“Is the issue of membership in a local church addressed in the Bible?” by Mark Dever

“Is the issue of membership in a local church addressed in the Bible? This is perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions about church membership. It may seem like a stretch to say that local church membership is a biblical concept—that is, until we actually start looking for it in the Bible. It’s not as pronounced as the atonement or justification by faith. But the evidence is there, and it is consistent.

The discipline case in 1 Corinthians 5 assumes public knowledge of who’s in the church and who’s not. ‘What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you’ (W. 12-13, NW). Expelling makes sense only in the context of visible belonging. When Paul tells the Corinthian church to admit the man back into fellowship, he tells them, ‘The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him’ (2 Cor. 2:6, NIV). ‘Majority’ makes sense only in the context of a recognized whole.

We know that lists of widows were kept in the New Testament church (1 Tim. 5:9), and the Lord Himself keeps a list of all members who will inherit eternal life (Rev. 21:27). And God has always wanted a clear distinction to be made between the world and His holy people. One of the main reasons for the elaborate system of animal sacrifice and moral regulation in the Old Testament was to distinguish God’s people from the surrounding culture.

Church membership, then, is a means by which we demarcate the boundaries of the church. This is logically implied by the negative sanction of corrective church discipline. Corrective discipline assumes that it is important for a person himself to know that he is a member of the church. He can’t be expected to submit to the church‘s discipline if he is unaware of his own membership in the church. It also assumes that other members need to know whether or not a person is a member. If he’s being disciplined, then the other members need to know that is the case in order not to associate with him (1 Cor. 59-12; 2 Thess. 3:14-15). Further, corrective discipline assumes that it is important for those outside the church to know who the members of the church are, because one of the main motives for corrective discipline is the corporate testimony of the church in the unbelieving community.

Again, the evidence is not abundant. But it is clear, and it is consistent. At the very least, then we may say that local church membership is a good and necessary implication of God’s desire to keep a clear distinction between His own chosen people and the worldly system of rebellion that surrounds them. It was modeled in Corinth, and is still necessary for the purifying exercise of corrective discipline.”

-Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, The Deliberate Church – Building Your Ministry on the Gospel

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“Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray. You are not alone, even in death, and on the Last Day you will not be only one member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ. If you scorn the fellowship of the brethren, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your solitude can only be hurtful to you. ‘If I die, then I am not alone in death; if I suffer they [the fellowship] suffer with me’ [Luther].

We recognize, then, that only as we are within the fellowship can we be alone, and only he that is alone can live in the fellowship. Only in the fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship. It is not as though the one preceded the other; both begin at the same time, namely, with the call of Jesus Christ.

Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.”

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

“But there is such a thing as rising early for the love of God” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“For Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day’s work. At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety flee before him. Therefore, at the beginning of the day let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought and the first word belong to him to whom our whole life belongs. “Awake thou that sleepest and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (Eph. 5:14)

With remarkable frequency the Scriptures remind us that the men of God rose early to seek God and carry out His commands, as did Abraham, Jacob, Moses and Joshua (cf. Gen. 19:27, 22:3; Ex. 8:16, 9:13, 24:4; Josh. 3:1, 6:12, etc.). The Gospel, which never speaks a superfluous word, says of Jesus himself: “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). Some rise early because of restlessness and worry; the Scriptures call this unprofitable: “It is vain for you to rise up early … to eat the bread of sorrows” (Ps. 127:2). But there is such a thing as rising early for the love of God. This was the practice of the men of the Bible … every common devotion should include the word of Scripture, the hymns of the Church, and the prayer of fellowship.”

-Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together – The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

“…brief verses cannot and should not take the place of reading the Scripture as a whole” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“But there can be equally little doubt that brief verses cannot and should not take the place of reading the Scripture as a whole. The verse for the day is still not the Holy Scripture which will remain throughout all time until the Last Day. Holy Scripture is more than a watchword. It is also more than “light for today”. It is God’s revealed Word for all men, for all times. Holy Scripture does not consist of individual passages; it is a unit and is intended to be used as such.

As a whole the Scriptures are God’s revealing Word. Only in the infiniteness of its inner relationships, in the connection of Old and New Testaments, of promise and fulfillment, sacrifice and law, law and gospel, cross and resurrection, faith and obedience, having and hoping, will the full witness to Jesus Christ the Lord be perceived. This is why common devotions will include, besides the prayer of the psalms, a longer reading from the Old and the New Testament.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

“In the man himself there is nothing to admire.” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“‘Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister’ (Mark 10:43). Jesus made authority in the fellowship dependent upon brotherly service. Genuine spiritual authority is to be found only where the ministry of hearing, helping, bearing, and proclaiming is carried out. Every cult of personality that emphasizes the distinguished qualities, virtues, and talents of another person, even though these be of an altogether spiritual nature, is worldly and has no place in the Christian community; indeed, it poisons the Christian community. The desire we so often hear expressed today for ‘episcopal figures,’ priestly men,’ ‘authoritative personalities’ springs frequently enough from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive. There is nothing that so sharply contradicts such a desire as the New Testament itself in its description of a bishop (1 Tim. 3:1 ff.). One finds there nothing whatsoever with respect to worldly charm and the brilliant attributes of a spiritual personality. The bishop is the simple, faithful man, sound in faith and life, who rightly discharges his duties to the Church. His authority lies in the exercise of this ministry. In the man himself there is nothing to admire.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

“Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin.” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Reproof is unavoidable. God’s Word demands it when a brother falls into open sin. The practice of discipline in the congregation begins in the smallest circles. Where defection from God’s Word in doctrine or life imperils the family fellowship and with it the whole congregation, the word of admonition and rebuke must be ventured. Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another…” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner. This is a happy discovery for the Christian who begins to pray for others. There is no dislike, no personal tension, no estrangement that cannot be overcome by intercession as far as our side of it is concerned. Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the fellowship must enter every day. The struggle we undergo with our brother in intercession may be a hard one, but that struggle has the promise it will gain its goal.

How does this happen? Intercession means no more than to bring our brother into the presence of God, to see him under the Cross of Jesus as a poor human being and sinner in need of grace. Then everything in him that repels us falls away; we see him in all his destitution and need. His need and his sin become so heavy and oppressive that we feel them as our own, and we can do nothing else but pray: Lord, do Thou, Thou alone, deal with him according to Thy severity and Thy goodness. To make intercession means to grant our brother the same right that we have received, namely, to stand before Christ and share in his mercy.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

“It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“The believer feels no shame, as though he were still living too much in the flesh, when he yearns for the physical presence of other Christians.  Man was created a body, the Son of God appeared on earth in the body, he was raised in the body, in the sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ in the body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected fellowship of God’s spiritual-physical creatures.  The believer therefore lauds the Creator, the Redeemer, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the bodily presence of a brother.  The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian in exile sees in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God.  Visitor and visited in loneliness recognize in each other the Christ who is present in the body; they receive and meet each other as one meets the Lord, in reverence, humility, and joy.  They receive each other’s benedictions as the benediction of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But if there is so much blessing and joy even in a single encounter of brother with brother, how inexhaustible are the riches that open up for those who by God’s will are privileged to live in the daily fellowship of life with other Christians!

It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day.  It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed.  Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living in common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart.  Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer Life Together – The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

Closing Remarks on the Case for Congregationalism by S.J. Wellum

“The church is a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led body, and it requires leaders who are the same. Because there is no qualitatively spiritual difference between the leaders and the congregation, ecclesiological structures need to facilitate interaction between these two groups. Leaders are necessary because the church is still growing in conformity to Christ and there are many threats to that growth. However, leaders are also growing in their commitment to Christ, and therefore both groups need to balance one another as they share in governing the life of the church. Churches filled with unregenerate church members are a terrible problem, but so are churches whose offices and pulpits are filled with unregenerate church leaders.

Congregationalism locates authority in the church as a whole as it follows the directives of its Lord in the Scriptures. Elders and deacons provide leadership and guidance in the church’s work. Where the church and its leaders are at odds with each other, one or both are wrong, and they need to go back to the Scriptures and sort out their differences. Although congregationalism may not be as efficient as other organizational models, we believe it is compatible with the nature of the new covenant people of God and all that is revealed about them and their leaders in Scripture. The church has been described as a ‘colony of heaven’ and as such it should reflect the beauty of a people who are being transformed into the image of our Lord with ever-increasing glory (2 Cor 3:18). When all the biblical data regarding the church as the new-covenant people of God are collated and synthesized, the result should be a way of doing things that is ‘fitting and orderly’ (1 Cor 14:40 NIV), which a healthy practice of congregationalism should yield.”

– Stephen J. Wellum and Kirk Wellum, “The Biblical and Theological Case for Congregationalism” in Baptist Foundations – Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age

The Alternative to a “Needs-Based Marriage” by Dave Harvey

“It’s not wrong to desire appropriate things like respect or affection from our spouses. But it is very tempting to justify demands by thinking of them as needs and then to punish one another if those needs are not satisfied. A needs-based marriage does not testify to God’s glory; it is focused on personal demands competing for supremacy. Two people, preoccupied with manipulating each other to meet needs, can drive their marriage down the path of ‘irreconcilable differences.’ This is cultural language that simply acknowledges that a marriage can no longer carry the weight of demands understood as needs. Perhaps though, the saddest part of driving down the road of unmet needs is where we end up. The road of unmet needs leads to nowhere. It is a forlorn, one-lane stretch of me. All it leads to is more of me. It’s worse than a dead end—it’s a circle that never ends.

But sinners who say “I do” have a different road to travel. It is the road of astonishing, undeserved grace—a grace so remarkable that it shows us the problem and then delivers the solution. Have you ever been on a scenic drive so beautiful that it was hard to keep your head from spinning from one vista to the next? The road of undeserved grace is like that. It is distractingly beautiful, because all of our true needs are met in breathtaking array in Christ. But it is a road of constant surprises, because we drive it with full awareness of our sin in light of the cross.”

-Dave Harvey When Sinners Say I Do – Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage