Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Trinity and Church Unity

Here's the text for a sermon I gave earlier this month on the subject of the Trinity and church unity. It was inspired by pastor Rich Lusk's sermon, 'Justification, Trinity and Catholicity.'

‘That They May Be One’

’Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are…. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.’”

- John 17:11 & 20-23
When we say the Nicene Creed, we affirm that “we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” Catholic means ‘universal.’ The universal church is simply the one church. It is a unity. All Christians belong to the catholic church. The universal church is made up of all believers everywhere, wherever they may exist in any age, within every tribe, nation and Christian denomination.

As soon as we say that the universal church is one, we must ask, how is it one? In John’s gospel Jesus prayed that the church may be one as He and the Father are one. Notice He did not simply pray that His people would be one: He prayed that they would be one in a certain way. The church is to be one in the way Christ and His Father are one.

Because we know from elsewhere in scripture that the unity between father and son is part of a Trinitarian community, we can add that the church is to be one as the Trinity is one.

The Trinitarian model for unity has enormous practical implications. One of the most basic things it shows us is that diversity is at the centre of Biblical unity.

The Father is not the same as the Son or the Holy Spirit; neither is the Son the same as the Father or Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit the same person as the Father or the Son. They are three distinct persons and yet, at the same time, they are one God. Thus, the Lord says, ‘Hear oh Israel, the Lord your God is one.’ (Deut. 6:4) It is interesting that in this verse the Hebrew word for ‘one’ is the same word that is used in Genesis for ‘the two will become one flesh’, referring to marriage. Just as the two members of a marriage are both one and two, so the members of the Trinity are both three and one.

‘The divine family is the archetype for the church family.’ (Pastor Rich Lusk) Like the Trinity, we are one even though we are many. Just as all three members of the Godhead share in the same common life, so Christians all share in the common life of Christ.

This Trinitarian unity is only for those who confess Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Jesus prayed that those who will believe in Him might be one. This shows that unity is not a free standing concept that can be invoked without qualification; rather, it must be based on the common affirmation of Jesus. If Jesus is not at the centre, then unity will turn into idolatry. As Andre Dumas pointed out, every proposal for the unity of humankind, unless it explicitly specifies the centre of that unity, has the self of the proposer as its implicit centre.

It is easy to think there is unity when there is nothing more than shared interest. We Rene Girard said, “Individuals who desire the same thing are united by something so powerful that, as long as they can share whatever they desire, they remain the best of friends; as soon as they cannot, they become the worst of enemies.” An example of this would be the Orks in Lord of the Rings. The Orcs could be gathered into a monolithic unity by the pursuit of a common goal. But because they were essentially individualistic - concerned primarily with themselves - that unity could very easily break down in quarrels as each sought to defend his own interests.

Similarly, Church unity based on anything other than the affirmation of Jesus, is unsustainable. The New Testament shows what this affirmation means in practice, and it will require another meeting to explore this. For example, we would need to consider the church discipline verses, and how these passages show that anti-thesis preserves Christ-centred unity. The church discipline injunctions are not just so that specific individuals can be corrected, but so that the unity of the church as a whole can remain rooted in Jesus’ Lordship. Those who rebel against Christ’s Lordship are not allowed to be part of that unified community.

Even in the church, it is sad that unity is often based on factors other than Jesus Christ. That is why many Christians cannot debate issues, for they immediately take any disagreement as a signal that there is division. Because Jesus is not the centre of their unity, enormous premium has to be placed on agreement. On the other hand, those who understand that all are one in Christ Jesus should experience a freedom to debate theological issues because we know our unity is based on something more solid than whether or not we happen to agree.

Using the Trinitarian paradigm, we are able to refute unbiblical patterns of unity. While God’s unity is based on the three in one, the unity Satan tries to achieve works on the principle of sameness. It should come as no surprise that in non-Trinitarian deviations of Christianity, such as the J.W’s, everyone walks in lockstep. Without the understanding of the Trinity, unity is always in danger of giving way to something monolithic. When that happens, it is technically not even accurate to speak of unity. The very term unity implies some degree of separateness. Two things cannot be united if those two things are the same, just as you cannot have harmony if two instruments are playing the same pitch.

This is why those without a Biblical worldview are always swinging between the extremes of division and sameness. Caesars and Hitler’s come along and bring sameness out of division, and then after a while their empire is divided or it is splintered into hundreds of little parts. This progression is inevitable for those who do not have a Trinitarian outlook. Because human beings long to reverse the effects of the fall, they inevitably long to be put back together in one peace – they long to exist as a whole, as a community. Consequently, there will always be the temptation to try to achieve this in the wrong way (the tower of Babel comes immediately to mind). The result is sameness rather than Trinitarian unity, which is intrinsically unsustainable and ends in division, factions and infighting. All secular attempts to achieve what only the church can be and do are bound for failure. We will look at this further when I give a talk on Babel vs. Pentecost.

The Trinity is also the foundation of Christian culture. It allows us to celebrate our diversity as a means to achieve unity and community. It allows us to rejoice in the fact that we all have different functions, strengths and callings that contribute to the whole, just as each member of the Godhead has special strengths.

We don’t normally think of each member of the Godhead having special strengths and talents, but it’s true. To give just a few scriptural examples: the Father’s strength is His Fatherhood and also wisdom. Jesus’ strength is that He can identify with us in our humanity. The Holy Spirit’s strength is to lead us into all truth and to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgement. You could go on and on and make quite a long list of the different vocations that each member of the Godhead has according to scripture. But although the different members of the Trinity are distinguishable, they are not divisible. Jesus said that those who had seen Him had seen the Father. This is the mystery of the Godhead. However, the point is that in the Trinity, as much as in the church, each part works together in harmony and cannot be fully functioning on its own. The Trinity is, therefore, the basis for Christian culture. Such culture can only properly function to the degree that God’s people are integrated one with another, just as the Trinity is an integrated whole.

Some people are beginning to speak about ‘social Trinitarianism’ to convey this perspective. The Trinity is a social doctrine and should be celebrated at the heart of the Christian community. The church should be infused with the doctrine of the Trinity. We should seek ways to bring this doctrine into our prayers and worship. Even our daily lives should be intentionally structured around patterns of three, just to remind ourselves about the centrality of the Trinity. (I thought about putting that into practice by giving this talk three different times, but I decided against that since, by the third talk, it would probably be only the Trinity who would be listening.)

I believe that one of the reasons England doesn’t have interconnected Christian communities forging a distinctly Christian counter culture is because we have failed to put into practice the doctrine of the Trinity. We believe it with our minds but have failed to let the doctrine flow out of our fingertips.

A large part of the problem is that Christians have gone along with the world’s way of thinking. For example, the church was significantly influenced by the Enlightenment idea of individualism. In the 18th century, people like Voltaire, Rousseau and Hume taught that religion should be privatised, that the external world of public society was outside the sphere of faith. Religion, they taught, should occupy itself with the private world of the individual. Of course, one of the first casualties of this kind of thinking was the Christian community. Individualism has meant that the church can have a lot of redeemed eggs and still not have a redeemed omelette.

If you go into England’s Islamic communities you will find that the Muslims put Christians to shame. They understand the importance of community, and they don’t even have the Trinity! Of course, they can’t get community right, and if they had their way all the women would look the same and everyone would walk in lockstep. But nevertheless, they do understand something that Christians have missed. So do the homosexuals, whom everyone now refers to as a community. That should put Christians to shame. The Jews also understand the importance of community. Consider the following quote from Pastor Steve Schlissel (taken from his article Body Mod):

voluntary tattooing is non-existent among observant Jews, and almost non-existent among practicing Jews of most varieties. How do we explain this state of affairs, especially in view of the fact that nearly all Western Jews live in largely Gentile urban areas, where tattooing has not been unknown, and is sometimes not uncommon? There is a reason to explain this, and it is brimming with instruction.

Ironically, the reason can be traced to what is actually a myth: that if you have a tattoo, you cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery….

Virtually every Jew I've ever known believes the myth to be true. And that belief alone was enough to utterly banish any thought of tattooing from our minds. We would never even for a moment entertain the thought of tattooing ourselves.

But this fear of being excluded in death from Am Yisrael, the people of Israel, is itself predicated upon a profoundly deep-seated understanding of oneself as a Jew. This, in turn, is built upon an understanding of Jewishness which utterly transcends the individual.

This- may I say?- is precisely where American Christianity has failed, pathetically and tragically failed... Yet, be that as it may, the fact remains that the consciousness of a Jew regarding his being a Jew has value only as part of a called people. The suggestion that a certain behavior will disqualify him from being buried with his people is enough to banish any thought of that behavior.

Now try that with a typical American Christian youth who is contemplating body modification: tell him he won't be allowed to be buried in a Christian cemetery. Oh, wow! Can't you see him shaking in his boots?

Hardly. The fact is that we do not even approach (except among the Dutch Reformed) the Jewish sense of peoplehood. No matter that the Holy Spirit tells us that we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9), we can't help but think of ourselves as merely a collection of individuals who have made choices to become Christian. But this is precisely what the truth of the covenant, particularly as it is seen in infant baptism, is so-well fitted to overcome: we were appointed, designated and constituted a people by the one and only God! It is He who made us a people and not we ourselves!

Individualism encourages pride by fostering the illusion that I do not need anyone else, that I can make it on my own. Even the members of the Godhead cannot do that.

If the church had properly realised the implications of Trinitarian theology, she would not have been so drastically affected by Enlightenment individualism.

I believe the Trinity will be at the heart of the church recovering its corporate witness. The church must begin to take seriously its vocation to image the Trinitarian God. This is part of our witness to the world. Remember that Jesus prayed that His people would be one ‘that the world may believe that You sent Me.’ Unity proclaims that the Father sent the son and it also proclaims the existence of the Trinitarian God. We are required to witness the Trinity so the world can say, ‘This must be what their God is like.’

Division and individualism among Christians not only fails our calling to image the Trinitarian God, but we are actually imaging a false God. We are imaging a God who doesn’t exist. When Christians bicker and fight amongst themselves, emphasising their differences over and above the things they share in common, we are giving the message that the Trinity is like the Greek pantheon of gods who are always fighting amongst themselves. This preaches a false gospel – a polytheistic gospel.

Many of God’s people don’t fight with other brothers and sisters simply because they have nothing to do with other Christians. This individualism preaches an Arian or Unitarian gospel.

It is equally wrong to say there is an invisible bond among Christians or that it’s just a given, and then leave it at that. That gives people an excuse to be divisive or individualistic without consequences. The unity between the father and the son became visible in the life of Jesus. Similarly, the unity among believers should be visible in the church for the world to see. Invisible unity is meaningless if it does not result in a tangible way and if it is not actively pursued in our relations with other believers. Something can never be a given if it doesn’t come out the fingertips and effect the way we live. In fact, what we do shows what we really believe far more clearly than what we say (James chapters 1 and 2).

Trinity-based unity among believers acknowledges our differences, even our disagreements (because, unlike the Trinity, we are fallen), while affirming that we are all one in Jesus, and then letting that affirmation flow out of our fingertips in our fellowship and our lives together. This means that there has to be a profound consciousness that we belong to the church community. This sense of belonging to a whole is necessary for us to function properly as individuals. Our individuality is fully realised only when we see ourselves as part of the whole, just like the members of the Trinity are a whole. Each member of the Trinity has strengths that compliment each other and are distinguishable but not divisible, so our sense of identity should also be corporately understood. The church, the community of believers, is our new home. We are not individuals who make up the church; rather, we are the church which is made up of individuals.

If everything we do is not understood in this corporate sense, we can never fully understand what it means to live out Trinitarian life as a company. We can never understand the context behind authority, accountability, love and numerous other Christian virtues. Without this understanding, we cannot operate as a witness to the world of the nature and character of the Triune God. Without this witness, we fail as a people to be a witness and a light.

I’m going to close by reading Jesus’ prayer again. And as I read it, I want us to claim it as our prayer also. I want us to believe in faith that this prayer will be, and is in the process of being, fully answered.

“’Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are…. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.’”

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Christian Voice

For a job, I work from home as a freelance researcher. That means people can hire me to find things out for them. Anyone can hire me to find out anything for them, so long as they are willing to pay.

At the moment my main client is Christian Voice, a UK Christian political organisation which seeks to bring a Biblical vision to UK politics and debate. For £20.00 a year you can join Christian Voice and receive their monthly newsletter (an application form for joining can be found HERE). The newsletter is full of topical articles and updates likely to be of interest to conservative Christians in England, Scotland and Wales. I research and then write up most of the articles that appear in the newsletter, so if you enjoy reading my writing on this blog, chances are you will enjoy reading the Christian Voice newsletter. Unfortunately, it is not possible to have international membership at the moment, but I would encourage all UK residents to join Christian Voice.

You don't have to be a member of Christian Voice to benefit from their website. I've just researched and written up some webpages for our anti-casino campaign, which can be read HERE.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

What The Gospel Is Really All About

This evening I just read the best article I've ever seen on the Gospel. Thank you David Field for reformatting Derrick Olliff's article The Gospel: The Return of the King and publicising it on your blog. The article expands on some of the themes I mentioned in my earlier posts on the gospel HERE and HERE, but takes it much deeper. Without discarding the traditional evangelical understanding of the gospel, he shows that in its original context the term embodied so much more than is usually appreciated. It isn't really fair to quote from Olliff's conclusion without giving all the scriptural evidence leading up to it, but I'll do that anyway just to wet your appetite.

We should therefore see that the gospel is not, “You will be saved if you repent and believe in Jesus.” This conditional is a consequence of the gospel, but it would be significantly reductionistic to say that this equals the gospel. The gospel is far more objective and broader in scope than this. First, it is more objective because the gospel is not a conditional. It is first and foremost an historical fact. God made certain promises in the OT regarding His return to His people, His kingly reign, and the incorporation of the gentiles into the covenant, and the gospel is the proclamation that those promises have been fulfilled – Jesus is Lord (i.e., “Our God reigns,” Is. 52:7).

Second, the gospel is broader in scope because it is not just about the possibility of salvation coming to individuals. It is first of all about the arrival of God’s kingdom, Christ’s coronation as King of heaven and earth, and His victory over the ultimate enemy – sin and death. It is because of this universal, all encompassing, victorious kingship that we can then talk about some specifics such as the salvation of individuals. But we cannot reduce the kingdom to those specifics. Moreover, even when talking about salvation, we should see that the gospel is first of all about salvation in a “communal” sense. For example, the fact of a specific gentile’s salvation is an application of the broad gospel truth that God has brought salvation to the gentiles and incorporated them as fellow heirs into the same body (Eph. 2:11-22). But if we were to say that the gospel is “you [an individual] can be saved,” we would have truncated a general and historical fact down to a specific, individualized conditional….

Thus, the most direct and compact definition of the gospel is that it is the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord.” A fuller definition of ‘gospel’ would look like this: the promised new age and kingdom of God has arrived, because Jesus is the Messiah-God who has come to reign as King over all by conquering the old ruling tyrants (the worst being sin, death, and the Devil) via resurrection, redeeming His covenanted people, and bringing the fullness of the covenant to the nations. The heart of the gospel proclamation is this dynastic transfer. We can go on to discuss certain consequences of this truth such as the salvation of specific individuals and we can also discuss specific aspects of that salvation (e.g., regeneration, justification). But it would be significantly reductionistic to limit the gospel to these specific applications or consequences.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Rich Young Ruler

Derrick Olliff has very incisively shown how problematic the traditional interpretation of the rich young ruler passage is. It occurs in his article 'Looking for Legalism', where Olliff builds a convincing case for the fact that, contrary to popular assumptions, the first century Jews were not merit legalists, hoping to earn their way to heaven by good works. The essay is worth reading in full, but here's what he says about the rich young ruler.

Finally, we come to the story of the rich young ruler. The ruler asked what good thing he should do to have eternal life (Matt. 19:16), and we think this shows that he was an ML [merit legalist/Pelagian]. But the lawyer above asked the same question, and Jesus answered him by pointing to the law. Once again, this would be a terrible response to give an ML. Yet when the ruler asked this question, Jesus did the same thing. He pointed to the law (Matt. 19:17-19). “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Jesus then told him that if he wanted to be perfect, he should sell what he had and give to the poor; “and come, follow Me.” (Matt. 19:21)

If someone came to us with ML, the last thing we would do is let him believe that such a view was true. And yet Jesus did this multiple times when the specific topic of gaining eternal life was on the table. In fact, His answer to the ruler was so alien to our paradigm that we have been forced to argue that Jesus’ answer was something of an ironic ruse. Jesus really believed the opposite of what He said, but He gave the answer He did in order to force the ruler to see that he could not keep the law perfectly. When the ruler saw that, he would then be ready to give up his ML and embrace sola fide.

This would amount to a reductio. Jesus supposedly named laws until He found one that even the ruler realized he couldn’t/didn’t keep. But the problem here is that on this view, Jesus never got to the point. On this view, the law had already broken the man and made him sorrowful. The final step would then be to give him the gospel alternative. But this final and most important part of the reductio was never given. Jesus let the ruler go away without showing him the orthodox alternative to his supposed ML. And the N.T. gives no indication that Jesus ever talked to the man again. This would mean that Jesus let the man believe that ML was true but that he wasn’t good enough. So if this view were true, it amounts to this. A man in the grip of ML asked Jesus a question that presupposed the truth of ML. Jesus answered him by teaching ML not once but twice. Then Jesus let the man go away believing ML was true without telling him the orthodox alternative to ML (and He did this after the man had already been convicted by the law!). This simply doesn’t work.

So what is the alternative? It’s pretty simple. Jesus actually meant what He said. He wasn’t trying to trick the man by telling him to sell his stuff and follow Jesus. He actually wanted the man to do it. Other disciples had already done exactly that. Remember that this was a time of transition for Israel. Jesus had come to, among other things, harvest the faithful remnant from Israel before judging the wayward nation. Thus, His disciples had to be willing to leave their old lives behind and join Jesus as He brought in the new creation (with Jesus Himself as the first fruits from the dead). Jesus was just requiring the same of this man. Moreover, Jesus’ requirement was not something that the Mosaic law required. The law never taught the Jews that they had to sell everything they had. So Jesus wasn’t in the process of naming commandments of the law until He found one that even the ruler admitted he couldn’t keep. He was requiring something new of the man because of the eschatological nature of the period of time in which he was living. This requirement was not a reductio designed to make the man see his sin. It was a redemptive-historical necessity. Thus, no hermeneutical gymnastics are necessary. In historical context, this text makes perfect sense.

But what about the man’s claim that he had kept the commandments? Doesn’t this clearly indicate a problem? Not necessarily. Very similar statements are made of Noah (Gen. 6:9), Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:5, 6), Simeon (Luke 2:25), and John (Mark 6:20). These people are described as righteous, holy, blameless, and devout. They walked in the commandments of the Lord. There is no reason to think the ruler meant something other than this. The problem here is that we have trained ourselves to view concepts like “law” and “sin” exclusively in the abstract and apart from the covenant. And so we see only two possibilities. Someone is either sinless and morally perfect or he is a law breaker. This perspective is certainly useful and applicable in some situations. It is true enough that all men are sinners and that no man can merit anything from God by his works. But this is not the context for this story. The questions on the table and the point being made are different.

Recall that Zechariah, despite being a sinner, walked blamelessly in all the Lord’s commandments. This is not a claim that he didn’t sin. Such a statement was possible because the text is not referring to law keeping in the abstract. It is referring to faithfulness within the context of the covenant. And the covenant itself had the sacrificial system whereby sin could be dealt with by faithful people. So when Zechariah (or someone else) sinned, he remained obedient to the commandments by sincerely availing himself of the sacrificial system. And the same was possible for the ruler. Thus, he need not have been claiming abstract moral sinlessness. He was simply claiming the same kind of covenantal faithfulness that we know others had. But the time of transition had come, so Jesus required something in addition to basic faithfulness to the Mosaic covenant. He asked the man to abandon life as he knew it and join the new exodus, because the old world was nearing judgment. Therefore, this story makes perfect sense apart from any references to ML. Jesus doesn’t look like a poor teacher, and we don’t have to posit strange and implausible accounts in order to rescue Him from error.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Thoughts on Home Church

I grew up in a family that was isolationist. Although my father put a premium on authority (his authority), there was no recognition of the need to be under the authority of a local church. Not only did our family not attend church, but we didn’t even do home-church.

As a consequence, I grew up looking down on organised religion, turning up my nose at the vain pursuit of externals, which included denominationalism and the ‘legalism’ of regular church attendance.

When I moved to England and started my own family, I realised, in a limited way, the scriptural importance of church. So we did home church with a couple other families. The choice to do home church rather than conventional church was because of the shallowness and liberalism of all the churches in our area (the local vicar was a self-professed Buddhist). I always wanted to find a church where we would feel somewhat comfortable, where we could enjoy fellowship with like-minded Christians and where we could be enriched with Biblical teaching. Until I found such a place, I was happy for my family to do home-church, even when attendance dwindled down to only four other people besides my family.

In the last year I have begun taking my family to an organised church even though it is far from satisfactory. I have also been officially confirmed into the Anglican church. As these developments suggest, I have undergone quite a significant shift in my thinking. We still meet for worship in the home, but I always make sure that this never takes the place of regular Sunday morning church attendance.

One reason I changed was because I didn’t want my children to grow up with certain unscriptural attitudes that I have observed among people who were raised on informal home church. Such attitudes include

an us-verses-them approach towards ‘other Christians’

the despising of tradition or form

lack of appreciation that we are members of one body and what that means Biblically

church hoping as a means to seek personal satisfaction, ending up with not going to church at all

unscriptural emphasis on the ‘invisible church’ without any understanding of the visible people of God. This includes an inability to think in covenantal categories. (If you aren't familiar with the distinction between the invisible and the visible church, click HERE).

pursuit of individualism where everyone is left to be ‘true to their own feelings’

keeping faith a private affair between ‘Jesus and me’ and, as a corollary, a rather isolationist, sentimental approach to life.

no understanding of the importance of regular public worship
a dualistic split between the more important 'spiritual' realm and the physical world, sometimes bordering on gnosticism. Hence, a suspicion of physical church buildings, physical definable congregations, physical traditions and customs, etc. One home-churcher went so far as to actually burn down his old church building.

minimising the importance of the sacraments (one home churcher said he was uncomfortable how normal churches made such a ‘big deal’ over communion)

an emphasis on the personal, private aspects of faith over and above the public visible aspect.

the pursuit of an egalitarian lifestyle and rejection of authority, especially Biblical authority

no church government; indeed no leader at all.

a trend towards liberalism as a corollary to no accountability

lack of accountability to the body of Christ and a Lone Ranger type of mentality.

reducing the Bible to a personal devotional manual which is then used mainly for inspiration and individual interpretation.

While it is theoretically possible to have authority and accountability in a home church, the informal medium almost excludes this entirely. Here’s how. The New Testament makes clear that in a church the leaders are responsible for shepherding and watching over their flock (Heb 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:2-4), but this presupposes the pastor knows who the members of his flock are. Just as the command for younger people to submit to older people (1 Pet. 5:5) presupposes that the distinction between a younger person and an older person is concrete and visible, so the command for members of a flock to submit to their pastor/elders presupposes that membership is concrete and visible. In the early church, membership in specific churches was defined by geographical boundaries. Because this is not the case in our era, there needs to be another method for determining membership and it should be just as concrete, just as clear and just as public. Officially registering with a church achieves this.
In a home-church, membership tends to be more informal, fluid and ambiguous. For a while I assumed that membership could just happen by default when people attend a fellowship without them having to formally join/register. However, this creates certain practical problems, some of which I have actually observed:

the pastor doesn’t know how long a person has to attend before he becomes a member by default, so he’s unsure if he has the right to speak into their lives when he sees rebellion.

a person who wants to be under the shepherding influence of a pastor travels a lot, but because he isn’t in regular attendance the pastor falsely assumes he is not in authority over him.

a person (perhaps an unbeliever) attends the church but doesn’t realise that attendance makes someone a member by default and he suddenly finds himself coming under the standards of church discipline.

a person begins to forsake the assembling of the saints and really needs some spiritual help. However, because membership has been based on the criteria of attendance, as soon as the person stops attending he stops being a member and therefore ceases to be under the authority of the pastor at the time when he needs it the most.
These are some of the reasons I would favour a visible model of church membership and why the more informal home-church paradigm is problematic. Currently the home-church movement is becoming increasingly popular, particularly in America. Although I would never argue that it shouldn't be done, if home church is practiced it needs to be done with an acute consciousness of these tendencies so as to minimise any potential damage.

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