Is church membership wrongly exclusive?

Tolerance and inclusivity are the quintessential postmodern virtues. It seems that the only way to be genuinely wrong in contemporary western society is to ever exclude anyone. Contemporary westerners are born cherishing particular conceptions of diversity, inclusion, and tolerance.

The problem is that all people are born sinners and therefore are excluded from the favor and fellowship of God. All people are born children of God’s wrath (Eph. 2:3). So before we start arguing about whether or not church membership is wrongly exclusive, it needs to be said that the Bible portrays God as excluding all of us from fellowship with himself because of our sin. And the Bible teaches that all those who do not turn from their sin and trust in Christ will experience not only God’s exclusion after they die, but his active punishment for their sins.

So is church membership exclusive? In one sense, yes, of course it is. Church membership is intended to draw a clear, bright line between the church and the world.

But is it wrongly exclusive? Not inherently (though right principles can be wrongly applied). Church membership is meant to include only Christians in order that the church would corporately draw a picture of the gospel it preaches. A clear distinction between the church and the world actually serves non-Christians by clarifying and commending the gospel. In fact a wrongly inclusive approach to church membership is just what non-Christians don’t need, because it confuses the gospel, blurs the line between Christian and non-Christian, and can even help deceive non-Christians into thinking they’re Christians when their lives demonstrate no fruit of having turned from their sin and trusted in Christ.

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