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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Is Church Membership "Optional"?

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:3-5 NKJV)


Is church membership "optional?"  That's a loaded question.  So let me ask another loaded question.  What is a church?  Is it a local congregation?  Or is it a denomination?  And what of a local congregation that happens to be fairly orthodox but belongs to a denomination that is increasingly heterodox or even heretical?  Are Christian believers obligated to join such congregations and give financial support and recommendation to the community at large when some of their offerings might go to support heterodoxy or heresy?  That's an interesting question.

Another question to ask is whether or not church membership is necessary for salvation?  If so, then it would logically follow that church membership is necessary and not optional.  On the other hand, if church membership is not necessary for salvation then it logically follows that by Christian liberty church membership is "optional".  

Usually when we hear a minister say, "Church membership is not optional," what he really means is, "You should join our church."  But should you?  That's a good question.  First of all, the main issue with joining any church is what does that church "confess" doctrinally?  Should a Reformed believer or Calvinist join just any church?  Or should the Reformed believer join the local Unitarian church or the local Methodist church?  Maybe he or she should join the local Pentecostal or Charismatic church?  After all, church membership is not "optional," is it?

As a general principle or axiom, it is not wrong to say that a believing Christian should as a matter of Christian duty join with a local congregation of likeminded Christian believers.  Baptists generally join Baptist churches.  Pentecostals join Pentecostal churches and Roman Catholics join Roman Catholic parishes.  But does church membership equate to salvation?  Not at all.  In fact, someone who joins with a Roman Catholic parish or a Unitarian congregation could be questionable since both of those "churches" or "denominations" as a whole teach false doctrine.  The Roman Catholic Church is orthodox as far as the ecumenical creeds go.  The Catholic Church teaches the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.  All Protestants should agree with the biblical basis for these creeds.  But the problem with Rome is that it also teaches idolatry such as the veneration of the saints, the worship of the communion "creatures" of bread and wine as if they were literally the body and blood of Christ under the outward appearances of bread and wine.  Rome also teaches salvation by infused righteousness and that faith and works merit salvation after penance is done for sins committed after baptism.  Unitarians deny the trinity, the deity of Christ, and a host of other essential biblical doctrines.

Furthermore, are Arminian and Pentecostal churches truly Christian in doctrine?  Judging from the Synod of Dort, 1619, the answer must be a resounding no.  Arminianism is a heresy according to the Synod of Dort, and there were Anglican representatives who observed and took part in that synod.  Judging by that standard then it ought to be asserted that Reformed believers should not join with heretical denominations like the Methodists, Nazarenes, Pentecostals, etc., et. al.  Some Baptist congregations are calvinistic but those are the exception.  

In regards to Reformed churches, many with the label of Presbyterian are not Reformed or Presbyterian any longer.  The Presbyterian Church USA is no longer a Reformed denomination since its official position is that the Westminster Standards are no longer binding doctrine for ministers or church members.  The same can be said of the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church.  Both denominations have gone liberal.

Even in regards to "conservative" Reformed denominations there are significant doctrinal issues at stake.  The Presbyterian Church in America is mostly conservative and orthodox.  However, several recent church trials have revealed significant heresies prevalent.  The Northwest Presbytery, for example, recently found a well known Federal Visionist, Peter Leithart, not guilty of heresy.  Jeffrey Myers, another proponent of the Federal Vision, was found not guilty of heresy by a Missouri presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America.

What is problematic for a concerned Reformed believer in joining with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church or the Presbyterian Church in America is that both denominations have problems with the Federal Vision and other "Arminian" interpretations of the sacraments and the Westminster Standards.  Furthermore, most sessions or congregations in both denominations leave Arminianism as optional as well as someone's view of infant baptism.  If the Larger and Shorter Catechism are not required as subscription prior to joining a "Presbyterian" or "Reformed" church or congregation, what you are really joining is a heterodox congregation that allows its members to subscribe to the Arminian heresy.  The original purpose of the Larger and Shorter Catechism was to "catechize" adults and children prior to their being accepted as "communicant" members of the local congregation or session.  The Shorter Catechism was originally required to be learned by children prior to their being confirmed as communicant members of the church.

Unfortunately, most Presbyterian ministers today view the Reformed faith as "optional" for church membership, yet they want to invent a new legalism or law that is not in Scripture, namely that "church membership is not optional," implying that membership in a local congregation is necessary for salvation.  Not only is church membership not necessary for salvation but the sacraments are unnecessary for salvation either.  Although I highly recommend church membership, discipleship, and a regular participation in the Lord's supper, baptism and the Lord's supper are not necessary to be saved.  They are gospel signs of faith and visible means of preaching the Gospel.  They refer to the reality of the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ and only faith in Christ and His active and passive obedience can give "union" with Christ.  

It is true that by faith we accept members of a Reformed congregation as elect believers.  However, since Arminianism is a heresy and Arminians are being accepted into membership without requiring subscription to the Larger Catechism, it follows that church membership in the PCA or OPC is ambiguous at best as an outward sign of discipleship or true conversion.

Should you join a local congregation that supports gay rights or gay marriage?  Most Evangelicals would answer with a strong negative response.  But my question is, "Should Evangelicalism be the test of church membership or should adherence to the Reformed standards be required for church membership?"  If a Reformed church is more concerned with broad Evangelicalism than with being a truly Reformed congregation then I would have to say that one should not join or support that congregation unless and until that minister, the elders and the congregation reforms itself and requires subscription to the Larger and Shorter Catechism for church membership.  Attendance is one thing but membership is quite another.

Doctrinal truth and purity is a legitimate concern for a Bible believing and Reformed Christian.  Those who are unconcerned for the truth will continue to promote ambiguity and heterodoxy and even heresy.  Unfortunately, many Presbyterian denominations have such a high view of their own church polity that they have forgotten the doctrine of the priesthood of believers.  (1 Peter 2:9).



Sincerely,

Charlie J. Ray


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