12 November 2008

Church Membership.

Ok. Going to open up a can of worms, leave the comment section open for a bit and see what you think. Rick recently posted a story about the Catholic Church sparring with the Obama administration on the abortion issue. "I really don't understand why the church doesn't just toss people out who actively promote ideas directly contrary to the church's doctrine," he writes. "It's one thing to complain about the apostates, but without action the complaints are meaningless."

Last I checked here in America, nobody MAKES you become a church member. So, if you become a member, you're agreeing to adhere to whatever rules the church makes up, right? I'd like to think the church rules are based on biblical principles and etc. etc. But, the bottom line is, if you ask to be a member, you're agreeing to certain things the church teaches. If you don't like it, there's the door and quit calling yourself a Catholic. It's a brand name :]. You can be "lapsed Catholic," or "culturally Catholic" if you have lots of those thin blondie Jesus holding a sheep pictures staring at you from your living room, but you can't very well say you're a Catholic in all honesty. I mean, yeah, you CAN, the same way I could call myself a man if I wanted to, but doesn't make it true.

(As an aside, no matter how often my father admonished me to "throw the ball like a man" and not a sissy, or "lift this like a man" and etc., I don't think I'm too terribly traumatized or um, changed. I DO throw like crap, though. But at least I no longer do it like a girlie sissy, and when I miss, I miss HARD and overhand. Love you, Dad! I know you're reading!)

Anyway, on with the post. Ahem.

It would be silly for a church, any church (I'm NOT picking on Catholics... it's just that this story interested me) to open up membership to anybody and everybody no matter what they believed. It would be even more silly for them to allow a member to go off and blatantly violate basic precepts of the church while proclaiming his or her membership.

But I've also heard of a chilling effect some legal suits have had upon "church discipline," so I can understand a church's reluctance to act concretely and publicly. Say that Mrs. Jamison ran off with Mr. Montague, but they were still members of the church and living that lifestyle. Well, at some point, the Bible makes it clear that these things are to be ANNOUNCED to the church, and you can imagine the lawsuits that result. It's kinda embarrassing to have your name and special sin called out like that, even if you've been warned first that it was coming up unless you repented.

One mega-church I had been involved in gets around this by doing that sort of stuff at the end of very boring, dry and dull hours' long business meetings in which outlays for toilet paper and glitter for children's church is discussed in excruciating detail. Then only a couple accountant-type members are left to hear whatever really juicy stuff they must spill at those times. (Imagining it's juicy, anyway, though it may be just as boring.)

But then, this same church also will NOT accept prayer requests unless it's for you or a minor child that YOU have custody of. God forbid somebody, somewhere gossips about something in a prayer request and then the church gets sued and all the money is gone. They're also literally giving church members inch-thick handouts on who can say what, when, and give the advice to NEVER touch a child. Well, you can shake his hand, but there had better be a couple witnesses. Sigh. How sad.

I've also seen other places go to the opposite extreme. Members are "disfellowshipped" for moral failings, which are announced from the pulpit during services. Say that Sister Sarah has gone off and fornicated and someone found out about it. Well, NO ONE will speak to Sister Sarah for a certain period, say three months, outside church. They'll say "hi" in the grocery store in passing, but you can forget about spending any time with her at her house or letting her kids go to your place for your daughter's birthday party. Explain THAT one to little Janie. Good luck!

There will also be lots of prayer requests and crying out to God to cleanse Sister Sarah from her adulterous ways. Tsk. You know, I think it all started out when she stopped going to church for Wednesday service, Tuesday and Thursday prayer, and the Ladies' Bruncheon on Saturday. Well, I'm not sure. I think it's that husband of hers. You know they weren't married when their first child was born, and Bob's cousin just went to jail for mail fraud, and that apple doesn't fall far from the tree ...

Yeah, that's harsh. But to the gossip about this semi-fictional "Sister Sarah," I'll add that any time she feels like it, she doesn't have to go back. Sure, her whole extended family probably goes to this very insular church. Sure, she won't have any friends or help when she runs into difficulties. Sure, they'll all talk and "happen" to visit her house and workplace. (Like they're not anyway?) Sure, she's going to hell if she doesn't go to THIS church.

I think sometimes churches can have too close a stranglehold on their parishoners' lives. Though I would not be ok with Sister Sarah fornicating. I just think maybe Sister Sarah has a lot going on and needs Jesus. She needs more love than she's feeling or she wouldn't have gone and done that.

Where is it? Where's her love?

I'm not advocating the sins that are so obvious to everyone. I'm not excusing the sins, blatant ones, that Christians commit. But I can't tell you how many times I've read about this minister or that church member doing something stupid and unChristian and seeing the old "hypocrite" label thrown around by people inside the church and out. It's hurtful. We're ALL imperfect, and we know what Jesus looks like and don't measure up. We're ALL hypocrites to some degree. I hope most people who call themselves (see? it's not a brand name) Christian could be judged a bit more fairly.

So, where should the line be on conduct that is not becoming a member of a church? And how much of a difference is there between "church membership" and a person's Christianity? I've seen varying opinions on this matter. Often I see the opinion that IF you love Jesus, you will WANT to follow what He would want in your life, and obviously that means dedicating 10 percent of your money to this church. Only it is never put quite so bluntly. Other times, I see the "pray this prayer and you're done" mentality, and you never have to worry about your salvation again. Salvation is quicker than online banking, even. No codes but John 3:16 needed! (Forget about that pesky John 3:17 - 20. Shh.)

Your opinion?

4 comments:

  1. Oh dear. We are dealing with this very issue ~ A church member commiting blatant, unrepentant sin ~ & NO~ONE will address the issue. I actually have a problem with that. I think Christ expects certain things from his followers because he told us to count the cost, then he went on to explain all the things meant by *the cost*, starting with dying to self, our own wishes, desires, wants ...He also said not one jot or tittle of the law was passe. It seems to me part of grace is the law but applying the law in a loving & gracious manner seems to be where mos of us come unstuck. Easier to ignore it or apply it so harshly & legallistically no~one wants to know us. No, I don't have an answer either but I do think it is wrong o sweep sin under the carpet ~ a little yeast, you know.

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  2. ...

    That was a couple of cans of worms, me thinks. Brain overload.

    Focus, Luke. Focus.

    Love and grace: Needed.

    Discipline: No clue. I don't know because I don't know what a good discipline that brings about heart change is. What does it take to transform lives and encourage people to become more Christ-like? I've read that it's God's goodness, but Christ certainly came down hard on people.

    Of course, the times people have come down hard on me for my sins, I haven't changed.

    So...

    ...

    Yeah. That's are my two cents thus far.

    ~Luke

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  3. I remember when Mario Cuomo, then governor of NY, was told he was not welcome at mass because he supported leagalized abortion. His response was that he represented ALL the people of NY and his own personal religious beliefs were not to be thrust upon ALL the people of NY. I forget what happened, I think his own personal parish said he was welcome any time but St. Patrick's Cathedral said he could only attend mass if it was a state funeral or something where he was there as Govenor, not as a member.

    I would hate for any of my gov't leaders to make decisions for me based on their church. that is why it's separate as it should be.

    as for judging other members I can't really say since I have not considered myself a member of any organized house of worship since I was old enough to decide for myself. As a child I vividly remember feeling judged and ostracized because my parents were such a mess. My Dad was usually drunk and my Mom was very depressed and neglectful. The way we were treated never felt especially 'Christian'

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  4. Ganeida - I am sure there has to be a balance there, and so much depends on the specifics, I think, too. And even then, not seeing the HEART of the person needing the discipline (which should always be loving IMO), it's easy to go too far or not enough.

    Luke, WHAT kind of discipline would bring about a heart change? That's a really great question. I know I have been told things, sometimes even offhandedly, by someone and it really has changed the way I think. Other times, say, "anonymous" might rail at me for this and that and you know what? Anonymous might be perfectly right, but I'm not listening because I think the messenger is a self-righteous prig. For what it's worth. :]

    Dianne, I just wanna ((hug)) you. I've seen stuff like this and it is NOT FAIR. I've been places, too, where my autistic children are seen as being under generational curses, demonic oppression, or you-name-it. I'm NOT (not) excusing my kids' or my sin, but I think it's easy for someone who has things all together in one area to criticise someone who does NOT have it all together there in a way that is unhelpful. (And really, the sin people like that suffer from is spiritual pride. Which is rot in a church, yk?)

    The Bible says that when someone's repenting and trying to do right, YOU WHO ARE SPIRITUAL should restore him gently lest YOU fall (Galatians 6:1). Um, so the really spiritual people are the ones forgiving, inviting the offenders back to Bible Study and loving 'em just the way they are and exhorting them to press on to do better. Not saying sin is OK, but trying to make a place for people like that in church who need help!!

    OH wow, that's another blog post. You always make me think, Dianne.

    But from another angle, what does that look like to people outside the church? If the church were totally accepting of people whose lives NEED to be transformed, and are still struggling in obvious areas, wouldn't/don't people outside look and go, those hypocrites! They preach against alcohol but they're just as drunk as anybody else. :[

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Non-troll comments always welcome! :)