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Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus (9Marks: Building Healthy Churches) [Kindle Edition]

Jonathan Leeman , Michael Horton
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Jonathan Leeman addresses the commonly asked (and often unanswered) question of, “Why should I join a church?” in a time when many are shunning the practice of organized religion. By offering a brief, straightforward explanation of what church membership is and why it’s important, Leeman gives the local church its proper due and builds a case for committing to the local body. Church Membership is a useful tool for churches to distribute en masse to new and potential members of their congregation.

This volume is part of the 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches series. Look for upcoming, quick-read formats of the following marks of a healthy church: expositional preaching, biblical theology, the gospel, conversion, evangelism, church discipline, discipleship and growth, and church leadership.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 369 KB
  • Print Length: 146 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1433532379
  • Publisher: Crossway Books; 1 edition (30 April 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #86,328 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Church-building Tool 11 April 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a simply written, but insightful introduction to a much-neglected area. As churches function more and more in the context of a culture which is emphatically post-Christian, the way in which we identify who represents Jesus and his teaching becomes more and more pressing. This is a great start, a practical help, and a thought-provoking launch-pad for further reflection.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  37 reviews
46 of 65 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unintended Effect 22 Aug. 2012
By A Berean - Published on
Jonathan Leeman's expressed purpose in this substantive and well-written little book is to show "what church membership is", and to present a vision of its "astounding reality." (18) For me, however, this book had the unintended effect of strengthening my doubts about the Biblical case for, and the helpfulness of, requiring formal church membership.

Leeman says that we approach the subject all wrong--we think of churches as clubs where membership is optional. Instead, he argues, the church has the highest earthly authority, given to it by Jesus Christ, who has absolute authority. Church membership is "a declaration of citizenship in Christ's Kingdom...the declaration that you are an official,licensed, card-carrying bona fide Jesus representative." (64)

Great emphasis is placed on the authority of the local church. I do not find the same emphasis on local church authority in Scripture; I did not find the Biblical case Leeman presents cogent. For example, he cites Matt. 28:28-30 where Jesus states that all authority in Heaven and in earth has been given to him. But Jesus's claim is followed by a "therefore." Christ's states his authority as the reason for missions, for the disciples going and making new disciples of the Risen Lord! In Ch. 2, "Membership Sightings in the New Testament." every mention of the church in the New Testament is understood as meaning formal members of a local church. For this Protestant, this suggests identifying the spiritual reality of Christ's church with the human institution. As J. I, Packer has said, "The Roman church says, 'Come to church and we will give you Jesus. The Protestant says, 'Come to Jesus and you are the church'."

More troubling is the description of non-formal church members: According to Leeman, these people are likely guilty of a long list: they "view the Lord's supper as their own private, mystical experience," they "don't integrate their Monday-to-Saturday lives with the lives of other saints;" they "assume they can make a perpetual habit of being absent from the church's gathering a few Sundays a month or more." (23) This leaves little room for honest disagreement. More to the point, the stereotype does not fit the godly Christians I have known throughout my life who serve their Lord passionately and sacrificially love the Body of Jesus Christ, yet are not formal members of a local church, through circumstance or conviction.

I am also puzzled by the omissions. I realize that this book is small and focused, but can any discussion of church membership not address whether the church you are thinking of joining and submitting to is a Biblical church? Isn't it far more important to regularly attend and listen to solid, expository preaching than to formally join a church which uses God's Word to support its own agenda?

As my difficulties mounted, I realized that my disagreements with the argument of this book went far deeper--they went to the question of requiring church membership itself. I offer my conclusions here, but would like to say first that, for me, the question of whether to require formal church membership is not an essential component of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because it is a secondary matter, Christians can agree to disagree and still recognize our unity in Christ:

First, the emphasis on requiring formal membership lessens the New Testament emphasis on spiritual reality. We are the church, the body of Christ, because we have been given spiritual life, made alive in Christ, by faith. God has given us a new birth, made us his sons, and given us His Spirit. (Eph. 1:3-13) As His body, we are members of each other. (Rom. 12:5, Eph. 4:25) We are commanded to love each other, rejoice and weep together, keep the unity of the Spirit, and think others better than ourselves. (Phil. 1:1-5) Wherever we live, we assemble with other Christians, gathering as the disciples did, for teaching, prayer, breaking of bread, and fellowship (Acts 2:42) We also recognize our oneness with the global church. What joy to meet someone in whom we recognize the Spirit! Today, we experience the spiritual reality of our oneness in Christ in conferences, conversations, phone calls, letters and even emails. (I draw the line at Twitter.)

2) A position that insists on the necessity of every Christian's being in submission to a local authority and the highlighting of discipline seems to insert a layer of human accountability that I do not find emphasized in Scripture, though church order is certainly Biblical. Biblical local churches do have leaders, recognized by those who gather. Individuals do need to submit--the primary text here is Hebrews 13:17. (Interestingly, the Greek word translated "leaders" or "rulers" emphasizes ruling rather than shepherding. Somebody, in any group, has to make decisions, and clearly express the doctrine and practice of the church. The word used in this text for "obey" has the sense of yielding, giving way--it is a dynamic term--not the word used for the subjection urged upon children and wives. (Greek scholars may correct me--this is only from my looking-up.) The main Biblical passage for church discipline is in Corinthians, where Paul writes to the whole church that they are to disassociate themselves from the person who is creating a public scandal. The New Testament emphasis is not on discipline as the dynamic of the church, but love, supernatural love, to God and to others. The picture is of a worldwide redeemed church, one in Christ, loving and obeying her Lord, gathering locally, being taught and transformed by the working of the Spirit, remembering the Lord, praying and fellow-shipping together and serving each other in love. Paul writes to the Thessalonians. "Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another."

3) The emphasis on considering only the local church in all of our life decisions, seems to limit our caring for other believers who are not local. But in this instant-communication age, we do not leave people behind! (Actually, this is not so new--Paul writes that he left the Thessalonians, "in person but not in heart.") (2:17) My life is full of former students and far-flung friends. Email lets me into their lives--this means praying for them and seeking wisdom how to respond. These are important relationships. I love the believers that I worship with every Sunday, but God chooses whom He also brings into my life. Recently, I emailed in response to a mission's newsletter, hesitantly raising a theological question. It brought this sweet response: "When anyone writes or teaches here--including me--we represent not only ourselves and (the mission) but the body of Christ. And as part of the body, we need every part. So I am happy to hear from you, and even to be corrected by you when helpful or necessary." That, to me, is the picture of the church of Jesus Christ in action! The Apostle Paul writes to the believers in Thessalonians: "for indeed you do practice it (loving one another) toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. (emphasis added). They are taught by God to love all the Christians in Macedonia!

4) The requiring of formal membership can be sadly divisive, as I have witnessed numerous times. Two examples: A regular attender, a home-schooler and an excellent Bible teacher, is not allowed to teach children in Sunday School because she is not a formal member! A pastor justifies ignoring Matt. 18's call for addressing an offense first with personal confrontation, because the offending person is not a formal member, only a regular attender--for years! I could go on. Because formal membership can lead to failure to acknowledge our membership in the Body of Christ, it can harm the Biblical unity we are Scripturally called to.

5) Leeman sees individualism as a major problem of the church today, asserting that the solution is submission to a church. But how does joining, even submitting, to a local institution, of itself, change a heart? One may recite a covenant with a heart full of pride or bitterness toward a fellow believer. The problem with the Christian church is, and always has been, worldliness: loving self more than God, as Tozer says in The Pursuit of God. Or, as J. I. Packer writes, "Knowing about God is not the same as knowing God." God changes our hearts as we meet Him humbly in His Word, hear it preached, fellowship with other believers, repent of our sins, and grow in our knowledge of God. I am sure Leeman agrees with this.

Paradoxically, the case here presented for the necessity of formally joining a church feels humanistic, emphasizing human formalities rather than recognizing that we are, in truth, a spiritual reality: the body of Christ, his church, bought with His blood, from every tribe and nation, yet one in the Lord. This Biblical understanding of the Church needs to be preached from the pulpit. The vision in Church Membership is our submitting to the authority of the church. I have a different vision: A new person comes into our midst. We get to know him (or her), and seek to express our love. This means we listen and observe to discern where he is spiritually. If he is a fellow member of the body of Christ, we are all responsible to care for him, including speaking truth he needs to hear, in love. If he is not a believer, we proclaim the Gospel to him and pray for his salvation.

Church Membership's subtitle is How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus. Jesus, in talking to his disciples at the Last Supper, says, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Helpful Guide to an Important Question 7 Feb. 2013
By Joel S. Frady - Published on
Jonathan Leeman of 9marks ministries has written a helpful guide to the issue of church membership. In our highly individualized culture Christians often go for a "designer religion" approach where their desires come first and faith is shaped to whatever they want it to be. Leeman brings in the biblical idea of the local church as a corrective to this self-centered approach that so often leads to ungodly lives and misplaced priorities. Leeman contends that the local church has a vital role in fulfilling the "one anothers" of Scripture. As we live together in community, God shapes us and conforms us to the image of Christ. Leeman's thesis is that a real and quantified membership is necessary for this sharpening and shaping activity to take place. He points to the hints in Scripture that local churches did have something like membership, such as the accounting of new believers in Acts or the idea of the one another commands themselves. How does one know who the "one anothers" are if we don't know who belongs to the church? This makes sense to me although I realize that the way membership is quantified may vary from situation to situation, as Leeman rightly points out. But that there are ways of being marked as a part of a local body does seem to me to be a necessary part of my discipleship. Therefore, though I see differences with Leeman in some of the details of his ideas on membership, I am in agreement with his fundamental principles. So I recommend this book as a quick overview of the issue of church membership. For the fuller, more detailed look I recommend Leeman's larger work, "The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love."
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic resource, remedy to our individualism 14 Aug. 2015
By D. T. Kleven - Published on
I really like this 9Marks series of books. So far I've read the ones on Church Elders, Evangelism, Church Discipline, and this one on Church Membership. Practical Ecclesiology is a tough subject. I live in America, the shining beacon of autonomous individualism, which permeates everything we do, including church. On the other hand are the constant headlines about church abuse, cultish leadership tactics, and pastors stepping down. How is one to find their way? More importantly, what does _Scripture_ say about this subject? Leeman's book is a fantastic primer to the basic issues surrounding church membership.

He nails the present malady: "it's easy to want the benefits but not the responsibilities of belonging." (13) In chapter one he dissects the individualism that keeps us from meaningful church membership from every angle. The next three chapters take on the Biblical data, analyzing it in detail, and in its grand sweeping storyline, giving a nice biblical theology of the church. His chapters on Standards and Submission will rub many the wrong way, and will raise red flags for some, but the fact is, these things are clearly taught in the Bible. Any account of "church" that doesn't address these questions hasn't begun to do justice to what Scripture teaches. He rounds it off with a chapter on church discipline, and the diversity that membership can take in different locales.

This is a fantastic book, and I recommend it highly. It challenges many of our current ruts, but it ultimately points us back to Scripture, and the God who authored it, Who is in the business of conforming us more into his own image. The book dovetails nicely with his other book devoted specifically to Church Discipline, and the two make a great tandem with only a little overlap. For a younger believer trying to figure out "the church" I might start them with Stop Dating the Church! for its accessibility, but Leeman's book would be next on the list.
5.0 out of 5 stars I think this was a really great look at how a stronger policy of church membership ... 19 Sept. 2015
By Jonathan Dennis - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I think this was a really great look at how a stronger policy of church membership and higher expectations for members can, counter-intuitively, encourage a healthier membership and attract people to commit to life in the church more so than low expectations for members. I really enjoyed the theology of membership and the practical applications for commitment in the life of the church.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book 24 Jan. 2014
By Shannon - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Clear presentation on why membership is fundamental in a Christian life! Also on how to be a great member of a church
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