members do not have the unilateral right to terminate their membership. Instead, that prerogative belongs to the church. Therefore, the church has the right to refuse someone’s resignation and pursue discipline instead. It’s important to have this clearly stated in a church’s documents for both pastoral and legal reasons.

Here’s an example of the kind of language I’m talking about, from the constitution of the church I’m a member of (Third Avenue Baptist in Louisville):

“Clause 3. The church shall have authority to refuse a Member’s voluntary resignation or transfer of  membership to another church, either for the purpose of proceeding with a process of church discipline, or for any other reason the church deems necessary or prudent.”

One important note: Numbers 2 and 3 in this list should probably be well established before a church attempts to resist someone’s resignation, whatever the circumstances.

4. The pastoral specifics of how churches handle individual resignations will vary. For members who have moved out of the area, I’d suggest that a baseline requirement on this front might be something like “they intend to join another evangelical church in the immediate future.”

I’m using slightly squishy language like this because churches’ membership practices vary. Some churches only take in new members once a year, for example. And some metro areas have a number of solid evangelical churches, and it might take a while for a family to settle on one. And it doesn’t always help to keep a church that’s 3,000 miles away on the line that whole time.  

For members who intend to go to another church within the same metro area, the standard should probably be a little bit tighter. This will help to ensure that the member doesn’t fall through the cracks before they’re safely tucked into another sheepfold.

KEEP AN EYE ON THE BACK DOOR

So pastors, just as you pay careful attention to the front door of your church, keep a close eye on the back door, too. Make sure that the sheep can’t simply open the gate themselves and disappear from sight. Refuse to allow people to resign into thin air, both for the sake of your church’s witness to the gospel and for the good of every single sheep—especially those who tend to wander off. 

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John,

I fully support the biblical mandate for pastors to emulate the Good Shepherd, and diligently feed, protect and lay down their lives for the flock God has entrusted them with, (all through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, rather than WORLDLY means and methods).

When purchasing a car, hiring a building contractor, or enlisting in the military, most would rightly expect that a legal document would record the transaction for the protection of both parties interests, (unless the parties were led by the Holy Spirit, in which case, the very suggestion of an "insurance policy" to preserve one party's interests, could easily and needlessly offend a brother, implying that they have demonstrated cause for distrust, and that their "fruit in keeping with repentance" is not manifest).

With regard to drawing parallels between marriage licenses and membership contracts, I would offer this for consideration, everbody was NOT married in a church, (neither myself NOR my wife exchanged any vows,...(shocking?), rather, we assembled in a courthouse, and affixed our signatures to the State's
Legal document, thereby satisfying civic regulation for our union.

Am I "less married" than the couple whom penned and recited their own heart-felt, biblically grounded vows, and then publically swore startling, irrevocable oathes, invoking the harshest judgments of God, were they to ever to violate their marital vows?

What about Pre-nuptial Contracts? If we follow the frequently repeated logic in the author of this article, that LAW (binding "covenantal" contracts) is good,...MORE would be better, right?

Could a Christian become "one flesh" with another, expressing authentic trust and devotion to their beloved, all the while consulting an attorney and taking precautionary measures to protect their assets
By requiring the betrothed to sign "something extra"? Is that what love looks like?

What about the bride whom refuses to give-up her "maiden name", or the husband who doesn't wear a wedding ring? Are they "less married" in God's eyes,...have they offended God, or rather, man?

OK, these examples may seem tedious and petty, (if so, Good!) that's precisely the point. My heart grieves over this entire topic. The fact that there is a perceived need for this dialogue may indicate that "we are defeated already, going to LAW against each other, with a PAGAN world watching".

Jesus' burden is easy & HIS yoke is light,...but NOT some Churches!

Hi Dave,

Baptists (as descendants of the Puritans) have understood their commitment to a local church to be a covenant (not a "contract"); and this is rooted in Biblical mandate of the church as the "household of God" with the purpose of making disciples of Christ. Most older Baptist churches still have a church covenant in their history, but it is rarely paid any attention to. Modern Americans, steeped in their individualism and consumerism, have a hard time even comprehending the need for such a thing.

The marriage covenant makes a good comparison. It doesn't matter if a couple is married in a church or by a magistrate. What matters is if they have entered into a covenant together. Once they have, they can only be parted by death or unrepentant adultery. So too, membership in a church is a covenant commitment not to be broken lightly. If someone breaks their covenant commitment lightly, they are being unfaithfully and sinning. A responsible shepherd doesn't let the sheep wander into sin without trying to help them.

John,

You invoke Puritans and Baptists (as their spiritual descendants) as if they are the only true arbiters of and final authority on scripture. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the Puritans practice burning at the stake as one form of church discipline?

Hi Clay,

Yes, you are wrong. As far as I know, the Puritans never burned at the stake. (Those executed in the Salem Witch-craft trials were hung.) In Puritan New England the church had no civil power; there was a degree of "separation of church and state". In the first generation (about 1630 to 1660), one had to be a church member to vote but the church per se had no power to punish anyone. The church could only excommunicate but could not imprison or fine or execute. Just as today, only the civil government could do that.

The Puritans (from whom most of the early Baptists in America arose) make a good reference, especially for church practice because (1) they took scripture very seriously and came to America to re-establish the Biblical church and (2) they were not contaminated with the individualism and consumerism that has so deeply infected the modern American church.

What the original post says, I believe, would strike the average Puritan as common sense and basic to the identity of the church. To them, even the pastor had to ask permission from the church before leaving. No one could just break their covenant and walk away as though they were a law unto themselves -- or at least couldn't do it without shame and guilt.

I see no difference between the content of this article and the Shepherding/Submission Movement of the 70's and 80's, which left countless spiritual casualties in its wake.

Seems odd that Baptists are now following in the footsteps of the charismatic movement of yesteryear. And the fruit will be the same: power-hungry leaders who will dominate their congregations, and ruthlessly destroy anyone who questions them.

How tragic.

First, they're being Biblical (Hebrews 13:17). Second, they're returning to their roots in which Baptists understood that membership was a covenant commitment, not to be broken lightly. That's why the Bible compares the church to a "household", a Body, a temple. The modern American thinks the church is like a restaurant.

John,

At least be fair and qualify your statement by owning up to the fact that this is your "opinion" of what "biblical" means.

No. On some issues "Biblical" has objective meaning; not every use of "Biblical" can be relegated to just an opinion. If the Lord Jesus told us to confront a brother in sin and follow a process of correction that could eventually lead to the whole church correcting him (Mt. 18:15ff) and if Paul told Titus the elders/overseers are "stewards" of God's household (Titus 1) and if Hebrews 13:17 tells members to "obey" and "submit" to their leaders, then one can fairly say that is it clearly "Biblical" that the pastor has a right to intervene with a member who is breaking his church covenant.

Many of the people shocked at the idea of accountability here apparently think covenant-breaking is acceptable. But the Lord expects faithfulness even from unbelieving people. The prophet Amos, in 1:9-10 of his little book, addresses the Phoenicians of Tyre, a pagan people. The Lord had patiently waited that they would obey the law written on the consciences since they didn’t have the law written on stone. But they would not. What did these pagans do wrong? They made a commitment to treat Israel as if they were brothers. And even the world knows we’re supposed to keep our commitments; even the world says, “Your word is your bond,” “You’re only as good as your word”, a promise and a hand-shake should be as good as a formal contract. The world knows that and here we see that God expects it; He expects faithfulness, that we be promise keepers. And Tyre had made a treaty, a covenant (like we make a covenant to the Lord and each other as members of a church). They had made a covenant with Israel. If you make a treaty, a covenant, a vow, a commitment, you keep it. So, God says He will burn this city down for being unfaithful, for walking away from their commitments as though their word meant nothing.

God is a faithful, covenant-keeping God and expects us to be the same (Dt. 7:8-9). Over and over again in the Psalms, God’s “steadfast love” and His “faithfulness” are paired together, telling us that we cannot have one without the other. “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” (Ps. 25:10.) There is no “love” without faithfulness. That’s why it “bears all things” (1 Cor. 13), etc. ‎True love does not storm off if it doesn’t get its way. Promise-keeping is love and it is law. God overtly says, “If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” (Numbers 30:2.) “Make your vows to the LORD your God and perform them.” (Psalm 76:11a.) Another, “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? He whose walk is blameless... who keeps his oath even when it hurts.” (Psalm 15:1a, 2, 4.) Some people think they have a right to break their commitments, including their church covenant, if things are not turning out as rosy as they thought. God says otherwise; it’s just unfaithfulness, a fruit of faithlessness.

John,

I very much appreciate your apparent commitment to God's word (in your example, the Old Covenant exclusively) and your understanding of pastoral care. Speaking only for myself, I prefer living on THIS side of the cross.

So I want to make sure I've got this straight,... you seem to be promoting a "covenant WITHIN a covenant? How is that not redundant, quasi-legalistic and dangerously close to Judaizer's whom wish to "help the gentile converts" assimilate into their culture?

Is that not tantamount to determining after careful consideration, that the "New and Better Covenant" is somehow deficient?

I have not (yet) required my older brother to submit and commit himself to a legal document I have crafted, to demonstrate his familial relation, as the REALITY, is that we are bound to the same family by BIRTH. Is the application obtuse, do I need to say more?

I reject any hint of antinomianism, while also heartily agreeing with the obvious sad state of pop-culture, seeker-driven, consumeristic Relig-o-tainment that passes as Christianity.

Whom would have benefited MOST from a membership covenant,...Diotrophes, or his congregation?

So far, I have yet to see anyone address the circumstance in which the pastor " breaks covenant" with the flock, ostensibly, at the urging of the Holy Spirit, (does the Holy Spirit speak to mere laity?) to become pastor of a different assemby. What if the congregation "refuses" to accept the resignation, and instead warns potential flocks of this fugitive pastor whom neglegently fled the disciplinary process.

At what point is the term "Hireling" warranted?

Hi Dave,

Are you dispensational? The object of the scriptures quoted show that the Lord takes faithfulness and covenant-loyalty very seriously. On "this side of the cross" He still does. God has not changed. Grace is not a free pass to be a promise-breaker.

Second, to dismiss church covenants as mere human constructions (while technically true), could also be applied to marriage vows. Scripture only tells us we need to be (if we are going to be married), in a covenant relationship. The actual marriage vows, wedding,etc., are all "human constructions". So, do we encourage cohabitation?

But you raise a very good question: are pastors also under the same covenant. Absolutely. The Puritans, who understood meaningful membership, required pastors to get the permission of their congregations before moving (if they ever requested to do so and few of them did). When, in the first generation, the elderly pastor John Davenport of the New Haven colony (now part of Connecticut), wanted to move to a church in Boston, he had to ask permission from his church; they nearly voted him down! Most modern Christians do not understand how far the American church has strayed from meaningful, Biblical membership.

John,

Regardless of one's proclaimed "filter" through which scripture is viewed through, our Lord makes it abundantly clear that a New Covenant has superceded the Old. One COULD attempt to "merge" Law and Grace together, however, I believe that outcome was well anticipated by Jesus when teaching about "New Wine cannot be poured into OLD wineskins" (ruining both), furthermore, the Jerusalem Council settled that issue for us.

What need is there for ANOTHER covenant (within the New Covenant) when Jesus, in His High Priestly prayer declares; "That they may ALL be ONE; as You, Father are IN Me, and I in You, that they also may be ONE IN Us."

With rare exception, God's Spirit was not indwelling man during the Old Covenant. Being joined in Spritual "union" was therefore not possible without the simultaneous, omnipresent, unifying habitation of the Holy Spirit.

Requiring a manmade covenant to manifest fidelity in brotherly commitment, would seem to cast doubt in the reality and efficacy of our collective unity as the body of Christ through the new birth.

Furthermore, it really begs to reignite the whole "letter of the law" versus "Spirit of the law" debate. Is this not firmly settled in your mind John?

Interestingly, the very idea of requiring Gentiles to submit to the Judaizers by giving visible, external "proof" of being and united and bound together in "covenant" through circumcision, was soundly dismissed (as it should have been).

Circumcision of the flesh "counts for NOTHING", rather circumcision of the HEART is what God desires. Sadly, the Judaizers, Pharisees (legalists of all varieties) aren't satisfied with a righteousness that exists INTERNALLY. The look to scrutinize, "quantify" and compare another's "works" with their own, to render their personal judgment. Nevermind what's IN the cup,...wash the OUTSIDE of that cup brother!

Was it not our Lord whom exhorted the legalists; "Stop judging by MERE appearances,...but judge righteous judgment."

As one whom ALWAYS emphasized "INTENTION over EXECUTION", does your understanding of our Lord's passion for one's HEART MOTIVE, truly lead you to believe that viewing a professing brother with suspicion, until they've yielded under coercion, to a demand for a signature (by the "Letter of the law") is acceptable in our Lord's sight?

John, you admirably and passionately speak of faithfulness. Who would argue with such virtuous sentiment? There is however, another side to the issue. If we both agree to the definition as stated; "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the EVIDENCE of things NOT seen"...it would then stand to reason, that the person whom requires LESS "proof" of a professed brother's unity in the body, is the one whom would be considered the more "faithfull".

"Blessed rather, are those whom having NOT seen, have believed".

Jesus elevates spiritual relations over the familial, ("Who is my mother and brother?" "Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven").

Now with this truth in mind, as I'd stated before, how ridiculous would it be to attempt to coerce my older brother into submitting/signing a "covenant" between the two of us to demonstrate the reality of our "joint union". Considering our Lord's aforementioned words, it's even MORE outrageous!

Rather than by a worldly contract demonstrating unity as brothers joined in Christ, it is instead the "Love that we have one toward another." This of course, lacks value without defining a key term: Love is "kind, (considerate of the other's feelings), places OTHERS above themselves, Love does not DEMAND it's own way, Love BELIEVES all things, Love HOPES in all things.

But all of these appeals for graciousness to prohibit the violation of one's conscience and convictions are lost on someone who identifies (spiritually speaking), with the populous from Missouri, the "SHOW ME" state.

I think you've well illustrated how dispensationalism leads to antinomianism. You don't understand what the old or the new covenant is; you appear to have confused that with the old and new testaments.

Further, your definition of faithfulness makes no sense whatsoever. Faithfulness means you keep your word; keep your commitments.

Finally, your principle applied to the marriage covenant would result in cohabitation: why do we need a formal wedding and marriage vows? After all, it is unloving and legalistic, you say, to formalize a relationship and expect faithfulness to it.

The reality is that genuine relationships often, if not always, take a form. Christians in the past understood this, especially as they sought to be faithful to what the Lord Jesus said the church was for (discipleship) and what elsewhere the NT shows the church to be: a Body, the "household of God", the temple of God. But then the forces of individualism and consumerism infiltrated (along with the antinomianism of dispensationalism which effectively threw out much of scripture, relegating it to a former era) and so we have Christians today who treat the church like a restaurant, there to cater to their needs which they'll abandon if it doesn't give them what they want, or they are just hankering for something else. Such people find Mr. Jaimeson's article shocking. The Biblical word for them is "worldly".

Personally,

I have no problem with ministers being held accountable as well. If the Church refuses to accept his resignation, he can either repent of what the Church thinks he's done wrong, or they can excommunicate him. It works both ways. Interesting thing is, I am guessing that if a minister left a Church because of moral sin, many of who resist any form of accountability for yourselves would be screaming from the mountain tops about how evil that was if they simply shuffled him off to another Church quietly about how evil that Church is, and rightfully so. But if it a member who gossips and leaves in a huff because they don't get their way in a power struggle, you are perfectly fine with letting them go pull their evil behavior in another Church. I see more than a bit of hypocrisy in that double standard. It really is simple for me. If you don't want accountability, don't join a Biblical Church. Go be a follower of Ostensibly who will never make you feel bad about yourself.

This can be a rather touchy subject. I mean, if someone wants to leave a church there are the correct ways of doing things and then there are the wrong ways of doing things. Thanks for this great article.

  •  

    Leaving a church is up to the individual and there are times when people do want to attend another church but states are considering they have to do it the right way.

So many folks on this thread seem to be criticizing the entire concept based on the notion that "lots of churches are broken" and "many churches aren't being run well." The assumption seems to be that sure, this might work at a healthy church, but since most aren't, we shouldn't follow these policies.

So churches are to set policies based on what most churches can handle, rather than what Scripture teaches about responsible shepherding?

I would venture to guess that Bobby and 9Marks in general would say that a believer who is leaving a church due to clear sins in that church should not get bent out of shape if that church attempts to control their exit. Assuming this member has done their due diligence, has brought their concerns to the church leadership, has not been divisive, has sought wise counsel, has prayed over the matter, etc., they should move on to a healthy church with a clear conscience, whatever that church does in retaliation.

But this is not at all what Bobby is talking about. Yes, he is describing how a healthy church should respond to a member in unrepentant sin who wants to leave in order to escape the church's discipline. Isn't it the mission of 9Marks to promote healthy churches? Wouldn't it be silly for them to spend time writing an article entitled, "How To Unbiblically Let Sinning Members Leave, Without Consequence, Because So Many Churches Are Poorly Led?"

Underneath many of these complaints, I fear, is a fear of unhealthy, abusive church authority/leadership. We're all concerned about that. But that concern must not drive our understanding of what church membership and discipline SHOULD look like. The explicit and implicit teachings of Scripture, not our fears, must be our guide here.

This is completely impractical and cult like tendencies. It creates the possibility for abuse of authority/leadership. The church doesn't own it's members.

Nonsense. To expect Christians to be covenant-keepers -- as God is -- and faithful -- as God is -- is not "cult" like. It's basic discipleship. Your same reasoning when applied to the covenant of marriage would encourage adultery and serial divorces.

What an awful paragraph.... And how is CJ doing at Capitol Hill?

So what’s the problem? Hebrews 10:24-25 commands us not to forsake assembling together. Therefore, any professing Christian who quits going to church is living in habitual, unrepentant sin. And the way a church addresses unrepentant sin is not by merrily sending that person on his way, but by removing their affirmation of “member” and “brother” (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:1-13). When the player quits showing up on game day, the team has to take back his jersey.

So what’s the problem? Hebrews 10:24-25 commands us not to forsake assembling together. Therefore, any professing Christian who quits going to church is living in habitual, unrepentant sin.

There's a massive problem with that sentence, and it lies in the huge leap that your word 'THEREFORE' leads to.

Dear Bobby,

I took time to read your article as well as most of the many comments. I simply want to affirm you in what you wrote, and in what appears to be a loving and biblical motivation behind your words. (I have read Jonathan Leeman's book on church membership and discipline and am in substantial agreement with most of it and most of your article.) I'm writing mostly because if some of the reactionary comments you received had been directed at me, I would be tempted to discouragement. So I want to encourage you to continue to write (and listen and learn) in order to build up the Church of Christ.

Perhaps it would be helpful to follow up with an article that retracted nothing but added what there was no space to explore in this article: the limits of pastoral (even congregational) authority over individual church members, the need for a plurality of elders, and the biblical teaching on rebuking and removing an abusive elder?

God bless!

The following article is offered as constructive criticism of the 9Marks view of church membership, related to Bobby's post, and welcomes constructive, iron-sharpening feedback.

"Is the 9Marks View of Church Membership Biblical?"

http://lambblood.com/9marks-view-of-church-membership.html

That article simply does not deal with scripture seriously. Please humbly approach the 9 Marks material on membership and learn from it.

Hi John Carpenter,

If you could be a little more specific beyond "does not deal with scripture seriously," such constructive feedback would probably be a little more helpful. I am not aware of any passages I have taken out of context, misunderstood or failed to consider seriously.

I didn't go into as much detail as I could have gone, mainly for the sake of brevity. I hoped the New Covenant paradigm and the reality of the Holy Spirits work I referenced would be sufficient in explaining the adequacy of God in Christ for the church apart from man-made ministry tools (formal membership, church-member covenants, etc.).

I have worked through the 9Marks material several times over several years and recommended it, with only a few reservations, to other brethren. I have been hesitant to publicly address where it seemed to fall short of or exceeded Scripture. The recent posts on the 9Marks blog related to church membership provided an opportunity to interact with this. So I went for it, warts and all.

As I stated in my article, I do appreciate the 9Marks ministry. I believe it has done a lot of good. I'm hoping my feedback will help it do better.

I am open to learning from any group whatever that group might learn from Christ. My allegiance is ultimately His. I trust the same holds true for any believer.

May God's best be yours in Christ Jesus,

Rick

Rick,

Don't feel as though your commendable observations and labor in setting people free from man-made strategies that go beyond explicit scriptural mandates, has fallen on deaf ears. I rejoice in the fact that you have demonstrated consistent graciousness and did not "take the bait" and allow the dialogue to degenerate into a battle over the alleged superiority of one's formal education.

That fruit is speaking "loud and clear", and underscores what you have been saying all along.

When shepherds elevate the "process" over people, they leave a trail of destruction in their wake. The exhortation; "Love people and use things, NOT the opposite" comes to mind.

It staggers the mind that shepherds could wonder aloud; "WHO am I responsible for?" (if you don't sign MY covenant), when our Lord plainly addressed this when answering; "WHO is my neighbor?"

Going through 1 Corinthians this morning reminded me of Paul's directive "Not to go BEYOND scripture", yet, we are observing the most fantastic efforts in eisegesis to craft heavy yokes that "neither they, nor their fathers could bear".

I wonder, since marital vows continues to be the "go to" example in justifying a MAN- crafted covenant (within THE "New and BETTER Covenant") ...with the exchanging of vows AGAIN, being used to rationalise this tactic, would it not then, be logical and fully acceptable for the SHEEP to require the shepherd to acknowledge THEIR covenant that has been presented, immediately after signing the shepherd's?!

If LAW is "good",....then MORE would be "better", right? Since there is no such construct (marital vows) in scripture, then we are free of course, to create them. Furthermore, since we all recognize the legitimacy of the "prenuptial contract", I would think then, to maintain consistency of logic, that no shepherd would object to signing one that has been brought to them by a "prospective member".

It just came to mind, what to do about the preexisting children of the bride one is about to marry? Ought not they also be addressed in the vows & prenuptial contract? This is getting complicated!

Maybe relying on the Spirit to unite us as one body really is best.

Wait, what? 9 Marks might be good material, but it seems as if you're placing it on the same level as Scripture.

Wow. Guess the free will of mankind is out the window on this idea. The idea of church membership as we practice it today was unknown in the New Testament. Believers were not placed on rosters so the church could keep an eye on them. The local church cannot control the life of a believer. The christian way of life is a personal relationship with God. Free will is a primary issue in Christianity. If a local church is worried about what the world is thinking about it, the church's focus is on the wrong thing. If a believer chooses to exit, he is free to do so. The church has no right to pursue the believer with so-called church discipline. One can go to any church he pleases. He alone is responsible for his christian life, NOT the church. Every believer is a priest in the Church age, one who represents himself before God. The church's responsibility is to equip the saints for the ministry; it is not to monitor the lives of its members.

This idea sounds quite lofty, but it violates the concept of grace. Please rethink this.

I am sorry to say, but this article is simply stating- "Do not leave my church or else"
I have read countless of articles and testimonies of those who are continually being abused for simply speaking out about false teachings in the church and are being regarded as heretics and sinners. I have read countless testimonies of real spiritual abuse that is being used on the flock. My husband and I (according to you would be considered heathen) left because there were teachings that did not line up with Scripture and knew that these would be damaging to our and my families spiritual, as well as, emotional health. The article should be written on "What is the matter with the American Church and the effects of abuse on her?" Leaders and Pastors in the church should NEVER treat one in the church with this kind of authoritarianism, yes AUTHORITARIANISM! When there was one in the church that grieviously sinned and did not repent, the unrepentant sinner was told to leave the body, but was also not to be treated like the enemy, but was too be loved in the way Christ loves His church.
Now we have Christians who are leaving, not because of sin, but because they may not agree with the church and leadership or they just may want to go to another church- and these people are treated with disdain and shunning, and "encouraged" to come back groveling. What audacity and outrage! This article is unbiblical at best and unsetttling!