Is Church Membership Biblical?
Good afternoon brother Guzik! I was saved listening to a Calvary Chapel pastor in California so most of my saved life has been attending a Calvary Chapel. I now live out of state and am trying to find a church to attend. I am finding that all the churches have membership requirements where the bring you up on stage and ask for you provide a letter from your previous church. Should I attend a church that requires a membership? This seems so strange to me, but I guess it is quite normal outside of the Calvary Chapel churches. Since I can find it anywhere in the bible what is your take on church membership? God’s blessings on you.
Mike asked the question in this way because he knows I am a Calvary Chapel pastor – a family of some 2,000 church around the world. I’m grateful for my Calvary Chapel roots and relationships.
Here are some basic points regarding church membership:
- Church membership is important.
- Churches have many different ways they express membership.
- In my opinion, real church membership is a matter of the heart; a spiritual thing.
- In my opinion, “formal” church membership is only as good as heart-membership.
- In my opinion: official or formal church membership can have some real short-term benefits, but in the long term it all comes back to heart-membership.
- Formal church membership has been used in legalistic and even abusive ways. Even if this isn’t common, it does happen.
Four Things That Real Church Membership Means
Church membership means different things to different people. Here are some things the Bible says about membership:
- Real Church Membership means you belong – Romans 12:5 and Ephesians 2:19-20
So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. (Romans 12:5)
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone. (Ephesians 2:19-20)
Simply put, membership means you are part of something bigger – you belong to a group and there is a sense in which they belong to you. It also means that belong even when there are times when you don’t feel like it – your belonging is based on the fact that we are one in Jesus.
- Real Church Membership means communication – Ephesians 4:25
Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25)
The “members” or parts of our body have to communicate with each other. If a hand is in the fire and doesn’t communicate, “I’m burning” to the rest of the body, the injury will become far worse. It’s important that we stay in good, honest communication.
- Real Church Membership means caring – 1 Corinthians 12:25-26
That there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1 Corinthians 12:25-26)
The “members” or parts of our body need to care for each other. It simply means that each individual unit works together as part of one team. When one hurts, the team feels it; and when one succeeds the whole team feels that also. As members, we care for each other as a team.
- Real Church Membership means you have part in the work – 1 Corinthians 12:20-22
But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. (1 Corinthians 12:20-22)
The “members” or parts of our body have to work together to accomplish anything. The eye can’t work without the brain or the muscles that support the eye. Just as each body part has its own particular role to play, God has given you gifts and talents to use to further His work. Everything and everyone work together. This means supporting God’s work at this church with our presence, our effort, and our financial resources. It’s all about commitment to the team.
- Church membership is important.
- Churches have many different ways they express membership.
- In my opinion, real church membership is a matter of the heart; a spiritual thing.
- In my opinion, “official” church membership is only as good as heart-membership.
- It is true that formal church membership has been used in legalistic and even abusive ways. Even if this isn’t common, it does happen.
- I don’t think that we are obligated to submit to legalistic or abusive church leadership.
- This is a difficult area, because there are legitimate aspects of submission that people don’t like and are often quick to call “legalistic” or “abusive.” Those terms “legalistic” and “abusive” sometimes mean, “church leadership I don’t agree with” or “church leadership that tells me I should do something I don’t want to do.” It takes wisdom and maturity to understand these things.
If Paul said that circumcision profits nothing, why did he tell Timothy to get circumcised?
Paul preached that circumcision has no profit, but then why did Paul tell Timothy to get circumcised?
Paul did preach that circumcision does not profit (Galatians 5:2). Still, Paul had Timothy become circumcised (Acts 16:3). Timothy had a Jewish mother and a Gentile father, and it seems that at Paul’s request he became circumcised as an adult. Why would Paul recommend or even require this for Timothy, if, as Paul writes in other places, circumcision profits nothing?
Here’s the distinction. When Paul said that circumcision profits nothing, he said it in regard to making us right with Jesus Christ. And you have to know that there’s nothing that circumcision nor any other ritual does to make us right before God.
There are certain rituals that we Christians do out of obedience, such as baptism and the Lord’s supper (communion). But those things, in and of themselves are not what saves us. It’s what Jesus did on the cross that saves us. So, a religious ritual by itself does not save us. Circumcision profits nothing for salvation; but Paul did not have Timothy circumcised so that he could be saved or become more saved. Paul asked Timothy to be circumcised to make Timothy more effective in ministry. That’s just a simple distinction – the difference between being effective in ministry and salvation in itself.
Are physical problems attacks from the devil?
What is your opinion when people say heart attacks, or sickness such as diabetes and high blood pressure, are attacks from the devil?
This is an area where we need spiritual discernment. We see from the Scriptures that sometimes physical illness is used by the devil as a tool of oppression over people. We find several instances of that in the Scriptures we find people being afflicted by what we would call epilepsy. We have people afflicted by what we call hunchback being bent over, and we have people afflicted by what we would call paralysis. In these instances, in the Scriptures there was a definite demonic hand in those afflictions. Yet in other places in the Scripture, we see that there is no specific demonic cause for an illness, but it’s just part of the fact that we live in a fallen world.
I have come to this determination for my own life. When a trial or a difficulty comes, I don’t invest energy into trying to figure out whether or not that trial or difficulty came from God or from the devil. Sometimes I don’t even know if I can tell in the final analysis, but this is what I do know. When I find myself in a trial or difficulty, I know that God wants to use it for His glory, and that the devil wants to use it to lie, steal, kill, and destroy. So, my determination is to submit it to God and to see His work happen.
I think that sometimes it’s just beyond us to know whether or not a particular attack, trial, or difficulty is from God or from the devil. These things sometimes are just spiritually discerned.
One more thing: We are often very quick to blame things on the devil that we have caused by our own choices and giving in to the desires of our own flesh. If somebody has health problems because they haven’t been eating right, living right, exercising right, and all the rest, then I think it’s an excuse for them to blame it on Satan, when really it’s something that has been very much their own contribution to it.
Why are Christians afraid to die?
Why are Christians so afraid of dying?
A Christian should not be afraid of death, and maybe there are several reasons why they might be afraid of death. Sometimes it could be just because of unbelief; they don’t really believe what the Bible says about the fact that what we live in this life is actually just a very short glimpse of what we have throughout eternity. It could be something else.
But consider this: many times, people are afraid not so much of death as they are afraid of dying. I don’t expect anybody to be enthusiastic about dying. Dying can be painful; dying can happen by a terrible and painful tragedy.
But death is not something that believers should fear. While I would never try to make a believer feel guilty over a fear of dying, as believers we should not be afraid of death itself and we should realize that it is a conquered foe in Jesus Christ.
Can God hear our prayers when we only think them?
Can God hear our prayers when we say our prayers in our mind, or only out loud?
That’s a great question: Can God hear our prayers when we only think our prayers? Or do we have to say our prayers?
Let me answer that by saying that yes, God can of course read our thoughts; He knows our thoughts. It is possible for a believer to communicate with God in their thoughts.
However, I think that it is good and healthy to speak our prayers. I’m sorry, I can’t remember the biblical reference right away. Hosea 4:12 says, take words with you, and return to the LORD. I like that – the idea of bringing words with you as you seek God.
It is helpful for me, and it is probably helpful for you to actually speak out our prayers, even if it’s just in a whisper. There’s something about articulating my prayers and saying them that makes them more focused, more real, on my part. On God’s part, He can read our thoughts just as much as He can hear our words. But the benefit for praying out loud is real. I’m not saying that we can only pray aloud; so yes, it’s okay to pray with your thoughts. But the benefit is on our part, not on God’s part
Why is Jerusalem sometimes called Sodom or Egypt in the Bible?
Why is Jerusalem sometimes called Sodom or Egypt in the Bible?
An example of Jerusalem being called “Sodom” is found in Isaiah 1:10, and another is Jeremiah 23:14. Jerusalem is sometimes called by these names, to give the city the association with wickedness. In the biblical idea, Sodom was a place of great depravity, and Egypt was the place of Israel’s slavery. So, when God wanted to refer to Jerusalem as being a place filled with wickedness, He could refer to it as Sodom or Egypt.
All of this has the connotation of judgment. God brought judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah, and in other ways God also brought judgment upon Egypt. When God wants to associate Jerusalem with wickedness and judgment, He may refer to Jerusalem as Sodom or Egypt.
What is the difference between persecution and tribulation?
How is tribulation different from the severe persecution that Christians are facing right now?
Here’s the way to understand this: when the Bible uses the term tribulation or trial, that there’s a common Greek word, thilipsis. This word is commonly translated many different ways: trial, tribulation, suffering. The basic idea of the word is “pressure” or something that presses.
Therefore, tribulation or trial is in the New Testament are described with a very general word that can refer to many different things. It includes persecution, but it is greater than just persecution. Our hearts go out to our dear brothers and sisters, who in different parts of the world are undergoing severe persecution. They are losing their jobs and being deprived of their livelihood. They are denied education. They are being physically assaulted, and sometimes they are being murdered. They are being put in prison for their Christianity.
However, persecution can be lesser and still be real. But this thilipsis, this tribulation, this affliction, that comes to believers, it can come in ways other than persecution. These are broad categories, and persecution is one aspect of that.
Will the rapture happen before or after the great tribulation?
Will the rapture of the church happen before or after the Great Tribulation?
In my perspective, I believe this will happen before or at the very start of this last seven-year period which is commonly referred to as “The Great Tribulation.” Although we often say that the “tribulation” will only be really terrible the last half of it. I have listened to my brothers and sisters who believe differently on this subject; maybe they have a whole different conception of how the reign of Jesus will come to pass on this earth. Maybe they have a different conception of how the catching away of the church as mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 relates to this last seven-year period.
But this is my understanding, and you can go on my YouTube channel look to see where I deal with this in much greater depth: https://youtu.be/2QiXG7bpKec
Do I have to be re-baptized in a particular church?
I come from California but now live in very rural New England. They want me to be re-baptized into their church. This really seems odd to me.
Be careful of that. There is a lot that could be said, but I would want to know, does that group believe that anybody outside their denomination is truly saved? There are some strange and erring Christian groups that believe that nobody outside their denomination is saved – therefore you must be baptized within their denomination in order to be saved. That is something that is just false. It is a very divisive and partisan way to look at God’s family.
I would simply say that’s something to be careful of. I can imagine a scenario where it wouldn’t be so bad; in other words, somebody says something like this: “Well, I believe people can be saved outside of our denominational group, that’s not the question. But the only way we know you were baptized properly is if we baptize you.” I can conceive of some scenarios where that wouldn’t be so bad. But for me, at the very least, it’s a red flag and I would want to know more about what that church teaches, and how they view other people in God’s family.
Was Matthew 24 fulfilled in the first century?
An Orthodox Christian teacher teaching on the end times says that a lot of Matthew 24 was fulfilled during the time of Jesus’ disciples, after the ascension of Jesus. Is this true?
It is true that this is the interpretation that many Christians give to Matthew 24, what we call the Olivet Discourse of Jesus. Perhaps even the majority of Christians in the world today and throughout church history have had this view. This way sees Matthew 24 as things that have been fulfilled when the Romans conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in ad 70. One of the main reasons they take this approach is because in Matthew 24 Jesus made a reference to “this generation.”
Here would be my response. As I have carefully studied Matthew 24, I believe that you have to decide what is going to be the center of what Jesus said, the idea that that other things will revolve around. If you make the statement of Jesus about “this generation” the center, and interpret everything else in light of that, then you could come to that conclusion. Please note, I am not saying that that conclusion is necessary. I’m saying you could come to that conclusion.
However, I think that something else that Jesus said in Matthew 24 is really the center of what He said Jesus indicates that just by the words and the context of Matthew 24 that the real center or core of Matthew 24, is the “abomination of desolation.” I think that we should understand that what Jesus said Matthew 24 around that idea.
If you take what I believe to be a literal, plain meaning of the abomination desolation, it would lead us to say that this was not fulfilled in ad 70. That is not the only thing that leads us to believe that it was not fulfilled in ad 70, but it is a major thing. I would just simply disagree with the interpretation that says that virtually everything in Matthew 24 was fulfilled in ad 70 or before that. Even though I recognize that that has been the majority Christian interpretation throughout the centuries, I am willing to break with the majority of Christian interpretation from time to time. When I do so, I want to recognize it and be gracious; after all, I don’t want to think that everybody in the church before me was ignorant – that isn’t it at all. But, neither do I want to yield what I think is the true and contextual and proper meaning of Scripture, just to agree with what the majority opinion of Christian belief.
My friend is having dreams – can I speak to him about Jesus?
I have a friend who is having dreams about change. He told me a dream he had about light and I did my best to show him Jesus through his dream. Is that okay? Dream interpretation is something I struggle with because I know God can speak to us through dreams. But I don’t know if it was my place to speak into his life, because I’m not a leader or a pastor.
I believe it’s possible for God to speak through a dream, but it’s also possible for a person to be deceived through a dream. So, we can’t automatically say, every dream is of God or every dream is of the devil. You can’t take either position absolutely. This is a place where spiritual discernment is necessary for you to preach Jesus to this person.
Even if you use the dream as a starting point, the important thing is that you’re bringing Jesus to them. But I want you to know this: you don’t have to be a pastor or a leader to tell people about Jesus, to bring Jesus to them through some experience or something in their life. If somebody has a dream we can say, let’s use this as a way to talk about Jesus. That’s a good thing – and you don’t have to be a pastor or leader to do that. The Bible says that in some way, every one of us are servants of God called to his purpose and his plan, and we should take a very real recognition of that.
Is baptism necessary to salvation?
If we have given our life to Christ and repented, do we also need to be baptized to be saved?
I’m going to answer you the best way I understand this, even though I know that there’s some Christians who have a different opinion on this. I would say that baptism is necessary. If you’re a believer, if you’ve been born again by God’s Spirit, baptism is necessary. However, it’s not necessary for salvation, but it is necessary for obedience. There’s something really wrong with a Christian believer who doesn’t want to obey Jesus.
I can think of hypothetical situations where somebody could be saved and not be baptized, such as the thief of the cross – that is understood. Nevertheless, baptism is necessary for obedience. Every Christian should be baptized.
I do want to add that I am not a believer in infant baptism, baby baptism. I’m not in agreement with the practice of it and I’m not in agreement with the theology of it, even though there is not one theology of infant baptism. There are actually several different groups that have somewhat distinctive ideas about why they believe God wants them to baptize infants.
The dominant idea in the Protestant world is based on the idea of Covenant Theology. In the way that Covenant Theology is explained and expressed, especially as a justification for infant baptism, I definitely disagree with it, and think that it’s just a wrong interpretation.
I bring this up not because I’m divisive, but I believe that the teaching of infant baptism is something that actually has a bad effect in people’s lives. There are many things that people can be incorrect in their teaching, but it doesn’t create much real harm in people’s lives.
I believe that there’s a real harm comes from infant baptism, simply to say that there are millions in hell who assumed they were saved because they were baptized as babies. So this teaching is not only theologically wrong, it has does harm in the real world we live in.
Did God make Samson the way he was, or was that just Samson himself?
Samson was given to God as a Nazirite before birth. Yet he was corrupt and angry in life. Was this wholly because of his personality and decision. If God knew how he would be, why did he make Samson like that?
When you take a look at the life of Samson, you see that he was a profane, outrageous man, that God gifted mightily and used mightily. I believe God’s not done doing that – that God will sometimes raise up profane, offensive, strange people, just because there’s some Philistines that need to be struck down.
Did God make Samson crude, profane, and disobedient, or was that something else? And I would say this, that God gives us gifts and personality – we have inclinations. Those are things that can be used mightily for God’s glory for his kingdom. However, you could say that every gift has a corresponding weakness. So, if someone is strong and independent, that can be a gift, but they can also use that independence to become a rebel who doesn’t care about God or anything else. For example, think of someone who has great faith. That can be a wonderful gift of God, but it can also make them reckless and careless.
In a similar way, I believe that God gifted Samson in certain ways, but those same gifts had corresponding weaknesses or potentials for weakness. And those were for the most part, things that Samson fell into.
Why did you start a Bible commentary and how long did it take you to finish?
What made you start a Bible commentary, and how long did it take you to complete the English version of the Bible commentary?
I’ll put it to you this way. I never set out to write Bible commentary. That was never my intention. I never looked at a Bible commentator like, G. Campbell Morgan, and said, “Hey, I want to do that. I could be a Bible commentator, too.”
Instead, what I found through some very strange circumstances is that what I prepared for myself as teaching notes (when I teach verse by virtue of the Bible), was useful for other people as Bible commentary. So, I just kept on preparing my teaching notes and found out that that could be used by others for Bible commentary.
The people who first put my Bible commentary in line were the good folks of the Blue Letter Bible, and I will be always grateful to the people of Blue Letter Bible for putting my Commentary online and for continuing to host it. Blue Letter Bible is a tremendous Bible resource.
How long did it take you to complete the English version of the commentary? That contains work that goes back over about a span of about 30 years. I started preparing my Bible teaching notes in a certain format in the mid 1980s. Let’s say it was about 1986, and then about 10 years later, in 1996, my commentary went online at Blue Letter Bible. In 2017, that I finally finished something on the entire Bible.
However, there is another sense in which I will never be finished with this work, because it’s always something to improve, to edit, and to work over. So, I’m never finished in the sense of stopped working on it. But it was a milestone to have something through the entire Bible.
What is “godliness”?
Can you explain what godliness is? I know what Peter said to add godliness to our faith.
I can explain what godliness is pretty simply by just taking the English word. “Godliness” is “God likeness.” It is, in some way, being like God.
Godliness works like this: God is loving, so we are loving. God is merciful, so we are merciful. God is forgiving, so we are forgiving. God is just, so we are just. God is righteous, so we are righteous. Of course I don’t mean that we can equal any of these qualities in God, but we can, in our way, follow God’s pattern in them.
Godliness is connected to the work of God in our life to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). God is doing that more and more along the way in the life of the believer, and we should become more and more godly – not that we become gods (never!). But in our character in our conduct, we become more like God’s character in our conduct.
If the rapture happens at the beginning of the tribulation, what about those who come to Christ during that period?
I know a woman who believes in the mid-tribulation rapture. I take a pre-tribulation ratpture stance. She asked me, “Why then do those who come to Christ during the tribulation, not also escape God’s wrath?”
I would simply say that I just believe that this is part of God’s appointed plan, that those who would come to Christ during the Great Tribulation during that last seven-year period, that they would have to endure, to pay a great price for being obedient to Jesus Christ, and that would be to yield their own life.
God has never promised to keep all believers from all tribulation. But Jesus did pray that we would be counted worthy to escape the judgment to come.
I would also say that the book of Revelation seems to regard people who put their faith in Jesus during the Great Tribulation as being those of a special kind or category. Some people call them tribulation saints. But since there is special mention of them in Revelation, I would say that it’s not crazy to think that they have this unique destiny of having to go through and lay down their lives during the Great Tribulation.
What is the difference between a “strong man” and a “stronghold”?
What is the difference between a strong man and a stronghold? How do Christians handle a person, a Christian, who has a strong man?
The reference to the “strong man” usually goes back to the statement Jesus made in Matthew 12:29 and the parallel passages in Mark and Luke. In that parable or illustration that Jesus gave, the strong man represented Satan.
So, I would just say that the strong man is an illustration or representation of Satan, and of his strength and influence. I don’t know if I would make it more complicated than that. To make the distinction with a stronghold, you could say that a stronghold is a strategy or specific attack of Satan. In the reference that Jesus made, Satan himself is the strong man.